“The parking lot attendant is the tollbooth operator on the expressway to the weigh station of the American Dream,” or so says one of the several philosopher/poet parking lot employees interviewed in director Meghan Eckman’s first feature film, The Parking Lot Movie—an amusing and insightful meditation on human behavior as viewed through the lens of parking the car.
This documentary about the goings-on at the Corner Parking Lot, which is directly across the street from the University of Virginia and behind a cluster of local bars, offers a fascinating look at parking behavior, from customers in the $50,000 vehicles who argue about how much they owe, to the existential musings and goofball antics of the men in the booth. These are not your run of the mill, minimum wage collecting attendants, however. Most of them are affiliated in one way or another with the prestigious university, and they have a sense of irony about their presumably temporary jobs. They use phrases like “truncated syllogism,” and “social contract.” One of them is now the bass player for Yo La Tengo while another is a professor of philosophy.
Among the bits of wisdom dispensed along the way: Law students tend to be bad parkers; the worst change in parking lots over the last 20 years involves giant SUVs taking up more spaces, and sometimes your aggrieved parking lot attendant really does behave passive aggressively, doing things like putting on your brake and hoping you won’t notice.
Alternate Sides was able to score a brief Q&A with director Meghan Eckman:
1. Why a parking lot movie? Which came first—the idea to make a movie about a parking lot, or did this particular parking lot inspire the movie?
This movie was inspired by this particular parking lot—which is legendary in Charlottesville, Va. It is surrounded by great myth and lore. The parking lot attendants who are employed there have such strong personalities that they work exceptionally well as movie characters.
2. Is parking a subject you’d given much thought to prior to making the film?
I started to make this movie because it was first and foremost entertaining. So no, I didn’t approach it from the perspective of parking.
3. Did you draw any conclusions about parking as a metaphor for the way we live now?
It all depends on where you live (and) how valuable parking is. Here in Charlottesville, parking isn’t such a valuable commodity as—say—in New York or L.A. So in this parking lot, the issue is more one of people not wanting to pay for parking, or being surprised that they have to pay. It’s interesting that people have trouble paying for an intangible commodity such as parking.
But overall, I wouldn’t say this movie is so much about parking as it is about this particular parking lot, and the people who work there.
4. Is there anything to be learned about human behavior by observing the dynamics in a parking lot?
5. Are you a good parker?
Yes. Having lived in New York for 5 years, I am especially proud of my parallel parking ability.