Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Parking Fair at the Fair

Ever wonder why big event venues have people to direct traffic in the parking lots? Because as drivers left to our own devices, we're stupid.

When allowed to make decisions about parking in a huge lot (unmarked, specifically, but it doesn't matter much), we are incapable of making rational decisions. It's total chaos. A breakdown of the moral fiber of society, a four-wheeler free-for-all, a motorized melee, a scrum of sedans.

In other words, the parking lots at the Iowa State Fair the day before the fair begins.

In the rush of final preparations by fair staff, vendors and exhibitors, parking on the fairgrounds (not in the lots outside the gate) becomes a no-man's land. I experienced this first hand when I tried to drop off The Princess and her friend (Princess E) at the Youth Inn.

In some places cars were parked three-deep, bumpertobumpertobumper, or even bumpertobumper with one wedged in perpendicular behind. This guaranteed that at least one car was trapped, two if the aisle between parked cars was narrow. Which is always was.

In other places the vehicles were parked only one deep, but the entire row was parked full – fence to fence – with no way to get around to the other side, wasting the parking potential of that ever-tempting, greener grass.

There seemed to be only two schools of spacial reasoning: park so close to the car next to you that you can barely get out; or park far enough away that someone else might possibly, but not quite, be able to park between you.

The same reasoning was applied to parallel parking along the streets, too. The vehicles were either parked so close you couldn't slip a sheet of paper between the bumpers; or far enough away to guarantee an easy escape but not quite far enough away to park even a Fiat or Mini Cooper. (I'd like to point out that this is just another reason why I should get one of these cars -- then I could just pick it up and take it with me where ever I went, like a purse puppy. But I'd use a backpack because a Mini Cooper in a handbag would just look silly.)

The last time I saw parking this bad was at a softball tournament.

Which brings me to my next point. I'm not sure if this crap parking-style is linked to the venue, the event or the audience. Traffic flow was heavier at the 5SOS concert at Tinley Park, but with the help of the parking lot attendants (very little help, they just looked bored and pointed), Mom-mobiles filled the parking lot at a steady pace with a choreographed precision. It was like watching couples ice skating... but with mini-vans and compact SUVs.

Attendant-less parking at the fair was a manic free-for-all. Extended-cab trucks struggled to perform three point turns at the end of parked-full rows. Diesel-powered dualies inched down the narrow aisles, dodging extra-long vehicles overhanging their parking spaces. Many a hope for an empty spot was dashed by a compact car hidden between two long-bed, lifted pickups.

To demonstrate my objectivity, I will point out that by Monday – day 5 of the fair – parking was much more organized. Ish.

On my second trip, I circled the fairgrounds pleading with the stone-faced parking tyrants for admitance. At each gate they pointed to the “Lot Closed” signs. I pointed at the line of cars streaming out of the parking lot. They pointed at the “Lot Closed” signs and waved their cone-tipped traffic wand/lightsabers menacingly. I drove on.

I was finally granted entrance in the newly opened Northeast Parking Lot, located roughly .5 miles west of Iowa City. The parking lot attendants on border patrol were friendly and briskly efficient, directing us into neat, straight lines, two cars deep, with ample aisle space. This gave them plenty of room to check our passports and provide us with the necessary vaccinations for leaving the country.

As I and the other NEPL nomads hiked to the fairgrounds proper, we left a trail of breadcrumbs for our return trip and tried to ignore the vultures circling overhead. Many snide comments were made about the countless empty parking spots we passed in what were once considered the outlying lots, but which we now looked upon as “rock star” parking. There was talk of mutiny or of at least moving our cars, but we're all “Iowa Nice,” so nothing came of it. We're also “Iowa Stubborn,” so we'll all go back to the State Fair again, regardless of parking hassles.

But next time I'll drive a Fiat. And carry a big backpack.


  1. I enjoyed perusing your parking misadventures..It made for excellent reading "fare"...
    It brought to mind a similar mishap I experienced as a junior in high school at the state fair. Our family decided to load up our 63 station Chevy station wagon on vacation with a stop at the State Fair in Des Moines..We parked the car in the north racetrack lot and proceeded for a day of fun on the midway etc..As we came back to the parking lot at night after an exhaustive whirlwind of adventure, we discovered our suitcases etc piled on the ground sans vehicle..Yep stolen...They found it stripped 3 days later on the banks of the Des Moines River.Thus endeth our vacation with a long trip home on the bus...Scarred for life!! It took me 40 years to get up enough nerve to return!

  2. Ouch! That would be... an experience! But I can't help laughing (?) that they left your luggage for you. So thoughtful!