Harper Hellems, a longtime attendant at Chris Farina’s Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, Virginia, says, “No one’s parents look down at the crib of their newborn child and (say), ‘God, I wish my son or daughter grows up to be a parking-lot attendant.’”
Meghan Eckman’s 2010 documentary ﬁlm The Parking Lot Movie examines that kind of societal judgment by introducing viewers to past and present Corner Parking Lot attendants, an educated, intellectual bunch who are anything but the aimless slackers their customers – and our status-obsessed society – would assume them to be.
Dan Moseley moved on from the Corner Parking Lot to become a philosophy professor at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. John Lindaman now works as a librarian at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. James McNew plays bass in the rock band Yo La Tengo.
And those in the ﬁlm who remain part of the so-called service industry – Hellems is still part of the Corner Parking Lot team and former attendant Matt Datesman works at a local bagel shop – are no-less cerebral. Intellectualism is job a requirement at the Corner Parking Lot, whose owner, Farina, is more interested in his employees’ satisfaction than his customers.’ The Corner Parking Lot, in many ways, is a utopian society unto itself, one in which hilarity and hijinks balance idealism and introspection. “It’s more than a parking lot,” Lindaman says in the ﬁlm. “The way it’s set up … you’re not just taking money … you’re in some sort of battle with humanity.”
“Usually the customer’s always right,” former attendant Scott Meiggs points out in the ﬁlm. “At the parking lot, the customer’s only sometimes right, and even then it’s still a judgment call.”
“It’s about the social contract,” Lindaman explains. “And especially if you are talking to someone who’s in a $50,000 Eddie Bauer Explorer and they’re getting in your grill about 50 cents. To you, that 50 cents is worth more than that $50,000 Eddie Bauer Explorer and you just want to take it out of them any way you can.”
In one scene, McNew describes a squabble he had with a high-school acquaintance over 40 cents. McNew recalls the girl saying, “I hope you’re proud of yourself … you’re a parking lot attendant.” Reﬂecting on that interaction, McNew answers the girl, by way of Eckman’s ﬁlm, “I hope you’re proud of yourself, driving your father’s car and trying to beat out a 40-cent parking fee. Who’s come further?”
Perhaps the most romantic remembrance of the Corner Parking Lot comes from Meiggs, who says, “In the parking lot we were dynamos, whirlwinds. We were rulers. We had complete autonomy. We had it all in a world that had nothing to offer us.” For all the amusement it provides, The Parking Lot Movie celebrates, without irony, the higher-minded among us and exposes society’s pecking order for the vicious circle that it is.