“The parking lot attendant is the tollbooth operator on the expressway to the weigh station of the American Dream.”
- John Lindaman, Parking Lot Attendant
Over the weekend, I stumbled across this fun, little documentary on Netflix Instant, and was instantly enchanted by the concept: three years in the life of a parking lot and its attendants. What better place, than a pay-to-park lot in Virginia, to see Americans at their most reprehensible, vulgar, and egocentric? What I hadn’t expected is the depth of philosophy communicated, in the film, by the honest people who work there.
While you might think of “parking lot attendant” as a pretty unglamorous job title, the self-righteous punks and intellectuals who work at the Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, Virginia describe it as one of the best and hardest-to-get jobs in America. Most, if not all, of lot owner Chris Farina’s employees were hired through a friend that already worked there, and put a high value on the rights, privileges, and power that come with their role in society.
Operating from a tattered, old shed near the lot’s only exit, lot attendants collect fees based on how long patrons have been parked there—though some are more reluctant to pay than others. Within the parking lot, humanity can be seen as a collection of different social classes—frat guys in pickup trucks, white collar Ferrari owners, double-parking Hummer gas guzzlers, Average Joes in Honda Civics, et al—most of whom can be ranked according to their usual level of delinquency, common sense, indignation, and respect for the Law.
One parking lot attendant draws a great comparison between their modest profession and anti-hero “Travis Bickle” of Martin Scorsese’s cinematic masterpiece Taxi Driver. It could be argued that Bickle’s own cynicism and animosity toward the status quo is the product of having too much isolation; too much time to over-analyze what’s wrong with people. Perhaps the same could be said of the embittered parking lot attendant who fails to understand why a drunk person might drive off without paying. As Travis would say, “all the animals come out at night.”
Director Meghan Eckman has painted a very unique portrait of humanity that is accurately described by one Netflix reviewer as “the Philosophy of the World Wrapped Up in a Parking Lot.” It’s a very small movie, about a very small piece of land, that plays a very small role in society, but offers a very big message about human weakness and equality. “We had it all in a world that had nothing to offer us,” one lot attendant argues. Sometimes the people behind the most seemingly insignificant jobs have the most interesting outlook on what life should be all about.