The Last Time I Ever Parked At Summerfest
I hate paying for parking.
I don't consider myself a tightwad, but there are much better ways to allocate funds than to hand over hard-earned shekels for a spot of land upon which to deposit your ride. I had to pay $30 a night to park my car at our L-A hotel during our just-completed trip, adding some $180 to our otherwise light overall bill. So it goes in a big city.
Parking has been an issue at Summerfest with too many drivers chasing too-few spots. Dwindling supply coupled with sturdy demand equals higher prices. Then there's the end-of-the-night logjam, when all those table-dancers try heading out at the same time.
Many opt for the Milwaukee County Transit System Freeway Flyers. The buses are punctual and efficient, dropping you at the Big Gig's front door hassle-free and bringing you back home promptly and courteously (unless you're on one of the last trips out--then, it's not unlike the final helicopter out of Saigon). The toughest thing about the whole deal is remembering your route number.
The last time I parked at Summerfest was 22 years ago. I remember vividly because my daughter was just about to turn one that afternoon when my wife and I packed her in our car and headed for the lakefront. It was also the last time I came THAT CLOSE to getting into a fistfight.
We had just pulled into a Summerfest lot when my wife got out and started to unbuckle our kid from her car seat. It was then that the trouble began.
"Hey!", said the man who parked on my passenger side. "Your door is hitting my car!".
Indeed, it was making contact. My wife isn't a door-flinger, and what had probably happened was that it had touched as she worked the kid out of the car seat.
"Sorry," I said as I pulled it back and inspected the point of impact. "Doesn't seem to be any damage." My wife also apologized profusely before getting back to the task at hand.
"I take good care of my car, you know," the guy said. "You should be more careful."
His car was nothing special but I understand the pride that anyone has in their ride. That said, I was less than pleased that our apologies seemed to be falling on deaf ears. My wife wasn't a negligent twerp. She was a mom trying to get her kid out of a backseat in admittedly tight quarters, a point I pressed upon my freshly offended friend.
"My wife didn't do it on purpose," I said. "There isn't a lot of room to maneuver. We're sorry."
"Well, you've got to be more careful. I don't like it when people wreck my car."
I'm not a confrontational guy, but my parking lot neighbor had just become public enemy number one on Planet Mueller. My Papa Bear instincts kicked in, and my anger flashed. If I were older, I probably would've walked away. A line had been crossed, though, and this bit of ingraciiousness could not be excused. Me, a guy who hadn't thrown a fist in anger since elementary school, was now as close to throwing down as I had ever been in my adult life.
"Listen," I said in my best Clint-Eastwood tones (remember, this was the late 80's). "My wife said she's sorry. I've said we're sorry. A couple of times, in fact. There's no damage. Your car is fine. Let it go."
"You could've dented my car," the guy said. "You should be more careful."
I walked right into the man's face, violating personal space and making it very clear that a man-dance was fast approaching. I was no longer using an inside voice.
"We're sorry. She apologized. There's no damage. Do you want to take this any farther?" I barked as I pressed the bill of my baseball cap threateningly close to the bridge of his nose.
He looked over the bill of my hat, back into my eyes, and backed down.
"No, no. We're fine. Sorry. It's just that I take really good care of my car," he said as he backed away somewhat sheepishly.
I spun on my heels, took my wife's hand, and strutted purposefully toward the gate.
As we walked, we recounted what had just happened, making sure we hadn't been out of line. My heart was still racing a tad, amazed at how fast things had almost spun out of control. And, I was parched. I badly needed a beer, not just to settle my nerves but to celebrate the fact that I had gotten a jerk to back down.
I put cash down at the first tapper we saw and savored the first couple of glugs. A guy next to me sized me up, head to toe, and asked, "So what district are you in?"
I asked him to repeat the question.
"What district are you in? I just noticed your cap and wondered where you work."
It was only then that I realized what role my hat played in the parking lot confrontation. I was sporting a Milwaukee Police Department cap, with the department logo front and center. It's the kind that tactical squad officers wore back then, and it was a gift from a friend of a friend who worked on the force. It wasn't the kind of cap many folks sported casually.
"Ah, no, I'm not a cop," I sheepishly said. "I got this from a friend."
"Oh," said my bar mate, who must've been wondering what kind of a poseur he was drinking next to.
All feelings of manly success drained from my body. I realized the only reason my encounter beyond the Main Gate ended was because of my hat, and not my manly stance or intimidating presence. My unduly-aggrivated parking lot mate no doubt thought he was picking a fight with an off-duty cop, a point driven home when I pushed the bill of my hat into his mug.
I never wore the hat again, but always kept it in my car, lying on the backseat, just in case anyone wanted to make similar assumptions about my employment. You never know when that kind of assumption can work in your favor.
And, my wife and I started taking the bus. We saved money, hassle, and other potential parking lot confrontations.
We'll be taking the Flyer as we head down to the Lakefront this afternoon. I haven't made any decisions about a hat yet.