It could be worse.
For one thing, the parking lot at the Wise County Old Settlers Reunion grounds is grass.
We – Decatur Lions Club members who volunteer to park cars each year as our club’s main fundraiser – could have been standing, jogging, jumping up and down waving our arms all evening on asphalt, or worse, road base (what we used to call caliche) eating dust and sneezing as we sweated.
It was probably 90 in the shade Tuesday, 100-plus in the sun, when we spent five hours parking more than 800 cars. It would have been 120-plus on blacktop.
Please, never pave that thing.
Another worse-case scenario would be if everyone drove extended-cab four-door dually long-bed trucks, instead of only three out of every five vehicles we parked (the rest were Suburbans or Expeditions).
Every now and then, a Honda would sneak in, slip neatly into a spot and out would pile a half-dozen children, followed by an already-tired-looking mom.
If every vehicle was 40 feet long, our task would be even more difficult.
The Lions Club has some seasoned veterans of the parking trade, whose insight and experience I will never match. I’m OK with that.
I’ve done it a day or two, the last two years, and I have to say the system works.
People can drive in from Farm Road 51 on the west side, or they can come through the back gate off Old Reunion Road. Most who come in the back way have stickers and are going to family cabins on the grounds.
The rest, who are coming just for that evening’s festivities, pay $5 to be guided into a spot by the well-oiled machine that is the Team of Lions.
Reunion parking is a finely-choreographed ballet, a well-designed football play, an intricately-woven tapestry of automotive placement. It’s all about watching the cones, lining the cars up, maintaining drivable lanes, spacing them for maximum efficiency and order.
Every year, at the meeting just prior to Reunion, the club gets an intense crash course on the ins and outs of parking.
The short version: If you get the “ins” right, the “outs” will take care of themselves.
It calls to mind the “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry is at the airport rental car desk and, even though he had a reservation, they don’t have his car. He starts explaining the concept of “reservation” to the woman behind the counter.
“I know why we have reservations,” she says huffily.
“I don’t think you do,” he replies. “If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation – and that’s really the most important part. Anybody can just take ‘em.”
In the parking biz, it’s all about cars being able to get out. Anybody can just take their $5 and let ‘em in. The true test of parking is, can they get out?
Leave people to their own devices and they’ll park willy-nilly all over the unmarked pasture. When it’s time to leave, it will go demolition derby, ending with a torch-carrying mob looking for the *&%$#@! who took their money.
Veteran parking engineer and resident guru Martin Woodruff conducts the seminar every year. His military background was never so obvious.
“We are in charge, not the people driving the cars,” he said Wednesday. This year’s seminar was conducted mid-Reunion, since the week-long event is a week earlier than usual.
“They park where we tell them to park,” he said. “You’ve got to be definite. This is like a military operation. You’ve got to pretend you’re an MP. They don’t hesitate. They don’t wishy-washy around. They give you explicit instructions.”
He said friendliness is the job of the people taking their money as they enter the lot.
“All the rest of you guys, you’re not friendly,” he said. “Stand in front of them. Be brave. I’ve not gotten run over yet, in 35 years.”
As a dire warning, Martin tells the story of the Great Bug-Out – the year things did not proceed with military precision.
“One year, we had the big snafu and the lines converged in the parking row,” he said. “Suddenly you looked up and you realized we had a street that was narrowing to a point of infinity where they weren’t going to be able to get out.
“We had two rows here and two rows here and a street that was narrowing down to nothing,” he said.
It was a big night. Cars were lined up all the way out onto 51, all driving up into that narrowing point of no return.
“We realized we had a disaster and there was nothing we could do about it,” he said. “So the captain in charge directed everyone to abandon ship – and take off those Lions Club vests.
“As we were leaving I heard somebody say, ‘What were those Rotarians thinking?'”
Yes, it could definitely be worse.
Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Messenger.