Out Of The Parking Lot


Over behind that neighborhood block they’re going to demolish was a parking lot. There still is. The construction plan as I understand it is that after the construction the parking lot will be a parking lot again. But it’ll probably be one of those new parking lots, where there’s little islands of trees so you can never pull forward out of your space. Parking lot designers hate folks pulling forward with the kind of intensity you’d expect for homoiousionism or how many spaces to put after a period or whether there were twelve or thirteen starships like Captain Kirk’s. I don’t know why. I suppose parking lot designers get frustrated, like any of us. And I guess they’re taking out their frustrations by putting trees into their work rather than going outside and berating squirrels or whatnot. That’s respectable. It’s more dignified, anyway, and maintaining your dignity is one of the best ways to make sure people have no idea when they’re offending you. I feel like something’s gone wrong somewhere, but we all do.

Anyway. All those buildings from a couple weeks ago that used to be things? Like the United Nations store that somehow existed? (That has to have been a front for something, right? But why not do their money laundering with something less obviously a front, like a used-quarters store or just a mass of burly men in heavy coats standing around saying “there’s nothing going on here”?) They needed parking, and the lot is still there. It used to be a pretty good space if you needed to park at the hipster bar or the less-hipster bar across the street. There was always lots of space and the parking meters stopped charging at 5 pm.

There’s a bit of parking space behind the hipster bar and all that, but not enough. This is important to city life. Cities drive innovation because they reach a critical density where folks can’t park. This gets people to think about ways to get enough parking in town. There’s no way to do this, but once the mind is focused on the parking hassle, it starts having other non-parking-related ideas, like:

  1. “Invent Google!”
  2. “Have uniform prices for a wide range of department store goods, streamlining business and allowing for hte hiring of more clerks than could plausibly become partners or proprietors of their own businesses!” (If it’s the mid-19th century and you’re one of the new class of department store managers)
  3. “See what it’d be like if you used conditioner on your beard!”
  4. “Be Henry Ford and build internal combustion motor-driven cars! (NOTE: BE HENRY FORD FIRST — MOST IMPORTANT!!)”

That third is a great idea, since my barber mentioned how soft and well-behaved my beard was last time I got it trimmed. It doesn’t make me any money. But any unsolicited compliment from the person cutting your hair is an apple of gold. The others were good bits of commercial and social progress too.

But in the last couple weeks, since the last restaurant closed, the lot’s lost its parking meters. Most of the metal poles are still there, like giant pieces of metal wheat, but there’s nothing on the tops. The easy thing to suppose is that the city figures there’s no reason to charge for parking as long as there’s nothing to park there for. But that implies the city figures it’s worth taking all the meters down now, months ahead of the construction starting. They must be in storage somewhere.

But then they’re taking an awful risk. What if someone loses the key to the parking meter storage locker? And you just know that sending the mayor in to straighten things out won’t work. There are two kinds of city mayor. One is the relentlessly polite boring type that couldn’t argue the fast food counter into taking an order. He’d be useless in settling a storage locker dispute. The other — the kind Lansing has right now — is the brash big-talking type that you remember because he might slug someone and you’d get to watch. That won’t work for the storage locker problem either because the clerk at the locker place would end up punched. I grant we have to take the risk of the storage locker key getting lost anyway. But why add unnecessary months for things to go wrong?

As I say though, that’s the easy thing to suppose. Too easy? Remember that we just learned how a whole road in Russia got stolen. What if someone’s swiping parking meters from lots that nobody would pay attention to? Someone with a couple dozen hot meters could very slightly starve mid-Michigan for nickels and dimes and even quarters. Without this small change what would we put in parking meters? I don’t know, but I bet there’ll be an answer from someone who was just looking for a place to park.

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MiSTed: What To Invent


Back in the days before the Earth’s crust had solidified, when Usenet was a thing, grew an art form called the MiSTing. The practice developed in the news groups dedicated to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and was our modest imitation of the show: take some original posting and intersperse it with comments, along the line of the of the riffs that Joel or Mike and the robots (collectively, The Brains) would. The first MiSTing I’m aware of was called “Hopping Mad At MST3K”, a person’s rant about how those rotten kids these days won’t even watch an old movie without talking through it and this was obviously MST3K’s fault.

Rants would be one of the mainstays of MiSTings, back when the newsgroups were active and I was in touch with the MiSTing culture. Fan fictions were another mainstay; I firmly believe that MiSTing would not have had a culture if not for Stephen Ratliff’s notorious “Marissa Picard” Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fiction. Surprisingly uncommon back in the glory days of Usenet MiSTings were examples of this group: the slightly pompous expository lump. This one is from the magazine Modern Mechanix, originally printed in 1937, and I only know of it because the Modern Mechanix blog summons old articles, some interesting, some funny, some both, to its pages.

The Thanksgiving season has always been a kind of unofficial Mystery Science Theater 3000 holiday: it’s the anniversary of when the show first debuted, and many of their movies were dubbed turkeys, and Turkey Day MST3K marathons were shown first on Comedy Central and then the Sci-Fi Channel, and today get done in organized online gatherings that I won’t participate in because our ISP doesn’t offer enough bandwidth to watch videos online. But the text form is pretty easy to enjoy at your leisure and I hope you do.

(This one is a slightly unusual form of the classic MiSTing; there’s no host sketches involved. The original material was too short to justify sketches. But a full-length MiSTing might be unreadable in WordPress form. We’ll see. Consider this an experiment.


Continue reading “MiSTed: What To Invent”

What To Do With Abandoned Ideas


We all come up with ideas we can’t really use, because there’s only so many things we can do any given day and clearly the inspiration “sponge or brain” isn’t going to help most of them. But just because you don’t have any use for an idea right now doesn’t mean you’re never going to have one. Things might open up.

What you need is to have some kind of depository for your abandoned ideas, where your abandoned ideas can settle and compost and go about making long-distance calls to one another. In fact, having such a depository is such an obviously good idea that you have had it, but you were too busy to make one. So the abandoned-ideas depository idea was itself abandoned, which is great because it fit right into the depository once you thought of it, only now, there’s no way to get it out, because right outside the abandoned-ideas depository is still inside the abandoned-ideas depository; ask any topologist for an explanation. I’m afraid even this note won’t help. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll have no idea what I was going on about. I had one but I don’t know what it was.