05 Dec, Tuesday
41° F

What’s With UIS Parking? A Personal Reflection

It is early February. I reluctantly prepare myself for a perilous journey – an arctic traverse with seemingly minimal chances of survival: the frigid trek from the University Hall Building (UHB) to parking lot D. The outdoor temperature is four degrees Fahrenheit. In my dread, I make a commitment to myself. I want to know how far it is from the back door of UHB to my car. I am going to count my steps. I won’t use any smartwatches or click-counters, partly for a conscious surety in my results but also as a distraction from the bitter elements. It is time to stop stalling and commit. I zip up, wrap up, and resist the urge to be fed up. Then, quicker than Chancellor Gooch can say interim provost, I was out and counting.

1,2,3,4…and my mind begins to wander. I am taken back to a simpler time. I was attending a university in Idaho. The campus was in town and had limited space. The parking lots were more packed than a Mariah Carey Christmas concert. Eventually, I had to pay and still walk extreme distances to get to my car, but it made sense because there just was no space. It is like when you’re traveling and need to stop for lunch, and you come upon a Subway in the middle of nowhere. You never crave Subway, but you decide to “eat fresh” because it is the only way to eat. There are no other options. Here at UIS, this is far from the problem.

76, 77, 78…while counting, I pause my daydreaming and notice the glorious landmark that I am approaching. The sight brings a tear along with a rush of memories of a bygone era. The treasure to which I speak is none other than my old friend, Parking Lot E. The lot that, in my younger years, during my undergrad, I would yearn for. It used to be the bee’s knees of parking lots because, before 2020, it was not a “standard lot” but an “economy” lot as defined by the UIS Parking Brochure. Yes, one could park there with a general permit, and boy, was it hoppin’. Now, it’s as packed as a Darth Vader Christmas Concert. As a general parking permit holder, I walk past the empty lot like a dieting Cookie Monster, reaching for a celery stick while staring down a Snickerdoodle.

The changes were made to the parking lot permits and pricing during the online portion of the pandemic, which added a sense of being swindled to the deal. No, the price I was paying for my permit did not go up, but Parking lots A, B, C, E, and F – which used to be general permit lots – all changed to “standard lots” or what I would call priority lots. Step numbers 168, 169, 170…it’s like going to Dairy Queen every Wednesday for a hot fudge sundae served in a “standard” sized cup, and then one day, for the same price, you can only get the sundae served in a 30-milliliter medicine cup.

I understand this issue can seem trivial, and my opinion is coming from a place of privilege. It may feel like I am one of those people who are still upset over the breakup between Brad and Angelina, but the dialogue I am hearing on campus about the frustration with the parking structure is strong and seems to be increasing. There are stories of unforgiving parking tickets, a lack of visitor parking, and the vast number of empty spots passed to get to a spot that is already quite expensive and in the far reaches of a cornfield.

As I near step number 250, I hear a strange noise produced by some unidentified animal. My pace quickens as I try to remember the reasons for the parking changes in the first place. The parking brochure states the first reason for the change is “to improve the campus’ parking infrastructure by enhancing safety, security, and the condition of the university’s parking lots.” I also recall something about getting more emergency kiosks. I hear another noise. Was it a deer? A feral cat? Was it something worse? I pull out my phone, which, until now, has been buried deep in the fleeting warmth of my parka pockets. I nervously unlock the screen only to realize I am too far away to be connected to the school’s Wi-Fi, and there is no phone service out here. Where is the emergency kiosk? Probably in parking lot E.

My blood has run thin. It’s time to make a break for it, but I still do not see my car. I dig for my key fob and hit the button but hear nothing. It is at this moment that a warm memory slaps my frozen face. A Broadway musical is playing at the PAC tonight, so they turned Parking Lot D into patron parking for the evening and forbade me to park there. I Parked in lot “I” – that’s got to be over 400 steps from here, and I lost count. How long does it take for hypothermia to set in? I guess I will start over with the step counting. 1,2,3,4.

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