Allow me to share with you a tale of two parking lots. Now, as you can well expect, with the job I have been doing over the better part of my working life, I have seen many parking lots. From the huge arenas where car manufacturers park their wares after rolling them out from their busy production lines, to the acres of real estate that dealers and importers have to invest in to keep their three, six or 24 month stocks (depending largely on the state of the supply chain as well as to a not insignificant degree on demand).
Then there have been other parking lots, some dark and somber and in foreign lands, with the undertones of menace lurking in their dark corners and yet others that are remarkably high-tech, stacking your valuable car a few floors off the norm as if it were just a pawn in the global scheme of car stacking.
However the parking lots I speak about are a lot closer to home – one literally being at the end of the row of houses where I live and its counterpart serving as the temporary home of the car I happen to be driving that as I sit in the office. What’s so special about these two lots you may well ask?
To understand the significance, perhaps you need to live in my colony. The other day I stood there with more than a hundred other men, women and children in a memorial to one of our erstwhile neighbours who had passed away way too early in life – a victim of cancer. I can’t think of any other place in Muscat where every resident of the houses leading up to the parking lot becomes a member of an extended family. Even when some leave, getting company accomodation that they can’t refuse or perhaps moving to a much larger house, they remain part of the family, if they choose. And the parking lot is the centre of this universe, playing host to birthday parties, festivals, welcomes to new arrivals and farewells to those moving out. And, as I learned, serving to exclaim to the world that our bonds are so strong that they seek to overcome the mortal sphere.
This parking lot is as much a tale of diversity as it is of oneness. You can look around and see cars from diverse makes, price bands and tastes. Each of them tell their own story about the owner’s dreams, the compromises he makes and degree he stretches his Rial. Yet the cars make way, being parked out on the road or around the corner to accommodate the families as they come together to remind us that life is a people business.
The other parking lot is almost as familiar, but scales the other end of the spectrum. The cars that park around our office are more diverse in their provenance. Belonging to company owner, manager and staff alike, they resemble nothing as much as metal carapaces as they bake under the noonday sun or seem to seek out the motley shade provided by the lonely tree struggling for life. Sometimes the driver gets lucky and finds shade in the leeward of the building, yet time and the sun wait for no one as the morning’s shade becomes the noonday bake.
What keeps it distinct is the utter impersonality of the lot. Where every car has a tale at home – here they hide in anonymity. Perhaps you can see a colleague’s car, perhaps a unique specimen of the car makers art or you just notice the couple trying to get some ‘us’ time as they chat away. But the story can’t start because there are too many loose ends. Perhaps as many as the sheer randomness with which visitors to our building ignore the lot markings and make their own resting places. Often enough the acrid tang of an overflowing sewer adds its negativity to the equation – urging you to take your car and drive it as far away as possible.
Is there a lesson in this? Other than the age old one of the importance of a point of view? I don’t think so. But I welcome the welcoming darkness of our parking lot at home, interspersed with the light of a hundred festive bulbs, sparklers and birthday balloons or even the closeness of a hundred candles held in memoriam when measured against the chaotic inhumanity of the one at work.