Getting the boot–entropy in the absence of enforcement

6 pm on a cold Thursday evening, I bundled myself out of the research tower and headed down 3 flights of stairs to the car park. I moved to this new parking lot a year ago, and have been extremely pleased ever since. Despite the 3 flights up every morning, it is covered, meaning no scraping ice or snow off the windows–and in summer it stays relatively cool in the shade! What more can one ask for?

Getting the boot

It’s also not too far from my building (not that I mind walking, but I’m usually in a hurry). Added benefits: it’s a separate car park from the multi-level one, meaning no longer do I have to circle around like a vulture, worrying at every point that someone will back out into my car. I just get in and drive right off the lot. Joy of joys! Saves me about 5 min. on route to work and on the way home.

I do not take the issue of parking lightly. As a graduate student in Jerusalem, with the Hadassah-Medical center on a hill at the southwest side of the city, parking was chaotic–to say the least. One could risk parking on the shoulder of the hill beside the road–where many a car were stolen and sent to chop-shops, mostly in the West Bank. In fact, of the 6 people in my lab during the course of my doctoral research, 4 of them had their cars stolen*. Turns out that while Israelis and Palestinians cannot get a peace accord sorted out, the criminal elements on both sides can be highly cooperative when profits are to be made…


But even in actual parking lots at the hospital, chaos reigned. There was a lot that had parking spots on two sides, and of course people began to park in the middle, between the real spots. This made it nearly impossible for someone parked in a ‘real spot’ to wiggle out before those in the middle had left. Emergencies, you might ask? Well, it was a hospital…

Seriously, though, no one seemed to care. In fact, on a rare occasion when I did have to leave early in the afternoon–to get to the airport–I found myself pitching back and forth for 40 minutes until I could finally pivot my little Fiat Uno out of the lot. Other drivers were wiser–they would claim 2 regular spots, wasting a valuable space so they would be assured of a way to get out.

Now one can blame the drivers for this type of behavior, but I happen to believe that a little enforcement goes a long way to preventing entropy. And enforcement back then was non-existent. A waste of breath to complain to campus security–they were not interested. Back to their tea and biscuits.

The control for preventing parking entropy was admirably demonstrated as I headed to my car here in Omaha this week. My comfortable covered lot was starting to fill up more and more, and once (for the first time) I actually couldn’t find a spot. Despite the fact that there are fewer paying registered users of the lot than actual spaces. I know this for a fact. I also know that some paying researchers began to complain–most likely about unvalidated users from neighboring uncovered lots simply taking advantage.

So I was fascinated to see an orange sandal (similar to the one in the picture–which I should have photographed) adorning the car beside me as I approached. I sidled up, heavy jacket and all, to take a closer look. Sure enough, it was locked and the car lacked the required parking sticker. But as I got nearer, the door to the car opened, and an angry young woman came out.

I asked “What happened? Who put the boot on the wheel?”

“Security,” she answered. “And I have to pick up my kid–I’m going to be late.”

“How will you get it unlocked?”

“I have to wait for security–they’re supposed to be coming any minute. Can you believe it? Only my third ticket, and they do this? Isn’t that unfair?”

I smiled at her and said “Good luck.” As I drove off, though, as much as I sympathized with her plight, I recalled the alternative in Jerusalem. And I am certain that “getting the boot” will go a long way to preventing entropy in the campus parking lots.

* My own car was not stolen, probably only because it wasn’t worth stealing…

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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2 Responses to Getting the boot–entropy in the absence of enforcement

  1. I was amused to discover recently that in Bangkok, everyone leaves their car in neutral. This is true for street parking as well as big, formal parking decks. That way, cars can be jammed in nice and tight. If you’re blocked in, it’s perfectly acceptable to roll other cars out of the way so that you can leave. Parking decks at malls and such even have employees to help out with this. It all seems very civilized, somehow.

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