Complaining about downtown parking is a rite of passage for locals. We complain about no-see-ums, tourists who drive too slow, the fact that it's 90 degrees in February (OK, that last one is just me) and downtown parking.
New, space-age parking kiosks? (Complain.) Bring back the old-fashioned meters? (Oh man, I need change now? Complain.) Not enough parking? (Complain.) Too much? (Complain.) Why do we even need to park? Can't we just leave our cars in the middle of the street and pick them up the next day? (Complain.)
Beaufort is much like, well, every town anywhere, ever. You are allowed to complain about your own stuff. If anyone else complains, well, you're allowed to complain about the outsider complaining.
Those are the rules, and they are universal.
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A recent Beaufort Gazette letter to the editor called this rule into effect. The writer, a Georgia resident, received a ticket while shopping in downtown Beaufort and was so offended by the $10 fine that it sent her into a shame spiral: "The feeling for us was such a letdown from the fun we had experienced in meandering around town that we left saying we didn't want to come back."
As someone who has made a living complaining about downtown parking, I was surprised by my reaction to someone else complaining about downtown parking. The problem with an outsider expressing anger over the thing that angers you most is that their complaint forces you to defend what you're normally against in a "mother bear" display of territorial defense.
Or, to put it more clearly, it throws everything out of loop. It's universe-shattering chaos!
First, we only fine $10? Really? I don't want to be fined more if I forget to refresh my parking meter, but I'm all for Georgia residents being charged more. Ten dollars is nothing. It's not even a slap on the wrist. It's more like a tap on the shoulder. It's not a "fine," it's an "OK."
Also, where in the country do they not charge for parking? Sure, Walmart. You want to shop at Walmart? Go for it. Let me know when the box store installs a view as great as Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.
The letter writer insisted the $10 fee is not the issue, that the real problem was the lack of vision in fining people shopping with local merchants.
Of course, the $10 fee is the issue, even if the writer doesn't see it that way. If there aren't parking meters that restrict the amount of time you can park, you potentially never have to move your car. Imagine how great the shopping experience would be if you had to park in Port Royal and walk to downtown Beaufort.
Communities with popular shopping destinations and limited street/library/marina parking must have meters. The keyword is "limited." The meters keep traffic flowing in and out of lots. And if you don't impose a fine, the meters really mean nothing. They are shiny, of course, which is always nice, but you have to have a penalty.
And, yes, the laws should be enforced with out-of-town residents. I get that nothing says "bummer" like when your girls' day out is ruined by a $10 fine, but nothing says bummer to me like when I have to park in the next county because the out-of-towners having their girls' night out didn't bother moving their cars when the meters hit OVER.
I'm all for Southern hospitality, but a parking fine is not a slap in the face; it's an acknowledgement that you didn't move your car in time. (No phrase is more misused than "slap in the face." Have you ever been slapped in the face? It's nothing like paying $10.)
One could argue the infraction is like inviting a guest to your house and the guest deciding to park on your front lawn. Forget defending our hospitality, we should be asking our visitors where their manners are.
Now that I've adequately defended the concept of downtown parking, remind me to go back to complaining about it next week.
It's my right.