Who gets the parking space?

Ransom Riggs

Parking can be high drama in big cities like mine, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised to have witnessed two parking-related near-beatings in recent weeks, both misguided attempts to answer this enduring riddle: can you save a parking space for a friend by standing in it?

The first time I saw this drama play itself out, I was walking down the street in Culver City, talking on my cell phone, head in the clouds. I was quickly yanked out of my cellular reverie, however, when I heard shouting: "Go ahead, asshole, run me over!" There was a petite-but-feisty woman standing in a parking space, hands on hips, while an old man in a weathered Corolla inched toward her, ever further into the spot. "I'm saving this spot for my boyfriend, so get outta here!" she screamed, pointing behind her for added effect. The man continued to inch forward, bumper almost touching her knees, assuming that she would soon realize the folly of trying to challenge his right to the spot without a car of her own.

Soon enough, however, the boyfriend in question showed up. He was a big guy. He leaned down to the crack in the guy's driver-side window, and shouted "If you run my girlfriend over, I'll pull you out of that car and beat the s#!^ out of you!" At this point, I had passed the scene and didn't want to rubberneck too badly or risk getting pulled into the debate. (Plus, I was still on the phone, vainly trying to describe what was unfolding before my eyes to the person on the other end.) I kept walking. When I looked back again, the situation had somehow resolved itself: amazingly, the couple had left, and the unflappable old man had taken the spot.

I saw a similar fight just a week later, this one between two young women. The one behind the wheel had actually bumper-tapped her space-standing rival in the leg while attempting to force her out, prompting her to wave her cell phone in the air, shouting "This bitch just ran me over! I'm calling the cops!" Somehow, this worked itself out too, and minutes later all was quiet again in Santa Monica.

These things don't always work out so well in the end, however. Earlier this year in San Francisco, a man trying to hold a spot for a friend was shot dead by some guys in a van who disagreed with his parking etiquette. But so far as I can tell, there's no law on the books against space standing -- at least not in California. (There is in New York, however; you can get a $65 fine for holding a parking spot with anything other than a car.) In most places, though, it seems to be an open question -- heck, even Yahoo Answers couldn't settle the debate -- and the price of this legal ambiguity has been a uptick in "parking rage," and in some unfortunate cases, motorists' blood.

So what's the answer? Can you reserve a space by standing in it? Should a parker faced with an enraged space-stander back down?