I've paid to park at a non-meter a few times in the years I've lived in Arizona, but probably not more than five. Each time, it hurts. I mean, we're in the middle of the desert. No 275 square feet of asphalt-covered real estate in Phoenix is worth renting at $5 for a few hours. I still burn with fury over the $3 I paid to drop anchor several hundred yards from the Cleveland Indians spring training facility in Goodyear -- and that was at a game last year.
Heading out to Glendale for WrestleMania/Paul McCartney on Sunday, I had big dreams about pulling the seemingly impossible, parking for free in the biggest rip-off zone in the Valley on the biggest day it'll ever see. I succeeded. Well, sorta. After spending just over two hours winding my way through the labyrinth over and over again, I invoked my media privileges and parked in the VIP lot.
This is the story of what happened prior to that, during an odyssey through the seedy underbelly of Glendale's non-VIP parking options.
The Check Point
Wanna hear a cool piece of trivia about Glendale? The United States Constitution does not apply there! Weird, right? Glendale is part of the territory commonly claimed by the American government, but it seems the city doesn't follow the same rules the rest of the country does.
How else would you explain a check-point -- manned by rent-a-cops -- with the apparent authority to stop law-abiding citizens driving down a public street in broad daylight and question them about their intentions? You wouldn't be able to do that in America proper. A rent-a-cop would not have the authority to stop or question anyone on a public street and, for the security officer, pretending he did have such authority would be illegal.
My first plan of attack was to park in a rednecky neighborhood near the stadium -- actually, a smattering of trailer homes surrounded by towering walls seem to be the closest housing to U of P -- and walk to the arena. Sadly, upon driving down this public street, I was stopped by a gentleman (without a badge) who demanded to know my business in the neighborhood.
"I'm driving down this public street," I said.
"What are you doing there?" he asked.
"I don't know, I'm just driving down this public street," I said. "Do I have to tell you where I'm going or is this a public street paved and maintained with my tax dollars?"
"You're not allowed down this street," he said. "The city says you cannot park here."
"There aren't any No Parking signs," I said. "Shouldn't there be No Parking signs?"
"It's a city law," he said.
"Oh?" I said. "I'd like to see a copy of the city ordinance. Do you have one?"
"Pull over and I'll call my supervisor," he said.
So I did. I waited for something like 15 minutes while this gentleman explained the finer points of the law to me (I have a law degree) and no supervisor showed up. Is there an ordinance? I'm not sure. It's hard to believe anyone in the same Glendale city government that approved the zoning for this monstrous complex would be smart enough to figure out how to pass any "law," let alone an extra-special law that would magically obviate the need for street signage warning of parking restrictions on a public road, or allow the city government to bestow police powers normally reserved for law enforcement officers on some idiot in a polo shirt. Who knows, maybe they did.
I sorta doubt it, though.
I decided to search out another alternative.
The Friendly Merchant
Though Westgate was seemingly built with no regard for traffic patterns related to the major events it unfortunately hosts (why are so many orange cones needed, and why are so many roads closed, if it was designed for this?) you might expect Westgate's outlying businesses to embrace the customers cheap enough to walk nearly a mile between their slab of pavement and the stadium. Not so.
Either the outskirters are scared they'll be overwhelmed by cheapskates without taking some evasive actions or they've been pressured to deny free parking by the people charging $30 for parking at Westgate proper.
Cabela's -- sort of an REI for country folk or a Bass Pro Shop for people unfortunate enough to live on the west side -- decided to hand out time-stamped parking passes to everyone who pulled into their lot. Off the record, I learned the store wasn't planning to tow anyone, but the move was made because in the past the guards collecting $30 to park at the shopping center told anyone who balked at the rate to go there.
"We just want our customers to be able to get in," said the kindly woman handing out passes good for two hours in the massive lot. "They were telling people they could park here for free, which isn't true."
The idea, then, was to create some sort of deterrent, in the form of a time-stamped slip, and force us back into the grinding traffic. It's silly, but not as offensive as everything else going on.
So how about those Westgate businesses collecting $30?
The Failed Merchants
Honestly, if there's anything sad about this whole debacle, it's that the businesses in Westgate have given up trying to be merchants of goods and services. No reputable merchant would try to charge $30 for parking, but that's exactly what these sad sacks have done. It's pathetic, really.
First, let me start by saying that I've patronized Westgate businesses before. Two weeks ago, in fact, I bought a $23 Cleveland Indians hat at the complex before a game at Camelback Ranch. That's the last dime anyone at Westgate will get from me.
Apparently, Westgate is more interested in operating parking lots than allowing paying customers into their lots, which is why they were only refunding the $30 parking fee if you spent $30 at the shopping center. That's right. They're charging a $7 "buying fee" on that hat I bought two weeks ago, if I want to buy it on certain special days. That's no way to operate a business, as the Westgate folks will find out when and if the Coyotes move and the Warner-less Cardinals start sucking again.
Then, they'll be begging me to park at their mall.
In the meantime?
Well, as it turns out, I'm with the media. I parked in the shadow of the stadium (for free) then went inside to sample some free food from my club-level seats while that poor security guard sat around in the hot sun violating the Constitution.
All's well that ends well, I guess.