Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2001 /28 Shevat, 5761
The world's insanity can fit into a
The insanity of our world does not proclaim itself
with formal announcements, letting us officially
know that things around us have gone nuts.
No, the craziness arrives in quiet moments.
Such a moment arrived recently for Ronald S.
Cope, an attorney with offices in downtown Chicago.
Cope, who drives to work, checked with the Grant Park underground garage
to see what it would cost him to park there.
He was informed that the monthly rate was $284.
Cope was pondering this, when it occurred to him:
Wait a minute.
It now costs more to park a car than to buy a car.
He appears to be right -- not in all cases, but in many cases.
A check of parking garages in downtown Chicago indicated a variety of fees
-- some more than the $284 Cope was quoted at the Grant Park
underground, some less. A lot on South Wells Street charges $265 a month;
a lot on South Federal charges $375 a month. On North State Street, there's
a lot that charges $285 a month; just off Michigan Avenue is a lot that
charges $245 a month, $300 for a reserved space. There are bargains
available at other lots -- but these are the ballpark figures.
Which was Cope's point:
"What seems extraordinarily strange to me is that the cost of parking the
automobile, in many instances, exceeds the cost of the automobile. For
example, there are several different makes of cars, including Chevrolets,
Fords and Pontiacs, which can be purchased for less than $284 a month. It
occurs to me that when the cost of parking your car exceeds the cost of
purchasing the car, there are some strange economics involved."
Another check, of places that sell new cars: You can buy a new Chevy
Cavalier for payments of $225 a month; a new Ford Ranger for payments of
$213 a month; a new Mitsubishi Mirage for payments of $212 a month; a
new Hyundai Accent for payments of $190 a month. . . .
Now, different financing plans and different interest rates affect the monthly
price of a car. But Cope's overriding theory -- that something is wrong when
it costs more to park a car than to buy it -- has enough validity to warrant
This is not a case of moaning over "the price of things nowadays." Prices go
up; we all know that. But when parking prices go up so much that they
exceed monthly car payments. . . .
"It seems ludicrous," Cope said. "It's like the most exorbitant piece of real
estate there is is a 9-foot-by-19-foot rectangle called a parking space. Think
of what is being paid over the course of a year for all those little rectangles of
He knows about the law of supply and demand, and that people have the
option of taking public transportation. He knows that life in the city might be
better if fewer people insisted on driving downtown every day.
That's not the point.
"The point is that the price of the car itself was at one time the only cost to
really consider," he said. "I'm 58. I got my first car when I was 18 -- a used
Pontiac Bonneville. White.
"And I don't think I'm remembering wrong when I tell you that I don't
remember even once thinking about how much it might cost to park that car,
or to put gas in it. And I think if you had told me, back then, that it would
someday cost more to park a car than to buy a car, there's no way I would
have believed you."
Of course, he probably would not have believed it, back then, if someone
had told him the day would come when new football stadiums and baseball
parks and basketball arenas would be built -- and before you could buy a
season ticket, you would have to buy a license for the right to buy that ticket.
And that in some cities you would have to pay for the seat license before the
ballpark was even constructed.
The amazing thing, he said, is not that some downtown parking lots charge
their customers more per month to park their cars than the customers are
paying to buy those same cars.
No, the amazing thing is that no one ever says anything about it. It's accepted
"Let me put it to you this way," Cope said. "The cost of going to the movies
has gone up. The cost of popcorn has gone up.
"But the cost of popcorn still does not exceed the cost of a movie ticket.
That's what we're talking about here. Your car is the movie ticket. The
parking space is the popcorn. See what I mean? With parking, they're
charging more for the popcorn than for the movie. Is this
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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