By Claudia Meléndez Salinas
My home is located across the street from two fast food restaurants right off Highway 101, a very convenient location for travelers who need to stretch their legs and get a bite from their favorite hamburger joint. I’m not going to tell you what the eateries are, but if you’ve ever driven by Salinas, you may get the idea. The tourists block the access to my home every weekend, a source of constant irritation for my spouse, my neighbors and yours truly.
The proximity to the freeway and to downtown Salinas also brings added challenges to my neighborhood. The trash bins are constantly raided by unhoused people. Women who sell their bodies to make a living saunter up and down the street, another source of concern for the women’s well being and that of my block. On more than one occasion I’ve found couples going at it in my parking spot, spreading food debris and the obligatory deflated condoms.
Perhaps the picture I’ve painted will make you sympathize with my plight: Last weekend I came home and found a car parked in my spot, under the carport. Great. Another john and his victim. Or another tourist trying to escape the crowds. Either way, I was in a vengeful mode, so I parked right in front of this vehicle, preventing the owner from leaving without first having a word with me.
Before going through with Operation Block the Invaders, I had a moment of hesitation. My partner’s car was in the shop, so his parking spot was available. I could just park in there and let the tourist/sexual merchant finish their business and move on. In the big scheme of things, a parking spot is just that. And I had two available at the moment. Let it go, Claudia, the little voice whispered.
Ah, the little voice has a hard time asserting itself sometimes. After blocking the car, I walked to my apartment and saw from the corner of my eye a woman climbing down some stairs, crying. Inside the house I waited until I saw the lights from the car flicker. When I saw the woman inside, she was sobbing. “Are you okay?” I asked, a nagging concern suddenly sprouting in my chest. Her response was to cry hysterically. “No, I’m not okay. I was just attacked by my friend’s dog, and she told me it would be okay to park here, and I just wanted to do a favor, and I just want to go.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, feeling like a worthless sack of excrement. “You don’t deserve this.” The woman kept crying and did not speak anymore. I moved the car and she sped away as fast as lightning.
All for a parking spot. A parking spot that I DID NOT NEED. When I went to drop a note to the apartment to apologize, I found blood spots all over the door, on the wall, on the walkway. The dog likely took a good bite out of this woman, this good samaritan who just wanted to keep an eye on her friend’s dog. She literally gave her blood for her friend, and in return … I blocked her escape.
This mea culpa is not just an exercise to unload my guilt. It’s a call for all of us to be better, to really think long and hard about what we’re doing to each other, to our country, to this planet.
We are in really big big trouble, people. Did you see the photos of Earth published in the Google Doodle on April 22 — the melted polar caps, the dying coral reef, the barren lands where once greenery abounded? Depending on the scientist you hear, we only have eight years to avoid “irreversible damage from climate change” according to a high level panel of the United Nations. Eight years to curb the emission of greenhouse gasses by 45 percent. Eight years (or seven, or six, depending on which scientist you’re quoting) before we cross over the point of no return.
Yes, it feels like a lot to correct, but maybe the answer is just kindness. Have the kindness not to hog the resources we think we need. We don’t need two homes, or five cars, or two parking spots. We have plenty. We can afford to be kind to each other, to stop screaming at each other, to stop others from moving forward with their lives.
After our forced isolation for the better part of 2020 and 2021, I naively believed we would emerge a lot nicer to each other. In fact, my favorite pundits extolled the virtues of working together, insisted on the need to find solutions to the pressing problems the pandemic made worse: public health, housing, a new social contract.
I believed the pandemic would not only make us see that, but like a magic wand, would turn us all into sages who suddenly overcame all differences and fixed all problems. Sadly, things seem to have gotten worse. We are facing a mental health crisis of historic proportions, but we’re not really talking about that either.
Being sick makes us angry, and anger can manifest in many different ways when you least expect it, like screaming at a flight attendant for asking you to put on your mask. Or punching your child’s softball umpire for making a call you disagreed with. Or blocking an interloper’s car in your driveway, even if you have two spots, even if you don’t need it quite at that moment.
As we re-emerge from the pandemic, bruised from the last two years, we all need a refresher course in civility, kindness and gratitude. Yes, we have so much — two parking spots, the ability to travel by air, the blessings of breathable air, of running water, of food on our tables. If we continue defending ourselves from imagined transgressions, we will never have enough energy to fight for what’s really important: that breathable air we’re taking for granted, for instance.
And to the woman in my parking spot: I’m really, really sorry. I will do better, I promise. Much better.
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