Editorial: Griping About Small Potatoes By BECKY O'MALLEY

Tuesday October 11, 2005

There is so much appalling news from the world this week that it seems like a good time to launch a new department of this paper. Since we are now all present at all major disasters by virtue of high-speed media, it can seem churlish to complain about petty annoyances of everyday life. And yet, if we don’t allow ourselves to complain about such things occasionally, our coping mechanisms will soon get overloaded.  

It’s possible to convert small irritations into global analysis, though it might be better to keep them at the trivial level. Here’s an example: 

Last Thursday we rushed from deadline at the Daily Planet office to a 7 p.m. concert on the University of California campus. Because we had so little time, and hoped to grab a sandwich on our way in, we drove, and resigned ourselves to paying UC’s hefty parking fees in the underground garage next to Zellerbach. Big mistake.  

In its infinite wisdom, the UC parking office seems to have fired all of the personable humans that used to collect money from patrons rushing in to concerts. Since we can walk to campus from our house, we hadn’t tried to park in a garage there for a long time, so this innovation might have been in place for a while, but we didn’t know about it. Neither did anyone else in the long line of desperate concertgoers (probably at least 50) who were trying to pay their dues at the underground parking machine when we arrived at 6:25. We barely made it to our seats at 7, minus the sandwiches. 

Said machine makes Diebold’s voting machines look slick and professional. (Perhaps they are a Diebold design?) Dollar bills (no credit cards of course) have to be inserted one by one, with many rejected because they’re too old, too new, too crumpled or…? You have to predict how long you’re going to be away from your car, so there was much angst among patrons trying to decide how many encores Cecelia was going to offer, and what the penalty for a wrong guess would be. Many people were unable to understand the poorly written instructions on the machine—we entertained ourselves in the line totting up the number of advanced degrees in the crowd of people who couldn’t cope. Several who had come long distances to attend said they’d never come back to a UC event. To complete the payment, you had to press a button labelled “receipt,” instead of something more straightforward like “get ticket.” Figuring this out added three or four minutes to each transaction.  

What’s the Global Analysis? 

All too frequently, a technological solution like this one is implemented for what’s not a problem. All of those cheery young folks who used to sell tickets are now out of work, and why? There should be the equivalent of the Oscars or the Ig Nobel Prizes for this kind of abuse of technology. It needs a catchy acronym, something like TABU (for Technology Abuse BUmmer).  

A different Global Analysis could be that UC isn’t exactly telling us the truth when it says that we need thousands more parking spaces downtown. The university commands a huge number of parking spaces which are typically empty at night because they’re too hard for the public to use. When the dust settled, it looked to us like it was a sold-out concert with many spaces still empty in the parking garage. Clearly patrons who have had the Zellerbach garage parking experience on previous occasions are now avoiding it, and some others on Thursday seemed to be leaving in frustration when they couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to do.  

Now, annoyances like this one could also have been described in two or three cogent sentences without the global analyses, which might have been better. In any event, we’re now offering our readers a new opportunity to gripe briefly in print about similar frustrating experiences. We’ll have a column occasionally somewhere on the opinion pages headed “Gripes,” printed when critical mass accumulates. One paragraph per complaint, no more. It should be fun, or at least therapeutic. 

And just to be fair and balanced, we’ll also run “Bouquets,” single paragraphs about something that’s going right for a change. We don’t expect as many of those, knowing our readers as we do, but we might be pleasantly surprised.