GENERATIONS: Doug Lewandowski: Russian Roulette in the parking lot


I play Russian Roulette. It’s not the kind where you put a bullet in a gun, rotate the cylinder and pull the trigger, all the while swilling bad Vodka and ambivalent about the outcome. And it’s not like the grim scene from the “The Deer Hunter,” that still hangs in my mind, set during the Vietnam War, where Robert De Niro dances on the edge of despair. No, mine is much more benign. I play a game of chance in the University of Minnesota Duluth’s parking lots.

If you asked any student at a large university about what finding a parking spot is like, I suspect you’d get an earful of grunts, groans and sighs, with shrugs and eye rolls. They know the game and refuse to play. They take a bus.

I have only one class, taken for pleasure and development in writing. I am the senior member by at least 50 years. The instructor, a very gracious woman, could easily be a daughter, the others pretty darn close to grandchildren.

The drive to the campus is easily done in 15 minutes. After trial and error, I have developed a strategy for finding a parking spot that doesn’t require a 30-minute walk.

The old ceramic bowl that holds spare change in the bedroom has become the best source for quarters for the meters in the lot. Hidden away in various bins in the car, the money is also an excellent back-up for other metered stops city-wide.

After much trial and error, the best spot for parking a car is across the street from the student center where all the DTA (Duluth Transit Authority) busses offload. But, there is a very narrow time window for getting a spot. Depending on demand and timing, entering the lot at the right time gets you a space. If not, you’ve spun the parking lot bullet chambers and your luck’s run out.

The winding road through campus to the west parking lot by the astronomy building is the next best option. If the meters there are taken, it’s the visitor’s parking lot, where four bucks is the toll. The guy that takes your money is nice, but it’s still four bucks that could’ve been used for an IPA at Bent Paddle Brewery.

If luck holds and you score a spot in the west lot, there’s the walk. It’s not bad if you know where class is. If you don’t, well . . .

The Duluth campus buildings are interconnected by wide corridors on two levels. A rookie, (no names mentioned), can get hopelessly lost. It took twenty-five minutes to find the seminar I was taking and another twenty to find where the car was parked after class. Even when thirst and starvation loomed, inquiries made of students and faculty drew blank stares and more shrugs. . . They get lost!  Aimless wandering continued. In the interim I ran into my neighbor, a DTA driver and one of the few people I know in the city, who pointed me in the right direction.

I know finding a parking spot on a large university campus is REALLY not like Russian Roulette. But every time I don’t win the game, I have to pay four bucks at the visitor’s lot. I do miss the Bent Paddle IPA.

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