Zen and the Art of the Late-Night-Parking-Lot-Conversation

My first real job (not counting a paper-route from 8th grade) was at a small family-style restaurant in town. The majority of us employees were all High School students… except for a few older ones that did the slow day-shift. When it came to evening rush, along with cleaning and closing up shop… that was left to us High School kids.

In school, I didn’t really have friends… just a lot of “acquaintances”. Relationships and friendships are built on “experiencing” things… and I never was able to get invited to the parties, or even take a lot of initiative to pursue “hanging out” with people (I was terrified of rejection)… so I never did a lot of “experiencing” with people. My world was the world of school. While there were people I liked being around (they were actually decent to me), if you asked me the bottom line… School was a big ball of misery.

But this little family-style restaurant… suddenly became another world for me. One I actually didn’t mind. In fact, I liked working there. Sure, washing dishes was messy and a tad smelly… the late-night rushes of large groups were stressful and filled with muffled cries of, “God, I’m never going to get out of here!”… but for me: It wasn’t school. And I wasn’t at home. I was somewhere else… with people my age (give or take 2 years) and actually Experiencing with them.

And my favorite memories of working there… were the late-night-parking-lot-conversations. These *were* fun… every single time.

We would finish cleaning anywhere between 11 and midnight… the dishwasher, the cook and the supervisor would be the last three to leave. Most of the waitresses (yeah, there were no male servers… the owner was a bit of a dirty old man) finished up before that, so they were usually gone already. So it was just us guys. The walk from the front door at last lock-up to the cars at the end of the parking lot would be filled with the in-jokes and previous topics of the night (attractive waitresses was a common one). When we arrived at the cars, all parked fairly close together… we’d still be chatting, so we didn’t get into our cars and drive off right away. Oftentimes, we’d just stand outside the cars… and continue talking.

Sometimes, for up to 3 hours. Suddenly, I didn’t care about school in the morning, or any other reason I had to go to sleep… and we just hung out right there, in front of our cars… and talk.

These conversations… would run the gamut. From life, love, lust… to colleges, problems, personal philosophies, fears, rants… Everything! Something about being in a wide-open parking lot… few to no other cars around… alone in the night air… allowed me, them, us... to open up ourselves. Conversations were uncensored, brutally honest, always real, and always known to not be blabbed about later. The Late-Night-Parking-Lot-Conversation is always considered “not for gossip, on the QT and the down-low.” In the open air, yet behind closed doors. I always respected that. That unwritten rule is what made ME feel comfortable to talk.

But I especially loved to listen.

I wonder how many things I heard that had never been told to other people before? How many things have never been told to anyone since? (Probably not much… but maybe something.)

In the years since working there… I’ve had other Late-Night-Parking-Lot-Conversations. (Not all of them were even in a parking lot, technically.) But they were all in the open air… late at night… no one else around. I often forgot about the specific phenomenon until I found myself in one and remembered, “Hey… this was my favorite thing about my first job… and here it is again!” As soon as I recognize that I’m in that situation… I find myself listening more intently, and speaking more honestly than maybe I usually do. I don’t often get the LNPLC as much as I used to… so when I see it, I don’t want it to go without savoring it as much as possible… and appreciate exactly what it is I’m hearing.

A few weeks ago… I found myself in another LNPLC. A fairly new friend of mine and I were walking to our cars, continuing our earlier conversation that took place during a weekly Geek Game we play. We weren’t talking about the Geek Game, we had moved on to other topics… and we got to our cars, and just stayed there chatting. Fairly early on, I recognized the start of the Late-Night-Parking-Lot-Conversation… and at first opportunity, I took a seat on my car… ready for a wonderfully long conversation.

I got it in spades. It actually wasn’t as long as some LNPLCs I’ve had… but it was high up there in quality. The honest and the revelations… hell, just the plain old fashioned getting-to-know-someone aspect… was nothing short of Beautiful. Like the best ones I’ve had in the past, this was uncensored, honest, real… a real glimpse at the genuineness of another human being.

Reflecting on it later… made me remember how much I loved it. I remember his story… but will never repeat it (remember: The unwritten rule)… and that’s the way it should be. Because to me, empty parking lots are bastions of honesty… places where your soul can be poured out, and not be soiled by the gravel and dirt, nor trodden on by the hundreds of cars and feet the may trek it in a day.

I’ve always been a huge fan of one-on-one conversation… a *really good* one-on-one conversation, that is. And late at night, outside in the open air… with few to no one else around… is my favorite way to have it.


fritz said...

Awesome post! Glad you've had another enjoyable LNPLC.

I'm pretty sure I've only had a couple of those so far. Maybe it's my gender (women in general aren't encouraged to linger in parking lots b/c of the potential for rape/murder); maybe it's b/c I've never worked in a restaurant/on the late shift; maybe it's b/c my nose was always buried in a book (which tends to discourage conversation).

Then again, I had a happy home life (esp after my brother moved out), I mostly enjoyed school, and books were my escape when I needed one.

Valancy Jane said...

I love it when dates end in a long walk or a LNPLC. That's a very good sign.

V. Riley said...

Agreed! I need/want more dates that end like that... or at least consist of it.