This year my City of Columbia, Missouri opened a new downtown ten-story paring garage. I will not bore you with another critique of that garage. Other, more literate or passionate writers have covered that territory before me.
My approach is different.
This weekend I figured out what the garage is good for. In no particular order the highlights are:
1. A great workout. I climbed the ten stories on my bicycle last Friday circa 11:00pm. From base to rooftop of the new garage is a constant banked slope upwards. This means a constant climb. Standing in the pedals of my beater bike I worked it to get to the top. While I wasn't totally worn out when I reached the peak of the summit I was panting. Yes, like a dog, thank you. I suggest making the climb on bike after business hours as I did. There were very few parked cars and cars in motion, which made it feel more like I had the garage all to myself. Mine, mine, mine! Yours, yours, yours!
2. A fireworks watching venue. I forget sometimes that I live smack in the middle of red state Missouri. People here like to drive fast, eat fried anything and blow stuff up. Not every one of my fellow Missourians shares these traits, but many do. Again, in 2011, as in every previous year since I was, like 12, I chose not to waste any of my George Washingtons on fireworks. I chose not to attend our Columbia fireworks show despite multiple invitations to do. I remain curious, however, to see an abbreviated version of explosives in action. Thankfully, the top deck of Columbia's new parking garage afforded me that this past Friday night. It's hard to measure the scope of open space from the garage's top at night but somewhere off in the northern distance (Mexico Gravel Road? Hallsville? Acadia National Park?) I witnessed a serious display of color and firepower. Happy Fourth of July to me. Only three weeks late.
3. Disrupting lusty teenagers. As I pedaled round the final bend to the top deck of the new parking structure I came upon two sets of youngsters perched on the hoods of their cars. I unintentionally disrupted two couples' worth of serious groping. Not on purpose. Exposed to a stranger's view, they quickly slunk into their rides and (whoosh!) they were off. Back down the nine levels of ramps in search of some much-desired privacy. Luckily, central Columbia has no shortage of parking structures to choose from.
4. The view. Friends who had already made the trip up to the top of Our New Garage told me of the glorious daytime view. I had no reports of how things look at night from atop the concrete tower. Wow. I remain a serious fan of downtown Columbia (and shall never call it The District) and knew that the view would show more than I had ever seen. I was not disappointed. From 100 feet up I could see the footprint of every building from Garth to Seventh, Elm to Park. I could examine the bulk of buildings as compared to each other. (That latest phone company addition on Sixth and Cherry is overwhelmingly large even from the top of the garage. Numerous building owners have their HVAC units on the roof, a tactic that Missouri United Methodist Church should consider in light of their massive unit droning constantly along south Tenth Street.) I was reminded that there exists a massive downtown park called Columbia Cemetery that remains unlit at night. Its residents demand very little in the way of such services.
5. A place to store bicycle racks. The City thought small businesses would want to locate on the ground floor of the new garage. That product hasn't really flown off the shelves, as they say. In their optimism for business tenants to set up shop on street level the city also installed parking for about ten bikes in front of each of the handful of unclaimed business sites. The result? It looks like a bike party... waiting to happen. Besides bike shops and coffee shops I wonder what kind of businesses could fill all those spaces? No matter. The open bike parking will wait patiently for its rides to show up. Just like the new garage itself awaits drivers willing to discover her hidden charms.