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How Parking Saved My Life

September 12, 2022

Larry J. Cohen

“…I didn’t grow up looking to be a parking professional...”


Unless parking is your family business, I bet we have all heard or made that comment in one place or another along the way. For most of us, we somehow found our way into the parking profession. 


Yet, there is no college or vocational tech degree in parking, let alone any college courses on the subject, unless you sought an urban planning or maybe a structural engineering degree. You may have then touched on parking, and piqued your interest into our niche business.


Our career paths into becoming parking professionals are also as diverse as the cars parked in our facilities. 


My story is no different. But in many ways, the parking profession saved my life and created a lifetime career that I have thoroughly enjoyed – at least on most days! 


Whatever your path into our profession, hopefully you have found your place in a rewarding career, whether it be in sales, management, technology, consulting, or other. 


I was a fairly adventurous, if not troublesome, wild kid in my younger years. I was the youngest of four children and was an “oops” that wasn’t really expected by my parents, but a “pleasant” surprise. 


So, my esteem wasn’t too high from the start and my parents’ direction was somewhat absent. I attended a blue-ribbon level high school. 


While many of my friends were focused and disciplined from an early age, with their sights on becoming doctors and lawyers, I was less focused on grades and more focused on just enjoying the day, filled with TV, playing neighborhood sports in the streets, and yes, chasing girls. 


I was accepted into a state university, and even through college, I had a tough time finding a passion that I could envision pursuing for the rest of my life. 


My experience as a business major hit a roadblock when I had to take corporate finance accounting. 


I was told this class was the ‘make or break class’ to graduate as a business major. Well, I broke. It was incredibly stressful time in any young adult’s life when you feel lost with no direction. 


Eventually, I changed my major and found an interest in Communications and actually made it through this program with honors. 


After graduating, I jumped around from potential career to potential career. 


My first full-time job was selling radio advertising time for a Spanish AM station in Philadelphia and then an FM Rock Station in West Virginia. 


When my interest waned and selling “intangible” advertising was not my thing (“intangible” parking spaces is way better!), I ran several retail businesses. But I knew I still hadn’t found my place. 


It is tough when you don’t have that career focus and passion about what you want to do with your life. I asked myself, “Would I ever find my passion in work, or was I destined to jump from job to job?“ 


There was no clear path in sight. I was truly depressed. 


In retrospect, I always enjoyed my part-time job as a valet parking attendant. I had started as soon as I obtained my driver’s license at 15 ½ years old and continued working my way through high school and college to pay bills. 


Yes, I even learned how to drive a manual car while on the job, which I’m sure our customers weren’t really happy about—I once stalled a Porsche as I tried to drive away! 


But could a love for a part-time job actually turn my life around and become a full-time career? Luckily for me, and hopefully you, the answer was YES. 


I started my journey as a full-time hospital manager for the company I had worked for since high school. 


Then I was promoted to an area manager. Eventually, I thought I could do a better job and my entrepreneurial spirit led me to start my own valet business. 


Our profession touches on so many aspects of business, human resources, economic development, master planning, design, construction, life safety and suicide prevention, and technology, to name a few. 


The business was a success and our clients included valet parking for professional sports teams. 


It was an all-consuming effort, with many highs and lows, with nothing worse than being called at 2 a.m. to hear that one of your employees crashed a Rolls Royce. 


After almost a decade, I tired of the business and wanted a life. I sold the business for a nice profit – considering I started from my basement of my parents’ home with nothing. 


After some time to reflect, consult, venture into some other businesses, and paint the house (that is usually a sign you are almost ready to get back to work!), I realized that I missed the business of parking and found myself back in the parking world with a series of high-profile hospital and university positions, staying for last 12 years in my current gig. 


Fast forward to a 40-year career, and in reflection, it has been a great ride. Our profession touches on so many aspects of business, human resources, economic development, master planning, design, construction, life safety and suicide prevention, and technology, to name a few. It’s really an incredibly diverse profession that only those involved can truly appreciate. 


When I published my book, my neighbor asked me, “What can’t you tell me about parking in five minutes that I don’t already know? And how the heck can you fill a whole book about it?” Well, as you know, it is a challenging and rewarding business every day. 


I like to say that 90 percent of my job is great, and 10 percent is dealing with the crazy community, customers, faculty, press and politicians that can be puzzling and exhausting at times. 


But as I tell anyone who asks, if you can find a job that is 90 percent great most of the time, would you take it? 


And the answer is YES!


I honestly believe the parking profession saved my life at a time when I was lost and had no direction. I hope it has done the same for you and that you realize you can make a career of it. I’d love to hear your story one day – even in these pages of Parking Today!


Larry J. Cohen, CAPP is the Executive Director of The Lancaster (PA) Parking Authority and author of the book, “The Quirky World of Parking” available on Amazon.com. He can be reached at lcohen@lancasterparkingauthority.com



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