Rotarians Park Cars
By Buzz Stillinger
Naval Academy home football games attract thousands of cars to the stadium on Rowe Boulevard for each home game in Annapolis. Many fans come early and set up tailgate parties. Without some strict organization, there would be chaos, hot tempers and inefficient use of the parking spaces. To achieve that organization, the Naval Academy has for the last 20 years turned to the Rotary Club of Parole in Annapolis to coordinate parking at each home game.
The benefit to the local community doesn’t end with efficient, organized parking. The Naval Academy Athletic Association shares some of the parking fees with the Rotary Club for providing this service. This money is combined with other funds raised by the club and is given back to the community in the form of grants to worthy and needy local organizations.
Previous recipients of Parole Rotary Club grants include Anne Arundel County Court Appointed Special Advocates, Inc. (CASA), the Arundel Lodge, The Boy Scouts of America Baltimore Area Council, the Heritage Harbour Chorus, Woods Community Center, the Organization of Hispanics/Latin Americans, Anne Arundel Medical Center, Chrysalis House, Annapolis High School and Anne Arundel Community College.
In the early years, the club’s primary role was to collect the $4 parking fee at each gate for the NAAA. Many fans thought that the Rotary volunteers were minimum wage workers instead of the professional people they really are. Diehard alumni were used to certain privileges, and among them was parking anywhere they chose. Dr. Hank Canton, for example, a former Parole Rotary member and a practicing heart surgeon, once asked an irate patron to move his car from a fire lane. A creature of habit from previous years of uncontrolled parking, the patron refused to budge. Yelling expletives, the patron exploded with, “Do you know who I am? Well do you?” Dr. Canton’s immediate response was, “I sure do. I operated on you just three weeks ago!” Nothing more was said and the car was moved.
At first, the NAAA limited the club’s role in directing parking. Their role was to collect parking fees and to get fans to limit the space for their tailgate parties. Recently, NAAA changed that requirement by having all fans prepay for parking and it asked the club to take a larger role in directing the parking, using its manpower to check for prepayment at the gate and to redeploy the majority of the staff to the field. The objectives were to maximize the use of the parking capacity, to assist fans and to improve safety by limiting the traffic driving through the parking lot. This change has afforded tailgate parties to expand into the driving lanes without impeding traffic as they had in the past.
But this change did not come without its pains. One female fan labeled the Rotary parkers as “Parking Nazi’s” after her son and others were playing football in a traffic lane and were asked to move to a safer location. “She thought it was cruel of us to push her kid around, even for his safety,” said one parker, and she returned to the next game with “Parking Nazi’s” signs that she placed on other parked cars.
Then there are some who don’t think they need to pay at all. One Rotary volunteer related this story: “A retired admiral drove up to my gate after it was closed and got out of his car with a beer bottle in one hand and pointing his finger at me with the other. He stated he didn’t have a parking pass but was a retired admiral and I had to let him in. I told him the lot was full and I couldn’t let him in.
“I will have your job if you don’t let me in,” the admiral said, and I answered, “Great! I am a volunteer and you can take my spot at the next game.” With that he raised his bottle and started to come at me. Then I said, “Stay there for one minute, I think I can help you.” I yelled for a nearby police officer to come over and I told him that the admiral drove up in the car drinking a beer which is still in his hand and I think he is intoxicated. Then I told the admiral to have a nice day, and left him with the police officer. Needless to say, the admiral was still yelling at me when I walked away.
Real problems ensue when Rotary volunteers encounter the naval equivalent of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Two alumni classes who graduated more than three decades apart were assigned tent spaces next to each other. One class had live, loud music, huge audiences and generators grinding away while the other (older) class had people wanting a quiet drink and a chat with their fellow class members and families. Friction ensued. Rotary tried to move one away from the other, but neither would move because they both wanted to be near the exit. One rumor had it that water was poured into the loud generator’s fuel tank so it would not start. Nothing was proven, however.
It should be noted that there is the brighter side to parking duties that outshines the dark side. Fans and club members interact and get to know each other over time, and it is not unusual for the parking volunteers to be offered a plethora of tantalizing tasty treats along the way that have included eggs, bacon, sausages and freshly brewed coffee.
Volunteers even get offered breakfast burritos and an especially good Mai Tai before 9 a.m. One fan shows up with his family at every game and always invites the volunteers at his gate to try out his latest vintage wine.
Finally, when the first half of the game is over and the gates no longer need to be staffed, Rotarians gather outside Gate 7 under their own tents to (first of all) sit, then drink, eat and relate parking stories at a well-deserved party of their own, knowing they have done another good deed for Navy fans and generated more income for community causes.
You may visit www.parole-rotary.org for grant applications and additional information on the Parole Rotary Club.
Buzz Stillinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org