FUTURISTS ARE now predicting that the world will end with neither a whimper nor a bang. It will end when enough people can't find a parking place. In Washington they are voting stern parking measures for their streets, which could change the American way of life.
In the past, commuters from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs have driven into the city and have parked their cars all day in front of someone's house, and then at the end of the day driven them back to the suburbs where they pay their taxes and according to all the real estate ads, live the good life.
But a court ruling has changed all this and now motorized incursions from the hinterlands will be prohibited. It could turn Washington into another Beirut.
When you take a person's parking spot away, you take away the dearest thing in his life. We are not really talking about parking - but the territorial imperative. Man has always been willing to go to war over real estate, and there is no land as precious to an American as a place where he can leave his car.
To quote Winston Churchill, "The storm clouds are gathering." In suburban shopping malls militant parking leaders are inciting suburbanites to prepare for battle, City dwellers are calling for armored tow trucks to repel an invasion. Hardiners from both sides are rallying the mobs.
A spokesman for the city dwellers said, "We've had it up to here with the suburbanites' cars.
"They come in the winter and make potholes that we city dwellers have to pay to repair. They come in the summer and pollute our air. They make obscene remarks to our women, and think they can buy anything with their money. Well, now the courts have decided they can't park all day wherever they want to. If they want to live in the suburbs let them stay there."
A leader of the out-of-town Free Parking Movement clenched his fist.
"The Declaration of Independence provides for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," he said.
"But it doesn't say anything about parking," I told him.
"What do you think the 'pursuit of happiness' translates into?" he said bitterly. "There is no greater pursuit of it than trying to finding a place to put your car. Americans spend more time looking for an empty parking space than they do watching television. Ninety per cent of all their leisure time is wasted searching for a parking spot. We will not be told where we can and cannot park. If they lay a finger on the bumper of just one of our loved ones, it will mean civil war."
The voices of moderation are trying to find a peaceful solution to the problem. One that has been offered is that the West Bank of the Potomac be given to the suburbanties for all-day parking. They would have free access to Washington, providing they come over on foot. The Bethesda Heights would be offered for alternate day parking, and the Dulles Airport strip would be declared a neutral zone for tourists.
But both city dwellers and suburbanites are reluctant to accept the agreement.
The militant suburbanites, backed by their militant politicians, have declared that, "Parking is not negotiable. Those parking spaces have been ours for 50 years and we will not give them up."
The equally militant city people are prepared to fight back. As one their leaders said, "The first gas-guzzling commuter car that parks illegally on one of our streets will find a parking meter shoved up its tail pipe where it belongs."