In Praise Of Parking Lot Sunsets

Looking westward … before you miss it!
A sunset is seen along a city skyline.
Photo courtesy Bryan Plata

ON A RECENT weekday evening, I arrived at Summit One Vanderbilt, the newest observation deck in New York City, near Grand Central, prepared for a spectacle. The website advertised it as “New York’s most thrilling view,” and I’d forked over the extra $10 for a special sunset window ticket.

And yes, the view was pretty: twinkling Manhattan skyscrapers set against the backdrop of the gently curving Hudson River, rose and gold streaks dancing across the sky as the city drifted once more into darkness. But one thought kept creeping into my mind: This has nothing on a Midwestern parking lot.

Before I moved to New York City from Indianapolis two years ago to start a job as a senior staff editor at The New York Times, my phone’s camera roll was filled with spontaneous snaps of sunsets, every one of them beautiful enough to be on a magazine cover. Atop IU Indianapolis’ Gateway Parking Garage, feeling the cool breeze on my shoulders before getting ready to head home after a graduate school literature class. In the parking lot of the Brownsburg Kohl’s, looking out at a water tower and rows of crows perched on power lines while visiting my parents. On a bike in the lot next to the Sunken Garden at Garfield Park, catching the moment when the fountains turn off for the night as the clouds turn blue, then gold, then are drenched in a pink-and-purple haze that coats the entire sky. Oh, and you can’t beat the price: free.

Of course, there are optional add-ons: A rainstorm a few hours before. A charcuterie tray to nurse from a picnic basket on a blanket in the trunk of your car. A chorus of cicadas. An episode of NPR’s Fresh Air With Terry Gross on the radio. The strains of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” floating over from the man who plays the saxophone outside Victory Field. But really, you don’t need any of these things.

The fun of the Midwest sunset is not only its beauty, but its unpredictability: One night you might get colors so vibrant that it looks like a lava lamp exploded above you. And then the next night, the sky will go straight from blue to gray to black.

It’s fleeting. Frustrating. Beguiling.

Absolutely unmissable.