The story behind the viral photo of the ‘1 Minute Parking’ sign

Too good to be true: L.A.'s 1 minute parking.
(Laura E. Davis / Los Angeles Times)

It was a sign that embodied L.A. traffic: “1 Minute Parking.”

There it was, on San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood. Not graffiti, not a movie prop. It was real-life proof that what we Angelenos faced on the roads was beyond comprehension unless you'd actually lived it. At a glance, it showed L.A. as the epitome of gridlock and an endless search for parking spaces. Even if you didn’t live here, you could appreciate its novelty — which explains why the photo of the sign went viral last week.

Alas, it was too good to be true. The “minute” part was a misprint: It should have said “1 Hour Parking” — still difficult enough but, as a street sign, unremarkable. I happened upon the misprinted version two years ago and took a photo, and until last week I had that piece of proof in my back pocket to whip out – “No, seriously, one minute parking!” Part of me wishes it still existed. But the demise of “1 Minute Parking” has given me another unlikely story to tell.

I saw the sign when I was in Brentwood with a friend. We had been hiking and were trying to park before grabbing something to eat. As an Angeleno, I have an ingrained habit of paying close attention to any parking sign before I walk away from my car, because, well, you never know, even on the weekends.

I believe that’s when I spotted it. “1 Minute Parking”? Well, it looked a bit like a loading area, so it didn’t seem entirely implausible. Also, like I said, this is L.A. — when it comes to car travel, there’s little that seems too ridiculous to be true.

As an active Instagrammer, I snapped a photo and posted it.

I also tweeted it. It got exactly two likes on Instagram, zero retweets and zero favorites. To be fair, the presentation wasn’t ideal on Twitter -- since it was from Instagram, the photo was a just a link, and the caption “Only in L.A.” wasn’t very descriptive.

So there it was, not appreciated in its time.

Two years later, I was reminded of my “1 Minute Parking” photo and decided to post it to Reddit. That’s when it took off, garnering almost 800 “upvotes” on the Los Angeles subreddit, the part of the site dedicated to news and discussions about L.A., and getting picked up by media outlets near and as far away as London.

But on the Los Angeles subreddit, it wasn’t simply gawked at. Someone there, a user with the screen name maskdmirag, who works for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, saw my post and knew something was amiss. He knew where to report the misprint, and his action got the sign fixed

Redditors have a reputation for their activism. They aren’t passive consumers of the news they share on the site. Sometimes, it’s not for the greater good, like after the Boston Marathon bombing, when their Web sluething pinpointed some innocent men. But that’s a mistake the community has learned from.

So the actions of maskdmirag aren’t entirely surprising. None of my Instagram or Twitter followers had an interest in the photo except to marvel at it. But at this particular social site, I found someone who cared more. Thanks to Reddit, an erroneous sign was replaced, for the good of those trying to park on a particular street of an L.A. neighborhood. It’s not that this kind of thing doesn’t happen on other social media sites -- we’ve all heard the stories of the Facebook plea leading to donations -- but this chain of events gave me a new appreciation for Reddit.

The downside? Maskdmirag ruined my “You won’t believe this about L.A.” narrative. But my fellow Redditor provided fodder for another narrative I like to tell, the one about the power of social media.

What's the most ridiculous parking sign you've seen in L.A.? Tweet it to me: @lauraelizdavis