Saturday, March 20, 2010

Park This

I thought it was just me but apparently everyone who lives in a city is obsessed with parking. I had the parking nightmare of my life a week ago and this is how it went: Last Friday night on a lark I took off for Madison Wisconsin to see why Men's Health called it America's second best city for men [Seattle is #1]. I got as far as Chicago by midnight and it was raining pretty hard so I decided to stop at a hostel and get a night's sleep and then go on Saturday to explore the college town with the cheese flavor and the good rep.

I punched up "hostel" on my Garmin navigator and followed the nice lady's voice to the corner of Congress and Wabash in the middle of downtown Chicago. HI CHiCAGO the hostel in the windy city. I parked in an empty lot behind the building and went in to register. I got my room key and just went up to the dorm and fell asleep planning to get up before 5:00 am to move my car before the parking lot attendant got there in the morning. I've done this lots of times before in Miami and Los Angeles [HI Santa Monica] and other places where I've stayed at hostels. It's sort of a dirty little secret that if you exit a parking structure before it opens in the morning the gates are up and you can just leave without paying. But this was not a parking structure. It was an open lot. And this was Chicago. I should have read the signs.

I came out at 4:45 in the morning to find an empty space where my car had been and an empty feeling where my stomach was. I had been towed. A long day stretched before me during which I would take cabs back and forth from the impound lot to the hostel, visit several banks and finally end up at a St. Patty's day party at a bar called the Franklin Tap. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After I recovered from the initial shock of being robbed of everything [I left my luggage and computer in the car] I went back to the hostel desk and explained the situation to the clerk at the desk. They are always very helpful to the traveler and this was no exception. The girl called the towing service, verified that they had my car, then called a cab and I was on my way to the impound lot. No problem. It's only money, and travel is costly.

All-City Towing is in a scary part of Wicker Park and had I not just talked with the lady on the phone I would have thought no one was there, but there was a light on in the construction-office trailer that adjoined the chain link fence around the impound yard and so I tipped the cabby and watched him disappear down the street. My last link with safety. Then I made my way to the impound window, and sure enough, "Connie" was there.

You look up to the window and tip-toe up to hand your ID to the woman behind the bullet proof glass at this place, so that's what I did. I gave her my driver's license and an American Express credit card. Ooops!They only take VISA or MASTER/CARD. I had neither and only $85 cash. So I asked Connie what I could do. My card is a "Blue Cash' credit card but that means Blue Cash BACK when you make purchases with the card -- not Green cash when you need it. I had no PIN for my card and no other cards in my wallet, [a mistake when you visit Chicago]. But somehow I survived. So I'll know better next time

Connie directed me to an ATM about half a mile away which would do me no good so I asked her to call me a cab back to the hostel. On a long shot I asked her if I could get my laptop out of the trunk o fmy car and she actually said I could. [The one "yes" in a vast ocean of "No" in which I would soon be swimming.] So Connie called me a cab and I went back to the hostel. Another $10 ride.

I got back there and decided to stay for the free juice and cereal breakfast [why not] so I set up my laptop and looked for the free WiFi internet connection. Ooops! I should have asked at the desk. The wireless network at the top of the list said HI Chicago so I went there and found a pay site offering 3 hours for $3.95 so I signed up. The certificate had expired but what the heck, maybe it would be alright. Just this one time. What could go wrong? Then my computer started acting funny. Nothing would work. No access to the internet. And my credit card info was now in the hands of some no-name generic internet provider pay site. Not too smart, but I was far from home and had not even had my first cup of coffee after finding my car missing so give me a break.

I finished my bran flakes and OJ, put my laptop under my raincoat and went out into the cold Chicago morning to seek my fortune. It was Saturday and banks would be open. No problem getting $170 cash with AMEX on my side. Right? Nope.

After 3 attempts to do the legitimate thing [visit the lobby of a bank and discuss my problem with a banker] I had opened a new checking account, collected a variety of suckers and candy kisses and other treats that banks are giving out now [it's a bank thing if you haven't been recently] and I heard the words "We cant..." said in so many verbose and polite ways it was making me sick.

Four hours and three bank visits later and still no $170. I actually became a customer of one of the banks. I opened a new checking account and tried to fund it with a cash advance from my AMEX card. No dice. Cash or check only on the first deposit. Twenty five dollar minimum. Now they had $25 of my fast disappearing dollars and I had another bank account that did me no good what-so-ever, so I finally eventually started cruising bars. Hey, on St. Patrick's week with a parade marching down the street, and everyone wearing green beads like Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras, you would too.

But before that there came a brief interlude when I took refuge in the Chicago Public Library.
Libraries offer free internet service to anyone. I plugged in my laptop and up came their WiFi. Success! I went on Twitter to connect with some friendly people. I got into a pretty good tweet rally with @Jane_bot, whom I haven't really engaged online before(she never uses the @sign) but you could tell we were responding to one another and @JimmyTourettes even documented the fact with this inimitable tweet: So that was a fun recess, but I had to eventually face my problem.

The point is: I was feeling demoralized and far from home on a cold rainy Saturday but twitter gave me temporary shelter from the storm. As I look back, that is the part I remember most. [other than the girl at Starbucks] I sat in the Chicago Public Library for an hour or so just blindly tweeting back and forth with @jane_bot neither of us replying specifically @ one another, but shooting zingers and hitting bulls eyes, and I laughed my head off a couple of times. It brought me the courage to deal with my problem and the inspiration to get recklessly creative. I had to get my car back and it took me most of the day but finally I did it. In the end, it was simple.

It occurred to me that bar owners can make things happen, so I talked to a door-man and he said the girls inside were friendly so I went inside and, long story short, I got my car back. I consider myself lucky to have survived the holiday. So I'm reminiscing about it today in the comfort and warmth of my Ann Arbor apartment.

So now things are back to normal. I'm looking for a girlfriend and she's looking for me. What are you looking at? Quit looking at my butt.

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