Yesterday's Event was the Annual City Sand Competition, which I have participated in since 2009. It seems to occur each year during a time when my little blog goes on unexpected hiatus (aka writers block), so I guess the last time I wrote about it was here. This year's theme was "A Day at the Races" which was chosen because Baltimore was selected to host a Grand Prix Race on Labor Day. It does seem like a cool idea to race these fast cars through a city as a racetrack, but I will probably watch on the local news as I can only imagine the traffic and crowding will be unpleasant to say the least. We did a model called "Gridlock" which depicts the downtown area (with some artistic license) with the race track twisting and turning throughout.
My personal favorite was this one, depicting a "Baltimore Hon" driving a race car. (You non-Baltimoreans probably don't know what this is...think "Hairspray" and check out the section on this Wikipedia page.)
The competition winner was this one, which was a bit too abstract and artsy for my taste, but this is what you will have when architects start making things out of sand. (It is called "Horsepower.")
OK, so that's the Event. Now for the trick. As anyone living near a city will know, parking in the touristy areas is a nightmare, and most of us locals have devised alternate means for parking. The goal, of course, is to park for free or very little moolah, without getting ticketed or towed. Now that I have been to Hoboken, NJ, I will also add "Being Booted" to that list.
If I am going to the city for a short time, I occasionally use the validation policy of a local business to park for free. For instance, there is a bakery in Little Italy that will validate for up to three hours, and all you need to do is buy an Italian gelatto. I am all in favor of buying a dessert anyway, so it is win-win. Whole Foods has a similar policy, so as long as you do not object to paying $6 for a loaf of bread (incidentally this is the cheapest thing available at Whole Foods), you are good to go.
For the sand competition, which required parking for about 7 hours, I chose a slightly further away parking garage that only charges $3 a day on weekends. Triumphantly, I walked back to the garage and placed the yellow plastic chip into the machine, and paid my $3. I got a second chip and receipt, then walked to my car, which is visible from the machine. I sleepily opened my trunk and loaded up my bucket and various other sand sculpting gear, then performed the "Disappearing Chip Trick".
I had NO IDEA where the chip was. I got out of the car, and re-searched the trunk. I looked through my cooler, and all of its pouches. I checked the bucket, I moved around some of the other random items.
The last place I saw the chip was in my left hand. I was searching along the bottom of the cooler for my keys, and I found them at the bottom. So the cooler was the logical choice. I tore that sucker apart, and then sighed.
Well, I still had the receipt, which clearly stated that approximately 4 minutes prior, I had a chip, and I paid my parking fee. Maybe, just maybe, I reasoned, if I slide my credit card at the exit, the machine would know that I had paid and would graciously allow me to leave.
I know, people, I know. But I was tired and covered in sand.
When this plan did not work, I checked the office for a parking garage employee, and I actually found one there. I showed him my paperwork, and he explained that the fee for a lost token was $17, because the tokens cost them $14 each.
With a huge sigh, I tell him I will have to pay the $14 fee. He says, no, it is $17. But I had already paid three. Feeling extremely foolish, I tried to justify that I should not have to pay $17 for a lost token fee, because I had kept my original token for 7 hours, and lost the new one in 7 seconds. For crying out loud it was probably RIGHT there on the floor!
He refuses to accept this argument, says he has no way to charge me any random amount, and I will have to pay $17 more. I got the manager's name and card, thinking I would have to take up this argument later. I just wanted to get out of the freakin' garage. I tried (unsuccessfully) to console myself knowing that I would have paid $20 for parking anyway, had I parked closer to the venue.
I returned to the car with the thought that Yellow Tokens Do Not Magically Disappear. This thing exists. And I would not let it beat me. I said before that I tore my cooler apart. This time I mean, I TORE that sucker apart! I took out every article in that trunk and shook it, trying to find that stupid plastic coin. Meanwhile, I was alternately trying not to laugh at myself - only I could pay $20 to park in a $3 garage - and cry - how? how could I be so freakin' irresponsible?? How could this thing just vanish into thin air? My very sense of reality was being challenged by a STUPID PLASTIC TOKEN!!
I backed the car through the garage (safely) to the original spot. I tried this plan that "We Who Lose Things Often" know. (By the way, I do not lose things often anymore. I thought I had solved this problem.) It's called "Brother Find Its Brother" and essentially you try to re-create the Incident. You drop the same item in the same spot, only this time, you watch it roll and see where it goes. It actually works pretty well, though on rare occasions you will lose two items instead of one.
I did not have another plastic coin, so I decided on one of those metal ones made by the government. I went back to the spot (now taken by another car, which was still warm and making all those clinky noises that cars will do when recently parked). I dropped the nickel, and it went - nowhere. I had thought it might roll down the ramp, or bounce spectacularly. But, no. I tried again and again with the same results. I dropped the nickel and it landed - right there. Let me tell you, this was very frustrating.
I looked at my phone - I had been in the garage for 45 minutes. Searching. For the Disappearing Token.
Muttering various expletives under my breath, I went to the machine and pressed the "Lost Ticket" button. "Please press the help button for assistance", it says. There is no help button. I pressed the button again, perhaps harder than strictly necessary, and also called the phone line to speak to a person, which rang and rang with no answer. These steps were repeated until I got my card stuck in the machine. For future reference, forcing a machine to do something is a pretty futile effort.
I showed up again at the attendant's door and told him my card was stuck in the machine. He asked why I was using the machine, and I told him, because I can't find the token and I have to pay the $17 to get out. I tried not to be angry with him, because he wasn't the jackass that lost a token in less time than it takes to blow ones nose. But I was angry about the injustice of the world.
He says that the machine doesn't work for that, and I was to pay up front when I forgot a ticket. Well, it doesn't say that on the machine. The machine has a button for "Lost Ticket". This seemed like information which could have been more clearly stated the last time I was in here, trying to get him to refund my $3 so I could go pay $17. He sighed.
He accompanied me to the machine, and used his key to open the door and get my card out. It took about 13 minutes to restart the machine and for a minute there, it said it was out of service and I thought I took out the whole garage payment system. But it restarted, and he pulled a token from his pocket to test it out. I looked at it, wondering if I would seriously stoop to stealing the thing to get out, and, if so, would I successfully not get any dents in my car?
"Drive around front," he said, putting the token back in his pocket. He met me at the gate, then told me he had talked to the manager, who said I could pay the $3 parking fee to get out. I bit my tongue on the fact that I had actually already paid that, and told him thank you. Unfortunately, as I was not truly angry at him, I may have seemed ungrateful and still angry. That freakin' token was still gone! I also bit my tongue when he told me, for future reference, that the policy is to pay $17 for a lost token. Oh! Really? So I shouldn't lose the token? Oh, ok, no problem. Had I only known before, that losing the token was bad, I'd have saved myself a lot of trouble!
Instead, I sighed. He was doing me a favor. Which I did not deserve. I said, "I am sorry for the trouble I have caused you," and drove away.
And there you have it: The Disappearing Token Trick, also known as, "The Trick to Paying As Much as Possible for Parking". Though I am even better at this in Hoboken. What can I say? It is a gift.