Lunch or parking? The commuter’s dilemma

Columnist

I know there used to be some sort of underground railroad that ran from near my house to downtown, but lately I’ve been ignoring it in favor of driving to the office — at least on the two or three days a week I don’t work from home. I’m driving often enough that — like all Washington drivers — I’ve become obsessed with the traffic.

Is that bus up there broken down and blocking traffic or just discharging a passenger? Is the construction at Columbia Heights finished, or do you still have to stop and portage your vehicle over the broken concrete? Can I shave off a few seconds by driving through that church?

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

It’s not so much that I’m longing to get to the office; it’s that I’m eager to get to the parking garage.

Oh, you think, how wondrous this parking garage must be, with complimentary cappuccino and free foot massages. No, it’s just that if I get there by 10 a.m., I qualify for the Early Bird Special: $10 to park instead of $12 — a savings, if my math is correct, of $2.

As I motor down 16th Street, I am fixated on those $2. In fact, I sometimes plan my whole morning around them: where the dog is walked (one of my standard routes is a third longer than the other), what I have for breakfast (Eggs? There isn’t time!), whether to floss (I can’t spare the 30 seconds!).

The tolerances are minuscule. Leave at 9:29, and I often qualify for the Early Bird Special. Leave at 9:31, and I often don’t.

A certain irrationality can creep into my behavior. Some days I abandon plans to make a brown-bag lunch at home because I think the preparation time will push my arrival at the parking garage to 10:01 or later. That means I have to buy lunch downtown, hard to do for less than six bucks. I will, in effect, have spent $6 to save $2, a net cost to the Kelly fortune of $4.

But some days I’ll gamble — that smoked turkey in the fridge is just gonna go bad if I don’t throw it between some mustard-slathered whole wheat. There have been times when I’ve packed a sandwich, left late and still arrived before 10. If you work anywhere near 15th and L streets NW, you may have heard my whoops of joy. Take that, system! There is a God!

But there remains the troubling matter of the parking garage itself. Is its clock calibrated precisely with mine? I have noticed that my claim ticket is sometimes stamped 9:59 when I could swear it was 9:57. It hasn’t been a problem — yet.

Nor have I encountered a line of cars waiting to get into the garage, each of us sitting there as the clock ticks inexorably down, the Early Bird Special — my Early Bird Special — disappearing like a desert mirage. But I can see that’s a possibility, and I dread the day I have to leap out of my idling car and run to the head of the line to demand a ticket.

On the days when everything works out, I arrive on the right side of 10 a.m., get out of my car — leaving the keys in the ignition — and accept the proffered ticket. Then my car goes . . . where? My car has a whole other life that I know nothing about. It’s driven by a stranger into the bowels of the city, and who knows what mischief it gets into once it’s down there.

Nicking narcissus

Mount Pleasant’s Jack McKay was bicycling through Rock Creek Park recently when he was stopped in his tracks — er, wheels. He was stunned to spot a dog-walking couple picking daffodils from a slope at Peirce Mill.

“I confronted them,” Jack wrote, “and they were unrepentant. ‘So, you’re going to squeal on us?’ said the man, showing that he knew full well that picking the daffodils from national parkland was illegal.”

Jack said they took their floral booty, got in their car and drove off — “on Broad Branch, towards the high-income neighborhoods of Northwest D.C. These were people who knew better and could well afford to go to Johnson’s Flower Center and buy whatever flowers they wanted.”

Well, who can be sure of that? But anything short of needing the daffodils to make a special serum to save a dying child sounds pretty lousy to me.

“What does one do about such people?” Jack asked. “Am I wrong in finding this behavior outrageous? The daffodils of spring are to be shared, not stolen and taken home.”

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