Parking your car in a commercial lot is never a soothing experience. First, the attendant hands you a ticket that was stamped 47 minutes earlier -- and hopes you won't notice. Then, some kid who might be 17 (and might be 12) guns your buggy down the ramp on two wheels, complete with heart-stopping squeals. As he drops ashes on the carpet. Or changes the radio station from mellow classical to raucous reggae. Or all of the above.
Later, you get charged $7.50 for the "service" you have received.
But even that song and dance pales in comparison to what went on last month at two local lots.
AWFUL PARKING STORY NUMBER ONE: It transpired in Bethesda, when Barry Lyons of Germantown drove in, peaceful as pie, and tried to park his car.
The attendant handed him a stub and told him to proceed down to Level 4. Barry did. He was just pulling into a space when a second attendant materialized and told Barry that he couldn't park there.
Barry asked where he should park instead. Attendant Two told him to park so that he would be blocking another car, and to leave the ignition key.
Barry said, hey, what about those other spaces over there that are vacant? Can't I park in one of them without leaving my ignition key?
You park where I tell you or you can't park here at all, Attendant Two replied.
That was a little more totalitarianism than Barry was prepared to swallow. He drove back up to the main entrance and informed Attendant One that he was leaving because he didn't want to park in a space where he'd have to leave his ignition key.
"Okay," said Attendant One. "That'll be $1.50."
"For what?" screeched Barry. "I never parked. I was just trying to park."
There followed a long argument about rules, validation slips and other stuff you should be glad you missed. Barry ended the debate by zooming out of there without paying. As he did so, Attendant One loudly informed "most of Bethesda that my parents were never married."
Barry would like the world to know that his parents were indeed married. He would also like to know what I think he should have done.
No advice necessary, Barry. You handled it just fine. But for those who are more cautious, or more procedurally inclined, county officials advise paying the outrageous $1.50, getting a receipt, then taking the crumbums to small claims court. It's a long way around, but an effective way.
AWFUL PARKING STORY NUMBER TWO: This one brings us to a PMI lot downtown. Ann Witherspoon had been parking free in that lot on Sundays for eight years, because she knew the lot was closed on Sundays.
But one Sunday in early 1986, a man was stationed by the entrance. He wasn't wearing a PMI uniform, but he demanded money. Suspicious, Ann called PMI. A PMI official confirmed that the lot was closed, and said he'd send someone to investigate. But by the time the someone had gotten there, the "attendant" had left.
A Sunday or two later, when Ann pulled up to the lot, same scene. But this time two men were demanding money. Neither was wearing a PMI uniform. Witherspoon called the police, who said there was nothing they could do unless money had changed hands.
So Witherspoon paid one man $3 and parked her car. Then she called the police again. They came and arrested the man, but let the other one go. Witherspoon said she'd be delighted to testify when the case came to trial. She never heard another word.
Same lot, four months ago. Same guy trying to collect money from a foreign couple. Ann jumps in and warns the couple that the man is a crook. Man denies it. Ann says if that's true, then call PMI and have them vouch for you. Man runs.
Cut to Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Ann is on her way to her office to do some work. She cruises past the PMI lot for old times' sake. The guy and his friend are there once again, and the friend is holding a wad of bills. Ann calls the police, but by the time they show, the two men have left.
Must have been quite a gold mine for these guys to keep coming back Sunday after Sunday, risking arrest each time. And quite a display by Ann, wasn't it? How many citizens would go that far out of their way to blow the whistle?
But both the men and Ann would be spending their time in other ways if the public would heed the words of two people.
First, Sgt. Joseph Gentile of the Metropolitan Police: "Any time you suspect something is funny, call the police and let them handle it."
Second, Ron Williams, vice president of PMI: "It does happen occasionally, and the customer should report it to PMI when it does." Meanwhile, says Ron, protect yourself by making sure the attendant is in uniform and that he hands you a stub. If he doesn't do both, he's not the real thing.