Cars don't drive people crazy: Parking does.
For thousands of close-in commuters, especially around Northwest Washington and lower Montgomery County, the subway seems to offer a respite from the struggle for downtown parking and the unwelcome intimacies of rush hour.
But the subway runs only from one station to another, while the suburbs run all over. So a lot of would-be riders are discovering that once they get to the Metro, they still have to find a place to park the car.
"I live in Bethesda, and it would be wonderful to be able to use the subway," said Eleanor Magenheim, who works at the Elizabeth Arden salon in Friendship Heights. "But when it gets to be a matter of spending all that time trying to find a parking place and then getting on the Metro, I'd rather just drive."
"It may take only 80 cents and 18 minutes to get from Bethesda to Farragut North," groused another Bethesda resident, "but it's another 15 minutes in Bethesda [looking for parking] . . . or $6 for a cab."
And so the struggle goes on -- only the theater of operations has shifted uptown. In the neighborhoods around Tenleytown, Friendship Heights and Bethesda, the lack of parking designated for commuters has rattled residents' nerves, set subway riders against department store customers and inspired a small but sly "black market."
The tales from the Perils of Pauline Parker include:
* One-a-day parking: Some commuters avoid using the same spot every day in hopes their violations will be less noticeable. One Kenwood man's list included Sears, the four-hour block of Belt Avenue, the alley beside a graveyard and various residential blocks.
* The sticker switch: There are persistent rumors among Ward 3 residents in Northwest Washington of a black market in residential parking stickers, although a District transportation clerk said there has been no notable surge in applications. However, occasional "adjustments" are made: One young woman said she obtained a sticker for a man in her office, in return for dinner at a swank restaurant.
Another man, who fell into a conversation on the subway with a carpenter who was bemoaning the parking problem, offered to barter daytime use of his pull-in driveway in return for help with some remodeling and cabinetry. Because the family car has a residential sticker, he parks on the street.
* The part-time patron: A woman with a half-day job pretends to be on extended shopping trips while really railing downtown and back. She has enjoyed the hospitality of Hechinger's, Sears and the Gap (although, to get a token to get out of the Gap lot, she had to buy a sweatshirt for her son).
* The sublet space: Last summer, just before the subway stops opened, two men independently rented town houses near the Friendship Heights and Grosvenor stations, sublet the houses and retained use of the driveways.
The increase in commuter parking often annoys those who live near the subway stations.
"The street is always full," according to Ruth Chatfield, whose 43rd Street town house is a block from Wisconsin Avenue and near the Friendship Heights station. "Whenever my son comes to visit, he has to drive up around the corner to park.
"You know, they're supposed to have permits," Chatfield continued; but with even the legitimate residential stickers, Ward 3 is crowded.
In the last month, the stakes have been raised dramatically: Doggett's, which manages the Woodward & Lothrop and Lord & Taylor parking lots near the Friendship Heights Metro station, have increased the cost of all-day parking from $2.50 to $12.
After suffering in silence as their open lot gradually filled, Saks Fifth Avenue officials last week installed tollgates and attendants and began charging for parking longer than two hours. "I pulled into Saks," confessed one former freeloader, "and this 19-foot guard came over, and I said, 'Uh, isn't this Fairlington Village?' "
Woodies vice president James Wells said the increase was designed to maintain the parking as a patron preserve. But the rise has warded off some commuters who also consumed. "I found myself spending a lot of money in Woodies because I was walking through," shrugged a Bethesda man. "At $12, it's not much of a bargain."
At least around Friendship Heights, the squeeze is easing. The Colonial lot inside Mazza Gallerie has an early bird special, $3.85 for cars in before 10 a.m. Across the street just north of the Rex's Liquor lot is a 100-space coin-op with a maximum rate of $3.
In Bethesda, though, the bad news is no news. According to Steven Magida of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, a contract has not even been awarded yet on the promised 1,200-space Metro parking garage. Magida estimates it will be at least two years before the building opens.
And around Tenleytown, residents are scowling over four-hour spaces filled for eight, and meters left to run out.
But that, as one area official pointed out testily, is "reaping just what they sowed." A decade ago, when Metro was being planned, the Tenley Circle residents protested vociferously against a parking facility that would draw suburbanites into the neighborhood; eventually, the District was pressured into dropping plans for a 500-space lot at Tenleytown. CAPTION: Picture 1 and 2, The parking lot of the Woodward & Lothrop store near the Friendship Heights Metro station, which had been packed with cars, is nearly empty now that rates have been raised to $12 for cars left there more than five hours; Map, Parking Sites Around Friendship Heights Metro Station. By Brad Wye for The Washington Post; Picture 3, Bumper-to bumper parking on 41st Street NW from Chesapeake to Davenport. Photos by Fred Sweets -- The Washington Post