'Bob Levey speaking."
"Are you on deadline, Mr. Bob, the columnist?"
"What if I told you that I had a story for you about kinky sex in high places?"
"The deadline could wait."
"All you newsies. All the same."
"Wait a minute! I recognize that voice. It has to be The Great McDuff, world's greatest police reporter."
"Well, shucks, Bob, I don't know about greatest . . . ."
"What's happening, McDuff? You still wishing you'd stayed in newspapers, instead of making zillions in the Washington wonderworld of P.R.?"
"As a great man once said, Bob, 'Well, kinda.' "
"McDuff, as our revered night city editor used to say, my time is short. What are you selling, you rotten-idea salesman, you?"
"Nothing, you rotten cynic, you. I'm offering. A column idea is what I'm offering. You too high-falutin' to accept a column item?"
"From you, it has to be a National Airport item."
"Very good, Robert, my son. But then again, you have known for years how much I hate that place."
"Yes, McDuff, I have. But what elicits this new burst of venom?"
"The parking situation there."
"Nothing new about that. It's been a zoo for ages."
"Yeah, but now the regulars have the whole thing figured out. The key is Friday morning. Everyone in town flies somewhere on Friday night, right? But no one wants to try to find a space at the airport on Friday night, right? So what the regulars do is they get up on Friday morning, drive to National, get a space, park the car, take the subway downtown, spend a regular day at work and then take the subway or a cab back to the airport when it's time for their flight. And when they fly back into town on Sunday night, there's no hassling with cabdrivers who've never heard of the 14th Street Bridge. The car is waiting, and the Fleetwood Mac tape is all set. Nice as pie."
"So where's the sin, McDuff?"
"The sin, Robert, my formerly egalitarian friend, is that these parking hogs are making it impossible for the normal airport user to park at National any time during any weekend. These guys have snarfed up all the spaces by Friday morning."
"But, McDuff, the snarfers are paying for those extra hours."
"They're paying peanuts, Robert. Three days parking instead of two. Nothing, when you're on an expense account. But they're causing much more than a few bucks worth of damage."
"Damage? What are you talking about, McDuff? Is this going to be one of those sermons about how National wouldn't have these problems if an entrepreneur ran it instead of the regional airport authority?"
"Yes, precisely, Robert! The authority is afraid to make anyone mad, so it makes everyone mad. The management knows this parking scam is going on. It knows it should institute a 48-hour maximum in National's lots. But the airport management can't change the rules without public hearings and a comment period. And if some congressman from East Dipswitch lets it be known that he likes things the way they are, the authority would dump the 48-hour maximum so fast it would make you dizzy."
"So what are you saying, McDuff? You want some great capitalist organization like Domino's Pizza to run the parking lots at National?"
"No, Robert. I want every car that comes into the parking lots on Friday morning to be chalked on its left front tire. Then, when that car comes through the toll booth on Sunday night, and the clerk sees the chalk, the driver gets a handout. It'll appeal to his higher-minded instincts. You know, something like, 'Dear Patron, Parking at National is scarce. Please don't park here for three days, especially on weekends.' "
"And when that gets ignored?"
"The old method that worked when we were kids, Robert. A cop standing there at the toll booth, preferably a cop with a big, beefy face and a deep, intimidating voice. Have him lean in the window and tell the driver that what he's just done is dirty, rotten, filthy and lousy. Same way the cop on the beat back home in Newark used to scare the daylights out of me. He used to say if he caught me smoking again, he'd tell my mother."
"So that's why you're still good for a pack and a half a day, huh?"
"Hey, Robert, I never said I'd quit. I just told the cop he wouldn't catch me. Not the same thing."
"McDuff, I can sympathize. But not very much."
"What do you mean?"
"The answer to your prayers isn't a cop, and it isn't a new parking policy. In fact, the answer to your prayers is already right in front of you every time you drive into the airport."
"And that answer is?"
"It's called the subway, McDuff. As our revered night city editor used to say, cheap at the price."