DR. GRIDLOCK

Dr. Gridlock recently escorted a shaken young relative to the dreaded Bureau of Adjudication, 65 K St. NE, so she could settle her unpaid parking tickets.

Like many new drivers in the District, she had some curious notions about parking tickets:

(1) If you don't pay them, they don't exist.

(2) If you don't pay them, you have triumphed over the system.

(3) It can all be dealt with later.

What ends these delusions is a boot and a tow.

And a trip to 65 K St. NE, where miscreants settle unpaid parking tickets--if they want their cars back. The building, in a run-down area, is a blockhouse without windows. Inside, the first thing we saw was an information desk--with nobody behind it.

A serpentine line led to the "PROCESS" window, which led to another line for the "PAY" window. This bureaucracy apparently never heard of the new system in some motor vehicle offices where the "customers" take a chair and a number and wait for the number to come up on an overhead display.

The processing area at 65 K St. doesn't have a single chair. A sign on the wall says, "NO SITTING ON THE FLOOR." Heaven forbid that the elderly, the disabled, the pregnant or anyone else should seek relief from the lines. If you sit anyway, will they give you another parking ticket?

Our turn. The tickets were tallied, six of them, all with fines doubled for failure to pay. We moved to the next window. Forked over $660.

Now on to the dreadful impound lot, which we were told is at Brentwood Road and W Street NE. It is not. It took us getting lost to find it, at Brentwood Road and 13th Street NE. Many of the street signs in this even-more-run-down area are missing. It is as if city services never come to this area, which is odd, since it is the source of so much revenue.

Talk about surreal. After circling the chain-link fence around the impound lot, we concluded that we had discovered the only possible entrance to this place. It was marked with "Do Not Enter" signs. When I asked a nearby D.C. employee how this could be, he said: "You don't want to drive in there. They'll impound your car, heh, heh, heh."

Apparently one is supposed to park on one of three possible places on the dirt in front of the impound lot--probably a ticketable offense in itself--and walk in, tiptoeing around the many craters filled with water and dodging the tow trucks rumbling in and out.

We retrieved the car. There was concern about possible damage. We reported it, and the desk clerk handed us a form that had no date or ID on it and suggested we send it to another place. It would be rejected anyway, she said.

Elapsed time for this task: several hours.

"Was it Kafka who wrote about the nine circles of hell?" I asked my passenger.

"Dante," she said glumly.

We probably encountered a couple of them. I left the shaken person with Dr. Gridlock's advice for all newcomers to the ways of parking in Washington:

The District government is aggressive and efficient in issuing parking citations. It writes 1 million to 2 million a year. If you get a ticket, pay it--or contest it--that day, before the fine doubles, before the boot and the tow and the dreadful trip to 65 K St. NE. Don't put it off. I learned this the hard way, too.

The young woman's solution to her parking problems in the District is to look for a job in the suburbs, one that has free parking.

A Dent, a Dealer and a SolutionDear Dr. Gridlock:

I need your HELP!! Last month I took my Ford E150 conversion van to the Sheehy Ford service department in Springfield for some electrical work. I picked it up the next day, and my husband immediately noticed a softball-size dent and paint damage on the driver's side door. We showed that to the manager when we picked up the car, and he said they had to talk to several people. They finally said:

"Sorry, this is not our responsibility. This vehicle was like that when it came in."

I have no words to describe my discontent. How can someone get away with something like this? We got an estimate from our insurance company, and it was $826 to fix their damage.

Is there any hope for us? Please look into this.

Isabel Lugo-Miro

Springfield

I spoke to Dan Moreau, assistant service manager at Sheehy Ford, and he said the technician who worked on your vehicle was certain the softball-size dent was there when the vehicle was brought in. He said that fact was noted on "working notes," which are kept in-house and not generally given to customers.

He said the dealership services 2,000 vehicles a month and may get one complaint about damage. I got no feeling that the dealership was going to accept responsibility for what it saw as a preexisting condition, nor did it feel it should.

However, in a follow-up chat last week, Lugo-Miro's husband, Guy, said that he had listed the claims he and his wife felt they were entitled to and that the dealership agreed to take care of the damage. He is satisfied.

Here's what I thought might be useful for all of us: Technicians sometimes make notes of existing dents and scrapes when you first bring in your car, but the thoroughness of the check often depends on the number of cars waiting to be dropped off. You might walk around with a technician and make sure he notes any damage (and gives you a copy), so that you have a basis for any complaints later.

A Riddle Resolved

We asked what kind of car has a license plate that reads STORIES. Some people suggested Acura Legend or Honda Odyssey, which are nice tries. The answer to the riddle, which was sent to us by an official of the Maryland State Highway Administration, was a Saab. As in Saab stories.

We're looking for more license plate riddles.

Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column. Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and on Wednesday or Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at drgridlock@washpost.com. The Doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.