Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Here is another horror story to add to your collection of valet parking problems. My brother's boss drove his new $70,000 Jaguar to one of the high-class restaurants in Washington and immediately was greeted by a valet parker in an official-looking red coat.

Unfortunately, when the Jag owner came out of the restaurant to claim his car, none of the valet attendants had seen it or parked it. His car was driven off by the valet impersonator in the red coat.

Luckily his car was found a couple of days later, with minor damage.

From now on I always check the name of the valet parking service when I leave my car at a restaurant. And I make sure that there is more than one attendant there as a witness.

Bob Stacy

Falls Church

I'm not sure I would ever take a $70,000 car out of my garage, but thanks for the tip.

After-Theater Ticket

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Thank you for your Sept. 6 column on bad valet-parking experiences. The same thing happened to me.

We drove from Annapolis to Washington in June for dinner and the nearby performance of "The Merchant of Venice" at the Shakespeare Theater on Seventh Street NW. We gave our keys to the valet parker at the restaurant. When we returned from the play, he made no mention of any parking ticket.

Nearly two months later, I got a notice from the D.C. government saying I had incurred a parking ticket on our night out in Washington, and the unpaid fine had doubled to $100.

I have not heard from the restaurant or the D.C. government. What should I do?

Paula Binder

Annapolis

First, pay the ticket, if you haven't already. Unpaid tickets in your name--regardless of who is at fault--can lead to a boot and a tow to the Brentwood impound lot in Northeast Washington and a day out of your life you don't want to experience.

Contact the restaurant manager. He/she should be understanding, and either the manager or the valet parking company should pay the ticket.

P.S. If it's any consolation, at least you got to see a riveting performance of "Merchant of Venice," with Hal Holbrook as Shylock. That was SRO for weeks. Tip: There is a multilevel parking garage right behind the theater, on Eighth Street NW. You can park yourself and take an elevator to street level.

Valet a 'Fine' Experience

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

We had a similar bad experience. Last summer we used valet parking at a good Cleveland Park restaurant. Two months later, we got a notice that a fine had doubled to $40 for an unpaid parking ticket. Using my credit card records, we figured this happened while we were in the restaurant. My guess is that the driver of valet parking saw the ticket and got rid of it--without informing us, of course.

I think this is unfortunate, because this practice will drive patrons away from good and hard-working businesses.

We almost never do serious shopping in D.C. because of the parking problems. Should we also dine in the suburbs?

Alexandra Shilo

Washington

I leave that to you. Dr. Gridlock does not use valet parking because I don't like handing over my keys to a stranger and don't like waiting for the car to be brought to me. I use parking garages where I can park myself. Note: Always check the posted hours to see when the garage closes. Nothing like returning to the garage after a nice evening to find your car locked behind metal gates. (Learned this one the hard way, too.)

Keep the Splendor Secret

The following letter is in response to Dr. Gridlock's visit to Highland County, Va., which is nestled in the mountains of western Virginia. It's a beautiful place that has no traffic.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Shhhhhhh! Don't talk about Highland County, Virginia's "Little Switzerland," with so much enthusiasm. Everyone will want to go there, and it will be ruined!

You're right about the traffic congestion, though. Highland County is roughly the same size as Fairfax County, yet has only 2,500 people versus nearly 1 million in Fairfax. In Highland County, a traffic jam is when 10 vehicles get stuck behind a log truck going over Bullpasture Mountain.

With no divided highways and just one traffic light (a blinking one, yet) folks there can't understand why anyone would want to put up with the kind of traffic we endure here in the Washington metropolitan area.

West Virginia license plates say, "Almost Heaven." They would be in heaven if they lived in Highland County.

P.S. We have a vacation home in the county and eventually will retire there.

Mike Hughes

Alexandria

I hope that your home has plenty of guest rooms. Dr. Gridlock is always looking for ways to escape our gridlock, which I'm afraid is going to involve moving from this area. I see things only getting worse here, beyond the traffic saturation point. (Isn't local driving fun these days? Quick--any more farms we can convert to town house developments?)

Previously, I've reported only half tongue-in-cheek that we can escape gridlock by moving to Flamingo, Fla., which is at the end of a 30-mile dead-end road at the southern tip of the Everglades. I'm soliciting your nominations of other remote places.

It may be that for those of us who have endured decades of traffic abuse here, anywhere that has no gridlock is a desirable place to settle.

Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and 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.