Ben is a product of the Baltimore public schools. I met him on a frigid winter night when I needed a friend. Ben is a parking-lot attendant, but not just any parking-lot attendant. He patrols the sprawling lots at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport looking for motorists in trouble.
I was in trouble. The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SEL sedan I had driven to BWI a few days earlier was no longer there. I parked it in the C tower in Row C5, Space 129. I carefully noted the spot in my trusty notebook, but the car was gone. So I did the first thing you should not do in that situation. I panicked.
Who the heck would steal a Volkswagen Jetta? That was my first thought. The Jetta is about as ordinary as you can get in the world of automobiles. It does not stand out. It is the kind of car you get to blend in.
It is a nice car, especially with its 2015 structural improvements. It will do well in a crash of vehicles of similar design and size. But it is not a theft-worthy nice car.
I was flummoxed. Maybe I had erroneously noted the parking spot. Maybe I had driven another car — I drive so many. Maybe I didn’t drive to BWI. But I did. And I parked on Row C5, or 5C, Space 129.
Ben was patient, almost saintly. I surmised that he must do this kind of thing all the time — deal with harried, clueless motorists who have just landed at BWI and can’t find the car they drove there. Ben had a plan. “Are you sure the number was 129?” he asked. Check. “C5, 5C?” Not certain. “Did you notice a ceiling? If you noticed a ceiling, that means you parked inside.”
I noticed a ceiling. I parked inside. Convinced of my sanity, Ben patiently drove me all over the BWI parking empire looking for the lost Jetta. We didn’t find it.
I searched my mind and discovered an e-mail I had mislaid, misfiled, running between news conferences at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The e-mail said there would be no car waiting for me at BWI when I returned from Detroit. I would have to make other arrangements to get back home to Virginia. I would need Ben.
Ben was a godsend — patient, humorous, methodical. He said he was a “decent” student in school in Baltimore, not a scholar or anything like that. “I got by,” he said, and for that I was grateful.
Ben kept me sane during one of the most insane moments of my life. “You are right,” he said. “I can’t see anybody stealing a Jetta.” And he laughed when I figured out what had happened to the car: It had been retrieved from BWI by the test-car supplier.
I apologized for using so much of Ben’s time running around BWI looking for a car that wasn’t there. He laughed. “No problem,” he said. “But maybe you’d better get home and get some rest.”
I’m taking Ben’s advice. We’ll look at that Jetta next week.