Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Longing for Free Parking

I’m starting to think I am jinxed in the automated parking lot at Pentagon City. The last two times I’ve been there, I wondered whether I would ever get out.

It sounds simple enough. You get a ticket on the way in. You either buy something in a store like Nordstrom’s that gives out tickets to cover a limited amount of parking OR you pay in a machine as you exit the mall.

The last time I went I ended up not buying anything and attempting to use the machine. It took my entry ticket just fine, but continued to reject my charge card. So I simply drove to a booth with an attendant on the way out and tried to pay the $1.50 I owed. She would have nothing less than $16, the cost of a lost ticket, although I kept telling her my ticket was not lost, but rather was in the jaws of the machine outside of Nordstrom’s. At this point she had the nerve to ask why I hadn’t called for assistance from that machine. A little late I would say.

As the line started to get longer behind me I said, “Either you take my $1.50 or I am just going to sit here and all these people behind me are not going to be happy.”

At that point she called for reinforcements. A big burly guy came over and tried to give me the $16 story once again, suggesting that perhaps I had spent the night in the parking lot, how did he know otherwise? I offered him the chance to call my husband and find out that I had left home a mere hour earlier. He finally rolled his eyes and handed the woman some sort of “get out of jail” card. After which she took my $1.50 and raised the arm in front of my car.

Today when I went I was prepared to do the parking thing correctly. As it turns out I bought a new pair of NYDJ jeans in Nordstroms and they gave me the little blue freebie ticket.

As I pulled up to the robotic parking attendant, I made sure to put the green card in first, stripe up, arrow in. But when I then tried to put the blue card in, it kept getting rejected with a message of “Invalid”. I was sure Nordstrom’s was good for $1.50. I pushed the HELP button and a foreign female voice told me someone would come to help me get out.

Meanwhile I looked to my right and saw another frustrated parking patron, who didn’t seem to have as much patience as I had. I pushed the button again and got a rather loud, “I already call him to come.” By this time both of us who were stuck behind bars were getting impatient, especially when the system has a label “ExpressParc.”

After another 5 minutes a man came and dismantled the other woman’s machine and ultimately told her to back up and go out another exit.

He finally came to me and asked for my green ticket, which of course was somewhere in the bowels of the machine. He pulled out the container of tickets, picked one at random, fed it in, and then fed in my blue ticket. Voila, I was free to go! Never did he apologize to me for the fact that ExpressParc was far from it.

What ever happened to free parking? Or even parking meters? They are disappearing too as we rely on more and more complicated machines to allow us to come and go.


Blogger Kristin said...

I was surprised to discover, at a recent training event in Tysons, a garage with free parking. I've grown so jaded.

I don't know what I'm going to do when I drive "home" for my reunion this summer. I'm going to get so confused with tree-lined boulevards with ample free parking.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Oh, and I'm glad you got out without paying a $16 parking fee! It would be tempting to go in and buy something for the same amount, just to get the validation.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

What a nightmare! But you handled that first incident masterfully -- fight the power!

One good thing about our common home state of Florida: Most of the parking is still free. :)

2:53 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I have had many, many negative experiences with these fully automated parking systems - I find they almost never work. I am constantly having to call someone because they can't process my credit card or they somehow mishandle the ticket. My advice is to stay away from these automated parking sites.

3:26 PM  
Blogger lacochran said...

Pssst... Nordstrom's will give you a validated ticket whether you buy something or not. Just ask. Jives with there full service philosophy, I suppose. That, plus, they're desperate to get you to think well of them after they've marked up their stuff 700%. Still, gotta love the shoes.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- Enjoy free parking where you find it. It is becoming scarce!

Steve -- Yes, there are lots of outdoor parking lots in my little town. Of course, no one goes "down town" any longer since life has moved to the suburbs.

Richard -- I have to bite the (parking) bullet when I go to Pentagon City. They would never miss my business if I stayed away, but I have lots of favorite stores there.

LaCochran -- What an interesting bit of information. I can actually go into Nordstrom's and ask for a parking card without making a purchase? Now that's customer service! Oh yeah, I forgot about the 700% markup...

5:30 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

We still have the put-the-quarter-in-the-slot parking meters in the nearest big town. Here where I live we are just now getting a sidewalk! If I haven't been to a shopping mall in a hundred years - I am feeling like Rip Van Winkle reading your post.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline -- Sometimes automation is not what it's cracked up to be. I much prefer sidewalks and quarter parking meters!

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Marci said...

Ugh. I feel you. And is it just me or is the Pentagon Row underground parking lot designed to keep people from finding their cars and thusly paying extra parking fees. I swear even if I get a validation I still can't exit in time to take advantage of it...mainly because I wander around lost looking for my car.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Marci -- I totally understand. Pentagon Row has a very confusing parking lot. They are making tons of money on parking (and parking tickets) at Pentagon City. And who are they paying now that everything is getting automated? The robots? :)

12:36 PM  
Blogger nutmeg96 said...

That place sucks. Those machines inside the mall don't work at all. One time my ticket got sucked in and wouldn't come back out with the indication that I had paid. Luckily, when I'd arrived, someone else's paid ticket had been sitting in the machine, abandoned. So I used that to exit.

I always park underneath Harris Teeter now -- it's not worth dealing with that clusterf*** garage.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

see, I'm of a philosophy that once something has tasted blood or smelled your fear, you need to go somewhere else! ::Laugh::: Parking in SF can be painful, you need to find someone with good parking karma to go with you (my niece, Campbell has excellent parking karma).

12:57 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Nutmeg -- I'm glad to know it's not just me! Wouldn't you think with as much traffic as they have through that Mall, they could either fix their botched attempt at automation or just pay people to sit there and take our money as we leave?

Kelly -- I generally have great parking karma, but not in that Mall!

1:44 PM  
Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

yikes!! I now have that wonderful folkie protest song now going through my head..... we shall not be moved!

know it? bet david does if you don't!

6:00 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Mouse -- I was thinking more along the lines of "We shall overcome." I'll have to ask my resident guru of folk music about "We shall not be moved."

6:09 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

I'm not fond of that garage or any, and this is why. I carry a roll of quarters in my glove compartment for the street meters. City kid, yanno?

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Jno - The DC Traveler said...

Weird story. Whenever I go to Pentagon City, I park on the street near the Doubletree Hotel at 300 Army Navy Drive. I always find a spot and you don't always have to fill the meters. Plus you avoud all the mess at the mall.

10:31 PM  
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