I’m a bad person.
Some of you are thinking, “Um . . . duh.” But for the few of you that may need some convincing, I offer this true story for your consideration.
One evening a year or two ago, I had just returned to Orange County from a business trip. I trudged over to my SUV in the parking lot at John Wayne, threw my bags in the back, and joined the line of cars to exit.
At the time, the parking lot exit consisted of lanes on either side of a booth manned by a parking lot attendant. A couple car lengths back, the lanes split off from a single lane that passed through the front portion of the parking lot. That lane wound around the parking lot at the top level of the parking garage.
I had arrived at the airport at roughly the same time as hundreds of other people making the evening air travel commute. As was common at that time of day, I had to wait behind a few cars at the exit booth.
As I pulled up to the window, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to retrieve my parking ticket.
I could picture where it was, resting in the front zipper pocket of my bag. Accessing it would mean putting the car into park, getting out and going around to dig into the back of my SUV, all under the judgmental and impatient stares of the people in the cars behind me, who assuredly had not forgotten their tickets. In fact, they probably would sit there and wave their tickets at me while they sneered and wagged their heads in disapproval. So that was out.
No problem, I thought. Being oh-so-responsible, I had done this before. All I had to do was tell the attendant I didn’t have my ticket and give him the approximate time that I had arrived at the airport. He would access some record they kept of the cars that entered the lot (using secret spy cameras, no doubt). Sure, it would take a couple minutes longer than if I had the ticket, but I figured it was more or less a wash between that and getting out to retrieve my ticket (which, again, wasn’t an option).
When I pulled up and informed the gentleman in the booth that I didn’t have my ticket, he just stared at me with some mixture of fear and disbelief. It’s my first day, and I have to deal with this idiot? No one told me this was a possibility.
The language barrier was immediately apparent. My attendant friend was not a native English speaker, and he hadn’t quite had a chance to master it. I tried unsuccessfully to explain what I’d seen done in the past, so I quickly resorted to an uncomfortable silence while he started punching buttons in front of him. He would push buttons for 30 seconds or so, frown, then shake his head and start muttering under his breath. That process repeated itself at least ten times over the next few minutes. As far as I could tell, we were no closer to a resolution.
At some point, a couple of the drivers behind me made a fateful decision. Somewhere near the place where the lane diverged into two lanes, a driver had chosen to pull over behind the car behind me instead of turning into the lane more directly in front of him, thereby blocking the lane on the other side. When the next car pulled up close behind him, the decision was irrevocable: the other lane no longer was an option for anyone.
[Warning! If, for some reason, you wish to maintain the illusion of me as a likeable human being, stop reading now.]
After a couple minutes of watching the attendant struggle with the buttons in front of him, I glanced up at my rear view mirror. Oh boy. The cars behind me were starting to stack up. There were at least fifteen cars already, and more were arriving every minute.
About that time, the attendant apparently decided to reach out for help. He picked up his radio and tried to tell the supervisor on the other end what he needed. Unsuccessfully. The supervisor would bark out instructions, the attendant would respond by pushing some buttons and frowning. That went on for at least several minutes, which felt like at least half an hour.
By that point, the line of cars had backed up halfway around the perimeter of the parking lot.
There had to have been at least fifty cars in line. It obviously was completely out of the question for me to get out and find the ticket. My only recourse was to hide in my car and hope the situation would be resolved quickly.
The supervisor obviously wound up frustrated by the language barrier, because the next person to come over the radio spoke the same language as the attendant. The two of them proceeded to scream at each other in their native tongue for another several minutes. All the while, the attendant kept pushing buttons. He was visibly shaken – drops of sweat ran down his temples, and he glanced nervously around the booth, as if the answer for what to do was written in some secret spot.
And it turned out he was nervous for good reason.
The natives were getting restless. First came the honks. The cars further back in line were bolder and started honking after about 10 minutes had passed. The cars further up were constrained to be more polite – they waited until they hadn’t moved for about 15 minutes. Next came the angry visits as a growing number of people abandoned their cars and decided to figure out what the heck was going on. I’m not sure where they found the pitchforks and torches, but that was a nice touch.
To his credit, Mr. Attendant studiously ignored the guys yelling, “What’s going on?!” right next to his head. He was fixated on tapping away at the buttons in front of him. (I think he was either drafting his resignation letter or writing code for a new program to deal with obnoxious losers who lose their parking tickets.)
Finally, after close to 20 minutes had elapsed, a supervisor appeared on the scene. Mr. Attendant stepped aside and let the supervisor at his buttons. I felt vindicated when, two minutes later, I was signing for the credit card payment. See, it wasn’t my fault!
I couldn’t flee the scene fast enough.
On my way out, I saw probably over 75 cars in line, many with doors open and the occupants milling about in confusion and anger. And now they were in for another 20 plus minutes of waiting while the attendant and his boss tried to deal with the backlog. Of course, like a true villain, all I could do was laugh a maniacal laugh and hope that no one took down my license number.
See? I told you, I’m a bad person.