Off The Beaten Track in Aotearoa

Me versus the machine: travel theme, grey.

Living in a small town as I do, big cities have their challenges. I’m used to that. And I want you to know, dear reader, right here, right now, before you read another paragraph, that I have successfully navigated the peripherique of Paris, in rush hour, in a Smart Car. Yes, I have!  I found the exit, and our destination, almost without incident, but that’s another story. It was before Google Maps. We’d be fine if we ever had to do it again.

And, I’ve successfully navigated through Minneapolis at rush hour, too, and again almost without incident.

On both those occasions we were driving on the wrong side of the road – well, the right side for where in the world we were, but the wrong side for Kiwis.

This post isn’t really about driving in large cities. But I needed to let you know that I am as competent as the next person. Mostly.

Because … well … read on …

A trip to Wellington (or Welly to us), New Zealand’s capital, is a regular thing for us these days. Right now it’s winter. The wind’s from the south, the snow’s low, and our favourite city in the world is not feeling or looking quite as cute as it can in summer. It’s only four degrees but I’ve brought every coat I own with me. Wild Welly weather won’t be getting in the way of all the cafes to visit, exhibitions to see, and photos to take.

We contemplate catching the bus into the centre of town, because finding a car park is more of a challenge than the actual city driving. But our son says there’s a parking building with a weekend flat rate of $3:00. At this price, what’s to lose?

So off we go, John and me, into town. I’m proud to announce we consulted Google Maps only the once, and briefly at that.

We know the lay of the land around here, now, I say to John. I’ll admit it, I’m feeling rather smug, triumphant even. Who wouldn’t be? As I said, we’re from a very small town.

Look, no queue! I announce. The Gods are smiling on us, despite the weather.

Almost empty parking building, Wellington, New Zealand

Deserted – almost!

We wait. The barrier arm, it does not raise. John studies the instructions on the stanchion. I lean across him and take a look for myself.

John points at a small button. Does that look like a bell to you?

It does! An alarm bell!

John lowers the car window, reaches for the button.

Don’t, I shout, imagining the racket of the alarm, the inevitable arrival of fire trucks, ambulance crews, the police, the SWAT team, or, at least, a rather cross attendant who, I expect, is probably lurking in a warm cubicle somewhere out of sight.

We read the very large notice that advises of changes to  credit card payments – they must be made in advance at the Pay Station. So that’s it, we have to pay first.

There’s a car behind us, waiting, now. But not to worry, I’ve located the Pay Station.

Parking Building, Wellington, New Zealand

Pay Station, Parking Building, Wellington, New Zealand

With a nice crisp five dollar note in my hand, and a quick smile in the direction of that driver, I scurry back to the entrance. I have money. There are empty car parks. We want one. What could be more straightforward?

The instructions are clear as a bell. Insert notes here it says. And for the uncertain it has a picture of all accepted denominations. Yep – the machine takes a fiver.

Another car pulls up. The driver, cranes his neck, to see what’s going on.

Poor John, I think. We’re holding everyone up. I insert the note into the correct slot. A red light flashes. Of course, it only reads the note one particular way. I turn the note over. I insert it again. The red light flashes, again.

Another car pulls up. And another. For a quiet afternoon, it’s suddenly rather busy. One of the drivers calls out to me: Is the barrier arm not working?

I reply, oh, so intelligently and perhaps, from his point of view, irrelevantly: The machine won’t accept my money.

The guy shrugs and along with everyone else in the queue continues to wait. And watch.

Oh, the walk of shame, fiver clutched in my fist, smile fixed to my face, past the last car, past the next two cars, to my waiting husband.

The machine won’t take our money, I tell him.

There’s nothing for it, we have to get out of that queue. Because, if the machine won’t take a perfectly good five dollar note, I’m sure it’ll eat my credit card, and, as it happens I’m rather fond of that card. In fact, I depend on it.

John inches our car back. And each of the other drivers inch their cars back. They all seem to take it good-naturedly. They’ll be locals I assume. With tickets already, I assume.

One long and protracted three-point turn later, we watch as the car that was immediately behind us approaches the barrier arm. The driver lowers his window. He pushes the alarm button.

Do sirens sound? Do the police, or a fire crew, or the SWAT team descend on the building?  Does an attendant grumpy at leaving his warm cubicle emerge from somewhere out of sight?

Ah, no.

Silently, smoothly the barrier raises. The driver grins at us and drives on through, disappearing  into the building.

We look at each other. Neither of us says a word. Not. One. Word.

When all the cars have followed that first driver and we are alone we approach the barrier again. That nondescript button at the bottom  – you can see it, can’t you, the one we thought was an alarm bell. It isn’t. No, not at all. If you get up close, or squint your eyes tight as tight, you can see quite clearly …  well, you check it out for yourself …

Stanchion, near barrier, parking building, Wellington, New Zealand

Can you spot the alarm?

A few moments later, this was our reward: Welly on a wild day.

Wellington waterfront on a wild day

Wellington waterfront on a wild day

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered difficulties in a parking building. Everywhere I go, they seem to operate differently. So can you help me? What are your handy tips when it comes to sussing out parking protocols?

Inspired by Ailsa’s travel theme: grey

40 replies »

  1. Oh dear that is too funny. No tips from me though as I tend to avoid parking buildings. The only one I use at all these days is at the airport. The pay machines there can be very unreliable. That reminds me~ what about the automated departure processes at the airport these days? How do you get on with those? 😉

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    • About those automated departure machines: Perish the thought! Oh dear, imagine the stress! But actually, over recent years I’ve used them more than I have parking buildings. That sounds very grand – as if I flit all over the place. I don’t really. It’s just that we have only one very small parking building in my town. And we do have an airport 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Last time I left from Auckland International the automated departure machines/e-gates weren’t working. Took ages for an official to come to our rescue. I thought I would miss my flight!

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  2. Jack has just asked me “What is so funny…” as I was laughing out loud. I’m surprised the other drivers were so patient. No horn blowing and fist waving!!!! We have a new system in our small shopping street, they have given all the car parks (angle parking) 5 digit numbers, which is at the outside edge, which you obviously can’t see once your car is parked over them, and you have to remember them to punch in the ticket machine, it does not give you a ticket but some how the meter readers have an electronic reader that lets them know exactly when each spot expires. Since we got our car I have not been brave enough to use them and always try to go on my bike to those particular shops. and go to the shopping centre (free parking) for major shopping…
    The last photo looks like typical Welly weather.

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  3. Hi Jill, this is a fabulous story and a very helpful one to those who haven’t yet encountered the same issue.
    You described the whole situation with a lot of humor and that is good because you kept calm and learnt your way out of the situation. But that people could have told you the right way when you said that it didn’t accept your money! Rude.
    Thanks!

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    • At the time,I tried my best to appear calm, Lucile – but I didn’t feel like it on the inside. But i could laugh about it, afterwards.Since then I’ve wondered about that guy in the car – maybe he thought my money was counterfeit – who knows – but if it was me I think I’d have helped out.

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      • I told your story to my husband and he remembered a similar episode when driving in the highway in Italy and encountering a different machine than most used in Europe to pay the toll. He felt like you but there was no one behind him. So it took more time to figure out how to pay as there was no one in sight to help and no explanation either.
        Good that we all can laugh about after the stress is gone.

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    • You can see the alarm, too, Sue! When I got right up close, after the other cars had gone, I saw that it wasn’t a bell at all. It was actually a very small diagram of a slot ejecting a ticket. Just about needed a magnifying glass to see it, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oops! Directions and claustrophobia sets in from other cars and the dark dank feeling and i feel so lost and trapped and did I mention claustrophobic!!

    My only tip is let someone else drive and wrestle with the pay procedure. You just close your eyes and take deep breaths!!

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  5. Haha,this is too funny. You’re a good sport to share your story with us. I could easily see myself doing the same thing. But you’re allowed this slip up because you’ve driven through Paris successfully. That alone elevates you to higher-than-mortal status!

    Great story!

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    • You and me both, Curt. I hate to think what would happen if those things ever become sentient … Oh, now I’ve scared myself imagining a machine with a dislike of the short sighted and vertically challenged. Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not laughing. Much. I think the guy behind was very mean not to tell you to press that button. Unfriendly Welly natives… 😦
    My problem with ticket machines is that I always manage to pull up just that little bit too far away to be able to reach the button!

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