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.
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.
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?
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 …
A few moments later, this was our reward: Welly 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