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The Parking Garage Incident

Alright, so this one is a bit of a long story, but it’s totally worth it. Despite the similarity in name, this story is vastly different from The Garage.

Some friends and I were going out to downtown Durham on a Friday night. I was driving. I decided to park in the parking garage conveniently located across from our destination.

It’s one of those garages where you get a ticket as you go in and then stick the ticket in a machine right by the exit and pay on your way out. There’s like a million of these in the US. This particular one did not seem to have any real intelligence built in, because it issued us a ticket despite the fact that (as we would soon find) there were absolutely no free parking spots. I thought it may have been a counting error because there was one car taking up two spots, but it let several cars in behind us as well so it was clearly just not very bright.

Anyway, after a fruitless search we descended back to the ground floor and tried to exit. I inserted my ticket, hoping that there was a short grace period where you didn’t have to pay. The machine took my ticket…and then did nothing. I pressed “Cancel”, and the machine spat out my ticket. I inserted my ticket again…and the machine didn’t even take it, instead displaying “out of service”. So…free parking, yay? But there was one critical problem: the gate arm preventing people from leaving without paying was still down. And there was a line of cars forming behind us. Regardless of what was going on in the machine’s tiny electronic brain, the fact was: we were stuck.

I first thought that I might be able to force the gate up by driving under it with my car, but this did not work at all. And there was a guy in a bright yellow Mitsubishi Eclipse right on my tail (I’m going to call him Jerkface, since I think that was his name) preventing me from backing up to look for another way out. There was quite the line formed at the exit by this time, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I exited the car.

My first order of business was to see if I could get the gate up. It turned out that by forcing the gate up and then holding it, I could make it raise. However, after I let it go, the gate went back down. After determining this, I decided I should probably clue Jerkface in to what was going on. I went back to talk to him.

He seemed, if anything, more flustered than I was (I was mostly just amused at the situation). He tried to talk to me, but did not roll down his window. After reminding him that he got the order of operations wrong, he rolled it down, but then just stared at me. I informed him that the machine and the gate were both non-functional, and suggested he find another way out. He demurred (via silence), so I shrugged and went back to the car.

One of my passengers (the smallest one, of course) offered to get out and force the gate up while I drove through. It takes a decent amount of strength to make the gate go up, and then at least as much to hold it in place. But she managed it, so we were treated to the spectacle of a tiny five foot two inch girl forcing this mechanical arm in place while we drove our car out in what was possibly the most sketchy way imaginable. Naturally, in downtown Durham, this attracted no attention whatsoever. Everyone kept going on their merry way. Just another Friday night.

Deciding to let Jerkface and co sort their own situations out, we rode off. As we were departing, we saw that the line of cars behind us was dispersing to find alternate exits.

But wait…there’s more. After finding street parking and walking back past the parking garage, we saw a guy kindly opening the gate (using the same brute-force method we had used) for a whole line of cars trying to exit. We also saw a policeman roll up in an old Crown Vic cruiser and get out, so we thought it may be prudent to keep it moving.

Since it turned out there was quite a wait at our restaurant, though, we moseyed on back to the scene of the crime in order to see how the situation was progressing. The cop was still there (I couldn’t quite read his name badge, but I think his name was Officer D.O. Nut). At this point, someone had actually broken the mechanical arm (we didn’t see who had done this, but I’m going to assume it was the cop because that makes the story more amusing). Of course, it was broken in such a way as to be completely impassible. Officer Nut was eventually joined by a larger man in a brown uniform…since he didn’t look physically fit enough to be UPS, I suppose he was parking services of some variety, or possibly a rent-a-cop employed by the garage. I will refer to him as Paul Blart in honor of Kevin James’ magnum opus scoring a perfect 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Officer Nut’s cruiser is parked blocking the entrance to the parking garage (this does not stop one particularly angry Nigerian man from honking mightily at him and yelling something out his window, behavior not generally noted for endearing one to the local constabulary), but there’s still the occasional vehicle trying to leave. This requires Sgt. Nut to break off his intense conversation with Paul Blart to raise the (broken) armature and let people out. Eventually I suppose this gets old, for Paul comes out with a wrench and disassembles the arm. He also raises the arm on the second exit, and they put cones up to direct vehicles out that one.

At this point, for no particularly well-understood reason, Officer Nut decides to peel out and drive off. This causes a problem for Paul Blart, because it seems the gate at the entrance has also stopped working. He now has to take a break from his attempts at fixing the exit gate to go and fix the entrance gate. He is much more successful in this endeavor; most likely because, unlike the exit, the entrance gate hasn’t been completely destroyed by a succession of hooligans.

A while later Officer Nut shows up again and (after once again nearly breaking an axle on the curb) re-stations his cruiser in front of the entrance. The reason for this, like that of his departure, is not entirely clear. Perhaps it’s because the lot is full, or perhaps he and Paul want to continue their intense conversation from earlier (I like to think they were starting a buddy cop relationship a la Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz and were getting ready to go chase a goose or something together). He hangs out for a bit more, but it seems like the situation is pretty well sorted. The original exit gate has been disarmed (literally) and is standing open. The cones have been removed. The entrance gate seems to be working about as shoddily as it ever is, but working nonetheless.

For some reason a middle-aged woman chose this time to start talking to Sgt. D.O. Nut. One of my biggest regrets of the evening is not being able to hear the conversation, but she is speaking very passionately. I’m assuming that she’s telling the story of the rebelliously naughty (but shockingly good-looking) young man in the Ford Fiesta who broke the ticket machine in the first place. But whatever is going on, it finally ends, she walks off, and Officer Nut makes an illegal turn on red and goes tearing off down the road, possibly because his police scanner alerted him that the light was on at Krispy Kreme.

At this point the drama has subsided. Officer Nut is long gone, and Paul Blart is similarly nowhere to be found. The rest of the evening was, honestly, just one long anticlimax after this amazing adventure. But truly they say the bonds of friendship are forged in the fires of adversity, for my friends and I are unquestionably closer for having braved this ordeal together.

And if you run into a hard-nosed cop with nothing to lose and a large, middle-aged parking attendant asking around if anyone knows who broke the ticket machine on the Chapel Hill Rd parking garage, tell them that as far as I know it was already broken when I got there.

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