Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Online Parking game (part 3)

Once I ran into trouble trying to retrieve my car from the train station parking garage late at night after a day in Paris.

The machine to pay my fee rejected my U.S. credit card. It refused my cash because I did not have exact change. A gate blocked the exit and my car could not leave the garage without me paying. No one was in the employee booth. When I called using the help line next to the booth, someone answered at first, but as soon as I explained my predicament, the line went dead. When I tried again, the line kept having a busy signal. What to do?

I had an idea: get a new ticket from the machine at the entrance gate, pay it immediately, (I had exact change for that small amount), and use that ticket to get out. Unfortunately the machine delivering tickets by the entrance barrier was only activated by the weight of a car in front of the barrier. With just one pedestrian, even jumping up and down was not enough to make the machine spit out a new ticket. I considered abandoning my car until the next day, but the last bus was long gone, there were no taxis in sight, the taxis whose numbers I had did not answer, and I was not eager to walk 5 miles in the forest in pitch dark. What to do?

My car was the last car in the garage, and I was the last person in the garage - almost. There was also a big black man wandering about for no apparent reason. He once asked me the time, then asked: "Is everything all right?", and I answered coldly: "Fine, thank you" while nervously keeping my distance. Some time later, he asked me if I had a problem, and, having run out of ideas, I explained it to him while still avoiding getting close. This was not a situation I wanted to be in... but what to do?

The man said: "Easy; one can just lift the gate". I tried with some scepticism, but the bar resisted my efforts. He said: "I can do it. Just bring the car here and I'll let you through." I got my car, drove it to the gate, he huffed and puffed and managed to lift the bar just high enough that I could finally get out of the garage. I thanked him and left.

The net result was that I got a day of parking for free. The incident also helped re-evaluate my unconscious prejudices against blacks. It also reminded me that in France, things often don't work the way they're supposed to work, but then people help one another. Less efficiency, more solidarity.

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