Capital punishment: D.C. garage tests visitors’ resolve

By Richard Ades

Note: I’m taking a break from reviews to offer a real-life adventure from a recent visit to the District of Columbia.

If you think the government in Washington is dysfunctional, you should try visiting a D.C. parking garage. My girlfriend Marilyn and I patronized one last Saturday night and ended up having an experience that reminded me of the recurrent nightmares I used to have about getting lost in one of those cavernous Meijer stores.

We parked in the underground garage about 7:30 p.m. to attend a joyous gathering held by some friends to celebrate their elder daughter’s bat mitzvah. When we returned around 10:30, we were surprised to find the entrance ramp blocked by a large grating that had been lowered from the ceiling. We went back to the restaurant and were told matter-of-factly that the garage closed at 10 p.m. “Then how can we get our car out?” we asked. They told us to enter through another entrance half a block away and keep heading toward the exit signs until we found our car.

We followed the instructions, stopping to pay the ticket machine on the way in, but it soon became clear we needed more help. Marilyn had made a mental note that we were parked in the B1 section, but it was nowhere in sight. Fortunately, we eventually ran into a knowledgeable stranger, who pointed us to an office where we could find a garage employee. This employee said we should walk toward the darkened area off in the distance, turn left and walk as far as we could, then turn right and head up a ramp.

We did all this and ended up in section B2, but still couldn’t find either B1 or our car. However, we did find a door, which opened up to another door, which led to a little hallway, which led to another pair of doors, on the other side of which was a stairway. Marilyn told me to hold the first set of doors open (to make sure we didn’t get locked in) while she went up the stairs to investigate. A minute or so later, she called down that she’d found the car!

Now our only problem was getting out of the garage. The ramp we’d originally driven in on was now open, but a gate blocked the way. We presented our prepaid ticket to the adjacent machine, only to be told we still needed to pay $5. What? While we were pondering this mystery, the aforementioned grating rumbled down from the ceiling and once again blocked the ramp.

Now in full panic mode, we pressed the “help” button on the machine. No one came or answered, but the grating soon rumbled back up into the ceiling. At this point, Marilyn decided she should walk up the ramp and out of the garage so she could run back to the restaurant for help if necessary. Meanwhile, I theorized that the machine was demanding more money because we’d been wandering around the garage for 30 or 40 minutes since making the first payment. I inserted my credit card, paid the $5 and finally was allowed to drive out.

The only bright spot in all this: If I ever have another nightmare about being lost in a Meijer store, I’ll think, “Well, at least it’s not a D.C. parking garage.”