Thursday, October 15, 2015

Remember that time I forgot where I parked for 3 days?

First off, this is a very long story about how I did something truly dumb and spent 51 hours trying to figure out a solution.  If you’re looking to make me the hero here I am not.  In the name of art I did something majorly boneheaded,  forgot to make note of an address and found myself wandering DC for 3 days, 1.5 by foot, checking into 51 parking garages, going down into the bowels of some of those multiple times, until I couldn’t walk further.

Today I’m forced to sit, nurse my wounds and reflect  about how amazingly lucky I am simply to be sitting right where I’m at with only minor things that will heal fast. I’m awash with so much gratitude over my blessings, far too many to ever count .  This weeks’ conclusion could have been so much worse than some minor injury.  Even 3 years ago I would have had a very very bad time without owning the minor miracles like GPS and messaging.  But mostly my blessings are in the knowledge I have friends.  Friends who have infinite patience and more sense than I.

So I lost not a car really so much as a parking garage.  Ironically in the end it was exactly where I thought I left it… but everything that was striking to me about the entrance changed (so I still believe) in 2 hours while I “popped over” to visit the Smithsonian Museum (SAAM) in DC before going to have dinner with my friend Eleanor (lots of folks reading this know Eleanor Harvey but I must tell you, the woman is a saint and her family is amazingly welcoming.).

I was coming back Mon from CT (2 funerals).  I wanted to clear my mind (ala not try to drive 12hrs crying), and arranged for something more  inspiring on my way home.  My husband and I generally do science museums.  I don’t spend enough time as an artist looking at other art.  Especially not art of other generas.  It makes you stale.  ANYHOW, so without him on this drive I realized I should visit an art museum on my way back.. DC/Eleanor’s seemed like fun.  Due to Columbus day however Eleanor wasn’t working at the museum after all but she’s just a few minutes away across the bridge really.  So I decided to try for both.  I like to stretch my legs on these long drives with a touristy stop where, if possible, I can walk a little.  Irony.

So I get there, traffic through NYC wasn’t bad but there were some uglies on the 1-95 coming in.  DC drivers actually seemed vastly less aggressive than some I’d seen this past weekend.  So I do a loop and basically am not finding on street parking.  There are garages everywhere with “Full” signs so when I started my second pass I zipped into the first one I came across that still looked open.  Upon entering I am struck by the yellow striped pavement walkways and construction crewmen going in and out.  I believe this wasn’t a figment of my imagination (lots of questioning my imagination to come – as an artist I can be pretty stubborn about inaccurate things and have to learn to self-check)..the reason I think so is because as I got my ticket (after being swallowed in) I had to wait to keep driving while these guys walked in front of my across this crazy yellow striping following this “sidewalk” made of what sure seemed like normal painted lines on the pavement.  I distinctly remember thinking “omg I hope I don’t have to walk out in this tunnel up this way!     Cars were parked up the tunnel (days later I learned they were not in parking spaces but probably the construction crew’s or holiday overflow).

My absolutely idiotic mistake was a very conscious decision to put the ticket on the car’s console rather than in my pocket. I’m always losing things out of my pockets or forgetting they are on my person.  Anyhow, so my point there is, justification of the yellow line thing aside please know I made a really stupid move.

After that I at least did something sort of right.  I got out and made huge note of the signage and where I parked (second level/P2).  Strange lines on the floor lead in a different direction to the elevator (picture no parking lines in front of a retail store and the lettering within).  I went off to the elevator but again I looked back to see my car so when I returned via elevator I could simple step out and find it.  I have parked in a lot of garages in New Haven and Hartford CT.  Boston a bit too.  I try to stay out of NYC with cars tho. ;)  Anyhow, I was really dismayed to note at that point that the rental’s license plate ended in 666.   I’m not kidding.

So the elevator isn’t right there, it’s down a warren of hall/passage ways.   When I come out, from this weird 2 sided elevator (you go in one side but emerge from the other)… I am on a totally different street.  Again I make note of all my surroundings.  I take out my GPS now that I’m out and plug that in too.  So I’m looking at a map showing my way.

Now here is a key point;  I know from my GPS the shape of my path to the garage building at least, but we all know these things sometimes can be the mirror of what you thought, lefts being rights etc..  GPS was popping in and out so the map did try to recalculate.  Most disconcerting to me was that the street I emerged from was nothing like the one I entered (on the other side I’d assumed  - and correctly).  It was bland.  That said, all of these details started to become frighteningly questionable in the subsequent hours and sadly, yes.. days.  That’s why I’m writing this.  As a creative mind I can self-doubt my internal visual narrative account with the best of them.

Meanwhile, a Stephen King worthy transformation was happening back on the other side of the building where I came in.  Those lines came up (I still believe)..  They may have been rolled out mats.  At the very least though all the vehicles parked at the first bend in this garage also disappeared leaving unlined pavement and a wall mural I previously hadn’t seen.  In short, the entire appearance of the garage changed.  Maybe it all was in my head, it’s possible I suppose but it’s the only subterranean garage I’d driven into in some 10 years.  I won’t deny I am creative for a living – also go watch some documentaries on how people invent fictitious details innocently all the time.  Anyhow, bottom line?  The garage entrance changed from what I”d seen in my head.  I still believe this. 

Also, the building from which I emerged did not have any signage about anything really.  Just #s.  And yep (!) I should have taken those down so another poor decision.

At any rate, having my bearings, seeing that I’m about 2 blocks down and 3 over, I go up, make a right turn and march on over.  Do a quickie spin through (Kooning’s exhibit really was fascinating & I probably spent the most time there being intrigued by trying to guess her relationship to subjects based on her varied approaches.  Lots of inspirations everywhere, glad I did it).   And then I went out and returned the way I came.

So I went back and dropped down 2 blocks, and was dismayed to see I didn’t see my yellow stripped “sidewalk” (no really that’s what they call them in these) garage.   So I try another.  And another.  And circle.  And start to recross various paths.   My mouth starts to get extremely dry. In short order I’ve frantically started to peek into several blocks. It’s been an hour now and my feet are getting sore from walking down into the mouth of several of these to see if the lines start up just out of sight.  Recognizing that I’m in trouble I return to the museum and retrace my paths more carefully. 

There are many things that stood out upon my approach;  the metro escalator entrance.  So I knew I was that far down when I approached and that my approach was straight from there.  I check my GPS.  Phone has been squirrelly lately and history won’t stay on now.   Still, I can see the streets but now I’m having a physical reaction of dread wash over me and it is clouding my thinking.  I’m wondering if I maybe made a left instead of a right?  Once you get turned around you really start doubting everything.  People also ask you things over and over, well meaning and honestly very sensible first questions.  However after so many times of this it becomes alarming.  And the sun is setting.  And garage doors are closing.

I’m talking to attendants and explaining that it turned left and the stripped sidewalk lines were on the right.  The couple of garages (there were over 50 that I checked in the end btw over the next few days) that matched that perfectly though were valet only and I’d definitely had a machine.  I knew no human was around because I asked a man walking in the garage where I paid when I was done.  Details like that the ticket machine the arm bent start to come back to me too.

Some people when you are lost will give you very unhelpful information too.  For example more than a few of the people I asked (and had a language barrier with), did not understand me maybe saying “do you have a level ‘P2’ and may I check it).   They looked confused and said “no” instead of saying they didn’t understand.  I later learned that yes, they did.  Just fyi fellow traveler. 

Anyways, so now it’s quite late.  I’m dying of thirst and I call Eleanor in mortification.  She comes over and suggests we drive from entrance to likely ones and I get out and peek down.  The challenge here is that the 1 way streets do not let her fully retrace my footpath. 

I want to say here that I believe I went to the entrance of my actual garage many times.  If I’d only not been so extremely certain of those stripes and realized something may have been blocking the mural over the holiday rush.. I might have struggled with walking down more steep ramps into what became P2.  (There wasn’t a P1 that I saw when I found it… and yes, I found it or I wouldn’t be able to talk about it).

Anyhow, so well after dark I am at a loss. I really feel that googling maps/street views would help me.  Ultimately they did btw but panic is a funny thing. I’d bought myself at least 1 bottle of water but knew by how it didn’t take away the dry mouth that I was in panic.  Cognizance of panic however doesn’t always resolve it. Quote Douglas Adams all you like.  Nothing freaks me out like knowing I did something profoundly dumb I can’t undo easily now.

So Eleanor seeing that I’m like a panicked animal probably decides that maybe dinner and wine would help.  Man, if ever a time when drinking might help! (I don’t drink.  Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.).. anyhow, so food fuel does at least help some, I was a little shaky.  However I learned from roadside assistance that they deactivated the OnStar in their rentals (that’s not entirely true though I learned Tues afternoon).

I’m feeling like a horrible guest because my stomach is in knots and I can’t even eat most of what is in front of me even though they are wonderful cooks.   Suffice to say despite my checking out half mentally Eleanor was great fun to talk to (as always!) and a great host.  I really wish I’d skipped the museum and gone straight over there– lol!  Great inspirations aside..  and then I tried to sleep in this lovely guest room on the softest coziest bed and didn’t much of course Monday night.  (I did at least Tues night after I gave in.)

Armed with street maps she drops me off Tues am at where I’d started out from the museum (where I had my bearings).  By then (after google mapping comparisons), I’m really quite sure it’s in this spot.  And it probably was.. but I only went down one ramp before going “gosh golly gee willickers [more confabulation ;) if you can’t guess] the parking starts a lot deeper in than the one I was in…”..  anyhow, fresh start on Tues with spare shoes (that soon became too small due to blisters ballooning), and water food and such.  What was supposed to be a very brief “ah ha!” turned grim by noonish. In fact I think I saw 2 people I was pretty sure I knew (who can know at this point though if I’m not imagining that too!) but at that point I was frazzled, smelly and limping and completely unsocial.  I did chat with Lesli Kathman about some ads and then admitted my predicament while I was charging my phone and waiting for callbacks from garage owners and the rental agency.   By 1, after 5 or 24 hours in, I’d given up much hope and called Enterprise and asked what happened if I abandoned a car.  No small part of my terror was knowing that garages don’t tow out cars for months.  Hoping to get the biggest fees possible.

OnStar CAN be activated if they get a police report.  There’s a slim chance signal will be very precise in a garage but some might be readable and that might at least give me a smaller radius to a few blocks (verses 20).  Eleanor is now away from home but her family is there so I’m still not “homeless”.  I should have cried though or something to the officer.  It was torture.  Nothing he said was jogging my memory and he wouldn’t even let me show him on the map the area I was 100% certain I’d walked down when I first came in.  I then got a lecture about all that was happening in the area.  Honestly if he’s reading this;  just say you won’t write a report and go help the people in violent situations.  Sitting there being driven around I could tell dire things were happening to people far more serious than what I was needing.  Still, txting enterprise manager she is giving me tips saying he “has to” and such.  Btw, a foot officer later told me he really should have done the report too – that was a totally wasteful hour.    Anyone finding themselves having no luck with 911 this way, I guess the key is to simply freak out.  I freak out very quietly I guess.  Foot patrolman also said to “be less honest” and simply leave it at being scared (true!) and lost (true again).

The human interactions were fascinating,  I honestly found so many people (save for the call responding officer) to be concerned and sympathetic.  I really felt like people were a lot nicer than in many cities I’ve been in.  Even the homeless that I kept passing were nodding at me in sympathy.  I was pretty happy to have some food for one at least.  It’s an interesting thing when you are down and out, I recommend it whenever possible.  Share or give away what you have.  Especially if you really don’t need it.  Honestly.  I’m not being mystical here, so regardless of your faith or lack of; it’s about empowering yourself to admit you still have more left.  I had a LOT still.  A place to stay.  An exit strategy.  And (while ok, granted I had a death grip on it), a purse and phone and thus LOTS of resources.  And I knew a few passwords and phone numbers by heart should I lose those too. 

There was a sign I really took to heart hanging from one church to “walk humbly” that lead to a great deal of introspection.  Hindered as I was limping around (mostly just walking like I was on my tippie toes… picture me tip toeing around DC really).. I was pretty aware I was hardly at rock bottom.  I’ve had less and there is ALWAYS lower to go.  Never ask in exasperation what else could happen – hahaha! ;)  But truthfully I had compartmentalized a lot of emotions.  The fear was oddly gone with the knowledge that the insurance covered forgetting where you parked.   The funerals and another death I learned of Monday night (Jim West) are going to slam me eventually (although I did grieve a lot earlier for my aunt and uncle but not yet for Jim).  It’s intriguing to understand that survival does put grief on the back burner.  Don’t ever judge someone for seeming cold I guess.  I probably didn’t seem “cold” to anyone but I felt odd for not bursting into tears at the thought of various memories.

Anyhow, more digression… (sitting here typing this safe & sound with my feet up and not much to do but let the blisters drain) so Tuesday night I could not walk any further.  I just rechecked the x’s on my map and I had walked up to over 50 parking garages, and down the first level or two of several.   Into the elevators of many others.   So having no new places to check I went into Macys (in agonizing lurching steps probably).  I was relieved at least to have a text from the rental manager that I wasn’t going to have to pay for a car for my idiotic mistake.  I felt safe to spend a little ;) and bought some amazingly loose and padded socks and the biggest sneakers they had.   Limped over to the metro and figured that out.  Got on over to meet up with Eleanor’s husband and I shamefully hide in the guest room and update my husband on the day and send gross text pictures of my feet (blisters is not right, the whole heel was/is a blister... .  I was unbelievably grateful to be able to wash my outfit, you cannot imagine.

My plan on Wed am was to get Enterprise to send me a car to take home … oddly they weren’t willing (did you laugh?  I thought it was funny too).  Anyhow, they still needed a police report to get that rolling or something.  Another company was my only option.  Or ask a friend I had who lived 4hrs away but came to DC area all the time on weekends (Maggie Bennett!).  Well then I get a call from Oakes… hubby can’t take this anymore and is planning on renting something small enough to drive through garages (we have trucks).  This option horrifies me though, he hates city traffic and DC is exceptional there.  Especially driving in and getting to Eleanor’s house.  And he doesn’t own a GPS.  We’re old school farmers ok?  Really… this is not good.  Losing my husband to a traffic accident is not how I wanted this story to end.  So I beg him to wait.  Call Maggie and she’s like out the door before I can finish the story nearly.

I now have 4 hrs to sit and google earth some more and think about it.  Maggie likes his idea though too, and so did I.  These garages are steep.  The blisters-sacks on my heel bottoms mostly stem from walking down slope after slope.  I don’t do steep well in any shoe (knees normally).  Anyhow, so I went into each enough to be sure they didn’t have the stripey “to elevator” on the floor.  All but one at least.  Clearly!

So sitting there with google earth street view peg man I start dropping him on one side of the buildings and the other.  Looking again for a very generic (no obvious business store fronts) as the street view upon exit.  Despite my self doubt I really thought I was sure of that too.  It was something I just couldn’t easily do in cars or on foot (lots of 1 way streets made it impossible to fully circle the buildings).  I came up with 5 very likely ones and prioritized them by what I’d assumed my path was at first.  I really clung to that.

Maggie shows up bright and eager.  So refreshing!  Honestly I just love having people younger or more positive (or both!) than me around for my sanity really.  :D  She’s raring to go so off we go.  Right around the same time of day I’d started looking 2 days earlier.  Wed afternoon has the same light as Monday too… although Monday there was some overcast clouds at times.

It was the second garage on my list.  To add to any uncertainty I might have had (at that point though I was willing to happily believe I’d made up lines on the floor despite this whole biz of workers with a ladder I’d had ot maneuver and pause around).  We go in, and poof.  I had one detail of where I’d parked wrong – I’d thought round columns but they were square.  Same design/colors etc though.  The mind is a HORRIBLE trickster though and sadly as an artist I wish I could be eidetic and not need to check and recheck so much.  I think it probably makes for more accuracy.  I tell people I have mild propagnesia but possibly this proves  I’m just going senile.  Who knows. ;)  Stay tuned for some far out art in the future? :D

I joke but it really was just that anticlimactic.  When something isn’t working try a different tactic.   Self doubt is a crappy thing.  Traveling alone can get scary fast. &  I’m unbelievably grateful for all I have;  the wonderful friends and simply that humans are on the whole just really basically good at heart. Thanking Maggie and Eleanor profusely isn’t enough. Very lucky today. 

One of these days I’m going to look into if there is such a thing as roll out walkway stripes for construction workers.  I can’t let that go.
[edit to add in that I looked it up later on Thurs, yep... there are a # of types.   The right side pic here shows what I saw: ]

Today I’m ok.  On crutches for a bit with pads on feet.  Keeping feet high & icing every few hours. 

Tonight we return that freaking 666 car and good riddance.

Yes (in case you are wondering) I really spent under 2hrs in the actual museum and no, I’m not sure I’ll go back despite being quite expert now on these streets and how they run.   ;) Frankly I don’t want to leave the house again this year.  :)