It’s almost eleven p.m. when I go out to the car to pick up my sister, Carolyn, who is flying in from Milwaukee. I haven’t been to the airport since my last trip to Hawaii six years ago and I’m careful to follow the signs to get to the parking garage. I drive up a ramp that says “P Short Term Parking.” It takes me to level 3. At that hour of the night there are lots of choices and I pull into a space right next to the elevators. I’m already out of the car when I realize I don’t have a ticket to place on the dashboard the way I did the last time I parked here. What in the world…? I peek into the other cars–no tickets on their dashboards either. I look around in vain for a ticket booth, then walk over to the elevator.
The elevator doors have big signs that say things have changed and you have to pay for your ticket on the first or fourth level. Oh, okay. I go up the stairs to the fourth level to get a ticket. Several ticket machines have been installed since my last visit, but they all require you to insert both your ticket and a credit card. People are lined up waiting to use these booths. I can’t find a machine that gives you the ticket in the first place.
I go up to a skinny lady in a business suit with a ticket in her hand. “Where did you get your ticket?” I ask.
She tells me I must already have one–“It’s impossible to get into the garage without one. You got it when you pulled up at the gate. You take your ticket out of the machine and the gate goes up and lets you in.”
“There wasn’t a gate.” I say. “Just a ramp and I drove up it.”
“Ohhh…” She gives me a puzzled frown. “You’d better talk to security or ask at the information booth; find out what to do. If you don’t have a ticket, they’ll charge you $24 for the whole day.”
I look around–no security people. The garage is eerie. The pillars holding up the next level cast long shadows in the bright artificial light. “Okay,” I say. “Thanks!”
“Good luck,” the lady says. She sticks her ticket in the slot that says “Insert ticket here.”
In the terminal, I spot a guy with an airline employee badge who is moving some luggage. “Excuse me,” I say. “Where’s the information booth?”
“It’s closed,” he tells me. “What do you need to ask?” I explain about the ticket situation and he tells me to go outside across the traffic lanes where there’s another information booth.
Carolyn must have arrived by now, and I take the escalator down to the baggage claim area where we had agreed to meet. We both get there at the same time. I tell her I somehow took an illegal entrance into the parking garage. “I have to go try and straighten it out–I’ll be right back.” I go outside while she waits for her luggage at the baggage claim conveyor belt.
The man in the outside information booth is on the phone. When he finishes his call, I explain the situation again.
“It is impossible to get into the garage without going through a ticket gate,” he tells me, and I say there wasn’t a gate, just a ramp, and I drove up it.
“That’s impossible,” he says. “You must not actually be parked in the parking garage.”
“I’m right by the elevators going to the terminal,” I say.
He looks baffled. “That’s the parking garage, all right.” Then he allows that perhaps the gate in my lane got stuck in the up position and was not in front of me when I drove through, which does happen sometimes. “There’s nothing we can do here. When you leave, you’ll have to drive through the exit that says ‘cashier’ and explain.”
“How much are they gonna charge me without a ticket?”
He shrugs. “That will entirely depend on whether they believe you and what kind of mood they’re in.”
Back in the baggage claim area, I can’t get near Carolyn. I’m stuck behind a woman with a sleeping baby, head pillowed on her shoulder. She seems unaware of the crowd around her and keeps stepping backward and sideways as if she has all the room in the world. The rest of us bump into each other as we dance out of her way. Her much-older husband is stacking luggage on one of those carts you can rent. At last, they leave, and I go over to Carolyn, who is waiting, waiting, waiting for the backpack she had to check. We watch an endless stream of suitcases go by until the little blue daypack comes down the conveyer belt. We take a couple of escalators to the parking garage, put her stuff in the car and follow the green exit signs. When we circle down to flat ground there are about six gates, all but one for the people who did it right and paid the machine with a credit card. The gate on the far left says “Cashier.”
I drive up to the window.
“I don’t have a ticket,” I say. I explain the situation and tell him what time I arrived. It has been only 40 minutes since I drove into that garage.
The black man in the cashier’s booth reiterates that it is impossible for me to get into the garage without taking a ticket. He says I must have driven into the rental car area by mistake. “What part of the garage did you park in?”
“It said 3B,” I told him. “It was right by the elevators to the terminal.”
He shakes his head. “That is the parking garage,” He says. “I’m going to have to do a lost ticket claim.” He gets on the phone. I have to explain again what lane I was in and show him my driver’s license. A security person comes and checks my license plates. The guy keeps closing and opening his little window while he talks on the phone.
“I wonder who he’s talking to,” I say.
“Probably the Department of Homeland Security,” Carolyn says.
“Oh-oh–Fingerprints next,” I joke. “Poor guy, I really feel bad for him.”
Several minutes pass before he gets off the phone and slides the window open. “Three dollars,” he says.
I give him three dollars. “Thank you soooo much!” I say. “I am so sorry about all this.” On the side of the booth there’s a sign stating the fee for zero to three hours is three dollars, but lost tickets will be charged the maximum all-day fee of $24.00.
It’s midnight. The traffic on the way home is surprisingly heavy.