May 03, 2012


Huge parking garages confuse me. And make me slightly panicky. It’s a logical fear. Think about it. Close your eyes and imagine a person walking through a parking garage. She might be a beautiful woman distracted by a love triangle, her hair uplifted by the wind of passing cars. Or perhaps he is a smart and charming con man about to escape a sticky situation. We all know what will happen next. Someone with a gun shows up, there’s a bit of clever dialogue, and then a chase scene ensues. Parking garages are filled with mobsters holding guns, just waiting for the chance to utter some pithy aside before giving chase. I know it’s true because I’ve seen it happen every time a character in a movie walks into a parking garage.

I’ve been thinking about this while visiting my mother-in-law in the hospital this week. The parking garage is huge, and I’ve gotten lost every single time I’ve been in it. I’ve manage to quell my fears about Hollywood mobsters, but I still get that panicky feeling when I walk away from my car. That’s because I know, deep down, it will take me forever to find it again.

It’s not that I don’t try. When I leave my car, I dutifully stop and look around for identifying features that will help me find my way back. But since every level of the parking garage looks EXACTLY the same, this method doesn’t really work. Once when I went with my daughter and her friends – all in ninth grade at the time – to the state fair, I solved the problem by taking fluorescent orange surveyor tape out of my glove compartment and tying it to the nearest electric pole. This not only worked, but apparently made quite an impression on my daughter’s friends. They’d bring it up years later as if I’d done something weird.

What makes parking garages so confusing, I think, is that you can’t just retrace your steps. I’ve tried that. The first time I paid careful attention as I drove in, looping around and around past handicapped spots and places reserved for medical staff, and parking eventually on what was the seventh level. (Or maybe the eighth). Then I tried walking down through the parking garage the way I had come. But that seemed dangerous since cars coming were headed directly at me as they swerved around blind corners. And it took forever.

The next time, I tried to look for EXIT signs. But the exit signs seemed directed toward cars rather than pedestrians, since they were mostly up high right in the middle of the garage. So I just took the nearest staircase. I stood at the top of the stairs, looked over to where my car was, and memorized the spot. Then I counted carefully as I walked down the stairs: six flights. As I walked out the door, I felt triumphant. On the way back, I’d just go in the door, up six flights, and find my car.

As the door closed behind me, I noticed that there wasn’t a handle on the outside. “Weird,” I thought. The sign read, “Emergency exit. No re-entrance.” There I was, out on the street, staring at a restaurant instead of the hospital. I knew if I just walked around the block, I could manage to find the hospital. It’s a pretty big building. But finding my car again? Impossible.

I’ve given up. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to keep getting lost in the parking garage. I know that every hospital visit will end with me wandering through the parking labyrinth, pressing the panic button on my car key chain in hopes that a vehicle will suddenly blink its lights at me. I try to think of it as a walking meditation, giving me a chance to clear my mind of all the swirling anxious thoughts that accompany stressful hospital visits. Besides, I tell myself, it could be worse. At least I haven’t yet been attacked by mobsters with guns.


Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I bet you're not the only one. Someone should start up a valet parking service, like they have at hotels.

What if you put a flag on your car before walking away from it? You could get this one:

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law said...

since every level of the parking garage looks EXACTLY the same

Do they really look exactly the same, or are there actually slight differences - such as a plaque on the wall with numbers that differ on each level?

When I'm in such a situation, I generally write down the location where I parked, so I don't have a problem finding my vehicle again.

jo(e) said...

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law: Ha! My husband claims there are numbers on each level. But he also says there's a tunnel between the garage and the hospital and I've never seen that either. Clearly, he's hallucinating.

jo(e) said...

Jennifer: Oh, a flag is a good idea. Back in the day, I used to sometimes tie something to the antenna, but then a I got a newer car and one of the first things I noticed is that it doesn't have a metal antenna on it. I don't know why the car manufactures stopped making those antennas -- they used to come in handy for stuff like that.

susan said...

First: with regard to antennas, seriously--I want my antenna back! i bought a little thingy to stick on top of my antenna as my souvenir from disney and then got home to realize that I don't have an antenna.

Second, I am perpetually lost in garages. I am the one annoying everyone by hitting the panic button on the remote in order to find my car.

Last, I use the camera on my phone to take a picture of the floor number. I also take pictures of my car, which I thought would help me find it because I can see who is next to it, but um, those people moved. It is helpful when you ask the security guard to help you find your car though. I can never remember details like what color the car is....

readersguide said...

I sympathize. I lose my car in the airport parking lot nearly every time. Maybe if you try to park in the same place every time? Or go all the way to the top? No one else does that, so sometimes it's easier.

kathy a. said...

you've probably figured something out by now. i always write down the level [and often there are other distinguishing factors, like sections of a level, or "NW stairwell"].

what i really hate is parking in a big unfamiliar garage when i'm driving a rental car, because i can never remember what my car is supposed to look like. when my mom had her stroke, there actually was a valet service at the hospital parking lot, far from where i live -- at least they could find my car after those visits.

Sibyl said...

I once lost my car in a museum parking lot when I was the only adult with five children. It showed up eventually. I've had every bad experience you related at some point, so be sure and share if you find a foolproof answer. (I've had similar problems locking my keys in my car, sometimes while it was running - but now I have a car which forbids that.)

Zhoen said...

Not like it's any better inside hospitals. A warren of corridors and No Entrance, or No Exits. And I work in them.

Lilian said...

J, you've GOT to watch the parking garage Seinfeld episode. NOW! No, seriously, I hope it's in youtube, I'm sure one of your techie sons or extras can find it for you. it's HILARIOUS, and you've got to see it! You're totally going to identify.

P.S. I can't stand Seinfeld, but this episode was great and your post reminded me SOOO much of it, it felt uncanny.

Kyla said...

Our hospital DOES have valet, but I only use it when we are going to be there long enough that the cost of parking myself is equal to the cost of valet!

I used to get lost in garages, then I started making weekly trips to hospitals and clinics with KayTar and my brain somehow learned to navigate them! I hope you don't have to spend that much time visiting the hospital, though!