Monday, May 07, 2018

1941 Pay Here for Parking

Let’s say you need a haircut.  You drive to the barbershop and park.

Drop a coin into a parking meter, turn the handle and go about your business.  Check your watch now and then to make sure you’re not running out of time.  Ideally, return to your parking space either before time’s up or at least before the traffic patrol gets around with its book of tickets-in-waiting.

Those days are going the way of leisure suits and bowler hats.

First, they were replaced by electrical meters.  You still dropped coins into the slot, but the terrible burden of turning a handle was taken over by Con Ed.  And the displays became digital.

Now, comes the central pay station.  No more meters. Instead you pay into a large machine which is much more demanding than even that terribly burdensome crank handle.  You pays your money and you takes your choice. They put the machines near -- but not AT -- the parking space. One robot replaces a whole block of meters.

This sounds pretty simple.  It is not.  First you have to type in your license plate number.  Do you remember it?  Of course not. So, better write it on your hand before you head for the machine.

Okay, then there’s the keypad.  It’s not the same as your telephone and it’s not the same as your calculator.  It’s numbers 0-9 in a row.  The letters are not in the same order as your computer keyboard.  They’re in alphabetical order which has become counterintuitive.

OK, you’ve written your license plate number on your hand. You manage to slog your way through the input. Now the machine asks you how much time you want to rent.

You’d think you could use the same keypad to type out a figure.  But you’d be wrong. Instead, you are given a choice of predetermined times.

Some embrace logic. Others defy it.

Press 1 for 30 minutes.
Press 2 for 60 minutes.
Press 3 for 80 minutes.
What is 80 minutes? Figure it out.
Press 4 for 93 minutes.
Press five for more choices.

The choices become more obscure lengths of time.

All right. We’re getting there.  Ignore those folks in the line behind you.  They’ll get their turn. Eventually.

Click your choice of time.  Then get ready to pay.

Let’s say you pick 80 minutes. The machine asks you for two dollars and 75 cents.  Cash or credit/debit card.  Then you notice this little sand trap: “THIS MACHINE DOES NOT MAKE CHANGE.”

So you put in your dollar bills and fish around for some change.  You find you only have 35 cents.  So you put that in and the machine still has its electronic hand out.

Find a credit card to pay the remaining 40 cents.  Forty cents?  Will a card allow you to spend 40 cents? Most will. Visa and DisasterCard are not picky.  Even if it costs them more to process the transaction than the value of the actual transaction.  They have ways of getting even.


Sounds like a reasonable request except that the card is in so deep it’s hard to pull out.  You manage.  But you were too slow.  So…

Eventually you manage to get it in and out of the slot at a speed that satisfies the machines demented desire and exacting standards.

Finally, the machine spits out a ticket and you’re on your way.

The good news is that the countdown doesn’t start until the ticket is spat.  So you still have 80 minutes.

Do you remember why you parked here?

Sure.  Um… oh yeah. Haircut. Hope there isn’t a long wait at the barber.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2018

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