Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Parking Lot

So last night I finally went downtown on a Friday evening. Took the car, went into the city at 10:30 pm, (when I was told by my passenger that "10:30 pm is early" I realized I was no longer in Hartford). I found a barely filled parking lot, and then went with a family friend (and her friend) to a one-step-up-from seedy bar. Met some more people, had a few drinks (finally did not have a gin & tonic miscommunication), and at 1 am decided it was time to get the car and go home. Walked back to the parking lot (now full, as to be expected), located at the corner of Allenby & Ben Yehuda, got in the car and fired her up, backed out of my tight space, followed the one-way arrows directing to the exit, and then came up behind an empty car parked smack in the middle of the exit lane. Which was standing behind an occupied car, which was sitting behind yet another empty parked car.

So of course you get the idea...the owner of the lot is trying to maximize revenue out of every single square meter of his asphalt money tree. And he is not a foolish lot owner -- not this Israeli entrepreneur -- for inside his exit booth he has the keys for every car that is blocking any other car. Except for one thing: no one knows which keys hanging on the board work with which car. By the time I join the exit line, the lot owner and his assistants have been running back and forth from the office to the first parked car in the line up with different sets of keys for 15 minutes, none of which seem to work. Meanwhile, about 30 meters ahead of our self-inflicted jam, another group of staff workers are moving cars as if trying to solve a rubik's cube.

I counted at least 6 workers on this lot, trying to juggle cars in a lot designed for 80. But Mr. Parking Lot has a Friday night crowd to fleece at 25NIS per car, so if he can manage to squeeze in 15 more cars -- oooowah! -- caviar tonight for Mr. Parking Lot's Russian mistress (but only after he pays the salaries of the 4 workers he uses to juggle cars).

OK, so now here is the moment of truth. My upper Midwest politeness and patience vs. their Mideast stupidity and machismo. So what is the first thing I do? I patiently wait in the car, talking to my passenger. Obviously there are workers running to and fro, someone is attending to our dilemma, and certainly they will all have it sorted out in a matter of minutes. So 5 minutes pass; 10 minutes. Alright, now I admit I get out of my car and use my body language to indicate "what is going on here"? Behind me is a Russian man on a date, ahead of us is a local driver (remember, he too is stuck), who when I ask him in Hebrew "What is going on?" answers me in broken English "I don't speak Hebrew." Even a local caught in the same Kafkaesque parking lot hell as I am in will not admit we are sharing a similar fate.

For the fifth time, a simpleton boy comes running back from the office with a set of keys, which of course don't work. We are now 20 minutes into the adventure. My passenger goes over to the entrance (her street Hebrew is better than mine) and she lambastes the owner, who assures her that it will all be straightened out in a minute. You see, there are 2 ways that Israelis answer back to the rising anger of an unsatisfied customer/consumer. Most people think that Israelis yell back at an even higher volume until someone pulls a gun. That certainly is one way to go. But there is another way, even more confounding and enraging -- the stupid grin, the "just a minute more", the "why are you yelling so much? -- it will all be settled in a second". You become the screaming hothead, and they just smile back, in the ultimate expression of passive-aggresiveness: "calm down, it will all work out...we'll fix the problem slowly and methodically, at the same pace we used to put the car in the middle of the lane in the first place." When the simpleton boy had not even acknowledged my screaming in Hebrew, I finally gave up and looked him in the face and yelled in English: "What the fuck is wrong with you people?" At which point I realized that the parking lot people had won: game, set & match. In a matter of 25 minutes, I had been turned from an Anglo-Saxon model of patience -- how we wish all these crazy Middle Easterners, Jews and Arabs alike, should some day behave -- into a screaming maniac, cursing the country and its people, wondering if these idiots will ever have a normal society. In vain I lamely threatened to call the police, and the guy who spoke Hebrew but said he didn't looked at me with a smile on his face which read: "Do you really think they give a shit?"

35 minutes into the ordeal the waters parted, the spatial puzzle was solved, and with 2 inches of margin on either side of my rental car, I finally got out of the parking lot.

Mussar heskel (the moral of the story): Don't go to Tel Aviv with a car on Friday night. And if you do decide to take a car, avoid the parking lot at the corner of Allenby and Ben Yehuda.

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