Most of us in this “niche” business at one time or another say, “I should write a book”. While I say “niche”, it’s a niche that brings in millions and millions of dollars. You want niche? I once went to a kite store. A kite store! I thought, March and April are pretty good months for you I’ll bet, but what are you doing in December? Seems like it would be like having an ice cream shop in Maine.
I imagine everyone has stories to tell about the business they’ve been in, but I don’t know. There just seems to be something about parking that brings out the worst in people. And Tallahassee is the worst of the worst.
Before I got here, I was involved in municpal parking in three other cities, and this is…different. For one thing, the City of Tallahassee is way more sensitive and complaint-phobic. Each city has a different character.
One of those cities was Norfolk. They were building a giant mall in the middle of the city, and they built the parking garages for them first–which was why I was there. The construction people who were building it often hung out in my office during breaks. (I don’t kid myself that it was my scintillating personality and good looks–my office was air-conditioned.)
One day a guy came in and said, when we’ve finished this thing, I am never coming back. Why not, I asked? He said, because you’re going to charge for parking. That is completely ridiculous! I can go to any other mall in this city and parking is free. Okay, true I said. But this mall is going to have stores you can’t find at any other mall. Rainforest Cafe. Nordstrom. Ha!, he scoffed. And who in this City can afford to shop at Nordstrom? Okay, he had a point. I can’t, I said, but there are people here who do, and the closest one is 200 miles north, in D.C. Plus, I said, the cost is going to be $1.00 for the first 3 hours. (That was decided on after several knock-down, dragout fights between the City and the private developer. Three hours was determined to be the average length of time a person spends in a mall.) If you can’t afford a dollar, you probably shouldn’t be at the mall in the first place.
That isn’t the point, he said! It’s the principle of the thing! (Isn’t it always?) Paying for parking is like going to Home Depot to buy dirt! Parking, he said, should be free, like dirt! Once I recovered from practically choking to death, I said, well, my guess is that you’ll come here at least once, for curiosity if nothing else. He said, unfortunately, you’re right. My wife cruises around the site at least once a day. She can’t wait for it to open. She’s like a buzzard circling a carcass. So yes, unfortunately, I will be here.
The first story I remember in Tallahassee was a woman who was picking up her child from the museum upstairs. At the time, the first 30 minutes was free, and after that, it was $1.00 for the rest of the hour. Are you following me? ONE. DOLLAR. She had exceeded that time limit, and said the only reason she did was that she stopped to help another child, whose mother wasn’t there yet, go to the bathroom. Very nice of you, I said. $1.00.
That’s also the fascinating thing about parking. People act as if the cost is negotiable. It’s like picking a $500 dress off the rack at say, Nordstrom, taking it to the counter, and saying, I’d like to buy this dress, but it’s too expensive. I’ll give you $250 for it.
So this woman says, OK, I’m going to pay it, but I’ll have you know that my daughter goes to school with the mayor’s daughter. And as soon as I get home, I’m going to call him and tell him what you did to me. “Please do”, I said. You really want to be a fly on the wall sometimes. I would like to have seen the expression on the mayor’s face when she called him and said, “You won’t believe what happened!”
That of course was just the first of many, many such incidents. Everybody here knows the mayor, the governor, or one of their cousins.
Just one more story. The State Legislature meets here every year during the months of March and April. It’s an excitng and nerve-wracking time. When the garage begins to fill up, we have to deny daily customers entry because we guarantee that if you have a monthly access card, you will have a space. One day this guy comes up to the gate and can’t get in, and he’s laying on the intercom and screaming. (Oh P.S., there’s a sign that says “Full”.) So I went outside to talk to him in person. Sometimes that helps. He said, I have a meeting with the governor in FIVE MINUTES! You need to let me in RIGHT NOW! Sir…I can’t. There is no space. (This was my first mistake. People reach a certain point where logic fails them. You can’t, by definition, reason with them.) Well, let me in and I’ll take my chances. No, I said.
Then he got out of his car. It’s a little crowded there at the entry lane. He’s towering over me, which really isn’t that hard to do, and seriously invading my space. I thought, this guy is going to hit me. I looked around for my maintenance guy. I looked in my office hoping someone was paying attention. I looked for anyone, another customer even. I was on my own. At that point what I did was step forward rather than back, which is your natural inclination. I said, Sir, here is what I need you to do. Get back in your car, RIGHT NOW, and back up. If you don’t, I’m calling the police, and we’ll let you explain yourself to them. Amazingly enough, he did.
Normally, though, my job is not that hazardous. People behave only like mild lunatics.