At 9:30 this morning, I arrived at my bargain lot a block from Real Change just in time to snag the last space. On clear summer days the tourists and suburbanites descend on Belltown to take in Pike Place Market, gaze across the Sound at Mount Rainier, and drink themselves into a shopping frenzy at Starbucks. Parking becomes scarce.
An SUV spread itself across the remaining spot as an older couple haggled with a man pretending to be the lot attendant. After a moment, the driver shut his door to allow my '92 Corolla into the space. I headed to the pay box. They could fend for themselves.
As I punched the buttons, the nervous "attendant" jogged across the lot to stand just behind me. "That's fine," he boomed. "We accept credit cards too."
If there's an acting career in this guy's future, it's in a bottom feeding porn flick.
I turned to stare. "I park here everyday." Our eyes locked. I turned back for my ticket and, poof, he was gone.
The SUV guy walked over and regarded the machine as if it were the cockpit of the space shuttle. "How does this work?"
I took pity and went into "helper" mode.
"You put your space number in here and hit enter," I said, punching it in for him. "I was 47, so you must be 46. Then you choose your option. It's $8 for all day. Are you parking all day sir?"
"Yes," he said, "I think so."
"Great," I said, punching number 4. "Then you slide your credit card in and out of here, take your ticket from there, and put it on your dash. Simple."
He looked at me uncertainly. "That man said we could park all day for $10 cash?"
"Yeah," I said. "He doesn't work here. He's a junkie."
He walked away from the machine without completing the transaction. For some reason that annoyed me. I put my ticket away and locked the car door.
When I looked up, the man and his wife were in front of me. She was a little panicked, The encounter with the fake attendant had put her on edge, and now her eyes were wide in anticipation of further danger.
"That man over there," she waved to a guy smoking on the Macrina loading dock, "says this lot isn't safe. He says there are people on drugs who go up and down this alley all day."
She said "on drugs" as if it were something extraordinary. Something akin to masturbating in public. Or eating dog shit.
They looked at me and waited. I had become their urban sherpa.
It was true. People on drugs do go up and down that alley all day.
"This is Belltown," I said.
They stared blankly.
"Look around you," I offered. "The lot is full. It's safe. I've parked here everyday for years and nothing has ever happened."
The man looked reassured, but his wife seemed doubtful.
People on drugs were walking up and down the alley. And they had a decision to make.
I left them standing there. What they did next is anyone's guess.
Part of me hopes they left for the $16 lot three blocks closer to the Market. Another part of me fantasizes that they got back into their SUV and hightailed it back to Minnesota or Issaquah or whatever comfort zone it is they prefer.
But mostly, I hope they just paid their eight bucks and stopped being afraid. Nothing good ever comes from being afraid.