Friday, November 28, 2008

Parking is Such Sweet Sorrow

Day Two- Caen- Continued

This is post breakfast on our day in and around Caen and pre going in search of Fluent English, but really needed its own space.

We strolled, if one can stroll while limping, back to the car park. We casually entered the multi-story facility and proceeded to the car, or so we thought. Hmm, wrong side, so gimped around to the other side. Not there. Maybe we had the wrong level. Down one we went. Not there. This went on for 10 minutes or so, until I glanced across an open area and saw our little Bravo. Getting to the car, we hopped, literally, in and proceeded to the exit.
In the part of the country where I live, if you get a metered ticket when you enter, you pay someone, a human that is, as you leave. In Europe, there are a couple of different procedures. One is the Pay and Display method, where you go to a centralised ticket metering machine, put in your money for the amount of time you plan to stay, and out pops your ticket, which you display on your dashboard. Our particular car park utilised the system whereby you get a ticket as you enter, the barrier is raised, and off you go to park. Then, when you leave, you go to the payment center, stick in your ticket, and you are told how much you owe. After payment, one motors to the exit, stuffs the paid for ticket into the exit gate, and if everything is tickety-boo, the gate goes up and you go out. That is how it is supposed to work, and usually does so without much ado. We had a bit of ado.
Thinking of the way that I was used to, I drove to the exit, ticket in hand, expecting to pay someone, anyone, in person. No, there was no one at the gate. At first, I think we thought that it was a free car park, as it was close to the Bureau de Tourisme, and Guillame the Conqueror's castle, and that by inserting the card, we'd be freed, as it was just a method of access control, and keeping track of how many spaces were available. Eventually the light dawned and the realisation hit Les that we should have paid back in the car park, which would have validated our ticket, and sanctioned our effort to depart. A few other thoughts flashed through my mind, as they do at times like this. Les offered to hop out and scurry back to the payment center, which sounded like a good idea to me, but not to the driver who had pulled in behind me, and the driver behind him.

For some reason, driving a car with the controls on the opposite side that you are accustomed to can be at times a non-event requiring no extra thought at all, and then at other times it seems as if your brain just will not accept the fact that you are sitting on the WRONG side of the car. Here I had one of the latter moments, which was compounded by the rental agent's warning as I initialed the rental agreement, "Right, so you are responsible for ANY damages to the car". Couple all this with the fact that I have to back up(reverse back, as they say in England) with a couple of irate drivers behind me. Thankfully, I manage to get back enough to clear a path to freedom for the other drivers. Les does indeed hop out, from what would be the driver's side of the car, and catches an earful and some friendly waves from the occupants of the other cars who obviously think he is the driver!
As Leslie starts off in the direction of the pay center, I realise that I can pull up and re-enter the flow of parking traffic, thus getting out of the way of exiting traffic. I decide to do this, shouting at Leslie that I will drive around to the payment machine and pick him up. Which I do, only to see him looking somewhat befuddled. I see the problem immediately. He has to insert the card into the machine (think back to the toll booths)and it is deja vu all over again. I don't know if you have ever stopped to think about how many different ways there are to enter a card or ticket into a machine, but the permutations must be endless, or so they seem, and he nearly wore the paper ticket out trying to get the machine to accept it, which at some point it finally did. But at this part of the proceedings we are only halfway home, as this is just the point where the fee is calculated. Now comes time for payment. I forget what the exact amount was, but I don't think Leslie had enough Euros on him, so I said in a moment of insanity, "Here, use my credit card." He beetled over to me, grabbed the card, and scuttling back to the machine began another exercise in deciphering the instructions on how to complete a payment with a card. At this point, I am not sure how what happened happened, but happen it did. It was also at this point that I actually wondered if we weren't secretly being filmed by a member of Monty Python. As Les was standing at the machine, a young woman, girl, who knows, when you get to be my age everyone at a certain age look to be the same age, came rushing up to the machine. Somehow, and I am not even sure the machine should have let this happen, she managed to make the machine accept her ticket, at least I think she had a ticket, paid the fee, grabbed the paid ticket, and hared off in the direction of the exit in about the time it took you to read this. Here is where things really got interesting. Whatever ticket she grabbed, there were no others emerging from the machine. We pondered that for a bit, then decided to see if we could get another ticket from the entry dispenser. I drove to the entry/exit area, they were side by side, jumped out, and tried to get a ticket. I assume there was a weight sensor or some sort of sensing device, because the machine absolutely refused to give me a ticket, even when I jumped up and down several times. Then I thought, hmm, sometimes the exit gate can just be lifted, which in this case proved untrue. We drove around the car park looking for an attendant, with no luck. Back to the entry/exit we go. Here I am beginning to wonder if we could just swoop out after another car, but fear for the gate coming down as the injunction "Right, so you are responsible for ANY damages to the car" rings in my ears. As we sat there, two French ladies came over from the direction of the toilets and asked for change for a Euro. They needed to, as they used to say, "Spend a penny,"(Google that term if you aren't familiar with it) and didn't have the correct change. Neither spoke English, which was okay, as neither of us spoke French, but somehow they got their change, and gratefully hurried off to the WC, leaving Les and me still with our dilemna. Somewhere about now a gentleman with a bag in his hand strides in the direction of the locked office next to the exit. I hold my breath, hoping that he is an attendant. When he unlocks the door, we both glimpse a ray of hope and scurry in the door after him. This could be a long drawn out explanation, but somehow, and I do mean somehow because as far as I could tell neither of them ever understood a thing the other said, we conveyed to him that although we did not have a ticket we owed him 3.2 Euros. We made the payment and went outside to get to the car. Just as all three of us emerged from the office, the two ladies who got change from us emerged from the bathroom. Ever hopeful, and mindful of the fact that I wasn't convinced the attendant knew why we owed him the money, I shouted out to them, Do either of you speak English? I recognised the look on one of their faces that people get when they think they might be able to help but are not really sure. Anyway, over they came, and I explained, in English, to the one with the look, what has just transpired over the last 20 or 30 minutes. When I finished, the other one, who professed no understanding of English, turned to the attendant and spoke about 5 sentences. He immediately slapped his forehead, went Ahh!, and we all laughed. Many "Merci's" followed, we got in the car, the attendant put in his manager's card, up went the gate, and off we went, as previously mentioned, in search of Fluent English and an even more pressing need, fuel.

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