The perils of parking ramps

Country Roads

My first encounter with a multi-level parking garage was in 1969 in downtown Chicago. I wasn’t overly excited about giving my keys to some rough looking character who was about to drive my prized year-old Ford onto an elevator and park it somewhere above.

Less than five years later we moved to Sioux City where several modern self-parking ramps had been erected and I quickly grew to appreciate them.

Parking ramps, however, have been a source of some frustration over the years. In fact, just recently I had difficulty finding a parking space in a ramp near downtown. Upon entering the ramp I steered my vehicle up the circuitous ramp route, unable to find a single parking place. I continued upward to the parking spots on the roof. Still no openings.

If not brilliant I am persistent so I followed the serpentine exit lane to the bottom. Still no openings.

Back to the top again and then down again. One last try, I thought, and this time I found an open spot near the end of parking places on the roof.

I am a large person and drive a large vehicle. Some parking ramps allow only enough space for modern (pronounced “too small for Arvid”) sedans which can be inadequate for mini-vans SUVs and pick-up trucks.

Several years ago in a parking ramp in downtown Des Moines a pick-up parked on the left side of my mini-van, making it impossible to get into my vehicle through the driver’s door. Finally, I opened a sliding backdoor, dropped the back of the driver’s seat and slid my oversize frame behind the wheel. It wasn’t a pretty sight but I got to my next appointment on time.

During my years with the Iowa Newspaper Foundation our annual conventions were held at a downtown hotel, across the street from a massive parking lot which can be scary at night. Convention days ended late in the evening and on a number of occasions I escorted some of our female staff members to their parking space. Fortunately, I was never called upon to defend my protectees.

Leaving the convention at about 10 p.m. one night I was surprised to find a panhandler begging for money at the entrance to the parking ramp. I was even more surprised when I recognized the panhandler as a former well regarded professional man of my acquaintance. I greeted him by name and he told me a long, sad story. Though it may have held some truth it appeared that drugs were playing a role in his situation. He told me he hadn’t eaten in some time so I gave him money for a meal. I can only trust that it was used for a meal.

My wife and I enjoy musicals at the Des Moines Civic Center and one of the better places to park is in a nearby multi-level parking ramp. The downside ̶ getting out of the ramp after the program ends. Unless you can secure a place near the entrance, bring a picnic lunch to eat while you wait for the ramp to empty.

Over the past 30 years I’ve made many business trips to Chicago where parking ramps are common. Some 20 years ago I attended a conference in downtown Chicago where the hotel offered valet parking in an adjacent multi-level ramp. Upon checking out I handed my parking claim check to the parking guy.

It seemed to take a long time for my vehicle to show up. The young man who retrieved it seemed a bit frazzled when he finally arrived but since he could not speak English well I didn’t push the issue.

Back at home I discovered damage to my vehicle’s luggage rack rails. Putting two-and-two together I came up with 3.79 and figured that my tall vehicle didn’t successfully clear a low doorway in the parking ramp. I have hit my head on doorways many times so I understand how that can happen. The repair bill was $200 and, lacking any proof that the hotel was liable, I paid it myself.

Multi-level parking ramps have been around for nearly a century, the first having been built in 1919 by the Hotel La Salle in downtown Chicago. Ninety-eight years later I have a love-hate relationship with them.

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