Tag Archives: traffic

Feeling lost? Go to IKEA.

22 Sep

On 9/9/10, I was an accidental guest star in a solo reenactment of “The Parking Garage.” And you are likely to laugh at my unintentional Emmy-nominated performance as “woman-who-lost-her-car-in-a-parking-garage-while-holding-Austrian-chocolates.” I had great pictures of this narrative, but they suffered the same fate as my pictures of  The Austrian Penpal. I will do my best to recount sans visuals.

If you read part one of my 9/9/10 post, you know I spent the morning in DC and that I parked my car here:

Franconia-Springfield Metro Station

There are over 5000 parking spaces in that garage, and as I learned later, at least four entrances.  After leaving DC, I hopped on an orange line train and  met up with my friend Alex in Vienna to see his new condo. After a quick lunch, he dropped me off at the above shown parking garage and drove away into the sunset in a Toyota Matrix. I waved goodbye and made my way on foot to find my own Volkswagen Jetta; still had plenty of time to get back on 95 and miss the worst of afternoon rush hour traffic. Couldn’t have executed a plan better. (I might have high-fived myself in my mind at this point).

You should never do that.

Time you should be on 95 to avoid major traffic: Before 3:00 pm

Time of arrival at garage: 2:26 pm

Time of departure from garage: 4:05 pm

Projected location of my car: Level 1, 2, or 3

Actual location of my car: Level 5

Projected highest level of entrance: 3

Actual level I entered on: 4

Number of black Jettas that were not mine: 9

Number of desperate phone calls made: 3

Number of calls that were dropped because I was IN A GARAGE: 3

Number of  people in garage I considered asking for help: 4

Number of people in garage I asked for help: 0

Number of people who asked me for help: 2

Number of times I smiled confidently while screaming help me! in my head: 8

No, I did not scream or curse at unsuspecting commuters or SUVs. No, I did not give in and ask the one non-computerized, human money-taker in the booth for help. I had a hope deep inside me that I’d find my black Jetta on my own. (And this way I’d never have to admit to said human that I am the moron who’s circling levels 1, 2, and 3 looking for a black Jetta. And no, lady-of-the-booth, I did NOT write the section number down, thankyouverymuch!)

Often when we’re lost we don’t ask for help because we’re afraid of looking bad. We’re also afraid of being alone. I felt like the only person outside out of sitcom world who’d lost her car in a parking garage, even though this is overwhelmingly not true. People in South Florida airports do it all the time. Five times a day in Fort Lauderdale, and three times a day at the Palm Beach and Miami airports. The Sun-Sentinel article also mentions that people’s first reaction upon losing their car is believing it has been stolen. One frequent traveler who lost his car confessed: “In all my years of traveling, this has never happened to me before.”

My first reaction after car was not parked where I expected: Stolen

My second reaction: Towed (because in a hurry I might have missed a ‘reserved parking’ sign)

One of the first things I said to my friend Alex on the phone before losing the call: “This has never happened to me before.”

Final conclusion: I’m just like everybody else.

Blistered by rush hour traffic, I made it as far as Woodbridge before I found myself veering onto the Potomac Mills exit because as Alex and I had discussed at lunch, I’ve never been to IKEA. For four years I went to college a mere thirty minutes from this hipster furniture mecca yet it was still a Swedish myth to me. Plus Aaron and I needed a kitchen storage solution (our apartment hates cabinets), so I had utilitarian reasons as well.

I learned upon arriving that like everywhere on earth, you get to park in a garage. This time I took a picture of my section number.

See, I learn.

And if you were wondering, yes, that picture also fell victim to the great accidental delete of 9/9/10. Luckily, the pictures I took AFTER that survived; this way we can get lost in IKEA together.

One the first things I noticed other than overwhelming we real cool vibe was this water fountain:

Is the stool necessary? I should have coerced a stranger into posing next to it for scale, but I think that sort of thing is frowned upon in IKEA. Shortly afterwards I noticed I was in the kids’ section. So it’s not that funny. Picture relegated to sight gag rather than commentary on IKEA’s catering to customers who may be elves.

I commence shopping for storage solutions for our kitchen.

Option #1: For all our GIANT bowls (we grow them)

Option #2: For all the glasses and food we'd like to showcase

Option #3: Mug storage, winner!

It’s at this point I start to become fully aware of my surroundings. IKEA creates environments for customers to meander through and imagine themselves in. This is code for making you jealous with all our hip stuff so you’ll feel bad enough about your poorly designed home that you’ll be lured in by our deceptively low prices enough that you’ll buy allourshit.

I’ll be the first to admit that good design is like crack. And just like anyone who is addicted to crack, I will follow good design until you make me fill out an order form to purchase a $4 mug rack. You can’t just pick up something and buy it here–that’s so pedestrian.

And you had me until paperwork, IKEA.

So I decided to finish my tour of the store and mock its contents because loving IKEA is boring. And I’ve had enough everyone else for today. As I made my way through the carefully styled environments, I imagined what each room was saying to me as I walked by.

"If only you were Miami enough to live here."

"We're wacky. Can't you tell by our light fixture?"

"We just got back from the world; what did we miss?"

"Eat your cabinet heart out."

It was time to say goodbye to this charming little universe, which has friendly arrows to guide you.

"You are going the wrong way."

I toured the entire store backwards on accident. It was a giant metaphor for my entire afternoon/evening. No, it wasn’t over yet. I’d made it past rush hour, but I still had major accident traffic and close-two-lanes-for-line-painting traffic ahead. So much more of this:

"Patience is a virtue."

So I walked away from IKEA with nothing tangible, but in a weird way it saved me. I’m not sure I could’ve survived leg 3 of that journey without my sojourn at the home furnishing mothership. Right now I’m in a new city, searching for a job, hoping to meet new people who get me. It’s easy to feel lost. Just like I did in that parking garage.

But here’s where it’s comforting to be just like everybody else: we all get lost, and more importantly, we all get found.

"Life is better with glow sticks." (photo: J. Kingston)

The Austrian Penpal

17 Sep

Last week I returned to Richmond, VA for a few days to do a final cleaning of my house and to reclaim my car (which I spent all of Monday driving 14 hours in from VA to SoFlo: a drive that is about 300 miles too long).

The weather in Virginia was 70’s-blue-skied happiness. The entire drive once I got deep into the Carolinas: sunshine for miles (and miles and miles and miles). Even the Sunshine State lived up to its name.

Then Tuesday happened. I woke up to the reality of tropical climate during hurricane season. Meet our parking canal:

No, that’s not my car, but a brave soul in an SUV trying to drive through a river. I gasped as I watched this from my balcony. Then promptly snapped a photo.

Here’s my parked car as another nearly hits it trying to navigate the canal:

Our friendly Haitian waste management professional told us one of the ground level apartments in another building had water filling half their apartment. Thank you, second floor!

And that concludes today’s weather segue. And now  I give you the first half of 9/9/10: a day so overstuffed that it needs two posts. I tried it with one post, but even my attention span couldn’t keep up.

Mission: Drive to DC to meet childhood Austrian penpal Sabine for the first time EVER. (Condensed backstory: we wrote back and forth starting in the fourth grade until college, then lost touch. 15 years later she found me on Facebook. A year and some months later she conveniently went on a two week vacation in the US which included a stop in our nation’s capital that overlapped with my return-to-VA-to-clean-my-house mission.)

The Complications: Apparently my Verizon Wireless plan doesn’t allow me to make international calls, but it can receive them from Austrian cell phones. So, super convenient. This thwarted our plan to meet at Potomac Mills just hours after I landed at the Richmond airport, as I missed her first call. Several attempts to call, text, Skype her later, I learned I didn’t have enough Skype credit for transatlantic chat. An awkward conversation with the State Plaza Hotel desk clerk led me to realize I didn’t know Sabine’s husband’s first name (under which the reservation was listed). Bless the kindness of this man, though, he read every German-sounding name on the guest register.

You know when you feel like a stranger is going to do anything to help you? Well, I stopped just shy of giving a “this is one of the moments in the movie when…” speech ala Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the nurse in Magnolia. Luckily, Sabine called again just in time.

Plan B: Have breakfast at Sabine’s hotel Thursday morning before she and her husband begin the drive up to New York and eventually Canada to round out their North American journey.

The Strategy: Leave soul-crushingly early. Washington, DC, according to Forbes Magazine, has the worst traffic in the US. Atlanta comes in second, as its sprawl can’t quite compete with that of Spin City. After consulting with my friend Alex, a home-grown resident of Northern Virginia, I opted to drive to the Franconia Metro station and take the train into the city.

After waking from my friend Carrie’s house at 5:00 am, I was on the road by  5:20 after a gas and coffee stop.

Sidenote: the coffee at 7-11 is now bad again.

I met my share of brake lights on the road, but I arrived in Springfield pretty close to when I expected, though a few minutes behind.  I parked right next to the entrance, thinking this would make it easy to find my car upon returning later that afternoon. Stay tuned for how that went in my next post. The time of metro ride + walk to hotel  was unknown to me and I did not want to have another international missed connection, so I switched into hurry mode. I locked the car door, walked briskly behind the crowd headed for the platform, and dashed inside the station. Within two minutes I’d purchased my fare card and was seated on the departing blue line train. Just as I heard the I’m pretending like I’m covering a sports game announcer note that the next stop was VAAAAN DOOOOORN Street, I realized I didn’t look to see the numbered section of my parked car. This is back when I thought parking near the entrance would save me.

Austria meets America: Sabine and her husband greeted me warmly in the lobby of their hotel. It had been a while since I’d been to Europe, so I found myself caught in the cross hairs of one-kiss-or-two confusion, but they were very gracious. Sabine’s English is quite good which combined nicely with my non-existent German. Danke!

As we sat down for breakfast, Sabine presented me with the first letter I ever wrote to her: it was fashioned on orange construction paper, laden with photos and accented with stickers. I took pictures of the letter, Sabine’s husband took shots of the two of us posing with the letter, and tragically I cannot post them due to a memory card formatting error. [Insert apology to my friend Carrie, whose camera I borrowed to document this encounter after leaving mine in Florida. Her photos were also victims of my HP inexperience. You should probably not let me borrow your camera unless it’s a Canon.]

Sabine and I started writing to each other as children; she lived in the magical land of the Alps. You might be thinking of this:

Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music

The hills are alive! But only in America. While many of us associate Austria with amusing children donning clothes made out of curtains singing to escape the Nazis, Sabine never even heard of the musical until college. I love perspective.

Trying to present my life in small town Virginia as interesting proved difficult when I was 8 years old. It took me months to write back after that first letter; I waited until after a trip to Disney World and a big snow gave me something photo worthy. I felt like the snow might help connect us. Wasn’t I cute with that? Strangely, it ended up being my “insignificant” small town that reconnected us 25 years later.

During the 2008 election, Sabine was watching the news in Austria and there was a story on my town saying how Obama probably wouldn’t do well in the area because it was so conservative. (FYI, my county went 68% for McCain). She saw this story and the day following the election she searched and found me in the social networking universe. Almost two years later we met in person for the first time. Sabine said to me at breakfast how big the world seemed when we were kids and how small it has gotten as adults.

I used to resist this change–I preferred hiding inside my private thoughts, my private world. It’s easier, safer, to live inside yourself, but you miss connecting with others, and in the end helping them by sharing your experiences. So something that could’ve been a school project that ended in college, has now turned into what I hope will be lifelong communication. Sabine’s a journalist for a newspaper with the highest circulation in Austria and she brought me Mozart chocolates!

Hopefully when Sabine returns from her vacation she will email her pictures of our meeting and I can post them, because the letter/collage/bad art project is something to behold.

Since I don’t have pictures of my penpal reunion, here are some more of Ramona. Her blog is still inactive:

“I’ve got your wedding present right here!”

Stay tuned for Part II of 9/9/10 with hot topics such as a parking garage and Ikea. Just try and stay away.