There’s a Seinfeld episode called “The Parking Garage” where our intrepid foursome vainly search for Kramer’s car in a parking garage, but can’t remember where he parked it. Kramer is lugging around a heavy air conditioner, Elaine has a bag of goldfish that will die soon, George has to meet his parents by 6:15 to take them out for a celebratory anniversary dinner, and Jerry has to go to the bathroom very badly. Hours pass before they finally locate the car, and both Jerry and George end up arrested for public urination while Elaine’s goldfish die. And then the car won’t start. (Side note: Seinfeld was brilliant. I miss it). In an example of life imitating art, I found myself in a similar situation yesterday.
I had met up with some friends-slash-business-associates at Powell’s Books that morning. Heidi and Ross, from Sacramento Book Review, were in town to meet up with Chris from Portland Book Review and to take a mini-vacation. Though I’ve worked with Heidi and Ross for years, having originally gotten to know Heidi through her online diary/blog, this was the first time we’d met. The power of the internet never ceases to amaze me; through her writing, I felt like I knew Heidi intimately, and we hugged each other and chatted away like old friends the moment we were introduced. I have been blogging, in one form or another, on and off for ten years now, and have met a handful of people in real life. (Literally: there have been five). These folks have become friends, confidantes, business partners, and lovers. (Not all of them fall into every category, of course). I have found that friendships forged online and maintained over the years are every bit as strong as those that develop in a more traditional manner. Growing up an Air Force “brat” and moving around every few years, I never made lasting friends with anybody from my childhood. It’s made me somewhat of a loner in my adult life, so I value and cherish the friendships I have collected in recent years.
We talked for a good long while in Powell’s, browsed for a bit, and left. I’d arrived before anybody else, so I grabbed a paperback off the shelf – something to thumb through while waiting for the others in the in-store coffee shop – and got so engrossed in the book (T.C. Boyle’s Talk, Talk) that I ended up buying it, continuing a longstanding tradition of never leaving Powell’s without making a purchase of some sort.
A couple of cool things about Powell’s Books, which I mention frequently here because it’s my favorite Portland hangout: it used to be a car dealership, and you can still see evidence of that amidst the books.
And, the men’s bathrooms have upscale, literate graffiti lining the grout between the tiles. I call it groutffiti. I first noticed it years ago, and always get a chuckle out of it. Here’s just one example. Others include “Grout at the devil,” “The Grout Gatsby,” “Grout of Africa,” etc.
After Powell’s, we headed to the Deschutes Brewery for lunch. I was intrigued enough to try their daily special – a grown-up version of a Sloppy Joe, served open-faced on Texas toast and topped with grated cheese and crispy onion straws. There was a bottle of Secret Aardvark Habanero Sauce to dip my fries into, and since I don’t like “real” beer, I opted for the “root” version. Great meal, great conversation, and Ross picked up the tab. Thanks, buddy. From there we proceeded to Voodoo Doughnut, another Portland institution I’ve mentioned before. When we walked the nine blocks or so to get there, it was like that scene out of National Lampoon’s Vacation where Clark Griswold and family arrive at Wally World after a long cross-country trek, only to find out the park is closed. Voodoo is undergoing an expansion and remodel and, even though their website had indicated it would reopen by May 30, was in fact nowhere even close to being ready for business as the interior was gutted. So we took Ross’s rental car and drove to the east side location, Voodoo Too. Waited in line thirty minutes for doughnuts, but it was totally worth it. I took a box home for my kids and parents, and later enjoyed a Maple Blazer Blunt, a sugar doughnut made to resemble a lit joint. Great message I was sending the kids, eh?
But back to the parking garage.
After leaving Voodoo Too, Ross and Heidi dropped me off next to Powell’s, and I walked a block or two to the garage where I had parked my car. I remembered that I was on Level P3, but that was about it. I had exited across the street from a piano store, but I wandered around for quite awhile, unable to find that store. You have to understand, the underground parking garage is enormous, and Portland’s street blocks are small, so there are entrances and exits to the same garage all over the place, in seemingly random spots, doorways leading to the underground labyrinth sandwiched between shops in a three- or four-block radius. I gave up on finding the door from which I had exited, and decided instead to enter the garage from where I had driven in, figuring I could just descend to level three and find my car from there.
Only, level three is massive, as I quickly learned. I wasn’t armed with an air conditioner or about-to-expire fish, but I was carting around a big pink box of doughnuts and the book I had purchased from Powell’s. And I was dressed in layers. And it was really warm. Every time I turned a corner, expecting to find my car, I’d come up empty. I walked around blindly for a good fifteen minutes, wondering how many freakin’ corners there could possibly be in the garage. I’d travel a good distance, stop, look around, decide that somehow I must have missed my car, and then retrace my steps, turning left at this particular juncture rather than right. This place was like the maze in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and though I wasn’t being pursued by a hatchet-wielding madman, my heart did start to beat rather frantically as I realized that I was never, ever going to find my damn car and a sense of panic set in. Much like George, I had to be somewhere at a certain time in order to pick up my kids. And worse, like Jerry, I wouldn’t have minded happening upon a restroom at that point. Seconds away from unleashing that most primal of instincts – hot, salty tears – I rounded yet another corner and there she was, the ol’ ride. Salvation. I have never been so happy in my life to see a Hyundai, let me tell you. Fortunately, when I turned the key, she roared to life.
“Anybody ever lose their car down here?” I asked the attendant as I was paying. I figured it was probably something that happened all the time. They must have some emergency plan in place to assist those who had forgotten the whereabouts of their vehicles.
“Never,” she said.
Which made me feel pretty stupid.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that…