When 2 ouches make an aaahhh

I had one of my very rare face-to-face client meetings yesterday morning downtown. Even though I’ve lived in Pittsburgh my whole life, I still hate driving downtown — too many years commuting by bus and never having to worry about one-way streets, construction detours, traffic bottlenecks, or parking hassles. It always makes me sweat.

It was the parking that did me in. In typical “I’m never late” fashion, I left 1-1/2 hours before my meeting for the 30-mile drive into town. That should have been plenty of time to wait out any leftover tunnel delays, park the car, and maybe still have time to grab a coffee. Turns out I had the tunnel delays covered but did not realize that every blessed parking garage would have the “FULL — LEASES ONLY” sign out. After driving by 4 or 5 of these beauties for 20 minutes, (going in circles and waiting in traffic to get to them all), I contemplated heading uptown, many blocks away from my meeting, to my trusty Kaufmann’s garage (I guess that’s Macy’s now — who are they kidding? It’ll always be Kaufmann’s), but that meant that I would be late after all, and what if it was full too? (My feet, in “meeting shoes,” were also balking at the prospect of that long walk.)

So I desperately pulled into one of those outside lots you see but never enter. Two fine gentleman greeted me and I gave them my sweetest “Yes, I’m a modern businesswoman but if it gets me a damn space I’ll act all helpless just like all the women on The Apprentice did” smile. Fortunately, they must have been visually impaired, and after calling out to the attendant next door, commenting that I was beautiful, and with me grinning like an idiot and actually saying “I’m desperate,” (the guys loved that) the attendant agreed, sternly asking “How long?” After “a couple hours” was met with a stern “Are you sure?” I revised it to “Oh 3 hours or so…I have a meeting (smile, smile)” and hoped that wasn’t a deal breaker.

Thankfully, I handed him my keys, got my ticket, and looked around trying to get a mental note of just where I was leaving the car. (“Under the giant orange billboard, across from the United Steelworkers Building” was what I settled on, street names having little meaning in my landmark-oriented, directionally impaired world.)

So I hoofed it the several blocks to the meeting (still 12 minutes early, thank you), feet killing me from having worked the clutch so long in heels. The meeting was fine, I had a great lunch with my client (a former coworker), and made it back to the lot (yay, found it) just 10 minutes or so over 3 hours.

I knew it would be a fortune, so wasn’t surprised at the $17 price tag. I gave the guy a 20, but when I got my change, he had given me a 5 and two 1s. As we were walking over to my car, I did an internal, “Well, clearly $17 is too much…” but my conscience won out, “Hey, you gave me too much. I just needed another 1 and not this 5.”

Not clear on what went wrong, he took the 5 and never gave me the 1. By now my hand was on my car door. I did a mental “not worth it,” got in my car and happily found my way east (no small feat for someone who has always gone north).

I now know it’s possible to feel cheated and satisfied at the same time. My bill was now $18 (ouch), but I did the right thing (aaahh) and gave the gouging parking lot owners back their $4 error, supplemented with a $1 bonus (ouch). In hindsight, it was a small price to pay for going all Scarlett O’Hara in the first place just to get in the lot. In the end, you do what you have to do in the business world, and if it only costs you an extra $1, AND you keep your conscience clear, I’d say you’re doing pretty darn good.

The man who will use his skill and constructive
imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar,
instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed. 
                                                                   ~ Henry Ford