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Archive for August 28th, 2008

The Car Trip From Hell

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

So a few weeks ago me and my wife went out to Gen Con. I got to meet a bunch of people who worked in the table-top game industry, and I spent way too much money on new toys.  I even got a few leads on getting a publisher for that North Pole Zombie game I made.

All-in-all it was a pretty decent trip.

But during the trip there, things went horribly awry.

First we were late getting on the road.  No big deal in and of itself, stuff came up at work, and I stayed for a few extra hours to help out, because I like to be helpful. (Stop sniggering.)

So I was late in getting home, which meant I was late in getting on the road. Not a problem, as I was letting my wife drive. She likes to drive fast. Which is fortunate because we were taking I-90 through Chicago.

If you’ve never driven on I-90 around Chicago the most important thing to remember is that people there like to drive fast. If you try driving the speed limit, you will probably cause an accident. Plus old ladies will pass you and call you names.

So my wife is driving and we had just gotten through Chicago, pretty much keeping up with the traffic around us when we see blue and red lights in the rear view mirror. Great, we were being pulled over.

No big deal. I was thinking, it’ll just be a traffic ticket. In fact it would be my wife’s first traffic ticket so I was really not too worried. We’ll just mail the fine in once we get home.

Well it turns out that they have a funny law in Illinois. If you get pulled over for speeding they take your license.

I don’t mean that they cancel it. My wife can still legally drive. I mean that they take the driver’s license card with them once they leave. Once you pay the fine or go to court they give it back. And most of the time the police officer won’t take your license, so they’ll just have you sign for the ticket. But it is an option if they so choose.

Of course, if you don’t want to lose your license on the spot because, for instance, you are leaving the state and need to use it as ID, well they have a few solutions for that too. One is that you can get a bond card from your insurance company. Basically it’s like a mini-credit card, that you give over to the cop instead of your license. We had never heard of such a thing, so naturally we didn’t have one.

The other option was that we hand the police officer cash on the spot.

I learned that these were the options, because the police officer explained this to my wife and I. Repeatedly.

“I’m going to take your license as a bond, until you pay the fine or go to court.”
“But I need my license for ID.”
“Well then you need to pay the 95 dollar fine in full right now, cash only, exact change please.”
And then the officer gave us pretty much the same look that my ferrets give us when we’re eating ice cream.
The look that says, “Hey I want that. Gimmie. Plus I plan to poop in your shoe later.”

The officer, by repeating key parts of the previous conversation made it plain that we were either going to hand over a big wad of cash or my wife’s license.

So basically a cop from a small town outside of Chicago kept us on the side of the road, and shook us down. I had no idea that stuff like this was even legal in America any more. And it turns out that we didn’t have exact change, so we offered to pay 100 dollars, and let them keep the change. It turns out it’s not legal to overpay. I’m sure that this is someone’s idea of keeping the police honest. Which is laughable when they are allowed to demand cash on the spot. Since we couldn’t pay the exact way that they wanted, they took my wife’s license and sent us on our way.

And because we had to get back onto the highway from the shoulder we missed our exit, which was even more unfortunate that it sounds, because we did not notice it.

By the time we realized that that we must have missed our turn, we had wound up in what the movie Deliverance has taught me to be “Banjo Country”.

“Maybe we should pull over and ask if we missed our turn.” My wife suggested.

“Are you crazy? What if the guy we ask thinks I have a pretty mouth? I’ll get gang-raped to death, and you’ll be dragged off into the woods to be some hill-billy’s mistress. Let’s just keep driving until we run out of gas.”

Side note: this is also why I will never own a canoe.

Eventually we did find our way back to the highway we wanted. But we missed the next turn too.

And the next one.

And the next one as well.

So what should have been a three hour trip tops, turned into a six hour extravaganza.

Once we arrived in Indianapolis the fun didn’t stop however. You see we had a hotel room fairly far away from the convention. This way, we could get a nicer room, fairly cheap. It did mean that we would need to find parking closer to the site the next morning.

The next morning, we discovered something interesting about Indianapolis. They don’t seem to like the idea of people parking their cars. There were a few parking garages, but they were all full. After about 45 minutes of driving around downtown we tried the local sports stadium. I figured that had a great big empty parking lot, and would probably have some sort of paid parking available if there wasn’t a game going on. So I drove up found a spot and went into the gift shop/ticket to ask if I was allowed to stay there for the day.

The only employee present was a little dottering old man. Imagine if Joe Lieberman and Droopy Dog had an illegitimate child together. He appeared to be sorting through some paperwork, while waiting to see if he could collect the “Hellfish Bonanza”.

“Excuse me sir,” I began, “do you know if I am allowed to park in the lot out there?”
“What are you here for?”
“I’m here for the convention two blocks over.”

His eyes narrowed. His fists clenched. His jowls shook with tiny old-guy rage.


“Alright, thanks anyways, do you know any places nearby where I could?”


“I got it. I’ll leave. But do you know-”


“Right so I-”


He then waggled his finger at me in an authoritative and dismissing way.

“Okay! I’m leaving. Calm down.”

He cocked his head, and gave me a puzzled look, as if he was working through a very difficult word problem.

After a few seconds of intense concentration, his eyes lit up, as if after a taxing mental journey he had arrived at the perfect solution to our problem.


And with that, we left.

We did eventually find a parking garage, quite a distance away, that had room for us. And only charged twelve dollars for all day parking.

And so we went to the convention, hung out, had fun, and later that night went back to the parking garage.

It was locked up.

There weren’t any signs listing hours or anything. No reasonable way to notify customers that there was a deadline to pick their car back up. But there was a giant metal gate keeping us out.

“No problem,” I thought, “We’ll just catch a cab back to our room, and then pick our car up tomorrow. We might have to pay extra or something, but this won’t be a big deal.”

And so we take a cab, and come back the next morning. It’s still locked up. And now we’re standing next to a parking garage with all of our stuff, and no way to get to our car. And I came to a realization. A parking garage that is closed on Saturday, is probably not going to be open on Sunday either. Which means that I will not be able to get my car back until Monday. Which is when I am supposed to be back at work.

Fortunately there was a number on the garage that we could call if we had an issue. Turns out that people who don’t open their parking garage on Saturday aren’t big on answering the phone either. But the helpful answering machine message did let me know that they would be back on Monday.

Eventually, I discovered that the smaller, human-scaled doors on the garage where still unlocked, even though the larger automotive scaled doors weren’t. So at the very least, I could head upstairs and put our baggage into the trunk, so that we didn’t have to carry it around all weekend.

While I was in there heading for my vehicle I ran into another driver.

“Is that your wife outside with a suitcase?” He asked.

I thought about how all things car-related had been going for me this weekend. And then I thought about my wife. Specifically, I thought about how good she is at keeping her temper when she has been under a lot of stress and frustration. I thought again about how things had been going this weekend.

“Maybe.” I answered, preparing to throw my backpack at him and run away.

“She said you were stuck in here. I have a pass card that will open the gate. I can meet you down there and let you out.”

Next year I’m going to fly.