Friday, January 7, 2011

The Funny, Sad Parking People Story

Some of my readers will have heard this story in an oral storytelling form, but I figure it's good (bad?) enough to share in writing too.  I mentioned in my first post that my institution is family-friendly in most cases.  This is one of those cases where it isn't all that.

So imagine - a 29-week pregnant woman (a full-term pregnancy begins at 37 weeks; pregnancy is generally considered to last about 40 weeks - at least, that's how the due date is calculated).  This woman's doctor has just told her she needs to be doing "modified bed rest" because of pregnancy complications.  She can go to work, but she cannot do pretty much anything else.  No prenatal yoga (despite how great it makes her joints feel, and especially that place up in her rib cage where the baby is kicking too much); no household chores (well, that was nice, actually); no setting up things for the baby :-( ; no shopping trips; no picking up her 3 year old daughter.  Et cetera.

So this woman, a fairly intelligent woman, thinks to herself: "Hmmm, my approved parking lot at my university is about a quarter mile and up three large flights of stairs from my office.  Clearly, I cannot continue to park there.  There is a much, much closer lot, though - maybe I could get temporary approval for that lot."

So she calls the Parking Office and asks.  They say, "Sure - you just need a doctor's note.  You can even have the doctor fax it to us.  Now, the caveat is that you can only get a temporary pass for a month.  If you want it for longer, you'll have to go to the state Motor Vehicle Division and request a handicapped parking pass."  The woman thinks: a) the doctor's note is reasonable; b) the month-long limit is slightly ridiculous especially when it is only six more weeks till the end of the semester, it is clear that I am pregnant (notice the basketball sized bulge), I am only requesting a temporary pass, and I will cease to be pregnant at some point very soon in the future, but (hopefully) not in the next four weeks.  Besides which, she thinks, going to the DMV, standing in line there, is likely NOT to be on the list of approved things that the doctor wants her to do.

Nonetheless, the woman has the doctor's office fax the note.  Four weeks is better than none and, perhaps there will be a way to negotiate a couple extra weeks just to the end of the semester.

Later that day, she goes to the parking office to get the temporary pass.  Underling 1 is cheerful and tries to be helpful, but when he inputs her name into the computer, his face falls.  Underling 1: "The computer says you don't have a pass here."  Pregnant Woman: "Oh, that's because it's in my husband's name.  We only have one car and we share it all the time."  Underling 1: "Well, if the pass is not in your name, you can only get a 2 week temporary pass.  Hang on though, let me check with my supervisor."  Underling 1 returns: "Yes, I'm sorry, Ma'am, but we can only give you a 2 week temporary pass if the original pass is not in your name."  Pregnant Woman (now dangerously close to tears as it has been a rather trying day, starting with the doctor's announcement of needing bed rest):  "But we only have one car.  You people are ridiculous."  Pregnant woman walks, no storms, out of the office.  (NB: This is my one regret in the whole story - the poor underling had no control over any of this; wish I hadn't shouted at him.)

The next day...

Pregnant Woman shares the whole story with Helpful Office Administrator 1, who has been here a long time and knows a few people.  HOA 1 calls the head of the parking division and says, "Okay, you should be all fixed up now - just phone this number and they'll work things out."  Pregnant Woman telephones.  Parking Office Head says, "Okay, now WHY exactly would you need a temporary pass in this cushy close parking lot?"  Pregnant Woman (taken aback by tone): "Well, because my husband and I both drive our one car to campus.  If I need to use the car to, say, go to an appointment, then it is better for me not to have to walk a quarter mile and up some stairs to get to the car."  Parking Office Head: "But our computer shows here that your husband teaches Monday, Wednesday and Friday; you only teach Tuesday and Thursday.  Can't you just have him drop you off?"  Pregnant Woman: "Not really - because again, I might need the car.  And, I do work here full time even if I only teach twice a week.  I come to the office everyday."  Parking Office Head: "Okay, we'll give you a temporary pass, but only on Tuesdays and Thursdays when you teach."  Pregnant Woman: "But I need it especially on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, because I drop off Philosophy PhD Husband and then drive to drop off our daughter at day care.  He teaches at 8 am and the day care doesn't open till 7:30, so he can't drop her, drop me and park and get to his class on time in that time frame."  Parking Office Head: "Okay, we'll do a Monday/Wednesday/Friday only pass."  Pregnant Woman sighs and accepts this deal, grudgingly.

Later that day....

Pregnant Woman mentions this story to a few colleagues, including her department chair person.  She is laughing about it, because it is SO ridiculous, but is also rather angry.  But Department Chair is even more upset.  Over the course of the rest of the day, Department Chair gets four other administrators on board, all of whom are livid about the situation and all of whom try to get the Parking People to change their minds.

Which leads Pregnant Woman to ponder: "How many administrators does it take to screw in a lightbulb for the Parking People?"  Will they have to take it all the way to the President's Office?

Apparently, no.  Parking Office accedes and says that there can be a temporary pass for a month, for every single day of the week.  Yippee.  Philosophy PhD Husband goes to the Parking Office to get the hard-won pass, where....  Underling 2 grills him about WHY Pregnant Woman needs this pass.  "But you carpool, right? You can just drop her off."  Philosophy PhD Husband returns home, empty-handed.

The next day...

Pregnant Woman speaks again with the administrators.  By mid-morning, HR Administrator has (thankfully) cleared everything up, INCLUDING the four week problem.  "Just tell them how long you need the pass for," she says.  And Pregnant Woman does.  And almost immediately, she starts feeling a bit less winded, a bit less concerned about the welfare of the unborn baby.

NB:  Friends at other institutions say that, despite the best intentions and whatever the "Mission" of their school might say, the Parking Office has given them similar grief.  From a Parking Office POV, especially on campuses with limited parking, I can see the need to be firm about spaces.  But it is also clear to me that Practical Wisdom needs to be taught a bit more often in training courses, et cetera.


  1. Oh. Dear.

    Jana, this is so sad, so funny, so PATHETIC! And, I think, an indication that comprehensive sex education is TERRIBLE. ;)

  2. Pamela -
    That reminds me - on the exact day that DD2 was born, I was dropping off my daughter at day care and on the way out, ran into the HR admin who had helped me out. She mentioned the whole incident again and then said, "And the really weird thing about all this is that the top two people in that department are both women with children. THEY should have understood...."

    Not to mention I had a doctor's note, even if they didn't understand. Sigh. You're right about the comprehensive sex education! ;-)

  3. I never got to hear the full story. It is worse than I imagined! I remember trying to get my temporary close lot pass when I had to return to school THREE weeks after giving birth. Even with the doctor's note and the presence of my tiny crying newborn, they wanted to know why I needed to park so close. I was dumbfounded. "Um, I just gave birth... to this baby!" I also explained that I was bringing her to school with me every day and the person helping me actually said, "Why would you do that? Is that really necessary?" I just about jumped over the counter! Anyway, I did get the four week pass, but absolutely no mercy after that.

    The other really weird thing, though, is that the protected close parking lot is never full. Never. I don't know what all the fuss is about.

  4. Wow! Can't say I'm that surprised either. Although I will say that I had really good luck just pulling up into the lot during a torrential downpour, with my babe in the back and asking for a one-day pass.

    Now of course, you couldn't do that every day...