Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stealing Quarters from My Car in NYC

I'm finding it hard to believe that it's been well over three years since I worked for the market research / consulting company that occupied my time from 1997-2006. I look back at that time in my life and wonder how I was able to keep up with the travel schedule. Back then, social media hadn't exploded, the economy hadn't collapsed, and I lived out of my suitcase for 120-150 nights each year.

I went from a childhood of little travel, to a European adventure upon graduation from college, to a world of business travel. From ages 26-31 or 32, I can't even count how many upgrades I received on airplanes. It became a game. An addiction. I still have almost 300,000 frequent flier miles from that period.

Every so often, I am reminded of that past life as if it were only yesterday.

Case in point - my recent trip to NYC. I was in town for my friend's wedding, and had the pleasure of playing tourist during the hours between the ceremony and reception. I sat atop a double-decker bus and enjoyed being driven around midtown Manhattan on a lovely Saturday afternoon.

As we drove up 6th Avenue, we reached 54th St. and The Warwick Hotel, a building where I spent many hours. Function space in Manhattan was always ridiculously expensive, and I somehow found my way to this hotel as a good base from which we could rent space and conduct our surveys when a night in Manhattan was required. I even stayed overnight there a bunch of times, often being upgraded to beautiful suites for some odd reason. They must have associated my name with being the on-site contact for a catering event, and realized that we consistently spent a ton of coin with them.

Life on the road involved lots of waiting punctuated with bouts of sheer frenzy. Our 2 1/2 hour surveys barely had time for five minute breaks, but I was dead-set on finishing on time at all costs. Driving to airports with reckless abandon, scurrying around to find FedEx-owned shipping centers, trying to hunt down dinner at 11:30 pm - a life of glamour, it was not.

I always preferred the "local" work - anything from DC to Boston when I lived in NJ, and anything within the NYC-Albany-Burlington VT-Boston area when I lived in Boston. All of that was drivable. Whereas my colleagues almost always had to fly everywhere, I got to spend lots of time in my personal car, conveying a minor sense of normalcy within a crazy road-based job.

When in NYC and conducting events at The Warwick Hotel, I used to park at this garage. The hotel did not own the facility, but had an arrangement with them for hotel guests. I don't know how many times it took me to figure this out, but there was a period where I would retrieve my car only to discover that ALL of my quarters had been stolen.

I knew this because I always kept my coin holder full, coins heads-up (of course). And the coins were gone every time.

I'll admit to having a temper at times.

After one particularly stressful evening, I decided that I had enough of this.

I picked up my car, drove up the ramp, turned onto the one-way 54th St., saw the missing quarters, double-parked my car, and marched right back into the parking garage to scream at anyone who would listen. I called them all thieves and warned the other patrons who were standing around that they stole from people who parked there.

I didn't care that it was a handful of change. That wasn't the point. If they were slimy enough to steal 10 quarters from me every time I parked there, they were pathetic in my book.

After the attendant finally walked away from me after a few minutes of my angry screaming and accusations, I walked back into The Warwick, still flustered, and recounted my story to the hotel manager. He apologized profusely, and while he told me that they did not own the garage, he somehow placated me to the point that I appreciated whatever gesture he extended. I don't remember if it was free parking or a free room, but either way, I was happy he listened and responded.

To this day, I always check my quarters after I valet my car. It's not the money. It's the principle and the integrity of the establishment that are in question.

I did none of this to receive anything. But when I'm wronged, I feel the need to speak up. This was pre-blogs, pre-Yelp, pre-Twitter. Rest assured, if I had those tools back then, I would have utilized them with fervor.

1 comment:

Tom said...

So THAT'S why you always looked so crazed before a test. Huh. Well, I took your quarters. I had a whole Warwick-based money laundering scheme going in the 90's. Remember Ben, the doorman? He was in on it to. So was Keith the bartender. We had a sweet thing going until SOMEBODY got all uppity at the garage and we had to move our operation elsewhere (to the Hilton across the street). Hey, you didn't think I could support my ridiculous lifestyle on a market research salary, did you? No, it was all about the quarters.