‘By now I was in full-panic mode. And I was hundreds of miles out to sea and helpless to do anything about the situation — except worry, which I began doing nonstop.’
By Dave Riley
WORRY, SAYS AN OLD SWEDISH PROVERB, often gives a small thing a big shadow. I first heard that a long time ago, but never fully understood it until one day a couple of years ago. Here’s what happened.
On the day before we docked after a two-week cruise, I began thinking ahead: Getting packed, going through customs, getting our bags to the parking lot, driving home. (Don’t let that 14-day cruise thing fool you. The Rileys are not deep-pocketed world travelers. But every once in a long while, if we have shepherded our dollars well, we get to go somewhere.)
I was also thinking about my car, which was parked at the cruise center lot in San Pedro, about twenty-five miles from downtown Los Angeles. Specifically, I was thinking how lucky I was to get a spot right near the terminal even though there were hundreds of other cars there stretching to the back of the lot. Why hadn’t they parked closer to the front? Not only did I get a spot, but there were four or five others vacant nearby.
THEN A NAGGING IDEA CAME TO MIND. Why were there so many spaces open in such a plum location? Could it be that part of the lot was reserved for certain people? I recall seeing tall poles nearby with blue rectangles on the top — the same shade of blue that’s used for handicapped parking. There were no handicapped signs — I was sure of that. But maybe I blew right through a gate that said, “This section for handicapped only.” And those tall poles with the blue thingies on them? Maybe they were there to attract handicapped drivers to that section.
That was it. I was convinced my car had been illegally parked for two weeks. I figured the fine would be $250. But wait! Don’t they tow cars parked in handicapped stalls?
By now I was in full-panic mode. And I was hundreds of miles out to sea and helpless to do anything about the situation — except worry, which I began doing nonstop.
“What are you thinking about?” Mrs. R. asked me.
“Oh, you know, the usual,” I said.
“What does THAT mean?” she asked. I mumbled something, and she let it go.
Towing I figured would cost a couple of hundred, even if it was just to Long Beach. But the port is run by the city of Los Angeles. What if they towed my car downtown? How would I get my bags and my lovely wife down there? I know. I’ll send her home in a cab and hitchhike to the Hall of Justice.
Then I remembered a horror story I read in the L.A. Times about a guy whose car got towed and the tow company charged him $175 a day for storage. Let’s see — $175 times 14…
Okay, relax, my better self said. You don’t know it’s parked illegally.
Oh, yes you do, my darker self said.
We went to a terrific musical review that night called “The British Invasion.” I was fine until they did a bit with a cop in it. Then the whole Niagara of fears flooded back into my mind. We went to bed late. It seemed like I slept an hour and then worried an hour. Then slept an hour and worried an hour. Finally at five a.m. I got up and got some coffee.
I finally fessed up to Mrs. R. “I have some really bad news to tell you,” I said.
A frightened look came over her face. “What?”
“I may have parked in a handicapped slot back at San Pedro.”
“Is that all?” she said. “You scared me to death. I thought you were really sick or something.”
A FEW HOURS LATER, after we passed through customs, we were greeted by the biggest, burliest, jolliest porter in the entire Port of Los Angeles. “Can I take your bags?”
“Sure,” I said, and I told him we had a car.
“Where’s the car?”
“Ah, well, we’re not sure.”
“I think it may have been towed. I think I accidentally parked in a handicapped spot.”
Then he said the most comforting words I had heard in many hours. “Oh, no,” he laughed, “I doubt you’ve been towed. They don’t tow people for that around here. Maybe you got ticketed, but not towed.”
Suddenly a $250 ticket looked like a Christmas present.
We headed out the door and across the street to the lot. “If your car isn’t up near this fence, it’s not in a handicapped area,” the porter said.
Dumb me, I couldn’t remember which aisle I was in, so I paraded up one aisle and down another pressing the electronic key’s panic button. And sure enough after a bit, my car talked back to me.
“I’m here!” its horn said. “I’m not towed! I’m not even ticketed! I’ve been waiting for you!”
That’s when I remembered the Swedish proverb: “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.”
And I also recalled a saying I once heard attributed to something called The Cowboy’s Philosophy: “Ninety Percent of Things That People Worry About Never Happen.”