We Offered Our Garage… and then they expected us to…

parking violationWe live in a town just on the other side of the Hudson River from New York City – so 99% of our guests are people who are coming to visit New York but don’t want to pay $400 per night NYC hotel prices.  Can’t blame ’em!

Well, one of the problems being anywhere near any big city is parking.  New York is no exception, and we here just on the other side of Manhattan are no exception either.  Last year most of our guests were from overseas – Europe mostly.  But with the dollar so much stronger this year than last we’re getting more domestic guests than ever.  Because of that, we’re getting more and more people who are driving here.  Which is presenting a big of a problem for us and for them.

Our little NJ town is one of the most densely populated cities in the country and parking is the same nightmare here as it is in New York itself.  People can find free street parking, but it may take them 20-30 minutes of aimlessly driving around the neighborhood to do it.  And they may end up 6-8 blocks away.  But at least they could park their car and not have to worry about it again for the duration of their visit.

This month though our mayor decided that parking was out of control (he’s right about that) and he wanted to do something to help actual residents park at night when they come home from a long day at work.  His solution, which I can’t criticize, was to require all cars parked on local streets to have a city-issued permit.  Now everyone has to have a permit to park on city streets – residents and visitors alike.  Each resident is entitled to two free guest permits annually.  The only catch is you have to go down to the city office that’s issuing the permits to register and pick up them up.  I went down the other day and the line was a mile long.  Easily a two-hour wait and I didn’t have two hours so I left.

Well, next thing you know our next guests showed up later that day – and they had a car!  They had never mentioned their car in our correspondence before they arrived and I had no idea they were driving in.  If I had known I would have sucked it up and waited in the 2-hour line.

To make a long story short, I had very two very unattractive options for them.  There are several city-owned parking lots within two blocks of here but they charge a dollar per hour but you can only pay for three hours at a time!  How ridiculous is that?  If our guests park at 9:00 p.m., they have to physically go back to the lot at midnight to pay for another three hours.  Then they have to go again at 3:00 a.m. and again at 6:00 a.m.!  It’s absolutely ridiculous and I just don’t have to heart to put anyone through that.

There is one other city-owned indoor garage about 8 blocks away where you can park as long as you like and you can pay for 24 hours at a time.  That would still be a big hassle because our guests would have to make an appearance there once every 24 hours to pay for another 24 hours (at the rate of $12 per day).  But it beats having to show up every three hours!

Anyway, with these two unattractive options I decided to let them park their car in our indoor garage.  There was just barely room for one more car, but I knew we could make it work.  So I pulled my car out, showed them how to get their car in so we could all fit, and then I backed in and parked in front of them.  So their car was blocked by my car.  It wasn’t a problem though because they said they weren’t going to use their car while they were here – they’d only take it out one time and that would be on the day they left.  So that seemed simple and easy enough.

It was a mother and her daughter who were staying with us.  They were the nicest people and you couldn’t help but want to help them.  But on the next to last day of their visit they came to me in a panic and told me their battery had died!  I wondered how they knew since they said they weren’t going to use their car at all until they left.  But apparently they had gone down and tried to start it and it wouldn’t start.

I told them there was a very good mechanic shop near us that I use all the time and offered to call and see if they could help.  They said they could send someone down for $30 with one of those battery pack things they have now to jump start their car.  But since it was a Saturday they were closing at 4:00.  Our guests were in New York and weren’t going to be back until 9:00.  So that didn’t work.  I asked the guest if they had an auto service like AAA and they said they did.  I suggested they call them.  They did and they sent a man out who came with the car jumping machine (whatever they call them!) but he wasn’t able to get their car started.

The mother came to me looking very stressed out and said, “What should we do?  He couldn’t start the car!”  Well… I don’t know, what do I look like, a mechanic!  That’s how I felt.  I felt as if she expected me to do something since her car was in our garage.  But I knew she was stressed out and feeling very alone and probably a little scared.  They had to leave the next morning at 8:00 a.m. to make it to some event they had scheduled at a specific time later that day.

I told her to call her car service back and tell them he couldn’t start the car.  They may have to tow it to place that could fix it.  So that’s what she did.  But she scheduled them to come by at 7:00 a.m. the next morning.  She has to wake me up so I can move my car out of the way so her car can be towed.  That’s about 4 hours before my normal wake-up time since our baby still keeps us up half the night!  In the end you have to do those kinds of things sometimes to help a guest out.

I never mind offering a little extra to help a guest out – especially if I know by not helping it will create a big hardship for them.  This was one of those cases where if I didn’t offer our garage, she would have been in for a really bad time trying to park her car in one of the local lots.  But I felt really uncomfortable when she started looking at me like I was the one who had to do something about her broken down car.  After all – I was just offering a free place to park – I wasn’t offering mechanical services!

One big lesson I learned was, anything you offer to a guest has the potential to bring many additional headaches.  And you can potentially become responsible for things far beyond what you’ve actually offered.

If you’re pretty easy going and can go with the flow on things like this, then you’d probably make a good Airbnb host.  If on the other hand, things like this would greatly annoy you then you might want to think long and hard about whether or not you really want to host.

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