Two days ago, I headed downtown to pick up tickets I had won from a radio station. That winning phone call came only a couple days after I had won a free pizza from Papa John's for picking heads for the Super Bowl coin toss (something good did happen as a result of the Super Bowl). So I was in a pretty good mood as I headed into the city, a mood made even better as I arrived in about 20 minutes thanks to my waiting until after 10 a.m.
I called up a friend who works downtown to get his advice on parking. Typically I park in the First Avenue Garage, which is located near the jail and at the beginning of town from the southeast side. However, the walk from there to the radio station was probably going to take me over 20 minutes one way, and since it was my original intent to be in the eastern suburbs within an hour for something, that did not seem like the best bet. So I tried to get to Smithfield Street, my destination and where said friend thought there should be metered parking. Since I was only going to be stopping for short time, that seemed to be the way to go. Unfortunately, from the street I was on, once I reached Smithfield, I could make neither a left nor a right turn onto it. So I drove around a few more streets, hoping to hit it from another street. Still no luck. I next found an alley, but ended up stuck behind a delivery truck until I held my breath and drove onto the sidewalk and around the truck.
After making a Pittsburgh left or two (and again holding my breath), I found what looked like empty spaces on various streets, but each time I saw the dreaded "No Parking" or "Loading Zone" signs. At this point, I was practically screaming, "Where the hell are you supposed to park in this town!" Next I decided to try Market Square. I recall driving there in the mid '90s with friends and our practically getting trapped in the loop (square) as we could not exit. Well, about 17 or 18 years later, it happened to me again. There is only one way in and one (different) way out. I was too busy looking for a place to park that I missed the exit my first loop through. I apparently also missed my hubby's car, as he was in that very same loop for an on-site visit.
Eventually, I made it to Smithfield Street (apparently you can get to it from only a few streets), but there were no spaces to be had (I also did not notice any meters), save one for a small car. Have I mentioned I can parallel park only if there is enough space for almost two cars? By this time I had passed at least four different garages and would have been willing to pay $10 for a lousy 5 to 10 minutes of parking, but all the garages were full. Had I not been talking on the phone with my friend, I probably would have been in tears at this point. I told him if I had been smart, I would have picked him up in front of his building and had him drive my car to the radio station, so I could have jumped out and gotten the tickets. Unfortunately by that time, the friend had to go to a meeting, and I contemplated just heading home, as my gas tank was now on empty and I feared I would never find parking.
I made a last-ditch effort to head down 9th Street, near the river, and there it was: space to park! I pulled right into the giant space between some other cars and was surprised to see no meters. Free parking after all this?! As I walked away from my car and headed down the street, I noticed what resembled a freestanding ATM with a P on it. Then I remembered something I had read months ago: Pittsburgh was doing away with (at least some) meters and replacing them with a multi-space meter at which you enter your license plate and pay via credit card or quarters. I walked back to my car to read my plate number and headed back to the machine and put a quarter in. Unfortunately, with all my pockets, I could not find the other quarters I had stashed somewhere, and the machine must have thought I was done. After a minute or two, I came up with four or five more quarters and re-entered my license plate (I had to run back to my car because I had already forgotten half of the numbers. Ugh). And then I ran, because I had 20 minutes, which I decided was enough time to try to buy or exchange the tickets at the box office after I first procured the tickets at the radio station.
Fortunately, in that small amount of time, I managed to jog to and find the building, head to the 22nd floor, pick up the tickets, complain to the receptionist about parking, sign a release form, head back downstairs, avoid ice falling from buildings, jog to Heinz Hall, convince the woman there to let me exchange two good seats for two lesser seats so we could buy a third (they made out on that deal), listen to hundreds of loud kids exit Heinz Hall, weave in and out of throngs of kids, and eventually make it back to my car as the time had expired. Who knew I was going to get in a cardio workout?!
So what have I learned about parking in downtown Pittsburgh on a weekday after that ordeal?
- Always try the First Avenue Garage first, since it tends to have parking available.
- Pay attention to the signs on the streets, some of which may have actually been signs to park.
- If you find street parking, make sure you have your license plate number and many quarters or a credit card handy (I had the latter, but I was not sure if it could be used for only a dollar or two).
- If you need to make a quick trip, see if you can beg someone to go with you so you can avoid the whole parking fiasco.
- Always have your tennis shoes with you as you never know when you might need to jog.