Free Parking


(c) Hasbro… please don’t sue me, I’m unemployed.

God is watching over us. Of this I have no doubt.

We drove down to the Central Valley yesterday to appear at the first of six job interviews (yes, six!… can you believe it?) I have scheduled this week and next. The employer was located in a huge office building downtown, which can only mean one thing: No parking!

In the name of honesty, we could have left the car in a nearby parking garage and paid by the hour for the privilege. The plan, however, was for my wife to drop me off and come back for me in a couple of hours. I had to take a written test and then attend a panel interview, so I knew this would take a while.

The problem: Where should she drop me off? The information that the employer sent via email instructed me to use the entrance on a side street. This seemed relatively straightforward until we drove around the block four times before finally verifying to our satisfaction that there was in fact no entrance to the building on the specified side street! We saw a woman unsuccessfully attempting to use a locked side street entrance to what appeared to be the building next door. We had no idea what to do and I started to worry about being late. I knew I had to get out somewhere and look for an entrance. The wind was blowing and, remember, I have been battling agoraphobia for years. As you may imagine, I started to panic.

Finally, I agreed to be let out at the main entrance in front of the building. Although most of the area was a “red zone” (no parking or standing any time), we found the loading and unloading zone. I figured that I’d hurry up the steps, duck inside the building, do my breathing exercises and find someone who could tell me where the hell I was supposed to go.

I took the elevator to the second floor, where the interview was supposed to take place. Having no idea how to navigate the maze of corridors and offices, I stuck my head into the nearest doorway and asked how to get to HR. The young lady at the desk didn’t know and had to ask her superior. Make a left, walk all the way down to the end, turn right, walk all the way down to the end again, then pick up the red phone and someone will talk to you. Clearly, this was not going to be a good day. For this I got dressed up and drove two hours down the freeway? I was a nervous wreck before I had even arrived at the interview.

Walking the long corridors, I passed a series of floor-to-ceiling windows that showed me that I had in fact crossed over to the other side of the street on an interior bridge and was now in another building. I located the red phone, over which was posted a notice to dial 2 for HR. The human resources representative who answered the phone did not recognize my name and had no idea what interview I was talking about. She asked me to hold on while she checked with someone else — and then promptly disconnected me. I dialed 2 again and spoke to a different HR rep who said that someone would be out to talk to me. Sure enough, here comes the HR lady from the locked door at the end of the corridor. Don’t you know that you are in the wrong place, young man? Interviews are being conducted in another building on the next block.

I thanked her, turned around and began to retrace my steps. I texted my wife: “Please come back!” By this time, she had already gotten way down the road, completely out of the downtown area. Back down the elevator, out the door, down the stairs. Time to wait on the street and have a staring match with the guy selling hot dogs, chips and Skittles from under an umbrella. At least he had a canvas folding chair to sit on. A prominent sign warned NO SITTING ON STAIRS, so I compromised by leaning on a railing. Finally, hot dog guy deigned to speak to me. “Some wind, huh?” Yeah, rub it in, why don’t ya?

Meanwhile, my poor wife, who was somewhere on the freeway, got off at the next exit and somehow turned around and headed back to where she had left me. Both of us were entirely frustrated by the time she arrived, and she kindly drove me over to what I thought was the building that the HR lady had specified. “Please wait until I text you that this is the right place,” I asked. My wonderful wife is long-suffering and I have no idea how she puts up with me.

When she let me out of the car, I had to climb two half-flights of stairs. Unfortunately, bushes had overgrown the hand railing. Did I mention that I have bad knees and have to use the railing? Back in New York City, we used to call it “the bannister.” I did my best with the foliage, arriving at the door with leaves and stickers all over my left sleeve. A kind woman appeared at the door just as I approached. This entrance is locked, she explained, but I saw you coming. She didn’t know anything about an interview either, but directed me to Human Resources. Now, I knew that HR wasn’t going to be able to help me, as this building was occupied by a different company than the one with which I was scheduled to interview. These days, however, I’ve learned to take it as it comes.

The nice HR lady at this company also had no idea where I was supposed to go. Here’s our meeting schedule for the day. See? We have nothing scheduled for 1:00. I thanked her and asked for directions to the elevator. I’ll just head up to the second floor and see if I can ask someone up there, I said.

On the second floor, I noticed a couple of people sitting in a lounge area way across the atrium, past the splashing and whooshing fountains. Not knowing what else to do, I walked over there and heard a woman calling my name. Yay! I had finally found the right place! I texted my wife to let her know she could be on her way (again), then sat down to write essays.

Next came the ubiquitous panel interview, during which it became highly apparent that they were looking for someone with many years of experience in their very specific type of work. That person, by the way, would not be me.

My wife returned to retrieve me and we started to look for somewhere to have a late lunch before we headed home. We settled on a restaurant a few miles up the road for which we had a discount coupon. Unfortunately, when we arrived, we discovered that they aren’t open for lunch. So we headed north toward home and decided to stop and eat in Stockton.

If you’re familiar with Stockton, you know that it’s a big place and has many exits off the freeway. We kept looking for the exit we needed, but never found it and drove right out of Stockton. Forget about it, I said, let’s just go home and save some money. We can’t afford to be eating in restaurants anyway.

Later, we learned that the precise street that we had been looking for was the scene of a bank robbery, a shootout and a high-speed chase. Two of the three robbers and an innocent bystander were killed. Let’s just say that never in my life have I been gladder to have been unable to find my exit. Glad to have avoided an exit of another type entirely, my wife and I both thanked God that He continues to take such good care of us. In the grand scheme of things, it makes the little inconveniences of job hunting look small indeed.

On Thursday, I am scheduled to return to the employer in Sacramento at whose office I recently dropped off my application after learning that they never received the one I had mailed. I am scheduled to take a written exam; days or weeks later, the employer will call the high scorers back for an interview. This is also a downtown location where there is no parking and at which I must walk across a lengthy plaza to reach the building from the street.

In the meantime, however, I have applied for yet another job in a different section of Sacramento. As an apparent incentive to lure applicants, the job announcement prominently indicates FREE PARKING!!!

Anyone want to play Monopoly? I fully plan to land on that little orange car in the corner and pick up all the booty dumped in the middle of the board. You can be the top hat, the wheelbarrow, the thimble, the shoe or the racecar. I’ll be the cat, Hasbro’s newest token.


My Mother’s Monopoly Set


Growing up in the sixties and seventies, my sisters and I were rabid devotees of every ilk and variety of board game.  We accumulated them slowly, as we usually had to wait until a birthday rolled around to acquire an addition to our collection.  However, I knew quite well that a well-timed letter to my spinster Aunt Iris in Florida would likely result in a postal package containing a board game arriving on our doorstep several weeks hence.  This was a bit like rolling the dice or twirling the spinner, as we did not always receive the game we had requested.  We eventually learned to accept this with a sense of humor, taking the opportunity to read the instructions and learn the rules of a game we had never heard of.

Of all the board games in the toy box, our hands down favorite was Monopoly.  Actually, this was one of the two games that wasn’t stored in the toy box (the other being Scrabble).  That’s because those games were property of my parents and permission had to be asked to drag them out of storage.

Our toy box was a dark wood crate with holes on either side for carrying that may have once served as a foot locker or hope chest.  As the years went by and the toy box was accessed with less frequency, this large, heavy object was exiled to the great outdoors, sitting under the overhang on the raised deck, two steps from the kitchen door.  In time, wasps and hornets found their way into the hole handles, making their nests within.  Exposure to the elements also caused the toy box to begin to rot, and in our teen years the entire thing had to be discarded, contents and all.

My mother’s Monopoly set was one of the originals issued by Parker Brothers during the Great Depression.  I wonder what it was like playing with that set in my grandparents’ one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx.  Mom’s sister was eight years older than she, so I imagine that by the time Mom was old enough to appreciate the game, my aunt was probably too occupied with high school and parties and boys to have had much interest in playing the game with her little sister.  My grandparents were always working, so I doubt that they had much time to play the game with her.

My first recollection of playing Monopoly was at the age of four or five, when I was sick in bed in our New York City apartment and, in the evening, my parents would come into the bedroom that I shared with my little sisters and spread out the board on top of the covers.  I didn’t fully understand the rules of the game, but I was fascinated by the strange street names, the colors of the different denominations of money and, most of all, the game pieces.  I would laugh and laugh at the thimble, the flatiron, the wheelbarrow and the top hat.  The green houses and the red hotels were made of real wood and the board was of heavy cloth material.

By the time I first played with Mom’s set, it had already been in the family for more than a quarter of a century.  We moved to suburbia when I was six years old, and the game took up residence in the lower center drawer of the dining room hutch.  This huge piece of furniture had a top part and a bottom part.  The bottom part consisted of two wide wooden drawers, one above the other, and two smaller drawers on the sides.  Above was the glass breakfront that proudly displayed Mom’s china and fancy “company” glassware.  There was a small space underneath the hutch, between the legs, just tall enough to slide in the wooden case containing Mom’s silver.  In a recent phone conversation with my mother, the two of us reminisced about the hutch, which over the course of thirty years began to buckle under the weight of the breakfront.  It was eventually donated to charity when my parents sold their house and moved to California twenty years ago.  I reminded my mother how, when the dining room curtains were open, the sunlight of the southern exposure would reflect off the glass doors of the breakfront and illuminate her good dishes.  I could feel her smiling through the phone as widely as I was.

When my sisters and I asked my parents for permission to drag Mom’s Monopoly set out of the hutch, they never said no.  Occasionally we would play at the dining room table, but more often than not, we spread out the set on the living room floor, the three of us sprawled out on the carpet with all of the game’s paraphernalia.

Well, not all of it.  We played with what was left after all those years.  By then, the board had been folded and unfolded so many times that it was in two pieces that we pushed together.  Some of the deeds were missing; we filled in the gaps by making our own out of sheets of my parents’ good typing paper, drawing our best efforts at facsimiles thereof, cutting them out with blunt scissors and using a crayon to create the approximate property color.  We figured we were probably missing some of the money, too; we didn’t really know or care.  When we ran out of a particular denomination, we would ask my father what to do.  The answer was always the same:  Make some more.  Which we gleefully did.

We were missing some of the tokens, too, but that never bothered us a bit.  There were still more than enough tokens for the three of us to pick one, and we delighted in moving them round and round the board.  We still had the dice, while the salmon pink Chance cards and the canary yellow Community Chest cards were more or less intact, so what could be wrong?

At best, our games took hours to play.  Often, they took days.  When bedtime came, we would simply leave the game where it was on the living room floor, particularly if it were a Saturday or during summer vacation.  The next morning, we’d wake up as early as possible and advance upon the living room, still in our pajamas.  We’d try to remember whose turn it was and we’d pick up right where we had left off the night before.  I recall several times when a game of Monopoly took the entire day, as well as other games that had to be aborted because there were places to go, things to do, meals to be eaten.  We would inevitably groan with disappointment; what could be more important than Monopoly?

Like just about everything else, as the years went by, Monopoly joined the electronic era.  It was the first game pack I purchased for my Game Boy in the early 1990s, and now, thanks to Electronic Arts, I play against artificial intelligence opponents on my iPhone.

I still smile when I see the stacked boxes of Monopoly sets on the shelf at our local Rite-Aid, and I think that perhaps some parent, coming in for medication for their sick child, will notice the game and pick one up to spread out on the covers and play for hours and hours, like my parents did with me so long ago in the Bronx.

Over the years, I have purchased modern Monopoly sets on several occasions on both coasts of the United States.   And although I still feel a thrill when I unpeel the shrink wrap and crack open that board for the first time, it can’t begin to compare to my mother’s old cloth Monopoly set from the 1930s.