It was Thursday morning, an hour before my signing with Lee & Low Books. I was in the parking garage of the Dallas Convention Center when I found myself with a huge problem: I didn't have enough money to pay for parking.
I knew when I entered the garage that I didn't have enough. A sign at the entrance clearly stated: "Event Parking $8.00, cash only." I had $4.00 and some pennies.
Driving slowly toward the attendant, I planned my next move. "Good morning," I said. Then I flashed her my saddest puppy-dog eyes. She was a sistah, maybe she'd help a brotha out. But she was cold as ice. "Eight dollars," she said in a foreign accent, not even looking at me.
I brandished my cash card, looking away from her as I held it out. "Did you read the sign?" she snapped. "Cash only."
As I sat there wondering what to do, I thought about some Hollywood movies, you know, the ones where the guy crashes the gate and shoots through the airport like he's running a 50-yard-dash. Maybe I . . . well, maybe not.
"I know this is not your problem," I said. "It's my problem. But I need to be at a book signing — I'm the signer — and I don't have $8.00. How can I fix this problem?" I asked. She looked at me as if to ask, "Book? What is a book?"
By that time, I was in a panic. I was due at my publisher's booth in little over an hour, but first, I had to drive back into downtown Dallas. I'd have to park, find an ATM machine, get back to the Convention Center, park again. Then I'd have to find my way to the registration area to get my badge, and then wind my way through the exhibitor's hall — a bustling maze. Booth number one-thousand-something!
"There's a cash machine inside of McDonald's, three blocks down the street." the attendant said. Then she opened the gate so that I could leave.
Problem number two: My cash card has two large rips down its center. It only works in certain machines — it's funny like that. Back in Austin, I know which machines to use and which ones to avoid. Dang! I knew I should'da got a new card a long time ago!
As I left the parking garage, I considered calling Jason, my publisher. I had his cell number. I'd call, explain to him that I'd made it OK, but that I was outside the Convention Center, short four dollars to park. Maybe he'd come outside, loan me some cash. No, I couldn't do that. Considering some of the problems I'd had earlier in the week, he'd think I was a bonafide, unadulterated dork.
When I reached McDonald's, I sped into the parking lot and screeched to a stop. There were maybe six parking spots for the entire restaurant, and they were all filled. A security guard, shaped like an African elephant, watched. He was making sure no one would park illegally. I drove up to him and said, "I just need to use the cash machine. Where can I park?"
"The parking lot is full," he responded.
Thanks for your insight, Einstein.
I drove back into traffic and circled the restaurant. When I noticed a spot had opened up, I slipped back into the lot, got out of my car and locked the door behind me. But then I paused. What if the card won't work? I need a plan B. "Are there any other cash machines in the area?" I asked the guard. "Other than the one inside the restaurant?"
"I don't know," he said, waving me away, his interest detained by a group of pretty, young girls who were loitering outside. I opened my car door, snatched open my suitcase and rummaged through the pockets of my jeans worn the day before. I found another dollar. But I was still short three.
I thought about the other night, when an old woman had approached me in a Walgreen's parking lot, asking for money. Begging, really. Her car had run out of gas, and she was trying to get home to San Antonio. I had been irritated with this woman asking me for money. Even though I'd given her a few dollars, I had looked her up and down. I had sized her up. Judged her. Who is this irresponsible, silly old woman? I thought. And there I was, two days later, in a position to beg for money. I said a prayer. Partly to ask for forgiveness, partly to make my signing in time.
Once inside McDonald's I opened my wallet and pulled out my cash card. I pieced it back together and swiped it through the machine. Nothing happened. The muscles at the nape of my neck reached up and grabbed the muscles at my temples. Together, they tightened around my head like a vice. I had a headache. I felt so stupid! My signing was in half an hour.
Suddenly, the machine came alive and asked for my four-digit pin. My card had worked! I could have kissed that machine were it not visibly filthy. Instead, I thanked God and punched in my digits. Once I received my cash, I shot back to the Convention Center faster than lightening. And made it to my signing fifteen minutes early.