The cheapest man in the world was not amused.
That could serve as the tagline for our recent family trip to downtown Los Angeles, because I am the skinflintiest man alive. It may be the City of Angels, but in my view the angels more closely resemble greedy imps with their hands out; you can't go anywhere or do anything in downtown L.A. without unloading copious amounts of money from your bank account.
Notice I've used the word "downtown" to describe, as Drive-In Movie Critic Joe Bob Briggs used to call it, "El-Lay." I want to differentiate between downtown and the rest of The Southland -- which, if I'm not mistaken, is a nickname stolen from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama."
I've been to Los Angeles plenty over the years -- spending weeks at a time there for business and pleasure. Until last week, I always had fun, almost certainly because I never had to spend time downtown.
This trip, however, I was there with my wife, youngest child and her boyfriend for an intense four days of apartment hunting. She'll be attending a downtown college, and we needed to find a place that was close by, safe, clean and affordable.
Here's a story that nicely represents my downtown L.A. experience, since it was repeated, with variations, both large and small, several times.
Taking a break from apartment tours, I somehow got talked into eating lunch at a downtown Johnny Rockets. And this anecdote will prove one of three things: 1) I am the rube of rubes, 2) downtown L.A. is an evil and conniving place designed to fleece well-intentioned visitors, or 3) all of the above. (Hint: it's No. 3.)
I pulled the car into a parking garage next to Johnny Rockets. Immediately, a valet jumped to attention and offered to park my vehicle. "Free with validation," he explained, "but only $3 more without." I agreed and he handed me a parking ticket along with his valet receipt.
Once inside the restaurant, my first question to the server: "Does Johnny Rockets validate?"
"No," she apologized.
Naturally, I thought, and began looking forward to the extra $3 to park. An hour later, lunch was done and I paid the $54 bill - which pretty much caused blood vessels I didn't even know I had to pulse grotesquely from my forehead. Who knew average-tasting burgers could cost so much? And we paid an $11 tip on top of that.
By the time we got back to the garage, it had been 70 minutes since I handed the keys to the valet. When I presented him with the parking ticket, he instructed me to return to the building's lobby to pay the parking tab via an ATM-like machine. The cost to park turned out to be ... wait for it ... $26 and change - FOR 70 MINUTES.
After I regained consciousness, my dear wife continued the checking-account manslaughter by asking for several dollar bills with which to tip the valet. "It's not his fault parking costs so much," she said.
I won't lie: I felt naive, embarrassed and, not least, homicidal. But I held my tongue.
Then, to celebrate spending nearly $100 for lunch, we soon found ourselves window-shopping gas stations, where our choices were spending $4.02 to $4.19 per gallon for regular unleaded. I would have blamed the Syrian crisis, except L.A. gasoline prices have been this high all summer.
On the bright side, we found a good apartment for my daughter.
EXPENSIVE, of course, but close by, clean and safe. All things considered, the world's cheapest man is content to abide.
Email Don Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org.