Cheapskate, 'El-lay' experience and $54 hamburgers clash

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:31 PM

Don Porter

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 naïve, 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

Sign up for e-mail news updates.

Recommended for You