Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Remote help at the airport: Rocky to the rescue

Parking at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is always bewildering; especially these days, given the traffic rerouting due to parking ram construction.

Even more, in my case, when it's 11 at night and you can't remember precisely where that vehicle could be.

On July 14, I drove up from Charleston to catch a flight to Chicago. Time was tight and I wasn't too happy to find Remote Lot 1 and Remote Lot 2 -- where I usually park -- both filled to closing. I followed the signs to Remote Lot 4 where spots were plentiful that afternoon.

With nothing in my car but an overnight bag and gum wrappers, I couldn't write down where in the lot I parked. A shuttle bus pulled up in a jiff; I knew I could make the flight. All I had to remember, I told myself, was this: "Remote Lot 4, first parking stop/shelter in; on the right."

Flying back from O'Hare Wednesday, on a flight whose delays added up to an 11 p.m. arrival, I boarded the shuttle back to Remote  4 and got out.

And for the life of me, I could not find my car. A dark brown car in a darkened parking lot.

I walked from row to row in the darkness, pushing the lock-unlock button on my keys, hoping to see my headlights flash. No luck. I also periodically hit the car's "panic button" -- but there was not a horn honk to be heard.

The shuttle driver eventually came around with another round of drop-offs.

"You lose your car?" he asked out the window. "Let me call for some help."

That's when I finally noticed the sign on the bus shelter saying to call 704-359-4038 if you can't find your vehicle.

"Wait here," he said. "Someone will be out soon."

Sure enough, five minutes later Rodolfo Aguirre -- "Rocky" -- turned up in a white airport pickup truck with flashing strobe lights. (That's Rocky's photo at the top of this personal horror story.)

"Hop in," he said. "We'll find it."

I gave him all the information I remembered and we drove up and down every row of cars near where the shuttle left me off. I kept pressing the buttons on my key. No luck. No car.

Then I remembered I had parked on a gravel surface. There was no gravel near the first-in bus shelter tonight.

We realized we were looking in the wrong place: When parking I had came in through a  different lot gate than the shuttle had entered just now.

Rocky drove to the opposite corner of Remote 4. In a few seconds we spotted my key-activated blinking headlights. (The panic button would not kick in, for some reason.)

I thanked Rocky for his help, got in my car  and left the airport.

I later called Charlotte-Douglas and learned there are approximately 20 "lost car" situations in their lots and ramps each day, and that the number rises to 35 or 40 when there's inclement weather.

All you have to do is call 704-359-4038 on your cell phone for their Ask to Locate Service.

It's available for all lots and decks, day and night. On average, there are four white pickup trucks out there to help you at any time.

They gave me some additional tips. If you don't have a pen handy to write down your aisle or signpost/shelter designation:

* Remember: From which direction did you enter the lot/ramp and pull your parking ticket?
* Got a cell phone? Take a  picture when you park of where you parked .

* Take note of the cars parked around you. There's a strong chance some will still be there when you return; use those cars as benchmarks.