La bête verte

Konquering the kiosk

5 minute read
The offending kiosk and its many, many instructions. (Photo by Rod Bartchy.)
The offending kiosk and its many, many instructions. (Photo by Rod Bartchy.)

I hate kiosks. I have issues with airport check-in kiosks that deliberately make you miss your flight or summon security for a full-body cavity search for the most trivial mistakes. Then there are the convenience-store kiosks, used for ordering sandwiches. I want a cheesesteak but end up with horseradish, fried onions, and extra paprika on toasted flatbread.

But the Philadelphia-area parking-lot kiosks are my particular bête noire.

Some are downright sinister, like the looming kiosks in Center City parking lots that demand to know my phone number. The last time I complied, worried that refusal would get my car towed. Later that evening, I received a romantic text from the kiosk. Shaken, I replied that I was already seeing a kiosk in Manayunk. That got me off the hook.

The challenge

In my neighborhood, they’re trying for a kinder, friendlier parking kiosk. Slimmer, environmental green or earth-toned. Don’t be deceived: they’re as bad as the others. Why? Because they’re all designed to make you look incredibly stupid. Publicly stupid, not the private humiliation you endure when your computer randomly freezes and your novel gets lost in the cloud.

I’ll share a recent experience. You’ll feel better knowing you’re not the only one.

I parked my car in a numbered space in a suburban parking lot. Then, with forced casualness, I strolled over to the kiosk, trying to suppress my gnawing apprehension. I was face to face with the enemy and immediately confronted with a series of pressing questions on a white eye-level placard. A) Did my credit card have a magnetic strip? B) Did it have a chip? C) Did it have a chip and no strip? D) Did it have a strip and no chip? E) Was it stolen?

It felt like being grilled by Mrs. Dixon in fifth grade about cheating on a multiple-choice quiz. Luckily, further reading revealed that both A and D were correct. My Amex passed that test.

Immediately under the white placard, orange, hot pink, lavender, and sky-blue squares bristled with ominous words. Enforcement. No change given. Will not return bill. No smart cards.

Below that, another discouraging placard spelled out in giant letters “IF KIOSK IS NOT WORKING” and provided a phone number. Sure, after it eats your credit card or transmits your security code to the Bulgarian mafia. I tried the number and heard a recording that promised a return call in seven to ten business days.

My Amex went back in my wallet. Intrusive questions? Operational risks? There was no way I would trust this thing with my credit card. I would have to use cash.

I returned to the angry squares and finally figured out that it also took quarters and one-dollar bills. But my daughter had spent all my quarters in a metered shopping frenzy the day before. Was I doomed? No! I found a nice crisp George Washington in my wallet. I was still in the game.

It could always be worse. Ticket vending machines in Shiyakusho Station, Nagoya, Japan. (Photo via Creative Commons/Wikimedia.)
It could always be worse. Ticket vending machines in Shiyakusho Station, Nagoya, Japan. (Photo via Creative Commons/Wikimedia.)

I gingerly slipped my only dollar bill into the feeder. It was grabbed violently, leaving a nasty paper cut. The kiosk had drawn first blood. The instructions said, “Adjust time using arrow at left.” But there were five arrows to “adjust time”: one left, one right, and three pointing up!


A car pulled into an empty spot. Three millennials exited noisily, made their way to the kiosk, and stood behind me. I punted on the time decision and tried to find the magic green button the instructions said to push. I saw a red button with an X, a yellow one with a rectangle, and a blue one with a circle. No explanation and no green button.

Blue. That’s almost green! I jammed the blue button with my thumb. An LED display flashed frantically near a tiny keyboard I’d missed in my confusion. “Error 21! Error 21! Error 21!”

I searched the kiosk and found a small metal plate on the side with all 238 error codes. As I stooped to examine them, a voice behind me sarcastically advised, “You didn’t enter your parking-space number, moron!” It was one of the millennials, lean and smug in his black polo and $200 jeans. His two friends sneered and rolled their eyes.

My car languished at the other end of the lot. I slogged back to it in the 97-degree heat and checked my space number: 328. I heard arguing back at the kiosk. The guy in the black polo pointed at me, shouted an expletive and punched in HIS space number. He got MY receipt and left along with his friends, who laughed and gave me the finger.

At my car, I sublimated my rage into a frantic search for change under the seats and lucked out with four grubby quarters (and some still-edible fries). I trudged back to the machine, sweaty and disheveled. “Ok, I’ve got this now,” I told myself. Punched in 328, dropped the quarters in the slot, pushed the button.

My quarters clattered despondently into the Reject Coin bin. The LED flashed again, “Error 89! Error 89! Error 89!” For Error 89, the small metal plate of error codes taunted: “Fatal quarter feed malfunction.” Checkmate. I was out of options.

I went back to the car and contemplated the damage I could do with the rusty steel hatchet tucked under the seat to defend myself against road rage. But the kiosk was too sturdy. It would take a head-on collision to destroy the infernal machine.

Sweet revenge

I drove off, parked on a side street seven blocks away, and walked to my original restaurant destination. Over a platter of greasy ribs, I concocted my revenge.

The next day I returned at dawn with my work and a small jar of white paint. I painted over the word “IF” on “IF KIOSK IS NOT WORKING.”

Under the sign I taped a gallon freezer bag full of two-inch squares of paper, each bearing the township manager’s phone number and the good news: “Kiosk out of order. Official free parking receipt. Place on dash.”

I knew it couldn’t last. But, for a few hours, no one else would be publicly victimized by that metal monster. My work was done. The Kiosk Konqueror had evened the score.

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