Coffee heat rising

Maybe I’m too extreme about this…?

It’s not really the money. It’s the principle of the thing.

Yesterday I drove down to the dentist’s office to get a cleaning and also to discuss building a new night guard, mine having been rendered questionably useful by a couple of recent crowns. Dr. D’s practice is housed on the sixth floor of a midtown high-rise. His office is nice, but what’s really  nice is Dr. D, whose taste in procedures is minimalist and who is personally a very charming man.

Driving down there is a bit of a pain, because you have to cross over the train tracks, which involves an endless wait at the left-turn light to get onto the side street where the parking garage is located. The lightrail pretty much destroyed Central Avenue as a viable road, something one finds peculiarly annoying when one contemplates the millions and millions of taxpayer dollars’ worth of beautiful, exquisitely tended landscaping and public art torn  up and replaced with ugly railroad tracks and overhead electric lines.

To get to Dr. D’s office, you have three choices: drive down Seventh Avenue to Indian School, then over to Central and down to Catalina—a process that entails not one but two tedious left turns across the train tracks, where the light stays red for half your lifetime; drive down Central Avenue to Catalina, which puts you into a lot of slow traffic but requires only one time-consuming left turn; or drive across one of the main drags north of the train tracks on Camelback all the way to Seventh Street, then across Indian School or McDowell to Third Street, then over Third to Catalina, then across Catalina to the parking garage on Central, a round-about route that takes you more than two miles out of your way and adds four extra miles to your round trip. Not one of these strategies is ideal, but except for the latter, it takes about 15 minutes to get there.

Okay, so I get parked, ride the elevator up to Dr. D’s office, and bound into the reception area brandishing my parking ticket to be validated…and what do I see but a sign on the receptionist’s desk:

Due to a change in the building management’s policy, we can no longer validate parking. Parking fees are $1.00 per half hour.

Well, hell and damn. I don’t carry money with me! So, I didn’t have a dollar to get my car out of the parking garage! Or more like two or three bucks, because a cleaning takes about an hour by the time you sit around waiting to be seen. Maybe three or four bucks if he decided to fit me for a new bite guard, because that process takes for-freaking-ever!

I said, “It would have helped if you’d told me about this.”

She said, “I’m on the phone!”

I said, “I know,” and turned around and walked out.

When I got downstairs to the garage, the attendant would not let me out, even though my car hadn’t been in the garage longer than about eight minutes.. He proposed to write me a bill, for which their collection agency would come after me. I had to scrounge up a dollar out of quarters, dimes, and pennies, some of which fell on the ground as I was handing them to the clown (honest—I didn’t do that on purpose. But on reflection now wish I’d dumped the whole mess of them on the ground and driven off, since he certainly could have let me out of the garage under the circumstances).

I refuse to pay for parking in Phoenix. Here’s why: There’s no viable public transport. Much-vaunted lightrail notwithstanding, there really is no practical way to get around this city other than by car. My feeling is, if you want to do business with me, you provide a place to park. If your place of business makes me pay to park, I don’t patronize your place of business.

Consider: To get to Dr. D’s office on the public transit, I would have to walk from my house to an intersection with a signal where I could cross 19th Avenue, a dangerous main drag and a conduit of blight. Then I would have to stand outside a run-down tenement, famed for its incidence of crime. Within a day of the last time I picked up the 19th Avenue bus, a young woman was abducted from that bus stop and raped.

Okay, so realistically no one is going to abduct and rape an ugly old bat. What they’ll do with me is mug me. Robberies are not uncommon—thugs will stop their cars at intersections, get out, grab someone standing on the sidewalk, belt him one, and steal his wallet. No joke: this happened outside the Albertson’s just down the street.

The temperature outdoors was 105 degrees yesterday. Nineteenth is under construction, so to get across the road you have to navigate holes in the road and heavy equipment, all the while enjoying the serenade of jackhammers and diesel engines. A typical wait at a bus stop here is around 20 minutes; however, the city in its penury has cut back bus service, so chances are the wait is even longer.

Once on the bus, I would have to ride down to Spectral Mall, stopping at every corner allll the wayyyy down to 19th and Montebello. Once there, I get off the bus on the wrong side of the street and again have to cross a six-lane road through murderous traffic. The ambiance there is even more grungy than it is in my neighborhood, which at least has the vestiges of a middle-class neighborhood on one side of the road (even though the city is busy tearing out our homes.

Now I buy another ticket and wait for the train. This will entail another 15-minute stand in 105-degree heat, likely fending off the odd panhandler. The train will drop me off within several blocks of Dr. D’s office building, after another unbelievably time-consuming milk-run, first backtracking up 19th Avenue to Camelback, then across Camelback to Central, then allllll the wayyyy down to Catalina. The round trip will cost me $3.50…about what it costs to pay to park long enough for a dental appointment.

And—here’s the corker—the trip will take about an hour, one way! Yes: for $3.50, you, too, can kill a full hour making a trip that should take you 15 minutes.

So I spend two hours in 105-degree heat, round trip, standing around on the street in sketchy areas and riding elbow-to-elbow with strangers (some of whom are strange!) and pay as much as it would have cost to make a 15-minute drive and pay to park. Nothing about this system—either the vaunted and costly lightrail or the obnoxious parking fee, which the city parents think will encourage people to ride—makes me anxious to use the public transport. It’s expensive and it’s excruciatingly time-consuming. It is, in short, totally impractical, another of America’s steps along the way of its progress into Third-World living conditions.

If I lived in a city that had real public transit, the way San Francisco did when I lived there many years ago, then I would use it, or I would pay to park without hesitation. We used the buses and trolleys all the time; on the rare occasions that my mother and I drove to shopping, we expected to pay to park, and we paid to put up her car in the apartment community’s parking garage. That was part of the natural order of things.

But here we don’t have such a city. Here we have a city that, like Los Angeles, was quite deliberately designed for the automobile and that, with its city parents in the pockets of developers who have a vested interest in sprawl, continues to be designed that way. For this reason, demanding that people pay to park is unreasonable.

So, I’m in the market for a new dentist. Alas. I like Dr. D and I hate changing dentists. It’s hard to find a good dentist who won’t rip you off by trying to scare you into unnecessary procedures. It’s hard to find a skilled dental technician who doesn’t hurt you when she cleans your teeth. And getting a new dentist is going to be a pricey proposition, now that I’m no longer on Delta Dental. I could barely afford Dr. D, who proposed to give me a 10 percent discount. How I’m going to pay for some new doc, I have no idea. Probably I’m not.

But there is no way I’m going to pay to park as I go about my normal, unavoidable day-to-day errands.

Is that totally over the top?

This bit of sprawl covers 16,573 square miles!

Image: Phoenix Metropolitan Area. Wikipedia. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

24 thoughts on “Maybe I’m too extreme about this…?”

  1. Lest anyone think Funny is exaggerating, I’ll add that my two year tenure in Phoenix without a car simply involved not going anywhere that wasn’t within walking distance of the ASU campus. It was just easier.

    I’d add that because of their rarity, pedestrians in Phoenix (outside of, say, downtown Tempe or Scottsdale) are also subject to loving abuse/come-ons from passing cars. I mean, hey, it’s you and two homeless guys walking down the sidewalk, that naturally gives young men the right to swerve over and yell at you. Sure they’re PROBABLY not going to actually get out of their cars and accost you but I’m not a big fan of “probably.”

  2. I will say that I would have done exactly the same thing. I have also – more than once – left a doctor’s office after waiting more than half an hour in the waiting room for an appointment made days or weeks earlier. I understand that emergencies arise…so I’ll give them a half hour and that’s about it.

    And not validating parking tickets is just plain wrong. Since it was a change of policy they definitely should have mentioned it to you either when you made the appointment or (if they do this) when they called to remind you of the appointment. But they shouldn’t have changed their policy. If their office is in a building that charges for parking, I think validating tickets should be considered a cost of their doing business along with the rent they pay. Bad enough to have to go to the dentist – but to have to pay to park to do it? 😀

    I hope you can find a good dentist closer to your home. I have a really good dentist (minimalist) and before I moved three years ago I had an excellent dentist as well. So they are out there. Good luck!

  3. I probably would have left in a snit too, and also probably would have had to scrounge around the car to get the change to pay the parking fee. [& probably would have blogged about it if I had a blog]

    I do agree they should have let you know of the policy change. It sounds like your drive to the dentist office is tortuous, but that is what it is – & 15 minutes doesn’t seem out of line to me to get somewhere in a city the size of Phoenix.

    However, I don’t think that I’d quit a great dentist if my 2 transportation alternatives both cost $3-4. In any case, I would write a letter to the dentist, – & particularly if the issue is enough to make you switch to someone else. He needs to know that this is costing him business.

    You’re also going to be fortunate if they don’t try to charge you for cancelling the apptmt at the last minute – mine claims to require 24 hours’ notice or they charge, although I’ve argued my way out of that before.

  4. @ valleycat: I’m not paying them. The receptionist was not very polite to me, and the fact is I wasn’t carrying enough cash to sit in their office and pay for an hour or more of parking time, because they didn’t tell me they’d quit validating. I fished out all the change I had, except for a few pennies and a nickel, to make up a dollar. If they try to collect, I’ll cheerfully take them to small claims court.

    Yeah, I like this dentist, too. But sometimes if the front office staff isn’t doing their job or is officious, the doctor (or dentist) loses patients.

  5. “I’m on the phone”?!?
    WRONG answer. The correct response would have been, “Just one moment, please, and as soon as I finish helping this customer I’ll be right with you.”
    In your note to Dr. D, please tell him that his front-office staff is driving off (as it were) clients.

  6. I’m sorry Funny, but I’m not with you on the office staff. Why are you even talking to someone when you can see she is on the phone? Who was ruder, you or her? Why was your problem so much more important than the person who was on the phone?

    I don’t know what has happened on other visits, but I could see where you were rude to her. The customer is simply not always right, sometimes they are selfish and rude.

  7. A few months ago, my dermatologist kept me waiting almost an hour. I started to walk out, but then I thought – am I going to risk skin cancer for this? So I kept that appointment and then found another doctor.

  8. @ E. Murphy: You’re right. I was rude to her, and after I huffed out, I felt that I had been rude. I should have stood there and waited until she got off the phone, however long that took, and then explained that I had no cash with me and, with no way to pay to get my car out of the parking lot, I needed to leave.

    I really have no excuse for that. I will say that the reason for it — which is not an excuse — was that at that moment I was just startled enough and just annoyed enough at not having been informed of this to be pushed to the high side of annoyance, verging on anger. I’m a very long-term client with this practice; they know me by name and they all know my history with Dr. D. What would it have taken, when I called to make the appointment, to have said, “Oh, by the way…”? Admittedly this is not something that merits even a moment of high dudgeon. But I’m afraid that’s what it got.

  9. Seriously, for a DOLLAR you are going to give up a 10% discount, and a painfree dentist? Keep in mind, as a long-term patient, you will probably be there longer than the unprofessional receptionist.

  10. Afterthought to E. Murphy: Sooo…. While gardening in the backyard, an activity that lends itself to contemplation, another facet of this exchange came to mind:

    The receptionist has been there as long as I’ve been going to Dr. D (is she his wife, maybe? ;-)), and that’s been 8 or 10 years. When a long-time customer who has never been rude or obnoxious before is obviously upset enough get cranky, maybe that’s a signal that you should at least say something like “hang on, I’ll be right with you.” Maybe it’s a signal that “I’m on the phone!” is a less than optimal response.

    The attitude that the customer is always wrong and that front-line employees are justified in treating people like the unwashed masses is, in itself, rude. It certainly is counterproductive to good business.

    @ Karla: Yes. For a dollar and a principle (described above) I’m going to give up a 10% discount. Most doctors and dentists will give you a discount when you pay in cash. And no dentist is painfree…

  11. Well, you are right and have a point. But on the other hand, maybe the receptionist was trying to deal with a dental emergency and was also having an off day. We all have them.

    I would let the dentist know you are not happy with the change. I think it’s a poor business decision on his part, BUT, it can be difficult to get a decent dentist who isn’t trying to sell you a Hollywood style set of teeth every time you visit.

    But another lesson is that I would ALWAYS have a tiny bit of cash with me. I mean, who would have thought?

  12. My dear friend, I really think you need to stop blaming the receptionist for your over-reaction to the new policy on parking validation. I live in the Valley, too, and I am fully aware of the many frustrations associated with living here. I drive 20 miles to see my dentist and often encounter delays due to heavy road use, long traffic signals, road construction, etc. I understand that any drive tests one’s patience. And who among us doesn’t experience a little anxiety over having our teeth cleaned—and paying for it? So, I’ll give you that you were experiencing a little stress as you entered the dentist’s office. Then you read the notice about parking validations. Not only did you fail to wait your turn, I’m going to guess that you blurted out your statement in less than a polite tone. If indeed the receptionist responded in a similarly blunt reply, well shame on her. But you continued in your rudeness by walking out and leaving without keeping your commitment to your appointment. The office depends on that income—including the technician who doesn’t draw blood when he/she cleans your teeth. I’m sure even dentists are suffering through these tough economic times, and lost income from an appointment doesn’t pay the ongoing utility costs. Yes, they should have warned you about the changed validation policy. However, the real problem, as I see it, is your refusal to walk, run, drive, or ride through this Valley without any cash in your pocket. You don’t carry cash because you like the paper trail from card purchases, and not having cash helps prevent impulse spending. However, I have been with you many times when a dollar or two of cash would have helped you through the day. Ten dollars folded in an emergency pocket in your purse would help you avoid many inconveniences. If you carried only ten dollars, you might have reacted more calmly at the receptionist’s counter. Although the new policy would still have annoyed you, you probably would have mentioned the fact in a more civil tone after the receptionist had finished her other conversation. I suggest you contact the dentist and apologize.

  13. The receptionist was rude. Maybe Funny was too. But when dealing with the public (I’m sorry to disagree with E. Murphy) the customer IS always right. If you want their business. Otherwise, maybe not.

    There is definitely a way to take care of a customer who is rude, and that is not with rudeness in return. If you want their business.

    A simple “I’m so sorry, I’ll be right with you when I’m done with this call” surely would not have offended Funny and she likely would have stuck around and gotten the issue resolved. And she probably would have apologized for interrupting too.

  14. I disagree. The customer is NOT always right. It was rude of you (Funny) to interrupt someone who was clearly talking to someone else and it does not matter that you are a long time customer.
    The receptionist might have been a little blunt…but maybe she did not expect such a rude interruption from a long time customer? 🙂

    It definitely would have been nice of them to inform you when (if) they called with a reminder of your upcoming appointment. When did you make this appointment? I assume it was months ago like most dental appointments and therefore the policy change may not have been in place at that time.

    Not so sure you would win in small claims. Validating parking (that the building management has control over) is a perk and not a failure of services.
    If you don’t notify the dentist of perceived shortcomings over their staff, how will s/he know to correct it?

    Personally, I would suck up the parking cost and stick with a fair dentist who is also giving you a discount….unless you think $5 in parking is truly worth not going to a dentist.

    Just so you know, I would have been totally annoyed, too, as I typically do not carry cash but do try to keep a spare $5 in my car for parking or tolls. Although, I sometimes use it for other things. 🙂

  15. Funny – I didn’t mean that you should pay for a missed visit, just that you might get a bill in the mail.

    However, I still agree with the others that this unfortunate scene just isn’t a big enough deal to end a 10-year relationship over; but I would still let the dentist know directly that you are unhappy with the parking fee and that you were treated rudely when you came in.

    Also, I’m going to take your friend kjb’s advice & stash $10-$20 emergency cash in my wallet. It makes sense – in parallel to the ubiquitous advice to keep an emergency fund in the bank, we should be prepared to cover those unexpected expenses, large or small. 🙂

  16. Me again. Karen, if you want their business, the customer IS always right. You have to set your line in the sand … at what point is the rude customer someone whose business you don’t want. Then if they cross that line and you don’t want their business then they aren’t right anymore.

    I personally am tired of going into a business establishment or a medical office and made to feel like they are doing me a favor by taking my money. I’m not saying you should be rude when you enter a place of business, but it was unintentional on Funny’s part, and with a little customer service training the receptionist could have handled that so much better and it would have been a non-event. And maybe the receptionist was having a bad day. Why is that Funny’s (the customer’s) problem. If someone working for me is having a bad day I do not expect them to take it out on the paying customer. And to kjg, Funny’s friend. Again, why is it Funny’s problem that the dentist needs her money from the appointment. If he had a receptionist (wife or whatever) who knew how to take care of problems in a friendly/tactful/skillful manner,

  17. I would weigh the pros and cons of keeping the dentist you like simply since it is so freaking hard to find a good one (I know from experience too). If you like your dentist enough that $5 would be worth it, I’d keep going. Whichever way you decide to go, good luck!

  18. Deedee, you are correct. If you want their business then no matter their behavior, they are always right.

    However, her question is not, “should I continue to patronize this business because of the rude staff” but “am I over the top in not continuing business due to a parking fee (controlled by building management)?”

    Her reaction to the situation is not accomplishing her goal/need: receiving appropriate dental care at a price she can relatively afford.

    My opinion: inform the dentist of the incident with the receptionist and the lack of communication of the change in parking and let the dentist respond.

    If the building management no longer supports the validating of parking tickets, what recourse does the dentist have? It seems the building wants to receive all revenue for use of its garage. I suppose that the dentist could provide a deduction of parking fees off of your bill….but then would need maintain a log of what time a patient checked in to be sure to only pay for the time associated with the appointment…which would increase the work load and an extra line item in the bookkeeping…which may increase the cost of services. However, the fee the local businesses paid when validation was allowed might have been less than paying for the parking for every customer.

  19. Beating a dead horse to death here:
    1. The dentist has a lease. The terms of his lease used to include parking validation. He got a new lease. In negotiating it, he got a new price and new terms. One of these terms involved parking. He figured he could get away with making his customers pay instead of building it into his rent. My guess is most of his customers accept this hiddne price increase and blame the building management. Smart move by the dentist!

    2. Hard to know whether the receptionist was on the phone for business or pleasure, and just how rude she was. Customer service seems to have deteriorated allover the place in the last few years, or perhaps I am just getting old and grumpy! If she was serving another customer (by phone), then get in line just like you would at Wal-Mart and wait your turn.

    3. Do we know that the dentist would not have given Funny $3 out of his own pocket if she had bothered to mention it before walking out?

    4. How much does it cost to drive there, get in a snit and walk out? $1 for parking, plus gas, plus time – if you value your time at $3 per hour, then I guess you burned $4 for nothing versus paying for parking and getting the dental work done.

    5. Karen – you’re over-complicating things. If the dentist really wanted to pay for parking, his receptionist could just give each patient $3 in cash on their way out the door.

    6. If you don’t carry some cash, then you deserve to be stranded once in a while. Americans are rather spoiled by a system that functions well most of the time. But even in this wonderfulk country there are a still a few times when cash is needed. Didn’t your mother tell you to always carry $20 for an emergency?

  20. Wow! Thanks for all the comments on the parking fee, everyone! 🙂

    @ kjg: Yes, your drive to get to all the various services we need is…well, awe-inspiring! It’s specifically because I dislike driving through congestion that I choose to live in a centrally located area. Weirdly, because so many people have moved to the suburbs, traffic in North Central is relatively light and easy to negotiate.

    I don’t think I was blaming the receptionist there — indeed, in one of my replies to comments I admit I was rude and say there was no excuse for it. Obviously, whatever decision had been made — whether the building management’s that it would no longer accept tenants’ validations or the dentist’s that he would no longer cover patients’ parking — was not some hapless employee’s fault.

    It might, however, have been the employee’s responsibility to let me know: I made the appointment late last week, so unless the policy changed in the prior three or four business days, staff likely knew about it.

    The reason that I blurted out, while she was still talking on the phone, that I had no cash and needed to get my car out of the parking lot was that I felt I had better get back down there and move my car very quickly, if there was to be any hope of getting out of the garage without having to pay for the privilege. My car had been parked less than 10 minutes when I arrived at the exit and was given the figurative finger by the garage attendant. On two other occasions, I have entered pay parking lots or garages, found I had gone in by error (wrong date for an event, wrong address), left within five or ten minutes, and had no problem persuading the attendant to forgive the fee. That the guy refused to let me out of the lot without a gouge added considerably to my annoyance.

    Had she given me a chance to say I would be back in a few minutes, I would have driven my car across the street to the remains of the Park Central Mall, where the parking lot is still open and still free, and then walked back to Dr. D’s office. Snapping at me that she was “on the phone!” meant that instead of coming back and arriving 10 or 15 minutes late to the appointment, I left permanently.

    Admittedly, to most people two or three bucks is pocket change; and what in my out-of-date mind is enough to buy a week’s worth of produce or a large chocolate milkshake made of real ingredients is really worth only about 50 or 75 cents in terms of what money was worth when men were men and dollars were dollars. Recently I’ve begun carrying a few dollars in my purse, but I happened to have disbursed the money I was carrying.

    Because I don’t use ATMs (cash washes through my fingers like water, and literally within a few hours of a withdrawal I can end up with no money and no idea where it went), it’s inconvenient for me to get cash dollars — I have to drive all the way over to the West campus, where I have no other business, to withdraw a few bucks. While the paper trail is important — it’s the main tool in my efforts to avoid spending more than I earn, having been an accomplished overspender in a previous life — the real reason I don’t carry cash is that I waste it with astonishing speed.

  21. This topic has clearly played itself out, but I would like to just revisit the receptionist’s behavior one more time. Of course she should have responded better. We can all agree on that. But having worked in doctor’s offices for ten years, the wear and tear of everyone’s demands that THEIR needs are the most important and must be taken care of immeditely begin to take their toll.

    Working with the public in any way is hard, hard work. Because of this work experience I go out of my way to be friendly and supportive to store clerks and restaurant wait staffs or ANYBOY who spends eight hours a day dealing with John Q. Public. I cut them a great deal of leeway.

    If this woman was never rude to you before I would NOT report her to her boss. Non of us would like to get hauled up because of one bad day when we are basically a great employee.

    If it has been an ongoig problem, that is another matter.

  22. @ E. Murphy: Yes indeed! Just working with students gives you an up-close view of the ridiculousness that is the human animal, and as an instructor you’re in a position of authority. A service job that effectively makes you the “servant” has got to be just awful.

    I would never complain about Dr. D’s receptionist. She is a nice person, and probably she was feeling stressed at the exact moment that I came bounding up and demanded her attention.

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