Help me repay a parking garage manager
December 12, 2012 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Is there anything I can get for a security guard who did me a favor when I messed up and might have lost my job due to negligence?

I'm in the last year of a Ph.D. program and I've been overworked and stressed for the last 12 months. I got really unlucky and had not one but two cars break inside my work parking garage. (This isn't exactly lack of luck: I'm kind of poor as a student and bought two inexpensive used cars and both of them broke.)

The parking garage manager did me a favor with the first car and allowed me to leave it there as long as I paid monthly parking. Days passed, then weeks, then months, and next thing I knew it was a year and the broken car had been in the parking garage.

I bought a second car sometime in April, and right around that time I had a work crisis where it looked like I might not graduate and was working 100+ hour weeks. That second car I bought in April broke one day as I was driving out of the garage. It was blowing so much smoke that I knew I couldn't drive it home.

When the car broke, I was daunted by dealing with and I left it there. I knew this was bad, but I thought I would take care of it "later." Weeks passed, then months. That was six months ago.

I am now supposed to graduate in one week with my Ph.D. The parking garage manager called me a few days ago because the amount that had accumulated for parking in these six months was $3800. Basically I had pulled a ticket and just left, because my employee badge was used with car #1. He was angry, with me now having abandoned two cars in the garage and also not having told him about the second one for six months. He had the option to involve security and the police. If he had done so, I might have lost my job or student status right before graduation and definitely been very ashamed with my employers.

I paid a reduced amount (still a lot, but reduced) thanks to him doing me a favor, and he is not going to involve security or my bosses.

I feel awful about this, and I know I need to make major changes so I am not negligent in the future.

Besides long-term actions I can take so that this doesn't happen again, is there anything I can do for this parking lot manager at the moment? What could such a person would appreciate? He is somewhere between 45 and 55, I think. I feel like I'm coming from a place of shame and I don't really think that coffee and pastries are appropriate here.


TL; DR: A parking lot attendant did me a favor by not involving my bosses and security, when I was negligent for a long time about two abandoned cars. Is there anything I can do for him? I am looking for actual tangible ideas. Thanks!
posted by kellybird to Human Relations (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Oops, that should have said "parking lot manager" and not "parking lot attendant." He manages the garage. And he is not a security guard so much as a security-related employee.)
posted by kellybird at 12:33 PM on December 12, 2012

I think a simple 'Thank you; I really appreciate it' is sufficient but the most important thing is, you did get the cars out, right?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:34 PM on December 12, 2012

Response by poster: The cars are being towed in the next two days, when I can get the junk car removal people in. He contacted me yesterday. I let him know that is when they can come in.
posted by kellybird at 12:35 PM on December 12, 2012

While this was a better-than-awful resolution for you, consider the fact that were he to involve security or the police would've given him more work to do because of all the requisite paperwork, and follow-up and god knows what else responsibility the manager has when something goes awry.

Outside of a heartfelt "thank you" and maybe those coffee and pastries you mention, I really wouldn't do anything else. The very last thing you want to do is highlight this event in anyone's memory or risk bringing it to light, and I'm sure he would agree.
posted by griphus at 12:35 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'd do two things.

1. Buy AAA for me.

2. Buy AAA for him.

Really dude, that's kind of a mess.

Once, a security guard pushed my dead car out of a huge trough of water in the parking lot (the water shorted everything out and I was trapped in the car.)

I baked him a lemon merengue pie.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:36 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

The best thing you can do is go forth and sin no more. If you've thanked him verbally, that's enough. You don't want anyone questioning his benevolence and perhaps cause him to be in trouble with his superiors for helping you and the most likely way that could happen is if you call attention to it with a present.
posted by inturnaround at 12:45 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would not give him a gift of significant value out of fear it would make it look like you were paying him kickbacks for forgiving part of the fine.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:46 PM on December 12, 2012 [13 favorites]

You give him a really nice thank you now, without specifying what for, and once you have your diploma in hand, you give him a bottle of wine or gift basket. You can actually probably do the gift now -- give a Christmas basket kind of gift, though you'll both know what the gift is actually for, no one is going to get hugely suspicious about a Christmas gift.
posted by jeather at 12:47 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe get him pastries or a nice food gift at most but this is not something to get overwrought about, lest it start taking bribery overtones.

Also, as a poor person who buys crap cars, AAA is a fantastic investment. $60/year for being able to get a free tow during the inevitable breakdown is amazing.
posted by schroedinger at 12:48 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is where it's nice to be a person who bakes bread.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:50 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

My auto insurance policy covers towing. Yours may have too. Don't do anything beyond a simple thank you for the parking manager. He didn't do it to be nice to you. Impounding two cars would have been a huge headache for him.
posted by COD at 12:50 PM on December 12, 2012

Baking him cookies or a pie or something would be a very nice gesture, maybe accompanied with a card or something. Anything more than that could easily be seen as something of a payoff/bribe/whatever. (As an aside: I'm not trying to genderize or anything. Home cooking says "effort" more than "expense," and would probably be safer than bringing him coffee and/or goodies from Starbuck's.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:52 PM on December 12, 2012

Frankly it doesn't sound to me like he was very nice at all.

$3800??? Come on. All parking garages I have ever seen have a maximum charge of, say, $50. Sure they have a maximum time you can park there, and after that they have a right to tow you out, but he decided not to take that option.

No one is ever going to pay $3800 for parking. Most monthly rates at garages that do do monthly are more like $200. Even mentioning the number $3800 seems like a dickish, fraudulent scare tactic. I wouldn't even give him a "thank you," personally.

(I'm also not clear what you think the police or security would have done. You can't be arrested for abandoning a car. As far as I know you can't even be fined, beyond the fee for retrieving it from the impound lot. I get that the school might have looked a little askance at it, but I don't think the consequences were ever going to be as catastrophic as all that.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:08 PM on December 12, 2012 [16 favorites]

Nthing the baked goods. Whether or not you're coming from a place of shame, it's what I would do in that situation.

Presumably the manager is an employee of the school? With regards to the gift/bribery issue, can you look through the HR policies for the school to see if there's anything on gifts?
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:09 PM on December 12, 2012

I'm not sure, by the way, that I agree with squashing your natural instinct to make a gesture on the theory that it would have been inconvenient for him to impound your car, and therefore he acted in self-interest. I'm not sure having your car towed would have been THAT huge of a deal, and I'm sure parking people do it all the time. That seems a little bit cynical, maybe, to me.

Even assuming that he let you off the hook and didn't hold you to what you owed because holding you to what you owed would have been inconvenient, you presented him with a choice between forgiving a debt you know you owed that you knowingly incurred and being inconvenienced himself. Either way, you put him out and made him deal with a problem not of his own making, and I would encourage you to go with, not against, the part of you that wants to do something to either demonstrate gratitude or apology, depending on how you want to see it. And since he's the manager, it doesn't seem likely to me that anyone is going to see you hand him a note and be in a position to get him in trouble. And if you're worried about that, just make your gesture one last phone call to say you just want to tell him again that you apologize for the inconvenience and the trouble, and you're glad it worked out and grateful for his understanding.

You're wanting to make a gesture; make one. That's your humanity/generosity at work; it's a good thing.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:10 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe a Starbucks gift card?
posted by Dansaman at 1:27 PM on December 12, 2012

Best answer: "No one is ever going to pay $3800 for parking"

They will if they leave a car at a lot for six months where the rate is $20/day, and $20/day is on the cheap side of things for most parking garage I have seen.

To the OP, I think your instincts are correct. Despite a few comments made here, please do not remark to him that you saved him a lot of paperwork. If you are inclined to go beyond the thanks that you've already said, a bottle of scotch or another spirit would be a nice gesture.

Don't worry about the comments regarding that your gift may be deemed a bribe. I have a fair number of clients who have pretty strict policies on the sorts of gifts their employees may receive, and the onus is on them to know what an inappropriate gift is. It's not a problem for you. Also, it doesn't make sense. He's going to cut your parking bill by hundreds of dollars so he can get a $25 gift? No. I agree that it is better to do this after you have graduated.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:44 PM on December 12, 2012

My soft rule is that a gift with a value of 1 figure is cheap, 2 figures is good, and 3 figures may look like it carries expectations.

Also, you can never go wrong with homemade baked goods.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:53 PM on December 12, 2012

Best answer: This sounds like a business arrangement, not a huge favor for which you owe a debt of gratitude. You racked up a huge debt, due in part to your negligence and also in smaller part due to his failure to police the issue sooner. He made a compromise offer, as creditors often do, in which you settled that debt for a smaller amount (perhaps a more reasonable amount) and you both went on your way.

Nothing wrong with giving him some chocolates or a similar item as a holiday present, but you don't need to treat this like he personally pulled you out of a flaming car right before the gas tank exploded (which isn't as common as the movies would have you believe).
posted by zachlipton at 2:11 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with the person who asked why he did you a favor by trying to charge you $3800 for parking. I'd like to know that too. Now, his way of communicating this to you was to claim that he did you a favor, but really? The police care about a car sitting in a parking garage? No they don't. I don't see why it is the business of security or your boss either, unless of course you tried to sneak the car out after a long time without paying any charge at all.

But you said he let you leave a car there as long as you paid monthly parking.. And if he had an issue with it he should have told you, or called a tow truck months ago. The cars were still there, right? Presumably he should have noticed an abandoned car in the garage and had it towed if it wasn't supposed to be there, instead of waiting to act for a long long time and then hitting a poor student with a $3800 bill?
posted by citron at 3:55 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

jacquilynne writes "I would not give him a gift of significant value out of fear it would make it look like you were paying him kickbacks for forgiving part of the fine."

This. It's usually unethical for anyone working security to accept gifts from people and certainly as a "thank-you" for bending the rules. Send him a card thanking him for his good service and leave it at that.
posted by Mitheral at 3:55 PM on December 12, 2012

Tanizaki writes " Also, it doesn't make sense. He's going to cut your parking bill by hundreds of dollars so he can get a $25 gift? No. I agree that it is better to do this after you have graduated."

The hundreds of dollars go to his employer; the $25 goes to him directly.
posted by Mitheral at 3:58 PM on December 12, 2012

I think it is odd that he threatened to involve security or the police. That wouldn't happen unless you refused to do anything about paying the money or removing the cars - and what would police/security do? If anything, he would report it as an outstanding student fee and your degree might have been withheld until you made good on it.

I paid a reduced amount (still a lot, but reduced) thanks to him doing me a favor, and he is not going to involve security or my bosses.

How did you pay this? Cash or check? Directly to him or to the school?

If you paid cash directly to him, well, I'm not saying you got scammed, but that doesn't seem right to me. He would have to "cook the books" or do something illegal at his job to hide the sum of money that he forgave you, I mean, he made it sound like such a big deal scaring you about security and the police, but then he was able to solve your problem so easily? That just seems odd. I guess I am a cynic.

If you paid by check or cash to the bursar of your school, then sure, some kind of thank you is necessary, perhaps a sincerely written note?
posted by NoraCharles at 4:00 PM on December 12, 2012

It's quite easy to get a car impounded: all he had to do was phone a towing company and they'd take it. Maybe he'd have had to file some paperwork, but it's not like it would have been that much. I don't know about getting the police involved unless there are laws around about abandoning cars that you broke. In any case he didn't charge you what he could have; admittedly the money would not have gone to him, so he wasn't personally out a large amount of money, but sometimes it takes a fair bit of work to get a system to kick in a discount. (Not sure if that's the case here, but it might have been.) So, I'd say thanking him in some small way is appropriate; the suggestions for baked goods are good or possibly some nice ground coffee that he can use at work. In any case it doesn't have to be expensive. And there's an extra karma factor that you might reap: it might incline him to be kind to someone else in the future knowing that whatever he did for you was appreciated.

I know you said work parking garage, but I'm not sure if the work is also at the university or not. If that was the case then owing outstanding fees to any branch of the institution can be reason enough for them to hold up a graduation.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:30 PM on December 12, 2012

Response by poster: So, I'm going to treat it like a business relationship / no big deal for now, focus on graduating, and follow up with something nice (but not bribey) a month or two after. Thanks all!
posted by kellybird at 4:33 AM on December 13, 2012

Looking past the fact that it was a really lame move to abandon your car, it was the manager's job to collect your payment for the abandoned car. The person who would abandon a car for a full year isn't somebody I would trust to pay me. He should have made you make monthly payments when it became clear you weren't going to remove it. Plus, the pain of those payments would motivate you to remove it. And he has no excuse for not taking immediate action when you abandoned a second car.

As others have mentioned, proactively getting AAA was your best option (but technically your worst option since time travel doesn't exist). Next would have been getting your car towed immediately to avoid parking fees. The towing charge will be the same today or two weeks from now. I'm sure you intended to have the car removed after a few days but just pulling a ticket is typically much more expensive than getting a monthly pass. Where I park it's $165 a month for daily parking only but pulling a ticket would be another story because there's an additional fee for evenings, another for overnight and it's tourist area so the fees skyrocket on weekends.

If anything, after it became clear your car would be there multiple months, a nice person would have informed you that the monthly rates were much cheaper or at least clearly informed you how large you bill would eventually get. When he "did you a favor", he was probably just retroactively giving you the monthly rate you should have been paying all along. In my opinion, he did you no favor and you owe him nothing. My guess is he knew exactly how big your payment was getting and purposely didn't warn you. Then, when he realized you couldn't pay that ridiculous amount, he reduced it to the monthly charge.
posted by thebriguy72 at 9:18 AM on December 16, 2012

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