‘Push debit or credit button to pay’

There I was, sitting in my car and the thought came to me, “What if they just never let me leave the parking garage?”

I came to this life changing question when I was trying to leave a parking garage recently, attempting to pay the whopping $1 fee I had accrued. I pulled my car up to the kiosk just before the arm that blocked the exit.

It told me to insert my ticket. I did. A computery voice said, “Push debit or credit button to pay.”

I scanned over the unit. There were five buttons – three silver ones that had no markings, one marked “Cancel” and one marked “Call for help.”

I pushed the first silver button.

“Push debit or credit button to pay.”

I pushed the second silver button.

“Push debit or credit button to pay.”

I pushed the third silver button.

“Push debit or credit button to pay.”

I looked over the machine again. Maybe I was missing a button? Nothing. I decided to insert my card into the card reader and see if that maybe triggered something to start working.

“Push debit or credit button to pay.”

Ok, time for help, I guess.

I pushed the button. A moment later, a voice came over the speaker. “Can I help you?”

“Yeah, I’m trying to leave the parking garage, and it keeps saying to push the debit or credit button to pay, but there is no such button.”

“Did you insert your card?”

“Yes, and it told me to push the debit or credit button.”

“Did you push the button?”

“There IS NO button.”

“Pull out your card and try again and it should work,” the voice said, and it disconnected.

“Push debit or credit button to pay.”

Sigh. This is now my home, I guess.

I pushed help again. As I waited for the speaker to engage, I noticed a car pull up behind me. This was a single lane exit, so I was blocking the only egress. I leaned out the window and shrugged, pointing at the machine to convey the international sign for “Not my fault but technology’s fault.”

I pushed the help button again.

“Can I help you?”

“Hi, it still won’t let me out. It just keeps saying ‘Push debit or credit button to pay.’ And there is no such button.”

At that point, an ally  emerged. I heard a voice from outside my window. “Sir, hang on a second. I’m coming.” I looked up and saw a man wearing a reflective vest approaching my car. I explained the situation to him. He said, “Are you sure the card is good?” I replied, “I am. It’s also a dollar to get out. Can I just give you a dollar in change I have in my car door?”

No time for direct change-based transactions. He pushed the help button. 

The voice came back on, and he said, “We have a customer here who cannot get the machine to work, and it’s asking him to push a button that, well, isn’t here.” Vindication.

The speaker and the vest guy had a few back and forths, and then it was decided I needed to back up and try again. He directed the car behind me to back up, and then I backed up, and then approached the machine again. I inserted my ticket.

“Push debit or credit button to pay.”

The speaker crackled. “Hold for a moment. I’ll let him out as a courtesy.”

A few moments later, and the arm lifted. The vest guy told me to go on, and apologized for the issue. Just a hunch that the guy in the car behind me was going to have a similar issue.

But at least I am free of my parking garage prison, and do not have to spend my remaining days, wandering the decks of the garage, contemplating my existence, wondering what went wrong, and quietly mumbling under my breath, “Push debit or credit button to pay.”

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.


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