It was a rookie mistake.
Last Saturday morning was warm for early March in Minnesota, and I was about to run my first race of the season – a 10 miler. The race started at St. Anthony Main, the quaint cobblestone riverfront section of Northeast Minneapolis, and parking spots are a little tricky anytime after 8:00am on race days. There was a surface lot, as well as on street parking, if I was patient enough to circle a few times, which I wasn’t. So I pulled up to a six story parking ramp on the corner, blithely entered its treacherous maw *, snaked my way up to the fifth floor, and finally found a spot.
It was a beautiful day for a race, and I did fairly well. By fairly well, I mean I finished and wasn’t in too much pain. I ran with my friend Brad, and the sun grew warmer and warmer as we chatted and ambled along. At the end of most races these days, you get a free beer, which is a little odd when you think about it. But hey, free beer! So we chugged our beer, and said goodbye.
I walked the stairs up five floors of the parking ramp, because I was trying to prove something to someone while my knees cried out in displeasure. By the time I finally got up to the fifth floor, the beer had worked its way into my system, and I was vaguely aware that I needed to pee. I was only 20 minutes from home, I thought. It can wait.
Oh, sweet Lord.
I saw the line of cars winding around as high and low as I could see, and they weren’t moving. I thought that was weird, but I climbed into my car and waited for them to move.
Only they didn’t move. Not even a little.
I began to get panicky. My head darted around, trying to make eye contact with the other victims. Is anybody else panicking? Is there something I don’t know about? Why aren’t we moving? What if I’m stuck in this car until the next Presidential election? And then, I realized: I really needed to pee. Why aren’t we moving? We should be moving! That internal monologue continued for about seventy years.
Then the cars moved! And the Jeep who could have let me in didn’t let me in.
I then thought some thoughts that are unbecoming to a pastor. Four letter thoughts filled with venom and fury. I wanted Jeep guy to pay. I strongly considered keying his car, or slashing his tires, or demanding his first-born. The next car, a slightly used blue Toyota Corolla, let me in.
I cried. Sweet tears of gratitude, joy, rapture. **
It had been 31 minutes of waiting in my spot before I could back out of my spot. And friends, at this point, I really had to pee. And still, we hardly moved. I glanced down at my water bottle, the water bottle that I loved. The water bottle that traveled to Israel with me. The water bottle that is pink, which is my son Ben’s favorite color, and with which we have a kind of solidarity. The water bottle with a wide mouth, perfect for easy consumption. Or for other sinister purposes, the ones you consider when you’re stuck in a parking ramp and really, really have to pee.
We slowly circled down the ramp; finally moving in fits and starts. My angry bladder had moved past rage and into a kind of despair, and I heard it softly weeping as it realized I wouldn’t desecrate my favorite pink water bottle. Everybody began letting everybody else in, because that’s what you do when you move through the stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and letting people go in front of you while driving.
After sixty-seven minutes, I was on the open road, racing home, sometimes coaxing my bladder, sometimes chiding it.
Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, free at last. ***
I realized a few things in that parking ramp:
1. It is remarkable how little it takes to make me feel like I’m suffering.
2. It is remarkable how much I want people to defer to what I want.
3. It is remarkable how generous people are in times of crisis.
4. It is remarkable that I didn’t pee my pants.
And now, a benediction: May you find yourself stuck this week; in a rabbit hole, a dead end job, a frightening layoff, or with a screaming toddler, and may you see remarkable things about this world that you would not see any other way.
In it together, friends.
* Foreshadowing. Plus, anytime you can write the word “maw” in a 600 word blog, you must.
** Hyperbole. I didn’t really cry. But I could have. And probably should have.
*** Yes, I just compared my one hour stuck in a parking garage to MLK’s life’s work. Entitlement is subtle.