Erika D. Smith

Erika D. Smith: Trying to get straight outta the Macy’s garage

Another no-exit night at the Macy’s parking garage downtown.
Another no-exit night at the Macy’s parking garage downtown. esmith@sacbee.com

At the end of “Straight Outta Compton,” the new biopic about the groundbreaking, gritty rap group N.W.A., rapper Eazy E, knowing he is dying of complications from AIDS, reads what’s now a famous letter to his fans:

“Like the others before me,” he intones, “I would like to turn my own problem into something good that will reach out to all my homeboys and their kin. Because I want to save their a---s before it’s too late.”

As a columnist, I’ve often had similar thoughts, minus the whole “homeboys” thing. What’s the point of having my name in the paper if I can’t turn my problems into something good?

And so E’s words were still rolling around in my mind as I left the movie theater late on a recent night and descended the escalator at Downtown Plaza – now Downtown Commons – only to find four frustrated people standing outside a locked underground parking garage.

Like them, my car was locked inside, the keys to my apartment inside the car. And when I say “locked,” I mean locked with a solid metal roll-up door. It was clear no one was getting even a finger inside.

“I just want to get my kid’s car seat,” one woman, standing outside in the dark, complained to no one in particular. “I guess you’re going to have to come pick us up,” another said into her iPhone.

I soon found out from a pair of empathetic but ultimately useless security guards that this happens “almost every night.”

People drive downtown to see a movie. They navigate the confusing maze of orange barrels and closed lanes, pull into the Macy’s parking garage, which rarely has an attendant, and park. Hours later, they leave the theater, only to find a darkened, deserted street and a locked garage.

No one has a key after hours, not even mall security.

“I just want to get my kid’s car seat,” one woman, standing outside in the dark, complained to no one in particular. “I guess you’re going to have to come pick us up,” another said into her iPhone.

When I asked the guards how many people get stuck, they looked at each other and shrugged. “If it’s a big movie?” one volunteered. “Ten, 12 people.” One moviegoer, a guard told me, begged Sacramento police to pry open the garage so he could retrieve his heart medicine from his car.

It’s not that there aren’t signs listing hours for the garage. There are, including one at the entrance to it. And yet, it’s clear that people – a surprisingly large number of bone-headed people like me – continue to miss them, probably because of the chaos surrounding the construction of Golden 1 Center.

Macy’s blames the mall, which, the retailer says, is unwilling to let customers into the garage after hours. The mall – or at least its security guards – blames Macy’s. They say they’ve been asking for a key to the garage for months.

Who knows if that will ever change? But, in a minor victory, Macy’s has agreed to put up more signs about the garage and has asked the theater to post some as well.

Hopefully, no one else will have to call a ride or, like me, walk home in the dark. Because with all of the money being spent to turn the dying Downtown Plaza into a vibrant Downtown Commons, that’s not the sort of aggravating experience we want people to remember.

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