Across America, strangers acting as amateur sleuths went all-in to help Aimee Condayan.
“It is after 1 a.m. and I am Googling parking garages,” a sympathizer in East Tennessee wrote on Facebook.
“Yep, same,” replied another mom who was on the case at 3 a.m. in South Carolina.
Condayan, a 46-year-old mother of two from Hyattsville, Md., was living a relatable nightmare. She’d lost her car.
They say it’s a rite of passage in the Washington, D.C., area, where Condayan lives. But not everyone’s worst day elicits international kindness. The helpers descended after Condayan collapsed in bed following an exhaustive search for the 2004 Toyota Highlander she’d rushed to park so she could pick her child up from the doctor. She was certain her social media SOS wouldn’t go anywhere.
It had been, after all, one of those days.
“I’m driving around, I’ve gotta park, I had to get there and I just found a garage, parked it and left,” Condayan told me, recounting “one of the most character building days of my mom life.”
Her 12-year-old daughter had a doctor’s appointment in downtown Washington, D.C., on a Thursday afternoon. You know the routine — getting off work early, hacking your way into the city, navigating the one-ways and finding legal parking. They left home early but even so, they were about to be late.
So Condayan pulled up outside the office building, checked her daughter in and returned to the car to repark where she wouldn’t get ticketed or towed at rush hour — that magic 4 p.m. deadline that bedevils every Washington, D.C., driver, when a parking ticket can suddenly go up to $100 a pop. (It is a feat that the city’s government performs with laserlike precision and efficiency. Trust me.)
When she finally found a parking garage that wasn’t full, she parked and snapped a quick photo of her 2004 Toyota Highlander, with its bright “NEW DRIVER” sticker warning drivers of her 17-year-old, so she’d remember where it was. Smart.
It’s the kind of trick many of us make habit of after losing a car in an airport parking garage and extending an exhausting trip by several horrible hours, dragging haggard children and suitcases through multiple, cavernous, concrete levels, getting to know the security guard who will tell you that you’re not the first one to spend time in his little golf cart, but still looks at you as if you’re the biggest moron he’s ever met. Something like that.
Sweaty and agitated in the 87-degree heat, Condayan Google-mapped her 10-minute walk to the office, just in time to get there as the appointment ended and her phone died.
She figured she’d just find her way back to the garage, retracing her steps. They wandered and mom began to realize nothing was looking familiar, until a kind attendant at a parking garage let her get a little charge on her phone.
Maybe it would show her path? Of course not. But the photo! In her haste, she’d captured her car, the purple, round pillar it was parked by and nothing else but the concrete sameness of D.C.’s parking catacombs.
“After dozens of garages, three hours in rubber sandals,” Condayan said, “my daughter and I are angry and hungry.”
She called it a day. “I texted my husband to come get us,” she said.
In desperation, she posted the car photo on her Facebook page. Maybe one of her 118 followers would know the garage.
“PLEASE HELP ME LOCATE MY CAR!!!” the post began.
“My car is parked in a garage somewhere in the VERY LOOSE vicinity of 1726-1744 L St. NW DC. Long story, but yesterday was one of the most character-building days of my Mom Life.
DUDE, WHERE’S MY #$%! CAR???!!!!!”
She added details she could remember — lots of reserved spaces, an attendant rather than an automated ticket machine, no gate.
By the end of the day, the post was going viral. And people from Tennessee to Texas, Florida to California, Scotland, even, were on the case.
They were asking their friends in Washington, D.C., sharing the photo of the purple column and the car and Googling garages.
And they were confessing their own stories: A mom who lost the van in a mall parking garage while the four kids wailed. A guy who reported his car stolen from the airport hotel he thought he had parked by, only to have police find it at the Sheraton, where he had actually stayed. A woman 36-weeks pregnant at the OB/GYN office in Atlanta. A mom at an Elton John concert with her 9-year-old. An 18-year-old “high as a kite” at a Bob Marley concert. (OK, that one doesn’t count.)
Hundreds of people followed the post to watch the search unfold. “I’m invested,” many of them wrote.
Brandy Ringer, 32, became one of them, when she couldn’t sleep after drinking a Bang energy drink in the afternoon.
“I was intrigued because she lost it so close to my job,” said Ringer, a mom of three who could relate to a day like Condayan had. “So I jumped into action at 2 a.m., looking on Google maps about two blocks away from my job, plucking my memory of all the garages I pass walking the block on my break.”
She never got to sleep once she realized she had the answer and messaged Condayan at 3:30 a.m. Ringer was at work that day — she’s the store manager of the AT&T in that neighborhood — so on her lunch break, she followed her hunch.
“I went down to P3 and walked the whole area, I didn’t see any round pillars — all of them were square,” she said. And she was “bummed.” But as she headed back upstairs, she saw another row of pillars out of the corner of her eye that were round.
“My heart was racing, I turned this blind corner and was ecstatic to see that student driver sticker,” Ringer said.
She snapped a selfie with the car and sent it to Condayan. Victory!
“Oh thank goodness! The search that captivated a nation of moms/parents/people who know what it is to live with children!,” a follower of the saga replied to Ringer’s selfie on Facebook.
Texas weighed in: “I’ve been thinking about you all the way in Houston tx lol glad you found your car!!!!”
Even the Scot sent a congrats: “So chuffed for you, been thinking about it all day here in Scotland!!”
The Highlander’s extended stay in Washington, D.C., cost just $9 at the garage.