Illustration by: Paul Hostetler

A Friday night in Bethesda:

6:30 p.m. We drive along Bethesda Avenue, shifting our eyes like Secret Service agents, alert and ready to pounce at the slightest sign—an engine turning over, the little chirp that signals someone has unlocked a car door with a remote, a pedestrian jangling keys in his hand.

7:02 p.m. The passive-aggressive driver behind us honks, interrupting our stealth surveillance. “Do not pull into the parking garage,” I instruct my husband. He ignores this and pulls in. I shout, “We’re going to get stuck in here and die!” He responds, unconvincingly, “It might not be so bad.”

7:03 p.m. Oh, dear God. There is a long, snaking line of cars waiting to get to the upper levels of the garage. I shout, “Retreat! Retreat!” He yells, “It’s too late!” Four other cars have pulled in behind us. We’re trapped.

7:06 p.m. We’ve advanced approximately one car length. There are six more levels of the parking garage to climb before we’ll be able to turn around. Cars going in the other direction whiz by, their wild-eyed drivers wearing a look that says they can’t believe they’ve been spending a Friday night trapped in a traffic jam in a parking garage.

7:15 p.m. A spot is about to open up. We see a couple heading to their car, hurrying with their heads lowered, while a dozen pairs of eyes follow them as intently as if they were a hot fudge sundae at a Sugar Addicts Anonymous meeting. Instantly, the car ahead of us puts on its blinker. Almost simultaneously, a car coming from the other direction puts on its blinker. Both are equidistant from the exiting car. Whisper to husband: “This is going to get ugly.”

7:22 p.m. The competing cars have each managed to wedge a bit of their bumpers into the same spot, and the drivers are engaged in a staring contest. Meanwhile, the cars behind us begin honking even though, once the standoff is resolved, we’ll all be able to advance no more than 10 yards.

7:23 p.m. Discuss which of the other drivers looks the plumpest, so when starvation sets in, we’ll know who to eat first. Make a mental note to stock up on bread, milk and toilet paper for the car the next time we try to park in Bethesda.

7:28 p.m. With a final insulting gesture, one of the drivers gives up and peels away from the parking spot, probably heading for the great open lands of the Midwest, where he’ll drive endless loops in some empty field, screaming, “I’m freeeeeee!” The other driver victoriously claims the spot while everyone stares at him, seething with envy.

7:34 p.m. Inch ahead. Another spot opens up. Wonder aloud, “Should I go stand in it?” Glance around, trying to gauge whether any of the other drivers might be packing heat. Decide to stay in vehicle.

7:40 p.m. Reach top floor of the garage. Turn around. Drive back down. Circle block until dizziness and nausea set in. Finally see a pedestrian and stalk him for a hundred yards, vowing not to stop until he gets a restraining order or climbs into a car. When he unlocks a minivan, we turn on our blinker and guard the spot with the sort of ferocity some mothers reserve for protecting their young.

8:15 p.m. Finally we enter Rio Grande, exhausted, bedraggled and dreaming of fajitas and margaritas. The hostess hands us a buzzer and brightly chirps, “There’s a two-hour wait!”

Sarah Pekkanen’s second novel, Skipping a Beat (Washington Square Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster), will be released on Feb. 22. She can be reached at