Tow Trucks of Fury

A cry for freedom from unreasonable towing.

I think the city of Richmond is out to get me.

Monday, December 3 began like most days have begun for me since being laid off back in September. I spent the better part of the day inside, alternating between playing the piano, checking my email for word from my latest job contact and attempting to watch “Battlefield Earth” on HBO. At least the piano hasn’t let me down yet.

These last few months, I’ve become quite adept at staying in my apartment for days on end. But around 7:30 that evening I developed some wanderlust, and so set out on foot for the 7-Eleven up the street. It’s a two-block walk, north on the Boulevard and then west on Patterson. The sky was cloudless, the air cool and crisp.

A week earlier, I would have scoffed at seeing Christmas lights, but that night they were appropriate — even welcome. In the parking lot outside the convenience store, I noticed a black 1998 Toyota Corolla and immediately thought of my own car, indistinguishable from that one save for a dent and a missing hubcap.

Briefly, my thoughts turned to how the room keys many of my friends and I were issued freshman year in college opened several different dorm rooms, and so I wondered if the car key in my pocket might work on this identical car.

Even though I’d already read everything I could find that day on Dean Kamen’s pogo stick for people with brittle bones (Seriously, can’t you just see Samuel L. Jackson’s character from “Unbreakable” riding around on one of those things?), I looked for a copy of Time magazine to take back with me, but was unsuccessful.

Armed with a drink and a bag of chips, I headed back toward my condo. Passing by Surfish Station on the way back, I waved to my band’s guitarist, Trip, who works nights there waiting tables.

I ended up taking a longer route home, intending to retrieve a CD from my car before coming inside. Parking is usually impossible along the Boulevard except in the mornings and afternoons, so I had parked on Park Avenue upon returning home Sunday night.

Signs advertising scheduled street cleaning posted along one side of the street told me that parking on the opposite side would be safe, so imagine my surprise upon realizing my car wasn’t where I had left it the night before.

Damn if that side of the street didn’t look clean, though.

Storming back to my apartment, I imagined things I might say to the towing company if given the chance.

“I would have called sooner, but I was busy outside performing delicate surgery. I needed a sterile environment, and well, the street cleaners did such a great job on Park Avenue!”

See, this is now the third or fourth time my car has been towed for the purpose of making life easier for the street cleaners. The first time it happened, I raised holy hell on the phone with the towing company, demanding to have my car returned to where the towers found it.

After calling back the woman who had summarily hung up on me, I mentioned that I worked as a producer for a television station (not a lie, since I did at the time) and I told her I bet our viewers would appreciate knowing how unprofessional that towing company was. I suppose she feared some kind of “60 Minutes”-style confrontation, so that stunt earned me a chauffeured trip to the impound lot to retrieve my car.

I’ve never lost any sleep for throwing my weight around the way I did that night. It’s very easy to stay on my good side, but good luck to you if you’re on my bad side.

I had no threatening-sounding job to back me up this time, so when I called the towing company on December 3, I played it straight. The city of Richmond cleans the streets downtown several times a year, and woe unto you if your car is in the way. The dispatcher at the towing office told me the company had towed over 100 cars that day. Reclaiming yours will set you back $60, or $125 if you believe it should be returned to where the towers found it.

That’s where I have the problem: paying to have it returned. I wonder if I’m paying that $60 fee for the towing or for the impounding. If it’s just for the impounding, I could understand having to pay for that and then having to pay extra to have my car returned to me. If I’m paying that $60 fee to cover just the towing, I don’t think I should have to pay about twice that to have it returned. I didn’t ask to have it towed away in the first place.

Imagine what the world would be like if this “If it’s in my way, it’s mine!” mentality spread beyond street cleaning. Once a week, you’d come into work and find your desk totally cleared off– your cushiony, lumbar-supporting swivel chair missing.

If you’re privileged enough to have an office to yourself, maybe your door would be gone, too. You’d have to trudge down to your employer’s newly mandated Property Reclamation Department and pay hundreds of dollars to get your office supplies back, just because they were in the way of the person who vacuumed and dusted your workspace.

There’s got to be a better way to alert Richmonders that the street cleaners are coming. Signs tacked to trees along streets that aren’t lit very well at night are not the way to go. And the fact that the towing companies seem to be taking a cue from Cheri Oteri’s housecoated “Saturday Night Live” character who claims footballs and the like for her own if they end up on her property is surely not a good sign.

If you’ve got a suggestion, send me an e-mail, and include where you’re from. With your permission, I’ll mention interesting ones in a future Crunchable article.

Article © 2001 by Marshall Norton