After successfully evading it in 18 years of driving, my car got towed away for the first time on Thursday night as I was playing with members of my band for our Soul Barkada Lounge jam at the Downtown L.A. ArtWalk.
I arrived at the Spring Street venue at around 6:45 p.m., unloaded my music gear and searched for parking. About four blocks away was a Loading Zone space in front of already-closed businesses by 4th and Los Angeles streets. Seeing that it’s okay to park in a loading zone after business hours, I took the space. Granted, it wasn’t in the most desirable parts of town (read: Skid Row), but I justified it in the fact that I parked immediately behind a Mercedes Benz, and figured that if someone’s car is getting broken into or stolen, it’s not going to be mine (I also always keep my car interior immaculate, with nothing of value in view).
What I didn’t expect was at the end of the night, returning to see not only my car gone, but every car on the street gone. Definitely a “Dude, where’s my car?” moment if there ever was one. With all the cars gone, I finally paid attention to the parking restriction signs: “TOW AWAY ZONE: No Stopping 9pm-6am.”
I called the City’s 3-1-1 information number (as listed on the parking sign) and found my way to the parking enforcement number. To my surprise, there was an operator answering at 12:22 in the morning, who told me my car was at Viertel’s Towing. After calling the tow company, they confirmed they had my car and not only was my car not available to be retrieved until after 7 a.m., but that it would cost me some $246.
Fortunately, Keith, my band’s percussionist, was still around, having finished loading his equipment into his van, when I told him the bad news. Thank God he was still around to give not only me but all my musical gear (and I brought a lot of gear) back home.
Later on Friday afternoon, I rode the Metro Red Line to Union Station and walked about 4 blocks to Viertel’s towing facility on Center Street, right near the L.A. River. Speaking of the Red Line, the portal where the subway trains pop out of the ground and go on to the maintenance yard, is right outside the tow company’s property.
It was fairly routine. The whole place was extremely secure (rightfully so, as lots of people’s cars are stored there), with the sound of their own alarm sirens whooping every five minutes or so. I went into the office, showed them my driver’s license and they had me go to my car and take out my registration. Then they had me sign a few papers, pay the fee (I’m soooo glad they take credit cards, otherwise I’d be screwed), then they asked for my key, where one of their staffers drove my car out and met me outside the gate where I was reunited with my car at last. But then waiting on my car was the actual parking ticket – $80, which was totally separate from the $246 I had to plop down to get my car back.
At the tow yard, there were probably around ten individuals retrieving their car, going through the same process as I. Because of that, I didn’t feel alone in this and the sting of extreme inconvenience was mitigated somewhat.
Some may call it Friday the 13th Bad Luck (technically, the violation occurred on the 12th though, and for me Friday the 13ths are ironically fortuitous days, actually). Maybe it’s the angry Car Culture Gods incurring their wrath on someone who avoids parking, gas and maintenance costs by walking, taking transit or riding his bike whenever possible. Whatever it is, this happens to pretty much everyone, and it just so happened, after 18 years of driving a car, it’s finally happened to me. Besides, it could be much worse: One of my cousins informed me on Facebook that she once had to retrieve her towed car in New York City — after walking19 block walks at 2 in the morning and paying $435. And of course so goes the optimist’s mantra when one’s car has vanished:
“Better towed than stolen.”