Monday, February 2, 2009

The Tow Pound Episode

Life In the Big City
I am writing this story for the many people who have had a similar experience; including the 50 or so people that I spent this time with and felt the same way I did. Consider it a heads up to those of you who own or operate a vehicle in the city, watch out. In any case we should not have to feel abused even if we have to pay a penalty for our failings. After all, “two wrongs……!”

The Journey
I drove into the city to attend a 5:30 pm meeting, not so much because of the time but for expedience – I wanted to keep moving forward toward my final destination for the day. I wanted to get home right after the meeting instead of going back to get the car and then go home. After about 40 minutes of circling the area of my meeting looking for parking, I found this spot which seem to fit the bill; a space for about two vehicles in front of this building on a no parking 7am – 7pm street. This small area had signs which read no parking between 7am and 4:30 pm. By this time it was 5:45. So, cool! I parked, looked up at the sign again to make sure, I was parked right next to the sign post and had a clear and direct view of the sign. This is good, I thought. I put on the club and went running off to my meeting trying to make it as close to 5:30 as possible after it passed.

I returned about 2 hours later to find another car in the exact spot where I parked. There was no mistake, this was a black car, and mine is white. After all, I didn’t ‘touch the stuff’ since I had the wheels. The only conclusion is I was towed. My car is old; it had the club on it, who would steal that? It had to be the cops. After a few phone calls, it was confirmed, my car was towed. At this time I will have to attempt to retrieve the vehicle tomorrow.

I spent the rest of the night and next morning replaying the signs in my mind and trying to understand what the violation was. Why was I towed? It was a valid parking spot. I parked within the time allowed. I have a parking permit. What’s the problem? This whole episode was an enigma to me. I called the authorities again to get more information as to why I was towed but they did not have a reason noted in the system. As I tried to come up with an explanation, I remembered that I had an outstanding parking ticket so I guess that’s the reason.

The Chase
The first step to recover the car was a long trip into the city to pay for the outstanding ticket and obtain a clearance document. With clearance document in hand, travel to the pound area and pay the tow fee and pick up the car. Ok. That was clear. I made my move to follow the process to close this chapter.

The payment center was a fairly decent place and looked welcoming. The clerk at the Payment Center Information counter directed me to the appropriate area. I was called to the window within five minutes. He looked up my information to generate the payment slip. I asked him if the reason for the towing was noted in the record as. He said no. I explained that I was parked legally; I had a permit, so I am not sure why I was towed. He couldn’t figure it out either. Was it the outstanding ticket, was it the parking location? What? He instructed me to go to the pound to get the ticket that was placed on the car when it was towed and return with it to see the judge. I could then request a dismissal thereby eliminating the fee. Hmmm, this might be an answer to the financial fix I was now in.

This must have been the coldest day of the winter thus far. After hopping a train and two buses and a 10 minute walk in gale force winds along the waterfront, I got to the site. As I entered the facility I knew I was in what I call a typical citizen penalty facility – the drab appearance of the facility, malady of the staff and a lot of frustrated citizens. As I approached the window, Window #1, “What is the plate number” was hurled at me. As I responded, the woman behind the window walked away and returned to the window with the paperwork. I attempted to state my case but she cut me off. She instructed me to go back to the payment center, pay for the ticket then return with the clearance document. I was dismissed. I attempted to restate my position and was abruptly cut off with a repeat of her earlier statement, go pay and come back. By this time it was too late for me to get back to the payment center before the end of the work day. Besides I wasn’t feeling well and longed to put my head on my pillow, on my bed. Here comes another day without the car. Here comes an additional fee on the tow amount.

The Odyssey
I returned to the payment center to follow through. The process was orderly and quick; a painless process. So with renewed optimism and zeal to complete this mission, I forged ahead to the tow pound. Entering the Tow Pound on an 18 degree temperature day, the line was to the door. The first line is for window #1. Everything starts there. It could also end there, depending to the issue or her response. My first trip started and ended with Window #1. I was at the door, the last one on the line at the time. The line was moving rather slowly and people kept coming in. Each person marked their place in the line and stood on the side until the line moved. The only other window opened was Window #6 – the cashier. The 2 rows of seats in the place were taken except for 3 seats. There were a couple of people standing, leaning against the wall, waiting to be called. They were all waiting for Window #6. If I thought Window #1 was slow, Window #6 was five times slower and with an attitude bigger than the wait time to approach the Window.

My return and approach to window #1 was met with a slightly different question than my earlier visit. As I approached the window I heard, “what type of vehicle”. As I responded, the attendant walked across the room and returned with a stack of papers. She asked me a couple of questions, checked the documents, asked for my ID and directed me to the seating area to wait to be called. I will be called by Window #6. Everyone sitting and the few standing against the wall were all waiting for Window #6.

Window #6 operator was poised as if she was presiding over her fiefdom. She is the one in control, she calls the plays and if anyone dares to approach the window without being called, whoa Nelly, they’re going to get it. An unsuspecting woman approached Window #6 to ask for clarification. The line for Window #1 was long and no other staff was present. Oh my goodness, what a blow. The woman retreated with her head hung and slid back over to the seating area. She could barely mutter from the shock, “Whoa, she is so nasty.” A tongue lashing and reprimand for darkening her window with without being called. How dare you? “Follow instructions!” Sadly, each un-invited approach added 10 minutes to the wait time for the next call.

As I sat waiting my turn, I wondered what could be the reason for the excessive delay in completing the transaction to be able to get your vehicle. Window #1 checked over the documents, collected the ID’s etc and placed them in the hopper for window #6. Window #6 collects the money and sends you to the pick up area. What else is there to do that takes so much time. I carefully observed the action and interaction as the next ‘victim’ approached the window. There’s the comment, the admonishment, collection and redirection. The receipt is handed to the customer and motioned to the pick up area. As the person walks away from the window, she again inspects, staple, and shuffle the papers some more. She then repositions herself on her seat as if to savor the moment before taking on another payment. She then picks up another paperwork and spent time as if to familiarizing herself with every detail in the document before she calls the owner’s name.

After over an hour in the place, another staff came to sit at another Window, Window #2. This person was about the business at hand. She did not seem to have the self importance or appear to have a need to ‘pose’ for us in the waiting area. She is serving the same function as Window #6 and getting it done. The seats were emptying out. Thank goodness! Fortunately, I was called by Window #2. I was happy because I was setting up for Window #6.

Be aware that driving into the city can be more than hazardous to your health. It can hurt you in your pocket book in more ways than the cost of eating or drinking in the city. Be mindful that if you owe parking tickets, which are the reality in this town, you could get towed even if you are within the limits of the amount to avoid the tow. I do not wish this on anyone but keep in mind that if it happens to you, take a chill pill because you will need it.

The attitude of Window #6 is that of the overworked and under paid city worker who is disgruntled because she has to do the work of several people by her lonesome. “They need to send more people to help”, she muttered as the restlessness of the crowd was heightening. She is the authority, and she will do as much and work as quickly as she pleases. Sadly this is typical of the reason city workers get a bad rep. The assumption and belief that city workers are lazy slackers that are wasting tax payers’ dollars is perpetuated by the Window #6 staff that was present at the time. This is so far from the truth but sadly this behavior is evident at Service Centers where a lot of people encounter city workers. This is not the attitude, belief or practice of most city workers or the majority of workers in the system today, but unfortunately it exists.

Window #6, you are a dinosaur, old school, ineffective, disgusting and an insult to all of the hard working good natured civil service corps. You are a slap in the face of the reform and quality cadre of city workers. You don’t belong and you are doing a dis- service to the tax paying residents of the city and the majority of city workers everywhere. Even if we have to visit such facility as the tow pound, which is another story, we should be treated with respect, you know, the “R” in CPR. Hey, didn’t you get the CPR course? Go do it or get off the seat!

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