Saturday, April 5, 2008

Kidnapped "Veggie Mobile"

(My first horror story contributed by trend-setter Karl Noyes, my former editor at Minnesota Daily)

My towing story comes out of the same vein that I suppose many other (non-consent) towing stories have, out of that fragile freedom known as Being Broke.

I've been all over the world living off dimes: Italy, the Philippines, a day stint in Ireland. I try to get out of the States once a year and 2007 was no exception.

My goal was Venezuela with a clause: no stable employment. Psychological experiments, pawning, dumpster diving were acceptable. Forty hours a week bagging groceries or saying "Welcome to McDonalds" was not.

It was fall. I'd been dumpster diving all summer, eating feasts fit for the mayors and hardcore organic health freaks. I'd been making serious cash from the booming metals market and the occasional garage sale, enough to do a little free lance work preparing to make the Republican National Convention in 2008 one hell of a street party.

By late summer I had made enough to purchase a Golden 1983 Mercedes. I converted it to run on grease in weekend runs to my parents' place. Hoses ran from the engine to a tank installed in the trunk, a dashboard switch allowed one to choose to drive on free grease or Kingsly diesel. Rust was replaced with putty and gold paint. My ticket to Venezuela had exhaust fumes that smelled like French fries.

I brought the car up to Minneapolis on an October Friday and parked it on my street and left for a celebratory weekend with my girlfriend. I returned to an empty parking spot, leaves swirling around as if the car's spirit had remained, "I'm sorry to tell you Karl but...". STOLEN obviously, a souped up Mercedes, steering column ripped open, wires dangling sparking, a window smashed. Damn the thieves, [expletive, rhymes with] the luck.

I reported the car stolen and the lady on the phone suggested I check the impound lot. It happened a lot she said, people calling in to report stolen cars when the cars had been towed. To me to only difference was that the government asked for ransom. But STREET CLEANING?!!! There was no sign when I left on Friday and the street was not clean; the same dead squirrel, the same Mountain Dew bottles looking like petrified neon condoms clogged the gutters.

I tore apart my room for the last $100 I had, I did the last thing I could, I called my parents and together we trudged down to the impound lot. And there we stood in a line that spilled out into the sidewalk. Young sorority girls, a man with a cane, a young woman with three children tugging at pant legs. No lawyers, no doctors.

We weren't at the gates of heaven but waiting, of course, to get into hell. At the window the woman looked distorted behind the 2-inch bullet proof glass.

"Yeah, the car's in there," she said.

I'd heard of what "in there" consisted of, thousands of cars held in jail, crying their chemical tears into the ground, their driving days over, a good number of them belonging to day jobbers that could never afford to get them out. The ransom was well over my $100. We were short so we tried the cards. My dad's debit card failed, his credit card too. My mom's credit cards and a debit card failed, and my debit card failed. My dad spilled change onto the sill and we counted $5.42. My mom came up with an additional dollar and I an additional $0.75. For a lack of $50, Venezuela was going to disappear. We tried the cards again. DECLINED X6. We tried the cards again splitting the $50 charge into small slivers, drudging the bottom of our accounts.

Three things stand out to me as wrong about the towing system in Minneapolis

1. The rules punish the poor WAY more than the rich. Nearing two hundred dollars to get a car out of jail is almost an entire week's worth of pay to the wage worker. Why not a graduated system?

2. The street cleaners posted their signs late Friday, those that left town for the weekend return Monday to find their cars towed. Why not put up street clean signs a week ahead of time like Chicago, NO, Minneapolis uses this to their greedy benefit.

3. The city does not notify victims of towing, further compounding the anxiety of towing. Things are computerized right? Why not an automated dial/email system of "Hello your car has been stolen by Minneapolis?"

I didn't see one tow truck in Venezuela.

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