Sunday, March 30, 2008
The story about the tow truck companies in California painting curbs red to justify illegal tows inspired me to write this song, sung to the tune of "Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones.
I see yellow curbs, but I want to paint them red
No yellow anymore, I want them to turn red
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
As soon as they are gone, it’s then I start my tows
I see a line of cars; the curbs are still quite yellow
I paint the curbside red, I am a clever fellow
Like newborn babies, I just happen every day
If I can’t tow honestly, I’ll find another way
Cops see a yellow curb as I paint it red
Maybe I’ll take some plea, not have to face the feds
You can't be innocent, when your hands are red
No more will my bank account turn a deeper green
And KESQ is saying what I did was mean
If I look hard enough into the setting sun
I see yellow turning red, but I regret my fun
I see a red curb, but I have to paint it yellow
All part of my plea deal, I have to paint ‘em yellow
I see the girls walk by, dressed in their summer clothes
Convicts won’t be getting love, as any convict knows
I gotta paint it, paint it yellow!
I want to blot the sun from the sky
Burning my neck, beet red
I want to paint myself yellow, lay next to the curb,
Make my escape.
Paint myself! Paint me YELLOW!!!!
Saturday, March 29, 2008
The operators of a Coachella-based business accused of illegally towing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of vehicles, had their trucks seized Friday but were not arrested, although possible charges were pending, authorities said.
(Why weren't they arrested? One criminal appears to have more rights than a thousand motorists)
The owners of Desert Automotive Specialists, located at 84969 Avenue 48, are suspected of violating laws that limit how far a vehicle can be towed, charging motorists exorbitant fees to get their vehicles out of impoundment -- even painting curbs red to justify towing a person's car, according to the Riverside County District Attorney's office.
Charges that may be filed in the case include auto theft, kidnapping, false imprisonment, unlawful towing and vandalism, said Tom Maycomber, supervisor of the consumer fraud unit in the D.A.'s office.
(Kidnapping? It sounds like they towed a car that was occupied!)
He noted that most of the victims were primarily Spanish-speaking and elderly people who were unlikely to contact police out of fear or embarrassment.
(It's usually the persons of modest income who suffer from abusive non-consent towing practices)
"(The tow company) started off small, and over time became emboldened and got greedy," said Maycomber.
He said he expected charges to be filed within three weeks.
The tow company owners and any employees who cooperated with their scheme could face up to three years in prison, he said.
Maycomber appeared with Palm Springs Police Chief David Dominguez at the
Dominguez said tow trucks were seized, along with business records and other assets associated with the outfit.
Most of the illegal towing occurred over a three-year period in apartment complexes, trailer parks and in busy areas of
Dominguez said anyone concerned they may have had their car illegally towed by the company can go to any
All this info comes from KESQ, and here is a link to their original story.
I interviewed Councilman Paul Roales by email about what happens now in West Lafayette, since Roales' proposed ordinance failed on a split vote.
Q: So what happens now?
Roales: I made some significant changes in response to public comments and I bring it right back on the April agenda.
Q: I see your proposed ordinance failed to pass by a narrow margin, and the swing vote seems like somebody who could be brought over to your side. Your thoughts?
Roales: Gerald Thomas, the one Democrat who did not vote for the ordinance, expected to vote for it when he walked into the Council chambers. There was a lot of confusion around what the rates should be set at and his vote was lost as part of the confusion.
Q: I guess that's my big question. What now? And is there any other way to curb these abuses besides the ordinance? For example, an article I read alluded to a potential lawsuit. I'd love to get contact information for THAT guy and ask him some questions. Oh, actually, I'd love to get a copy of the lawsuit if one has been filed.
Roales: Dan Frein [Roales provides his email] was the student who filed the lawsuit against the towing companies.
Q: It's also not clear to me...are these vehicles going to an impound lot controlled by the city? Is that lot run well, or are there complaints from the students about the lot as well as the towing companies?
Roales: They are going to lots run by the companies that do the towing.
Q: Finally, did you LIKE my previous blog entry?
Roales: Very good, I appreciate that you are giving this issue visibility.
SNEAK PEAK OF THINGS TO COME: I hope to find out more about the Frein lawsuit and what legal theories are being used to stop abusive towing, and if this strategy could be more broadly applied on a national basis. West Lafayette is small, but it is a model of fighting abusive non-consent towing practices.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Few cities seem to have such a fierce battle over
non-consent towing issues as little West Lafayette,
Indiana, the home of Purdue University.
After my Google searches turned up one article
after another mentioning West Lafayette, I
contacted City Councilman Paul Roales,
who is the champion and defender of
college students on that spot of the earth
where tow trucks once roamed with impunity,
towing willy-nilly left and right until Roales
took on the bullies.
Below is Roales' reply, his outlook on towing issues
in West Lafayette.
I have been working on towing issues in West Lafayette for over a year
now. Long before my campaign for a seat on the West Lafayette City
Council I started thinking about the issues I saw in my community and
starting working on possible solutions.
Overly aggressive and unnecessary towing quickly became a key issue
that I believed absolutely needed to be fixed for the City of West
Lafayette to improve the quality of life in our community. West
Lafayette is a university town, with over 50% of our population full
time students at Purdue University. Tow trucks were aggressively
patrolling student apartment parking lots, patrolling them at all hours
of the day looking for any car they could possibly tow.
Often the cars that were towed, were not cars that were creating
problems, but instead were vehicles that were resting in nearly empty
parking lots during breaks like Christmas Break. it was clear that
much of the towing going on was not driven by concerns about parking,
but driven instead by how much profit could be made by removing the
A sample from my campaign website -
Problem – Student's Cars Are Getting Towed Unnecessarily
Solution – Enforce Laws to Eliminate Predatory Towing From West Lafayette
Currently the towing companies in West Lafayette are
acting with reckless abandon, towing every single car they can find
parked in an apartment parking lot without a sticker. Even when the
parking lot of an apartment building is nearly empty student cars are
being towed simply to make a profit for the towing companies.
We must eliminate this predatory towing of student cars. Currently in
West Lafayette there is a law that says a police officer must be present
for a car to be towed. This law is currently ignored by the towing
I am working hard to force the towing companies to follow
this law. Forcing the towing companies to have a police officer
respond will reduce the number of student cars that get towed. No
longer will cars that have stickers that fall off be towed. No longer
will cars parked in parking lots nearly empty be towed. No longer will
the tow trucks be allowed to simply take cars and force the owners to
Instead, students will be able to keep their hard-earned money
and avoid the frustration of having their cars towed by predatory
Today, I am working on a new ordinance that will help regulate the
maximum towing rates that could be charged and help clarify the rules
around what is legal towing. In clarifying the towing laws of West
Lafayette I hope that compliance with parking laws will increase and
that less profit-driven towing will occur.
Here is an article from The Exponent, Purdue's student paper,
about how towing hurts local businesses:
Roales' proposed ordinance failed to pass on a narrow vote.
However, Roales vowed to raise the issue again in the
Though calling attention to the abusive practices has
been helpful to Roales student constituents, and may
have helped curb some of the abuses, right now the battle
appears bogged down in West Lafayette.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
My former editor at the Minnesota Daily, Karl Noyes, talked me into buying the domain name "Towing Utopia dot com." He knows a lot about this kind of thing, and once made $1,700 by snapping up the domain name "Johnkerrysucks.com."
Here are two artsy-fartsy pictures of Karl I found on the internet. My little tribute to Karl, who has also been giving me great technical tips. (Doesn't the bigger picture make him look like he is "becoming one" with some kind of ethereal internet wires or something?) One thing Karl does is to dumpster dive books to support a literacy project in the Philippines. Here is a link to that:
Like Karl suggested, this domain name will work better to publicize the blog, since it's much easier to remember. In fact, I went out and purchased some metallic stick-on letters, and advertised the blog on the back of my 1988 Celebrity, the Vernie Mobile. I'll take pictures at some point and post that.
In order to make the letters stand out, I used a Phillips screwdriver to remove the words "Celebrity" on the vehicle, and then hit it with some white spray paint I had in the vehicle for those times I want to spontaneously paint over graffiti while, for example, doing my laundry in Frog Town.
What can I say? It's that kind of vehicle. I did this right in the parking lot of Menard's after the frustrating light rail meeting, described elsewhere.
Friday, March 21, 2008
SUMMARY OF POINTS:
1.) Lack of meaningful public participation in the committee meeting.
2.) Elimination of on-street parking is creating a potential "towing
3.) The future: one of the side streets made into a one-way,
elimination of even MORE parking, loss of low-income housing
replaced by daily and hourly parking lots.
Dear Central Corridor Community Advisory Committee,
This blog entry is both a report on what I witnessed at the meeting of February 20, 2008, plus input (or an "open letter") about the proposed light rail line.
For more on my view on how the project is creating a potential "towing nightmare," see previous post.
I read about the meeting in the Pioneer Press and noticed the convenient location. As one person posted on the comments page to the Pioneer Press article, the meeting was probably held at Goodwill because there is plenty of free parking right along Fairview Avenue. How ironic that a plan set to eliminate so much parking needs a location with plenty of it. But I'm not griping about the elimination of parking spots along University Avenue, only the abusive towing practices which I am certain will result. (See previous post)
Public participation? NOT TRUE
When I first arrived at the meeting, and was the very first to sign the attendance sheet, I asked one and only one question: would members of the public be allowed to speak at the meeting? I was told that sometimes took place at the end of the meeting if there was time. I have heard this line at so many public meetings and yet somehow I always fall for it. Call me a dreamer. Even sitting there and reviewing the minutes of the previous meeting, I should have realized the lack of opportunities for the public to give input, but I still sat there for two hours, hoping for an opportunity to speak for, at a maximum, one minute.
It appears when public comment is wanted, a special "listening meeting" will be scheduled. However, I don't think "listening" is something that should be specially scheduled, at a time a committee feels is convenient for the committee. Government "listening" is something which should take place all the time. An opportunity for the public to speak at public meetings which concern their fates and their futures should be STANDARD at all government meetings, at least at the municipal and county level where the time would most likely be utilized by grassrots members of the public, instead of (for example) professional Washington D.C. lobbyists.
They don't speak for ME
Supposedly the members of the committee represent me. But I didn't see one committee member I knew beforehand, nor do I recall any opportunity to vote for these committee members. So they did not represent me BEFORE I heard their views, and AFTER hearing their views such as a cranky rant about the need to crack down hard on rampant jaywalking, I can now confirm 100 percent no member of the committee represents my views.
In fact, I saw very little evidence members of the committee have the expertise to comprehend the light rail information being put before them, though heaven knows they appear to be trying. What I remember most about the meeting was Anne White, of the District Councils Collaborative, stating that she was forced to file official requests for information, by which I assume requests under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.
What's up with LACK OF ACCESS?
Repeatedly, I heard Anne White asking for "access" to information, such as the technical reports on which the plans were based, and the results of interviews with local businesses about their concerns. If members of the committee are not getting information easily and quickly about the light rail, then what is the purpose of the committee? Window dressing?
I may not share Anne White's concerns about the elimination of parking--at least, I am not concerned in precisely the same way--but if these members of the committee can't get the information they need to inform themselves and their grassroots constituency, then I have to question if the committee is a "committee" at all, or just an elaborate pretense to create the illusion of public input.
Dr. Park And Mr. Hide
Besides the difficulty Anne White voiced in getting the information needed to fulfill her role,
I was also struck by a phrase uttered by one of the other committee members: "Park and
Instead of using a "Park and Ride" location, the changes brought about by the light rail will apparently encourage the practice of "Park and Hide," where individuals find places in nearby residential neighborhoods to park, then catch a light rail to their destination.
This strikes me as realistic. In fact, I have done the same thing myself, driving my vehicle about a mile to a location near a No. 16 bus stop, and leaving it there to catch the bus. The practice is so rampant near the University of Minnesota (especially the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood) residents don't even bother to complain. Indeed, most of the residents are student renters, anyway, and less prone to complain. This is another reason it is a perfect "Park and Hide" situation.
What am I, a CHAIR?
But back to the meeting. I had hope for a minute when the oh-so-perky chair of the meeting said she was going to take time to "go around the room" and take comments. However, by "the room" she actually meant the members of the committee seated at the tables, and not those of us who were physically IN THE ROOM.
I guess we had somehow become INVISIBLE through the mysterious process of having a "representative" at the table, since we weren't even included in a phrase such as "the room."
If I'd had an opportunity to speak for one minute, this is what I would have said:
Think beyond the elimination of parking to what happens next, which is citizens getting towed as they fight like feral dogs for the remaining scraps of parking. Imagine what happens in the neighborhoods as people engage in--and thank you so much for the phrase ma'am--"park and hide" practices. Residents are going to be complaining about those vehicles, making demands for vehicles to be towed away.
What have you done to modernize your towing and impound lot system? Cars get towed and caught in that system for days. Low income people suffer, and there are a lot of low income people who will be using the light rail, but might be parking their vehicles. If this is supposed to help the low income people, how are you helping them by creating a towing nightmare?
Yes, put through the light rail. And I'm not mourning about the loss of parking. But consider the towing nightmare you're creating and how can the City of St. Paul make its towing system less brutal, less random, less expensive for all concerned?
Also, though nobody likes to say it--and I don't like to say it, either--it seems inevitable you will need to take one of the side streets next to University and make it into a one-way, eliminating even MORE parking.
Also, you're setting up a situation where low-income housing is likely to get torn down and made into daily and hourly parking lots. It is possible to churn more money out of one of those lots with paid parking than with rentals, if you know what you're doing. I say this as a former rental property manager. With the housing market in a 30-year slump, this is right where your plan seems to be heading.
Zoning be damned, the paid parking lot folks will push for and obtain variances, especially if they're tearing down blighted housing. Folks are likely to view a parking lot as a temporary situation which will later give way to better development. And how much political power do low-income renters have, anyway, when even businesses owners are powerless to stop the light rail which is--dare I say?--barreling down on them like a train.
I don't see anybody articulating these ideas, and I wasn't allowed to articulate them at the meeting. But here they are.
That's what I would have said.
Oh, and then of course I would have plugged my blog, with its rocking new domain name: www.towingutopia.com
So there you have my input, dear members of the committee, though I was forced to take the long way around.
1.) Nobody seems to perceive the "towing nightmare" shaping up
due to elimination of parking spots along light rail route.
2.) "Merging" of lanes is utterly impractical with buses stopping in
the right lane, especially with time delays due to disabled
3.) Run one No. 16 bus one block off University. Create a one-way
street on the less-developed side. Eliminate MORE parking,
According to the Pioneer Press, St. Paul's light rail plan will mean the loss of at least 625 parking spots. If more stations are added--which many are hoping for and pushing for--as many as 985 parking spots could be lost.
Am I the only one who sees a massive "towing nightmare" shaping up?
Who mourns a frog?
This article talked about a meeting taking place, and I noticed it was conveniently located at one of my favorite thrift stores, where I have purchased--for example--the cool Star Wars light saber my little son calls "Mr. Stabby."
When my son has weekend visitation, and we go to sleep in my deluxe apartment not far from St. Paul's notorious "Frog Town" neighborhood, I sleep with my baseball bat--"Froggy Frogtown"--and my son sleeps with his toy light saber, "Mr. Stabby."
The light rail is going to run right through the heart of Frogtown and--like a frog in science class--I suspect that beating heart will be cut right out, as a kind of "sacrifice" for some notion of "progress" for "the greater good."
Not that I'm opposed to light rail. I'm very much in favor of it. But to pretend it won't change the core of those communities through which it will run...naive at best, and outright deception at worst. Some of those businesses, like the thrift stores and the small ethnic eateries, simply won't survive. The property values will go up, and the all-too-earthy aspects of Frog Town and Midtown will become yuppiefied and gentrified.
Which is good. Portions of Frog Town are really scary. When I drive through with my son, we play a game called "spot the dealers." The Midtown area isn't much better.
I see the future, and it's a traffic jam
But anyway...I went to the meeting of the Central Corridor Community Advisory Committee, which was held in a very nice community room. I learned a lot about the proposed light rail, including why eliminating so much parking was virtually unavoidable, and turning the street into two lanes was equally necessary.
The technical explanations made sense. In fact, after watching a video simulation of driving down the future University Avenue, I was in favor of eliminating even MORE parking. The idea that two lanes would become one lane in order to save parking spots...it just struck me as a nightmare and numerous fender benders waiting to happen. GET RID OF ALL THE PARKING on University Avenue, I say, and ram the light rail down the middle.
Plus the idea that buses would simply STOP in the right lane and traffic would wait behind...well, I've seen that along Fourth Street near Dinkytown, and it leads to accidents, near misses, and high levels of frustration. Bad idea.
I've seen times it takes as much as five minutes to get a disabled passenger on or off the bus due to awkward wheelchair movement and things that go wrong as the driver tries to secure the disabled passenger. It's not unheard of for two passengers in wheelchairs to get on together, or exit together, or for one to exit while another enters. It can take a LONG time. Traffic is going to be backed up from Transfer Road all the way back to the State Capitol, I swear.
Honestly, Metro Transit should run one of the No. 16 buses one block off University, at least on the less developed side. Turn that streets into a one way. And, yes, eliminate even MORE parking. There's really no other way around the problem. Are you hoping people will live with the problem for a few years and then demand changes? Because that's the situation I see being created with present plans.
Your fish decal won't stop a tow
So begins the towing nightmare. Parking in that area is already a brutal game of "survival of the fittest," and now St. Paul is poised to eliminate (at a minimum) 625 spots and could eliminate, potentially, 985. Meanwhile, both St. Paul and Minneapolis are engaged in abusive towing practices which--as the previous St. Paul horror story makes clear--appear to especially target low-income people who lack off-street parking.
Every time there is a s0-called snow emergency, St. Paul already tows ONE THOUSAND CARS. Now the situation appears poised to become WORSE.
The parking may very well need to be eliminated. I am not arguing in favor of keeping more parking or using productive land for nothing more than spots to stash vehicles. Though "my identity is all tangled up in my wheels" I am appalled at "car culture" ruining the world.
But abusive towing has got to stop, and where I see St. Paul heading is a towing nightmare.
More on the meeting itself in another post.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
In addition to the blurb in City Pages, Towing Utopia got radio publicity a few days ago.
I was heading to Alexandria on Interstate 94 to see my brother and have him put a muffler on the Vernie Mobile, since the old muffler, um, FELL OFF from all the rust...and it was about 6 a.m., with lots of blowing snow. A local radio station was asking motorists for a weather report.
So I pulled to the side of the road and gave them a report, complete with funny commentary on getting passed by trucks all the time, kicking up snow, since my car was such a piece of crap but, like my brother says, "You just can't kill a Celebrity."
No, you don't get up in the morning and say "Today, I will kill a Celebrity." It takes thought. Planning. Much effort. A little luck. A Celebrity will keep going forever.
After I gave the weather report, I made a nice segue to the problems University students have with towing when it snows. The female DJ--there is always a female DJ to go with a male counterpart, isn't there, a female DJ with a voice like "honey on the rocks"--agreed, and said her friends at the University of Minnesota were always suffering from getting towed.
So, yeah, I totally plugged the blog. The "towing utopia" movement is building. I also talked to my old Daily editor, Karl Noyes, who had some good ideas about building site traffic.
St. Paul wants to tow me. Bad.
But I am still one step ahead of them.
A couple days ago, a police officer chalked the tires on my car where it was parked in front of my apartment. My landlord's brother was on the porch, having a smoke as they work on fixing stuff around the duplex, and for a moment he thought the officer was chalking HIS tires, since our cars look so much alike. He has actually stuck the key in the door of my car before and--I confessed to him today--vice versa.
So Landlord's Brother Whose Name I Can't Remember said to the officer, "Hey, why are you chalking the tires? That thing moves all the time. Sometimes it's parked over there (points down the block) sometimes up there (points up the block) but it does move."
The officer shrugged and said, "I have to make sure."
My landlord Doug was nice enough to call me and warn me to move my car. Gee, what a concept. CALLING the person and warning them to move their car or get towed. So why can't cities do something like that?
Off-street parking...or mud wrestling?
Doug urged me to use the off-street parking behind the house, but I told him I would just move it down the block. The other tenants use the off-street parking, and I didn't want to interact with them in regard to my 1988 Celebrity, (the "Vernie Mobile") which is truly a piece of crap, but through such economizing as driving a $200 vehicle I've saved enough to buy a house in North Minneapolis this month.
So I said I'd move the car down the block. And Doug seemed a little miffed that I refused his hospitality, his offer to allow my car in the muddy back yard, and warned me the tow trucks would get me, sooner or later, with the kind of tone he uses when demanding I secure the deadbolt or violent hooligans would bust inside and go "Clockwork Orange" on me with "a bit of the old ultra-violence."
I parked down the block. I wiped the tire marks off with a hunk of snow. And while researching the last blog entry, I discovered--good grief--I'm signed up for the email snow emergency alerts from St. Paul, but I was NOT signed up for the phone alerts. Here is the St. Paul website:
Now go figure. Since I'm signed up for the email alerts, why didn't they send an email asking, "Hey, would you also like to get PHONE ALERTS?"
Like Blondie said: CALL ME!
On the bright side, spring is making headway against Minnesota winter, and though I heard we might get hit hard with snow one more time, we are nearly out of the very worst part of the towing season.
But if we have one more snow emergency before it is all over, I will find out if those phone alerts actually reach my phone. I have serious doubts. When U of M set up a text message alert system for the all-too-frequent bomb scares, it was subsequently discovered to have serious issues. In short, not everybody was being alerted. Here is the link to that story, and a fine job as usual by the Minnesota Daily.
Text U Service Doesn't Alert All
But, really, if they can alert the whole city about a snow emergency, why can't individuals be told before their car gets towed? And as a sensible interim measure, I really have to endorse the idea of a website where I could find my car if it gets towed.
In the meantime...like so many other citizens of St. Paul, I am "playing footsie" with the tow trucks. When I move to North Minneapolis, it will be footsie time up there.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
I located the following "non-consent towing horror story" on this blog:http://ninjatales.wordpress.com/category/minneapolis/
The horror story is notable for its "class consciousness."
St Paul Snow Plowing and Ticketing Rules are a SCAM 11 01 2008
First of all, on Wednesday night around 9:30pm, Kaci’s car got ticketed due to the “Snow Emergency” that was in effect while she had her Tiburon parked out on the streets. We’d just gone out to eat at around 8:30 and got back at 9:45 to see a plastic packet under the wipers. $45 because the side of the street she was on was a “Night Plowing Route” but we didn’t know it was cuz of the lack of signs. So well she got her ticket and the Night Plow starts at 9PM and goes on till 6AM but the streets weren’t plowed at all. Below is a picture of the street after she moved her car to a WEST-EAST street (Buford Avenue) where I parked my Civic.
If we thought that was injustice, imagine my surprise when I went to move my car at 9:30am the next morning to the spot in front of the house. Kaci had left late in the evening so her car was gone which is fine but my car was missing as well. One side of the street was plowed while the side where my car was parked wasn’t. WTH is going on here? I thought only the streets with the “Night Plow Route” signs were plowed. Buford Avenue (East-to-West street) didn’t have any signs.
As you can see in the above pic, there are treads of my car and it looks like it was dragged since I had my hand-brake on which effectively locks the rear wheels on a front-wheel drive car. Now I couldn’t be sure if my car was towed by the City of St. Paul/Minneapolis or if it was stolen. So logged onto the internet and found this website relating to “snow emergency” procedures. Clicking around told me that Day Plow Routes had no signs and would be in effect from 8am to 5pm. That is stupid. If there are no signs, they should at least have the courtesy of leaving my car behind or the $45 ticket fine on the windshield.
Now like I said, I didn’t know if my car was stolen or if the city had towed it away since my side of the street hadn’t been plowed. Somehow, I found this # 651-603-6895 (for St Paul towing) to dial which was supposed to take me to the office involved with the towing. Dialed it a million times to see if they had my car in the impound lot but nobody’s picking up the phone. A whole hour of dialing and not a single person picking the line and there’s no voice-mail feature either. How annoying. There was another # on the website 651-603-8695 which would lead me to a “This number is no longer in service” message.
Finally fed-up, I logged onto the official City of St Paul main website and called their Customer Service # 6510603-8989. A lady answered the phone and diverted me to this # 651-487-4700 saying that was the direct line. I told her that the City of St Paul needed to hire someone part-time to answer the phone because it’s driving a lot of people to frustration to which she told me to apply online. Then she thanked me and told me she was transferring me to the # she advised me because she couldn’t help any further on the matter. Transferred but no pick-up. Called up the # 651-487-4700 but no answer to the line again. Called the 603-6895 number multiple times and switching between the 487-4700 line every few attempts.
Finally, a rather rude lady answered the phone. I asked to confirm if my car was in the lot and she said she didn’t have that ability. Then I asked her what was required to get back my car if in the event that it wasn’t stolen and the city had indeed impounded it. Her requirements included a valid driver’s license, valid auto insurance, and the vehicle title. She said there would be a $45 charge for the ticket, $191 for towing, and $5 for using a check or debit card if payment wasn’t made in cash. The ticket was an automatic if your car got towed I guess. I told her that my insurance card had me printed as the owner and that was why I probably wouldn’t need my car title to which she responded saying that if I had recently sold my car, the insurance card would still say I was the owner. There was no way to verify if I was the owner.
Now I was calm and polite the whole time as I was talking to her while she was yapping angrily away at me as though I was the devil himself. I argued that my title was at home an hour and a half up north and I couldn’t possibly get there without my car. She told me that I could buy a duplicate title from the DMV which would set me back around $15 or $35. I asked her if I could get it for free since it’s only something that shows I’m the owner and she said I HAD TO BUY the duplicate title. So very unhelpful. I took down the address information for the nearest DMV in St Paul and the impound lot.
Then I then told her the same thing that I told the lady at the CSR line for the city - they needed a part-time person to pick up the phone on the other line to which she told me to look for jobs on the website if I was looking for a job. I told her there were no job postings for it so she should add it herself. She told me she would add it only if she was told to do it by her supervisors and if she were me, she would purchase the title from the DMV to get back the car. Before she hung up abruptly, she didn’t even have the professionalism to say this magical accepted phrase - “Have a great day!” What a bitch! I was now seriously pissed-off.
The girlfriend came to the rescue. Drove me to the DMV first to purchase my title. On the way, I called the good folks out at the DMV (651-292-9791) located above Sears in St Paul near the Capital building and a very pleasant speaking lady in sharp contrast to the person behind the line told me that I could have it printed for free as long as it’s just a document showing I was the owner. Got there and waited for 30 minutes. Called the line again and the same lady informed that since I was only there for a print-out, I could go to the far-right corner and pick it up. And I picked it up. Had her stamp it just to make it official. Hope she gets a raise.
We drove off to find a WellsFargo ATM and found one at a gas station. My stupid Gold debit card wasn’t working. Thankfully, Kaci’s WellsFargo card worked and I withdrew $200 and already had $50 in my wallet in cash so that was good. Off to the impound lot.
Then drove over to “1129 Cathlin St, St. Paul, MN” to pick up the car. Dang. A long line already outside the small building and the temperature was in the teens and light snow flakes making their way down. Everybody was cold and miserable. Good thing Nima was there to keep me company along with fleeting broken conversations of the grumbling nature. As we were waiting, the line kept getting longer and longer. Around 500 people in the compound as more and more tow-trucks came in with more cars hauled in. A news crew came over but the security people hustled them outside. They kept filming from outside the compound. Everybody and myself including appeared disgruntled. Bad day to be outside waiting to pay $240 and pick up our car. It’s almost like the line to go purchase a Nintendo Wii. After about nearly 2 hours outside, finally got inside the building. Another long line there with people waiting to pay their $240.
Get this now. Inside, a security officer was announcing saying that if no driver’s license, you needed a title to the car. If you did have a driver’s license with insurance, you won’t need the title. There were large signs also saying the same thing. That stupid rude lady on the phone either lied to me or doesn’t know what the frak she was talking about.
Finally, my turn after nearly 3 hours. Here’s the breakdown of the towing charges contrary to what the news incorrectly reported as $122 in total fines a few weeks before this incident.
1. Tow Charge: $123.07 (Average towing charges should range from $25-75. Those liars.)
2. Storage Charge: $0.00 (Thank God I went there on the first day)
3. Admin Charge: $55.00 (To pay all the grumpy employees.)
4. Sales Tax: $12.46 (WTF man. Sales Tax for paying your stupid fines?)
5. Service Charge: $0.00 (Now what the heck could this be? Doing an Oil Change?)
6. Total Charges: $190.53
Then they slapped the $45 ticket onto it pushing it up to $235.53 for towing my car. Around me, clerks were squabbling about pennies with some of the poorer people who had their cars towed. Very sad picture.
Below is a picture of my car after I brought it back. It looked so pretty and I was so glad to be able to see it again that I had to take a picture. So now here it is for all to see while at the same time, it’s increasing my desire to one day look into the eyes of all the people responsible for my horrible day and see where they’re at someday in the future when I’m making a 6-figure income. Here’s to hoping karma acts as a catalyst in making my dreams come true.
And all this happened the day before I was to leave Minnesota for Florida which added to the high levels of stress I was already experiencing due to Northwest Airlines not having a seat ready for me on all my flights to and from Orlando.
So if ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to call 651-266-PLOW or 651-266-7569 (for QWERTY keypad phone users) to find up to date info on snow emergencies and plowing routes.
If there is one thing I learned from this event, it is that the laws of this nation are out there to protect the interests of those in power. In my case, this poorly thought-out “snow emergency” rule is a constraint only to the poor and lower income citizens who can’t afford to own a garage or secure a private parking lot. So not only are the poor targeted by this snow-emergency law, the rules ensure that if the poor people who had their cars towed are unable to come up with $236 in cash (which should be easy right?), they have to wait outside for a considerable amount of time in the nail-biting cold, and still made to pay an additional $5 penalty for using a bank debit card or a check.
Yea, let’s put them in their place. Let them know that they’re the lower-class citizens and that they deserve to be punished. We should ensure they get stuck in that position by having them lose more money, so we will never have to worry about them making as much money as us. Cuz you know, it would sure suck to have an ordinary person driving a brand new Lexus or BMW and pulling up next to us at a traffic stop. Yea. Let’s strip them of any dignity left in them by taking all their money and humiliating them by making them stand outside in the cold. That should be enough to make them disillusioned enough to never make it big.
Further commentary: one can't help but compare life in Florida to life in St. Paul. What will make people willing to move here and put up with our severe winters if this kind of surprise towing is so much a part of life in Minneapolis-St. Paul?
| Here is another article I found about Councilman Schiff's proposed cap on towing fees. This is a great article which takes a very frank tone about the issues. |
Minneapolis considers cap for towing fees in city
by: Dan Haugen
Thu Mar 06, 2008 at 10:10:07 AM
|Why in the world does it cost $280 to get your car out of the impound lot after it's been towed for a parking violation? It's a question Minneapolis city council members started probing yesterday afternoon, albeit without much success.|
Council Member Gary Schiff has proposed an ordinance amendment (pdf) that would cap towing companies' fees at the amount the city charges for comparable "services," around $150. Right now, the fees are unregulated. A public hearing was held at Wednesday's Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee meeting.
Al Garcia, an attorney for Cedar Towing, handed out a list of expenses that go into the magic number, things like fuel, taxes and payroll. But the breakdown was vague enough that it raised more questions from the committee than it answered. Said Council Member Don Samuels: "These figures don't mean anything."
People paying towing fines, as Council Member Paul Ostrow noted during the discussion, aren't "customers" in the traditional sense. When you leave your car where it's not supposed to be, you don't get to comparison shop which tow company hauls it off. So the only real incentive to maintain reasonable rates, it appears, is to avoid being so outlandish that too many angry tow victims call their council members to complain and demand action. And here we are.
Garcia argued the city's rate isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, because private towing companies have more expenses. Private impound lots, for example, are required to be open 24-hours-a-day and need to hold vehicles 45 days before auctioning them off. The city's lot isn't open all day and it can sell unclaimed vehicles after 15 days. Schiff moved to continue the towing discussion after the city can do more research about how private companies' expenses compare to those of the city.
(Since StarTribune links either go dead or end up at a "subscription page," I'm reproducing the entire column and inserting my commentary in red letters)
Bill would give those living in cars right to last few possessions
By NICK COLEMAN, Star Tribune
Last update: March 12, 2008
They let Tony Ruston take a shoe. One shoe.
He wasn't alone in his choice of four-wheeled domiciles.
A growing number of people live in cars these days, forced out of their homes by foreclosures, too poor to find a place to sleep other than their back seat. But when you live on the street, or park your life on one, you can lose everything to a tow truck.
(One columnist in Seattle has written rather extensively about the issue of the "automotive homeless)
That's why advocates for the homeless are hoping to win passage of a law in the Legislature that would let the homeless retrieve their belongings from vehicles in impound lots, even if they can't pay to get the car back. The House author, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, calls it, "The Let-people-get-their-stuff Bill."
(You can't lose with a name like THAT!)
Hornstein says it is a matter of "simple human dignity" and says the current law, which allows impound lots to auction vehicles with all their contents, does not take into account the fact that people living in their cars can suddenly find themselves deprived of their records, their medications, their keepsakes and sometimes even their children's homework.
It's a throwback to feudal times when the king could take your cow, burn down your hut and throw you into the ditch.
(Have I not been SAYING this? Car owners get treated like serfs. Getting your car towed can be worse than a night in jail)
That's pretty much how
His truck held his tools, his clothes, his papers, his mother's funeral program -- the only photo he had of his late mom, Lois, and a souvenir bell she had kept since she was 13.
It's all gone now, except for one shoe that workers at the
"Even if it was only fifty bucks, I can't get that kind of money,"
At the time,
(Oh, how kind. One shoe would only be useful to the guy with the other shoe)
The truck was auctioned later, its contents vanished. Most likely, they were trashed by the new owner of the pickup.
It happens all the time.
"Most of these things are valuable to nobody but their owners, but they are all just destroyed," says Ron Elwood, a legal aid lawyer who is one of the advocates arguing for a law change. "It's idiotic: Pictures of grandparents, keepsakes, Christmas presents. We even heard of a case where they wouldn't give a wheelchair back. We want the law changed so that if you're poor, or you're homeless -- and you can prove it -- you can get your stuff."
(Confession: I bought a repo vehicle once at a private car lot. I found some personal photos in it, and some paperwork. I mailed them to the previous owner of the vehicle. There are plenty of decent people in this world)
The change in the law has been discussed for several years without getting anywhere because some towing companies fear they would lose "leverage" over owners of impounded cars if they can reclaim their belongings. But the opposition has faded as awareness has grown of the problem, and the bill was approved Wednesday by a House subcommittee and will be considered today by the full House Transportation Finance Committee. On Friday, it will get a hearing before a Senate committee, and passage is expected.
The timing, unfortunately, is good: Homelessness is rising as foreclosures continue and a recession arrives. Every night, 1,000 people -- one out of eight homeless persons -- are unable to find shelter. Others are sleeping in cars.
"This is a common problem," says Michael Dahl, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, who testified in support of the bill yesterday. "It may seem like small potatoes, when you are talking about ending homelessness. But when people lose everything they have -- wallets, IDs, even credit cards -- it makes a bad situation worse.(And it's not just a cost to the owner...it drags down the whole society)
"It makes it harder for them to get out of it."
"Many people are a paycheck away from a bad situation," says Elwood. "We have a perfect storm to increase the number of homeless."
"They didn't give me nothing except my shoe," he says. "I was angry. That truck was my only connection to any kind of independence. They took it away from me. They even took my mother's picture."
Friday, March 14, 2008
issues. I'm still on the hunt for the video that will "go viral"
and get everybody excited about these issues.
Girls going to impound lot with $300
"Secret tour" of massive Chicago impound lot
A car owner going crazy and fighting a tow
A tow truck ride to jail. Audio is bad, but I'm sure it's the
standard plea for mercy...unheeded as usual.
A towing documentary, including "Judge Judy"
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Towing Utopia got its first piece of "above ground" publicity today in the City Pages, with a blurb appearing right below a bigger blurb about a horny dolphin, as follows:
Off the hook
John Hoff's vendetta against the towing industry began on a snowy evening in February of last year. At 23:27 TNT (Towing Nazi Time, as Hoff puts it), his beloved 1990 Dodge Grand Caravan, known as "T-Bone Dream," was towed from Walnut Street Southeast. (Please note: Though the phrase "Towing Nazi" was in the column of March, 2007, I have since avoided using that phrase because I don't want to minimize or make light of things the Nazis did, and I have vowed to never use the phrase again)
The University of Minnesota grad student recounted this particular encounter in a column in The Minnesota Daily shortly afterward. "Squirrels do not gather nuts with such rabid speed as these tow trucks gather their victims," he wrote.
But his gnawing anger hasn't dissipated in the ensuing year. So last week Hoff started a blog, TowingUtopia, dedicated to chronicling the miseries of the impound lot.
"I've checked and as far as I can tell there's nobody on the internet that's just bitching about towing," says Hoff. "Getting towed can be worse than spending a night in jail." —Paul Demko
This is small, but it is a start. It shows me this blog is on the right track. In fact, I've already turned up a horror story or two right here in the Twin Cities, and it won't be difficult to get more. Send the horror stories!
In between cramming for midterms, I spent a lot of time on YouTube in the debate about the puppy-tossing Marine. (Bad, bad, bad) Comparing the time I spent there to another YouTube controvery that sucked me in, the Utah Taser incident, I figured this out:
VIDEO, BABY!!!! It's all about video. What would really set off the kind of national debate needed about non-consent towing issues would be video documenting what citizens suffer, especially the frustrating process of simply trying to LOCATE and RETRIEVE one's automobile. So if there's video out there...I want it, and I certainly have a YouTube account, so I'm quite capable of posting it where it will be seriously scrutinized and commented upon.
THANKS PAUL DEMKO YOU ROCK!
Me and the dolphin are very happy together, thanks.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
The mission of this blog might soon receive a major boost from City Pages, a Twin Cities weekly "alternative" publication.
Writer Paul Demko contacted me out of the blue after I posted on his blog. We had a great conversation, and it sounds like there will be a little blurb in City Pages soon letting people know they can send their non-consent towing horror stories RIGHT HERE, BABY.
Eventually I will collect towing horror stories from all over the nation, but I'll start with the Twin Cities.
Such early luck tells me I'm on the right track, and something like this blog has been needed for a long time to start raising consciousness about non-consent towing issues.
To balance things out, at some point I'll probably collect a bunch of happy stories about tow truck drivers as heroes, which they often are.
Friday, March 7, 2008
I found this quote on the blog of a writer for City Pages (one of my all-time favorite publications) and I just had to share it.
Hell isn't merely paved with good intentions, it is walled and roofed with them and the sign out front says Minneapolis Impound Lot.
Posted by: Scoffer1 at December 13, 2006 10:48 AM___________________________________________________________
I submitted a comment at THAT blog with the URL of THIS blog,
asking for anybody with towing horror stories (and images) to
submit them here.
Yeah, I figure I'll be doing a LOT of that, concentrating first on the
Twin Cities, but then expanding my scope. So the word is out: send
your towing horror stories (and images, if you have 'em) here.
I'd prefer to have contact info, but it's the internet and I'll take what
I can get, even if it is anonymous.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
tow, which the original caption in the story made clear. I've
had good experiences with this business.
|Here is the latest effort to deal with towing issues |
in the City of Minneapolis.But contrast this article
with the one right below it.
City of Minneapolis to Cap Towing Fee
(Feb. 11, 08 FOX9)
On almost every block in
Now, the city of
City Council member Gary Schiff is behind the push.
He says every year the city field numerous towing complaints and
Got it? OK, now compare to this article from half a
decade ago to show how the more things supposedly
change, the more everything stays the same in
Minneapolis. My cheeky comments inserted in
I think Schiff is sincere, but it seems like little comes
of these promises to reform and improve, and we
all suffer through routine weather conditions classified
as "emergencies" which justify the seizure of vehicles.
City explores ways to reduce snow emergency tows
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
So after I wrote that column called "Towing is not the answer," I started to wonder if maybe my idea about "scan tags" on cars to warn of impending tows had already been tried in any context?
I mean, you know, one gets on "The Internets" and finds stuff. I once wrote a column about the high-tech parking meters in San Francisco that take PLASTIC, for crying out loud, instead of just coins. (The meters in Minneapolis are so lame and awful, only capable of understanding quarters like a child who hasn't learned about money, and can't be trusted with a dime...he might swallow it...but, oh, let him play with the quarter, or he will cry)
(No, oops, HE SWALLOWED IT!!!!!)
Here is that column about the high tech parking meters:
Has Minneapolis done this, yet? Nope. But I do believe good ol' Cam Gordon was at least looking at the issue, but he's just one guy so, ha ha, "good luck with that."
And then, you know, another time I wrote a column suggesting bike theft on campus could be reduced by pulling high tech bike stings exactly like some OTHER cities had done. (Citing a precedent, so important, but the question is what gets a city to try something FIRST?)
The bikes were kind of like the "bait cars" some cities use to deter auto theft. Here is THAT column.
Has this been done, yet? Not to my knowledge. But I believe good ol' Cam Gordon was at least looking at the issue. I'm not being sarcastic, here. He is just one man, and the only Green on the whole council, so it's not like he can move stuff forward at will.
Anyway, back to towing. My research did turn up a company dealing with "non-consent towing issues," (I picked up the lingo in the course of my researching the column) but they had a different, fascinating focus. ONE OF THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS WAS ENTITIES NOT SHARING INFORMATION. Not just jurisdictions (Minneapolis versus St. Paul, for example) but also entities within the same jurisdiction like the police and Public Works.
All this time I thought it was the cops who were involved in towing from the beginning to the end of the "towing life cycle" (more lingo I picked up) but, in the City of Minneapolis, Public Works is running the impound lot. WHO KNEW?!!!
The company in Texas told me about Minneapolis Councilman Gary Schiff's plan to cap "non-consent towing fees," which was quite a recent proposal and, I thought, a damn good idea. (Though it doesn't go far enough)
So my search for ideas about towing anywhere in the world led me right back to Minneapolis. A complete circle. I began to feel the hand of fate working in this. In fact, in March of 2007, while chasing around after my snatched vehicle, I literally said to God, "If there is some purpose in why I am suffering right now, I would be really grateful if You would reveal it."
I figured it was just a matter of getting more staffing at the impound lot. Getting the map working on the impound lot website. Maybe for such small things as that, my suffering was part of a Grander Plan. But just in the past few weeks, while reading John W. Kingdon in one of my classes at "The Hump," I began to realize non-consent towing issues were the classic example of a CONDITION which consciousness-raising can transform into a PROBLEM in need of a SOLUTION.
Non-consent towing is not like the weather, the weather which creates so-called "snow emergencies" in Minneapolis. Non-consent towing to GOD KNOWS WHERE, for GOD KNOWS HOW LONG, for GOD KNOWS HOW MUCH is a problem. There are a bunch of solutions at hand, and maybe more which need to be invented, but "my identity is all tangled up in my wheels" and these casual, brutal assaults on my means of mobility have simply become intolerable.
I'm not alone in my thinking and I hope this blog will give individuals an opportunity to share stories and images, so the world can begin to change, so we can move out of The Suck and into Towing Utopia.
So time goes by, and I'm still driving that van I call T-Bone Dream. The van was improved, slightly. I spray-painted most of the bare metal spots with blue paint that ALMOST matched the original coat.
Yeah, like so many vehicles from the same era, the paint on my 1990 Dodge Grand Caravan wears away because, apparently, there was no primer. I remember reading a case about it in law school. I guess it was a short-term departmental profit thing. Something like that.
But you know what? IT'S MY VEHICLE AND IT'S MY PROPERTY, and my property (such as it is, humble though it may be) is precious to me. I do not appreciate being hooked and hauled on some bullshit premise. I do not appreciate it the way American colonists did not appreciate the Tea Tax.
OK, well, technically (admittedly) I was half-hoping T-Bone Dream would get towed off so I'd have an excuse to get another vehicle. But 95 percent of the time I am NOT hoping my vehicle gets made into a Chinese appliance, and I'm focusing on the majority of the time, here, people.
So here is the column about my close call with the "towing vultures" (I avoided the N-word, that is to say, "Nazis") in my column of January 23, 2008, "Towing is not the answer."
Again, there are some additional details. I thought there was going to be some kind of uprising in the waiting room where individuals fight their tickets at "walk-in traffic court." People have a long time to wait, so they have an opportunity to compare sad stories. Everybody is in sympathy with everybody else. And a huge percentage of people are there to fight towing tickets, because those tickets really hurt.
Some folks are instigators, like a balding little man in his early 50s who was greeting everybody else, like it was his job to make everybody feel welcome in the waiting room and get their stories out of them. Maybe he doesn't even have a ticket. Maybe this is what he does, like the girl in Breakfast Club who goes to detention hall even though she isn't being punished for anything.
So I was sitting there reading a big pile of newspapers. The guy trying to lead the uprising (wanting to get everybody in sympathy with the same anti-towing cause) commented on how much I liked newspapers, obviously. So I told him (why not?) I was a columnist for the Minnesota Daily, and sometimes a Teaching Assistant at the
We sat there and discussed ideas, and told him about my Utopian concept: vehicles would have a sticker which an officer could scan. If the vehicle was about to get towed, the police could use the information from the scan to contact the owner and say, "Your vehicle will be towed shortly. Move it or lose it. Sir."
Naturally, just displaying cell phone numbers on the exterior of vehicles wouldn't work, because folks like telemarketers would come along and snag that info. So it has to be something police and/or tow truck drivers can read. And, really, one can expect to pay a small administrative fee.
How much would I pay to be warned of an impending tow? Fifty bucks a year, baby, and I'm renowned as a cheap bastard.
I mean...something, anything, good grief there must be a smart and high-tech way to clear streets of snow without putting so many vehicles in "car jail," causing so much suffering to the owners.
The anonymous little man in the waiting room of "walk-in traffic court" liked my idea. I kind of wondered if he actually checked for my column, later. You meet strangers, you share thoughts, you are human and vulnerable for a moment, you are changed by the encounter in a subtle, yet important way...then you never see 'em again in this life.
While I sat there reading the newspaper, the television in the waiting room discussed breaking news of the assassination of Bhutto in
But I still I believe in Utopia.
I had a horrible towing and impound lot experience in March of 2007, but I am one of the luckiest citizens in the Twin Cities. Yes, lucky because I am a weekly columnist for the Minnesota Daily, and I have the luxury of airing my issues in a public forum.
Here is my horrible towing experience, as described in "Fear and loathing at the impound lot."
Tomorrow it will be one year since the publication of that column. And what has changed about the way Minneapolis kicks its citizens around, especially college students? Nothing. NOTHING CHANGES and that is what bugs me.
A lot of stuff doesn't get into my columns because of length and interest considerations, so a few salient details always get the heave-ho.
For example, I am convinced it was my phone call to Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon (Green Party, baby) which put extra city workers on the task of answering phones for the impound lot, phones that were just ignored while hundreds--who knows, could it be thousands?--of citizens desperately tried to locate their missing vehicles during the So-Called Snow Emergency.
How can something so routine as SNOW IN MINNESOTA become an "emergency" which requires the suspension of civil liberties as though we were under martial law, and private vehicles had to be seized? See, this is the thinking I want to question, to refute with this blog.
Anyway, I can't prove it, I can't take credit, and Cam Gordon so much embodies the spirit of a public servant he sometimes won't take credit even for things he accomplishes...but I like to think it was Cam who got us those extra phone-answering elves.
Another systemic problem during that snow emergency of March, 2007: the map on the city's website showing the location of the impound lot didn't load, wasn't visible on the website. And it wasn't just my computer. Cam Gordon checked it, as well, and noted the same problem. Cam got that fixed. Of course, I suspect it wasn't a recent thing...that website was probably like that for weeks, months, until somebody like me cared enough to gripe.
Oh, trust me, I'm the person who cares enough to gripe. When there isn't toilet paper at the fast food place, I'm the one who makes sure the next person will be able to...well, to have toilet paper, OK? Every day of my life is like that: is there a systemic problem, here? Who to approach? If there is a conundrum to the problem, let us ask: how can it be solved for the common good? Whether it is toilet paper or an effort that lasts years to obtain public records about alleged police misconduct in Seattle, I'm Your Man.
Somebody has to be Your Man, or you'll never have toilet paper at Burger King for the rest of your flippin' life.
Heck, this is why I work on a Masters of Public Admin at the Humphrey Institute. I look at the skyline of Minneapolis and I am almost moved to tears. My city. My civilization. May it grow, may it improve, may I play a helpful role even if I have to clear a rain gutter with my bare hands to keep a street from flooding.
Yeah, watch out for THE SUCK. I know.
For the record, if anybody is going to try this at home, when you are trying to clear a filthy, clogged gutter during a rainstorm...watch out for THE SUCK.