Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Concerns About Cedar Towing Aired At Mosque Meeting

Flickr.com photo, Riverside Plaza

My friend and former project partner Ben Marcy is a rep on the West Bank Community Council. Guess what some of the residents were concerned about during their meeting at Dar ul Hijrah mosque...?

Hey, it's Towing Utopia and, besides, I gave it away in the title. Residents were airing their frustrations with a company called Cedar Towing. The West Bank probably has more renters than any other part of the city, since Riverside Plaza (pictured) has the highest housing density from here to Chicago. So I'm sure this company is making money hand-over-oily-fist.

Also, a lot of the Somalis are cab drivers, and you can see their cabs parked around their residences. So it's like I say in my "preamble."

Take my car, and you take my livelihood.

After Joy Petersen's article airs in tomorrow's Minnesota Daily, maybe I can convince my editors to examine how West Bank residents are suffering at the hands of Cedar Towing.

"At First I Thought It Was Stolen"

"Stolen car recovery" by Tow Bot

From horror stories on a blog to "breaking news."

Here's how Towing Utopia leveraged mainstream media coverage of the abusive, excessive non-consent towing in Minneapolis...

I realized the horror stories I had collected were actually "breaking news" of a trend impacting students at the University of Minnesota, so I told one of my editors at Minnesota Daily about the springtime crackdown on gutters and students. I suggested it would make a good story.

In no time at all, they had one of their best reporters on it, Joy Petersen.

Joy checked out this blog, and asked me for contact information from Steph Peterson (no relation, different spelling, hey it's Minn-ee-soda) to get more details about the "sketchy" encounter with the driver who stuffed money in his own wallet.

I was really pleased to see the story was listed as "breaking news" at the top of our Minnesota Daily website, so I hope that means FRONT PAGE tomorrow. (Do I dare hope for "above the fold?")

The breaking news story mentions Martin Rugeroni, who thought, at first, his car had been stolen. Martin said he called "like 500 times" and finally found out his car was at the impound lot. (OK, I'm sure he didn't call that many times, but he is expressing the frustration of trying to find his car within the system)

My plan is to attempt contact with Martin to see if he will give me more details.

In the meantime, this is exactly what I'm trying to accomplish.

1.) Building social networks, especially in the media, to air stories about abusive non-consent towing and the need for systemic change.

2.) raising the profile of the issue, so people recognize "abusive non-consent towing" as a known, recognized social issue instead of something novel.

I knew I could depend on Minnesota Daily. We'll see what joy tomorrow brings with a news story on the (let us hope) front page.

(Oh, I hope Joy went to the impound lot! Because, for one thing, it's likely that would be the only "Joy" to be found there!)

Ah, Springtime Street Cleaning In Minneapolis a.k.a. "The Running Of The Tow Trucks" (Look Out Students, There Goes A Month Of Beer Money)

Flickr.com photo

So I took all the non-consent towing horror stories collected for this blog from students at the Humphrey Institute and--like a recipe with delicious, diverse ingredients--I whipped it all together into an opinion column in the Minnesota Daily.

Click here for my column "Blogging for a better world."

Do not click "Read More."

Sunday, April 20, 2008


The Matrix. Banana Phone.

As the non-consent towing horror stories get aired on the Humphrey Institute listserv, I do get some other feedback, as well. Here is what Peter Dahlberg suggests could be done to reform the issues about inadequate street sweeping notice...
Peter says...

You should tell people to call 311 and their city council reps about the lack of advanced notice for street sweeping. This is what 311 is for, and they actually do list.

[Let me just inset here...yes, they've done a fine job LISTENING to my complaints about the known and notorious pimps and prostitutes who stand on a street corner within site of the property I purchased in North Minneapolis. Yes, 311 does a fine job LISTENING, I must say.

But I don't need somebody to LISTEN and SYMPATHIZE like a therapist. I need somebody to actually DO SOMETHING. But I'm happy to give a forum to these thoughts about calling the 311 system, for what it's worth]

I called 311 the other day to complain about this very issue. They asked me if there was anything I would recommend they do, and I said they should send out notices to households letting them know of their cleaning day, or at least put the signs up 72 hours in advance instead of 18.

They say they do it 24 hours in advance, but I have documented on my street how they actually put the signs up at about noon instead of by 8 am the day before.

They said there is actually an issue in the signs not being up soon enough, and that they would "look into it." Perhaps if we can get a mass of people to complain to the city in a non-hostile, constructive manner, they will actually listen and make some changes.

I agree street sweeping is essential to having a nice city and clean lakes and rivers, but they could do a better job of it.

[To this I would add: I think the best way to approach the city is to keep contributing the stories to Towing Utopia Dot Com. Then call the city up via 311 or your city council rep. Tell the city your issue with something like inadequate notification of street sweeping. Tell the city in addition to the call you have just made they can read all about it on Towing Utopia Dot Com.

From where I'm sitting, there will be an actual brothel constructed on my street corner, complete with Amsterdam-style windows and flashing red neon lights before the City of Minneapolis gets around to saying, "Oh, gee, the prostitutes have really gotten quite thick where Lyndale Ave. N. meets 31st Ave. Maybe time to pull a few sting operations]

St. Paul Towing Horror Story: Ticketed Before Any Snow Emergency Was Declared

Flickr.com photo, "St. Paul In Winter"

This highly believable account of downright fraudulent practices in the City of St. Paul comes from Abraham Bobst, who was apparently reached through the Humphrey Institute listserv. "Honest" Abe Bobst says...

A few years ago I was a student in St. Paul and therefore parked on the street. A large storm was coming, forecast to dump between six to eight inches.

So, as I studied that night, I had the radio on and the computer set to the station and page that would inform me when a snow emergency is officially declared. Immediately outside my window I had an unobstructed view of my car.

Before any flakes began to fall, I noticed two teenagers riding in a golf-cart and writing down the license plates of all the cars parked on the street, including mine. Finding this curious beyond description, I walked outside and inquired of the children what they were doing.

They informed me my car was in violation of the snow emergency (not yet declared) and they had already written me a ticket. (They were not cops, though, but worked for a for-profit towing company)

When I asked how they could justify the clear violation of due process, they responded they had already tagged four other blocks as per their instructions.

[Just say it, Abe. They were "only following orders."]

Still shaking my head, I moved my car to avoid the tow, successfully, and called the next week to challenge the ticket...which was never issued. They only wrote down my license number.

I was informed by a clerk that the ticket was in force, it was of no consequence that no ticket was actually written because it "could have blown away" and if I were inclined to challenge the ticket it would be my word against two of St. Paul's finest. (Cops, not teenagers)

A few months later, I moved away from St. Paul and have never lived there since and never intend on doing so in the future. Why St. Paul doesn't adopt the odd-even scheme of Minneapolis can only be explained by their profit motive, not service to the residents of St. Paul.

Minneapolis Towing Horror Stories: In A Tree With Binoculars, Watching McDonalds In Dinkytown

Flickr.com photo
If this sign were honest, it would add "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Park Here."

It was the tale of PASA Vice President Matt Henry which started the landslide of horror stories, even though he didn't write it down but just relayed it to me verbally...

Matt was towed from the McDonalds in Dinkytown--which surprised me, because I've used it in the past as an example of a relatively tolerant lot. Then again, I'm always careful to walk in the door, even if I walk back out the other side.

And I ALWAYS make a point of buying something. I feel like, hey, if you're going to park, then BUY SOMETHING, even if it's something small. That's only fair and, besides, it gives you a receipt you can use to fight a tow.

Anyway, Matt got towed from there and the tow truck driver told him--and he was being serious--they had a guy up in a tree with binoculars so they could snag cars mere minutes after people walked away without IMMEDIATELY entering the McDonalds.

This is very unfair, for the following reason: that particular McDonalds will not take credit cards. They have an ATM right next to the counter, but it has a heft surcharge to make a cash withdrawal, so a lot of folks prefer the US Bank or TCF automated teller machines which are close by.

(A McDonalds that won't take credit cards! How lame is that? I suspect this is something cooked up with the company which owns the ATM)

Really, this is one of the reasons McDonalds is so often held up as an example of a corporation involved in evil. Students are treated like INSURGENTS instead of valued customers.

Minneapolis Towing Horror Stories: Burger King In Stadium Village Boots Like Crazy

Flickr.com photo
Above, the only photo which turns up on Flickr.com if you search "Burger King" and "Stadium Village." Yeah, I could have taken this photo myself plenty of times. This establishment is tough on folks who park in their lot, but incredibly kind to homeless people who are allowed to sleep in the restaurant all night, as long as they buy something.

Gabriel Hicks, a grad student at the Humphrey Institute gives the following account of a run-in with a "car boot," "rent-a-cop" and a nasty German Shepherd...

I was "booted" with that funny device they lock onto the front wheel of a car. I parked in the Burger King parking lot, intending to pick up a burger after a visit to the gym. The spot I parked in did not say "tow away zone" though the lot itself had one near the exit.

[Yeah, there's very little attention to principals of good signage in these private lots, and it creates a lot of traps. Another thing needing regulation!]

I noticed the boot on my car and a "private police officer" with a gun and a large German Shepherd approached from a van. He claimed to be under contract with the City of Minneapolis and the property owners. He demanded $100 to unlock the boot or he threatened to call the tow truck, which would cost $247.

[You really have to wonder if this is legit, or some kind of scam cooked up with a manager, honestly. Contact with the city? On a private lot? Booting the vehicle but shaking the vehicle's owner down for $100? It sounds very fishy to me, and I don't mean the admittedly tasty Filet-O-Fish I often enjoyed at this establishment...until learning of these practices, I should say!]

I wasn't happy and the dog barked at me. I didn't have the money on me so he had me swipe my credit card in a portable card reader he had with him. Then he took out a key and unlocked the boot.

I tried to find the city statute authorizing this but the website was down for maintenance. I also kept my "receipt" and tried several times to call the owner to complain but nobody answered. I eventually did talk with him but he just referred me to the property owners.

I never did find out why it costs $100 to unlock a simple boot.

[Yeah, especially when you compare your story with the story of Steph Peterson, who managed to get her vehicle unhooked from a tow truck for somewhere between $5 and $7, depending on how you look at the "true price." What I suspect are SHAKE DOWNS by unscrupulous people who put money in their own pocket]

I know they just want to punish traffic violators, but that still doesn't explain a price THAT high. Also, I found the business listed as a "repeat offender" with the Better Business Bureau although I have forgotten its name.

Thanks for doing a story on this type of thing. Parking at this University is RIDICULOUS. I'm glad to be almost free of it!

Minneapolis Towing Horror Story: Snow Emergency During Vikings Game Snares HUNDREDS

Flickr photo

(How can you enjoy a Vikings game when you can't trust Minneapolis not to tow your vehicle in a so-called "Snow Emergency?")

Humphrey grad student Ellie Graves gives an account of hundreds towed from downtown Minneapolis while in the stadium enjoying a Minnesota Vikings Game...

...as follows.

I had my car towed Christmas Eve. There was only one sign on the street at the very beginning of the block that said "plow route" and I missed the sign.

At the impound lot, I heard stories of people who were in the stadium for a football game. Most people parked for the tailgating/eating out before the game around 3 pm.

The game went pretty late and while the game was being played, there was a snow emergency called. When people got out of the game, all of their cars were towed from downtown before they even realized there was a snow emergency.

[So right! How would they find out while watching a Vikings game? And how would they be able to observe the weather conditions while inside the stadium? The so-called "emergency" obviously didn't halt the game!]

This is only hearsay, but there were HUNDREDS of people at the impound lot, all with the same story, when I went to get my vehicle.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Minneapolis Towing Horror Story: Sketchy "Street Cleaning" Encounter With A Tow Truck Driver

Flickr photo, "Aaack, gotta move the car."

Humphrey Student Steph Peterson had a tow truck driver shove her money in his own wallet to release her car during the "spring cleaning of citizens pocketbooks" in Minneapolis. Here are the details as told by Steph...

My name is Stephanie and yesterday I had a very tense run-in with the towing enforcement officers/tow company employees.

I awoke yesterday to find about 1/4 of the cars on my street being towed. Apparently it was "spring sweep" day, but the city had posted its small signs of notice less than 24 hours before towing. To me this seems a lack of due process/fair warning, especially in an urban location where metro transit is encouraged and individuals should not feel compelled to run outside every 12 hours to see if the city will be implementing any last-minute plans.

As an additional "sketchy" detail of my encounter, the tow truck driver insisted I pay him 5 dollars to unhook the chain from the front axle of my car. (This took approx. 7 seconds). After running back to my apartment and grabbing a 10 dollar bill, I returned to my car to pay him the fee.

At this point, he took out his own personal wallet and said. "I don't have change. But here is 3 dollars, that will have to do."

If this 5 dollar fee was a legitimate company fee, wouldn't they have CHANGE? Or at least a way of controlling the cash flow besides his own back pocket? Basically, I paid for this guy's lunch and got my car back. Unfortunately, for dozens of others on Garfield Ave., they were not so lucky.

I am totally disgusted by this lack of notice/planning on the part of the city of Minneapolis. I feel their motivation to clean the streets may not have been their true motivation. Perhaps they just needed a bit of revenue on this given week or month?

[Steph is fighting her ticket in court and I'm waiting for the update, but this incident raises issues beyond one ticket. The drivers appear quite willing to stick money in their back pocket, and the city tows excessively. Clearly, it's not about the silly leaves in the gutters but about the revenue]

Minneapolis Towing Horror Stories: A Regressive Tax On The Poor

Humphrey Institute Student Robyn Skrebes (pictured above at an activist event to fight child abduction in Sudan) describes her own experiences and says why non-consent towing is a regressive tax on the poor...

This is a topic that really gets me!

I have to say that I love the fact the street sweeping website says "listed residential numbers will be called." Funny how this leaves out almost all of the poor college students who only have cell phones, along with a good portion of the rest of the city.

I no longer have a car, and this makes me remember at least one good reason for that, but I was also a "serial towee" for a couple of years. Starting three days after I moved to the Twin Cities I made the unforgivable and novice mistake of parking in a lot while I went somewhere else.

[Matt Henry says they're up in a tree with binoculars to tow at the McDonalds in Dinkytown. Who can go up against THAT?]

I was towed at least six times over the three years that followed. The reasons ranged from parking too close to the sidewalk to snow warnings to street sweeping. Incidentally, that time some thoughtful person had taken the liberty of removing the signs that warned of towing. I think they did it to "stick it to the man."

This did not stop them from confiscating my car.

[Robyn, it was probably a tow truck driver. Read the stuff in my blog about how they've even been known to paint curbs red on their own. I even wrote a little song about it]

Anyone can see the "tow tax" is a regressive tax on the poor. I mean, if you have money you can probably have a driveway or a garage in which to park safely. Wouldn't it be great if we dropped this idea that we should pay less in taxes so our state could afford to keep up without taking more from the people who can least manage it?

[Only a Humphrey Student would come up with this...the rest of the country spends its energy figuring out how to AVOID taxes. Besides, it's the CITY doing this, not the state, and the city seriously claims they LOSE MONEY from towing.]

Thanks for taking these stories. I think this is a serious problem. Good luck with your blog!

[Towing Utopia never rests...refer your friends here when they get towed and keep figuring out what are the systemic flaws with towing in Minneapolis-St. Paul]

[I will mention in closing that Robyn is a wonderful person who cares about human rights. Check out this website]


The City Of Minneapolis Semi-Annual Fundraiser, Otherwise Known As "Street Sweeping"

Piggy Bank from Flickr.com

Prompted by my request for non-consent towing horror stories, grad student Emily Sachs sent out a funny warning to the Humphrey Institute via listserv, as follows...

Yes, I really HAVE been towed four times in the last year.

Unlike snow emergencies, they don't let you sign up for email notification. It's OK. I'm hoping to get the free t-shirt with my fifth tow.

Starting April 15 and running through May is the City of Minneapolis semi-annual fundraiser, otherwise known as "Street Sweeping." For a map and a schedule of locations, visit

[And it just HAPPENS to start April 15, the one day of the year most closely associated with government revenue. Coincidence or conspiracy? You be the judge]

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Minneapolis Towing Horror Story: Leaf Removal Email Notification Desperately Needed

Flickr photo

Here are the thoughts of Emily Sachs, a Humphrey Grad student who has the distinction of being towed FOUR TIMES IN THE LAST YEAR. She has some great thoughts on how leaf removal is, for all practical purposes concerning towing, just like a snow emergency so why not get email notifications...

Emily says:

I've become an expert on towing. In the last year, I've been towed four times. Mind you, I've never received a moving violation in the Twin Cities. But somehow I've got trouble with PARKING.

Honestly, three of them were my fault, I guess. Forgetting to move my car according to the #@$(@&$! restrictions in my neighborhood.

[Emily, that's how they dis-empower us, making us think it's our "own fault" for running afoul of their maze of regulations. Did you deserve THAT much pain and penalty for such innocent, minor errors? Or did you deserve, instead, an email and a text message saying "Move it or lost it in the next half hour?"]

Here are more of Emily's thoughts:

Here is what I *AM* mad about. If you can register by email for the snow emergency notification, and thus receive an email when there is a snow emergency, then why won't the city let you register for leaf removal notification? (That would be my third tow)

Last night, picking my car up from the impound lot yet again, the woman was kind enough to remind me that leaf removal is starting now and to check the city website. Apparently, they call land lines, but nothing else! So cell users like me aren't notified, as far as I can figure out.

The policy student part of me has rationalized all of this with the understanding that since I don't pay property taxes (I'm a renter) then I'm doing my good deed as a taxpayer and forking over my money in the form of tickets and towing/retrieval fees.

[Sorry, incredible as it may seem, Minneapolis claims it actually LOSES money on snow emergencies, though money is clearly being made by the tow truck companies. As for doing your good deed by paying taxes, wouldn't you rather just buy a couple hundred lottery tickets and at least have some fun with the money?]

Plus, I came within 30 seconds of being towed in December due to snow and I literally THREW MYSELF ACROSS THE SIDE OF MY LITTLE JETTA to keep the tow truck driver at bay. I cut him off as he was walking to get the ticket off my windshield. He was none-too-pleased and slapped the ticket out of my hand.

"You're lucky!" he scowled. He was pretty [expletive] off at me.

Clearly this is a money-maker.

Minneapolis Towing Horror Story, John G. Was Not "Feeling Good In The Neighborhood"

(My photo showing Washington Ave. SE. See my blog entry "Tricked And Trapped On Washington Ave. SE" to understand how the contradiction between information on the signs versus information on the meters lays a trap for students to get towed)

Here is an all-too-common horror story from "John G., a Humphrey Institute grad student. Back in my undergrad days several years ago, I parked my car...

...on Washington Ave. on the East Bank near Applebees. People can park on the street up until a certain time of the day--I believe it was or still is 4:30 p.m.--so during afternoon rush hour the street can accommodate extra traffic.

So at 4:25 p.m., [five minutes before the witching hour when cars turn into pumpkins, and the life of a pumpkin is short and brutal] I got back to where I had just parked my car and not only has it already been towed, but the tow truck is just leaving with the last car at the end of the line of cars which my car was parked with.

So not only had they started early, but they had already cleared every car out BEFORE the official end of the allotted parking time. LAME!!!

Arguing at the impound lot made no difference of course.

[When is FOX9 going to do undercover investigations about stuff like THIS instead of trying to catch underage drinkers at the Blarney Pub And Grill?]

At least I got my car out the same day. I've heard of people getting charged for two days of "storage" when their car was towed at 10:00 p.m. and they picked it up a few hours later at 1:00 a.m.

Someone later told me the towing companies often tow several cars just around the block so they can get as many out of the lot or wherever before their owners get back, and then they can tow the cars from this "staging point" at leisure back to the impound lot. I wish I had known this at the time or I would have checked the area to see if my car was still around.

I don't know if they do that here, though it is common practice around the country.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Minneapolis Towing Horror Story by Grad Student Katie Roth

Photo by Jesse Wicks

(Above, image of the "Welcome To Dinkytown" mural. If it were an accurate mural, there would be a tow truck making off with the vehicle)

A request for non-consent towing horror stories over the Humphrey Institute listserv produced quick and detailed feedback, including from folks who had been towed in the last few days.

We start with the story of Katie Roth...

In the Dinkytown Hollywood Video they have a car permanently parked there during the weekend nights and they watch. If you come out of the Hollywood door and go around the corner to the ATM on the other side of the building, for example, [to get cash to rent a video, for example, hint hint?] they will put a BOOT on your car, promptly.

But on another note, check out the City of Minneapolis' ridiculous [and so-called] "abandoned vehicle" law.

According to City Ordinance 478.250, no abandoned vehicle shall remain on any street or highway in the city in excess of 72 consecutive hours. Any vehicle lacking vital component parts shall be presumed abandoned and may be immediately removed and impounded.

[So if you remove a tire and roll it across the street to the garage of your apartment complex to fetch a spare, they can seize your car--legally--while you're in the garage for one minute!]

This puts renters in the city at a major disadvantage, as we are constantly forced to relocate our cars every 72 hours or risk a tow. This means in a given week, even if I ride transit or bike every day, I have to move my car once every three days for fear that my home owning neighbors will report my vehicle as abandoned, even though my bumper bears the neighborhood "critical parking" sticker for my area.

In a city with the stated goal of reducing auto dependency, especially in its near-downtown neighborhoods, this policy is too broad and one-sided to properly enforce the problem of abandoned vehicles while respecting auto-owning (but rarely driving) renters' access to on-street parking.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tales From The Legend They Call "Tow Bot"

(Above, "terminated tow truck" which encountered a stolen car blowing through a red light)

Hunting through Flickr.com, I discovered a guy named "Tow Bot," a tow truck driver who takes pictures of the aftermath of accidents and tells the bloody tales.

His photos--though merely documentary and not artistic--are quite amazing, and you might get a kick out of his profile, but since I'm focused on ABUSIVE NON-CONSENT TOWING and not spectacular vehicular carnage, what really interested me was Tow Bot's commentary on certain abusive non-consent towing practices....
(Wow, it's my very first "expandable post!" OK, that was only exciting for ME)
According to ANOTHER Flickr.com user named "stenz," who took pictures of the incident, this is what happened in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"There (was) a tow truck sitting in a tow zone, waiting for the passenger to get sandwiches from (a restaurant called) Darwin's. During this time, a few cars pulled up behind it, also wanting to park in the tow zone, and there were some words exchanged and some honking.

The police man showed up--surely to fix it all--and some of the cars drove off, but the policeman was also just there for a sandwich at Darwin's.

It is a tow-away zone because it is where the bus is supposed to be able to pull over. A bus came while the tow truck was there, more confusion and honking. The bus just stopped in the middle of the street and let people off there.

Tow Bot (the legend) commented as follows.

We have those type of tow truck drivers here, too. They will sit in a paid parking lot and wait for you to get out of your car to go and pay the automated machine. The smart people (or previously towed people) will drive right up to the ticket machine and get their tickets BEFORE they park.

The unsuspecting ones will drive into a stall, then walk to the machine. That's when the wrecker will swoop in and grab the car before the person gets back. And then the tow truck driver will say you got towed 'cause you didn't have a ticket!!

I have no respect for guys like that. Get off your (expletive) and earn your money.

Like I Said, Worse Than Jail

Even in jail, you don't see this kind of overkill. There are five cameras. Supposedly there are eleven warning signs, but I can only find ten. (Unless one is sideways behind the first camera on the left...)

A Flickr.com user named "party_of_the_third_part" took this photo in San Francisco, at the 7th & Bryant impound lot, on June 13, 2006.

(Do not click "Read More")

Human Rights For American Drivers

This picture shows detail from the impound lot in Los Angeles. It is from a Flickr.com user named "zulaufdesign."

Drivers have human rights, and abusive non-consent towing tramples these human rights every day. This simple photo says much about the current state of human rights for American drivers, not just in Los Angeles but all over the country.

(Do not click "Read More")

Another Muddy Pit of Automotive Perdition

These aren't more pictures from bootsartemis, but from a completely different Flickr.com user (gregneon96) who took these pictures in Missouri.

This is the kind of ridiculous, abusive, Third World standard which is all-too-common with non-consent towing all over the United States.

(Do not click "Read More")

"A Prison Tattoo For Our Car"

This expressive picture was taken by a Flickr.com user called "Unender" who wrote the following:
Our car was stolen by "some motherless puke with a tow truck" according to our mechanic's best guess. We got it back, unscathed, but the impound lot wrote numbers all over the windows. We think it looks pretty cool so we're leaving them on there. It's like a prison tat for our car.

This gives me an idea...stickers that say, "This car is a non-consent towing survivor. Fight back at www.towingutopia.com

OK, now some rich dude can feel free to contact me and offer to provide the stickers for free, ha ha.

(Do not click "Read More")

Technical Improvements On Towing Utopia

(Above, collage by Karl Noyes, "I Am Human," Spring 2007)

My former Minnesota Daily editor and sometimes webmaster, Karl Noyes, managed to fix some html problem with this blog so now readers will be able to click "read more" instead of dealing with long, "text heavy" postings.

Unfortunately, "read more" will appear at the bottom of EVERY post, whether there is more to read or not. Due to the technical nature of the fix, I can't go back and truncate the old posts to "read more." They will have to remain long.

Obviously, this is why I picked the image above. Little by little, in fits and starts and periodic setbacks, the human race progresses toward the stars. I believe it. And stopping random, oppressive, abusive, economically and socially disruptive non-consent towing is part of the march of civilization. So onward.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Here's What You Can Expect In Jackson, Michigan

Man performs CPR, gets $60 towing bill

(This AP Wire service story is reproduced for purpose of "fair comment and criticism." Photo of the Jackson, Michigan "skyline" from Flickr.com)

A Navy medic from North Carolina who helped an ambulance crew perform CPR on a man en route to a hospital ended up with a $60 towing bill.

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Tim Moore was driving on Interstate 94 near Jackson on April 2 when he pulled over to try to calm a woman near an ambulance. Rescuers asked Moore if he would help administer CPR to the woman's husband on the way to the hospital.

"I pulled over in a bit of a hurry," said Moore, who since has returned to Camp Lejeune. "Of course, when they asked me to do CPR, I just locked the truck and didn't really think about moving it."

The man died at the hospital.

When Moore returned to the side of the interstate two hours later, the truck was missing. The charge was levied by the towing company.

Moore said he was a little upset at the time. Now, he says: "It's only $60."

SF Impound Lot At Pier 70

This photo is from "nadev" at Flickr.com and shows the San Francisco Impound Lot at Pier 70.

Note there are private as well as commercial vehicles. Imagine the productive lives and economic activity interrupted by these tows!

People need a way to be warned before their cars are towed. It's only reasonable. And they need more efficient ways to locate their vehicles in the system.

The Muddy Pit Of Automotive Perdition

This Flickr.com photo by "bootsartemis" is an all-too-typical image of an automotive impound lot which could be found anywhere in the country...a muddy pit of automotive perdition, hardly one step up from a scrap yard.

Autos involved in accidents bleed oil, gas, transmission fluid into the earth...and who cares? Not the cities running these petroleum purgatories.

Minneapolis Towing Horror Story, Photo Four

This last photo is called simply, "Grrrrrrr."

Minneapolis Towing Horror Story, Photo Three

Megan Mayer called this photo, "There's $172 and 2 1/2 Hours I'll Never Get Back" and added "Merry (Expletive) Christmas."

Minneapolis Towing Horror Story, Photo Two

Another thing...the only "towing horror story in a series of pictures" to be found on Flickr.com takes place in Minneapolis.

Coincidence? No, like I've been saying...the Twin Cities are the "Abusive Non-Consent Towing Capital Of The Nation."

Megan Mayer wrote of this photo, "The echo of pain has been located." She noted her car was found "amidst the 750 plus cars that were towed the previous night."

Minneapolis Towing Horror Story, Photo One

I found this visually-eloquent "impound lot horror story" on Flickr.com in photos taken by user "Megan Mayer."

Mayer says, "After a nearly-perfect 17 year record of parking on the street year-round and surviving Minneapolis winter without incident, I succumbed to the hell that is having your car towing during a snow emergency, dammit."

"At The Impound Lot"

This photo is also from Flickr.com, by a member called "bootsartemis."

It is called simply "At the impound lot."

You gotta wonder how the Cabbage Patch Kid got torn in half. As one Flickr member commented, "Like the Black Dahlia, only...not."

A Terrible End To A Nice Night Out

This photo was taken by "pstarr," who has a profile on Flickr.com The couple is at an impound lot, and pstarr was next in line.

I think it is a beautiful, sad and expressive photo which says, more eloquently than words, "a non-consent tow has ruined a wonderful evening."

Towing Utopia Gets...TOWED!!!!!

(Rusty but trusty, the "Vernie Mobile" pictured in front of my apartment in St. Paul)

Summary: I'm not down on tow truck drivers at all. Tell me your colorful tales, and I will celebrate the good you do!

Stuck In The Worse Part Of Minneapolis, Needing A Tow

I knew this day would come, judging by the car I drive. Sooner or later, I'd have to call a tow truck on myself, due to a mechanical malfunction. And the driver would see the message on the back (GOT A TOWING HORROR STORY, WWW.TOWINGUTOPIA.COM) and would ask about it, pointedly.

That day came. Busted tension spring on my serpentine belt, and the battery went dead due to I-don't-know-what, but I suspect the glove box light. It happened in North Minneapolis, in a place where you don't want your car to malfunction...in this case, the driveway of the house I own on 6th Street North, where I board up crack houses to revitalize my newly-adopted community, devastated by mortgage fraud, but that's another tale for another day...or another blog.

The driver swore he ran over a crack pipe as he hauled my car on his flatbed. He said, "I could see the Brillo pad sticking out of it."

He was not the first tow truck I called, though I have "M & E" towing in the speed dial of my cell phone, based on a previous positive experience. The place where I brought my car, Highland Tire Auto Service, Inc., is a Hmong-owned business and they immediately recommended "Hmong Towing Service."

Well, I figured, why not? The driver would know the location, after all. So I called Hmong Towing Service. The person who picked up said he didn't have the tow truck today, but he could give me the number of the guy who had the truck. (I think he said it was his brother) I called the other number but I could only leave a message. I wasn't going to sit around waiting, so I began calling other tow truck services from a handful of business cards the owner of Highland Tire had behind his desk.

One "business card" was a phone number written on a scrap of paper. I called this one thinking, "Well, I bet his price will be good." The guy who picked up told me, in a deep and sad blues-singer voice, "I ain't got that tow truck no more."

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True...

Hmong Towing Service suddenly called back. He said he would "beat any price" to tow my vehicle, especially since the actual tow was a matter of TWO BLOCKS. Forty bucks, he said, to tow it. If I would consider having the repairs done at his shop in Maplewood, he'd tow my vehicle FOR FREE.

Though I preferred to have the repairs done at Highland Tire, a forty-dollar tow sounded wonderful. How could I resist? The only problem was I had to wait for an hour.

To save so much money, I was willing to wait an hour. No problem. I sat in the waiting room of Highland Tire and watched the fascinating social interactions. It was Saturday and the owner's children were hanging around, playing and watching videos, including an interesting romance (all in Thai or Vietnamese) called "Honesty."

I couldn't understand a word of the video, but I was moved. I actually shed tears. This medical intern (so shy, so sincere, with such a promising future in medicine) in love with a beautiful girl, but afraid to express his feelings...until a handsome rascal playboy with a broken foot (from jumping out of a bedroom window?) teaches him some valuable romantic lessons, backed up by a musical chorus of colorful n'er-do-wells who seem to be hanging around the hospital.

So I sat there for an hour, watching "Honesty" and another movie about a guy who switches bodies with a dog, accomplished by--what else?--a freak lightening storm. (Even in another language, I saw it coming a mile away)

Exactly an hour later, I began trying to call the tow truck. And I called. Every ten minutes, I called, until another half hour was burned up. One of the young girls took a phone call. Naturally, I didn't know what the phone call was about, because they were speaking Hmong. Their expressiveness in two languages was fascinating...they would speak Hmong sprinkled with English, and English sprinkled with Hmong.

It was obvious the little boy was learning some of his English from the rough neighborhood right outside the door. He told his sister, "I will kick your (expletive) if you get all up in my business."

The girl behind the desk told me Hmong Towing Service had called. They were sorry, but they were really behind and wouldn't be able to tow me today.

"I just waited for an hour," I said, teeth on edge. I asked for the phone number which had just called. She gave it to me. There was a baby in the room. I said, "It is best I go outside, you probably don't want the baby to hear this."

I stood in blowing snow flurries and left a blistering message on the voice mail. And then I called M & E Towing like I should have done in the first place. The driver said "half an hour" and he was there in exactly half an hour.

While I waited, the young girls kindly shared a slice of pizza with me. It had an entire layer of hot peppers. It was good, though. I wolfed it down. They knew all the jingles to the various pizza delivery companies, and had been singing them, earlier.

Tales From The Tow Side

The driver's called himself "Bear" and said he'd been a tow truck driver for 15 years, but had been a mechanic for a while. Just recently he had returned to his first love, which was towing.

Bear seemed to freeze when he saw the message on the rear of my car. I had to say, "Yeah, I run a blog, but it's about abusive non-consent towing practices. Something like this--you towing my car because of a mechanical problem--that's more like the free market. I'm not into that so much."

In fact, I told him, I wouldn't mind collecting some interesting stories from tow truck drivers. I'm not against tow truck drivers at all, I said, it's the city governments which really need to wake up and smell the transmission fluid.

Right away Bear had a story. He'd once towed a 1968 Bel Air. The driver had hit a median at 140 miles an hour. The front bumper ended up where the doors were supposed to be, and the engine was found in the trunk.

"Well, what happened to the driver?" I asked.

He was just in pieces.

Another time, Bear said, he saved the life of a woman and two children. He arrived first at the accident scene, coming upon a car tipped over in a swamp. He put a line on it and flipped it up. Inside the car was a mother and two children, alive.

I wanted to know if Bear took pictures of any of this stuff. He kind of shrugged. I said if he would share his stories and pictures, I'd tell his stories of tow truck heroism. Bear said it was his mother who was more into computers.

"Mama Bear?" I asked, with a grin.

Bear showed off a little. His ability to judge clearance is amazing. He got my car into the work bay at Highland tire with half an inch of clearance to spare. I even took a picture of it.

"Watch this!" he'd said, grinning, as he put the truck into reverse.

My one complaint: M & E doesn't take credit cards.

Pawlenty's Veto Stalls "Towing Nightmare" In St. Paul

(Photo from the Pioneer Press, Rep. Alice Hausman)

I'm sure it never even occurred to Governor Pawlenty, but his recent veto of $127 million worth of projects in St. Paul may have stalled the "towing nightmare" which the light rail (Central Corridor Project) was getting set to create, by eliminating 600 to 900 parking spaces. I've written quite a bit on this subject already, but this incredible veto is a new twist.

There's no relief, however. The City of St. Paul still engages in notorious and abusive towing practices, and I'm hoping to make my way out to their impound lot in the very near future to document some horror stories. So the fact the light rail project is delayed doesn't mean relief from a nightmare, only relief from an even-worse-nightmare.

And I feel bad the project was vetoed. I love the light rail and ride it several times a week to places like Mall of America. I was hoping the light rail would expand. (Gee, what happens to all the developers who have poured millions of dollars into property along the proposed route?)

Exclusive Towing Utopia Scuttlebutt, Rumor, Wild Theory And Dark Innuendo

Right now, political thinkers in Minnesota are going nuts to figure out why Governor Pawlenty came down so hard on St. Paul. According to the Pioneer Press, "(Alice) Hausman, chairwoman of the House Capital Investment Committee and chief sponsor of the bill, was the peacemaker who tried to broker a deal between Pawlentry [...] and Senate Democrats."

Pawlenty came down like a ton of bricks on St. Paul with his line-item vetoes, and yet he didn't go after the "pet projects" of his "fiercest antagonist," Senator Keith Langseth. The democrats in state government are asking why, why, why?

Simple: the City of St. Paul will be host to the Republican National Convention in 2008. And right now, St. Paul's leadership has shown little indication of a willingness to "crack down hard" on the unruliness promised by tens of thousands of demonstrators, who will be pouring in from all over the country, trying to create a "Battle In Seattle" situation by their own public statements a full year in advance of the actual event.

My theory is Pawlenty--who shows every indication of being a vice-presidential candidate for John McCain, is using the St. Paul projects as a "bargaining chip" to force action and promises from St. Paul to crack down hard on the demonstrators who promise to disrupt RNC 2008 in a big way.

That's my theory. Got a better one?

The Wabasha Street Caves Conference On Abusive Non-Consent Towing

(From Flickr.com, a historic photo of Castle Royal Night Club in 1933, now known as Wabasha Street Caves, which was quite the speakeasy and hangout for Prohibition-Era gangsters, back in the day. A fun location for the first activist conference on abusive non-consent towing)

Summary: OK, so it wasn't really a conference but me talking to my smart public administration grad school classmates at the annual Humphrey Institute Banquet.

I came up with a brainstorm about preventing abusive towing practices from private parking lots, such as by alerting drivers their car will soon be towed the same way the cities should issue such alerts.


"Towing Talk" Over A Few Drinks

My grad school had a nice formal banquet with Dean Atwood buying everybody free wine, so you couldn't beat that, especially when I had a teetotaler at my table and managed to get not only my own wine ration, but also liberated a merlot.

There were hours of socializing, and I told a lot of tomorrow's administrative movers-and-shakers about what I was trying to accomplish by raising issues about abusive non-consent towing practices.

"Think of it," I said. "At one time, people didn't really have consciousness about an issue like police brutality. That was just how things were, and everybody accepted it. But people started to wake up, and now everybody is aware there is, at the very least, such a thing as police brutality, and many things are being done to reduce it and stop it."

"So," my classmates would say, "You're saying abusive towing--"

"Non-consent towing," I clarified. "Huge distinction."

"OK, you're saying abusive non-consent towing is like the new police brutality? That people have been enduring it for a long time, but you want folks to wake up and start fighting about this issue?"


Hands to chins. Thoughtful nods.

"Huh," they'd say. "Maybe you're on to something."

Towing All Tangled Up With Human Relationships

I couldn't talk about abusive non-consent towing all the time, though. The President of the Public Affairs Students Association, Graham Arntzen, has a smoking hot girlfriend, (Maylyan) and he left her in my custody while he went around shaking numerous hands. The "other Graham," whose last name I keep forgetting, is also a major player in student government. He kept walking away from his date, too, and the poor little dear (Malin, it's Swedish) hardly knew anybody in the whole cave. So I was constantly keeping them company.

I am nothing if not dutiful and responsible.

And we were, I emphasize, in a cave. Yes, they kept leaving their women...in the cave. And it was only the other day me and Arntzen had a conversation, the theme of which was, "If it wasn't for the civilizing influence of women, men would still live in caves."

Therefore, what is going to stop abusive non-consent towing? Probably mommies with little children being mistreated and harmed, not angry men pounding their enraged fists into Plexiglass but then, the next day, getting over it.

Indeed, the best non-consent towing insight of the whole night came in a conversation with a young woman in the parking lot, (where the smokers congregated) a discussion which started out talking about the mysterious nature of romantic relationships, as enlightened by Dr. Date, the anonymous campus dating advice columnist. (Here's a fine example of a Dr. Date column, which came up in the course of the discussion, in regard to the "sacred ritualistic aspect" of a woman giving her phone number to a guy)

This particular young lady (short, blond, pretty, age 23, works at Caribou coffee on Washington Ave. SE, dressed in a black cocktail dress and long string of fake pearls to go with a kind of 1930s gangster theme some folks indulged in at Wabasha Caves, reads "Dr. Date" before reading anything else in Minnesota Daily, but heck if I know her name) had a customer whose car was towed by mistake.

His car shouldn't have been towed--the guy had come in to consume a latte or whatever--and yet he was indeed towed. So this sympathetic girl told him, "Look, you shouldn't have been towed. I'll be your witness. Here's my phone number. If anybody has any questions about it, have them call me and I'll say it was a mistake."

So the guy gets his car back. And then what does he do? He keeps calling the girl, dropping by, trying to get a date...to the point she needed to just about hide in the back of the store. She did, however, take comfort in some of the things Dr. Date had said about how to handle a situation like that, or not get yourself into one in the first place, by being mindful of the "sacred ritualistic aspect" of giving a guy your phone number.

She pointed out how, yes, she gave him her number...but giving your number to be a witness to an unjustified tow was a completely different matter than just handing a guy your phone number, wasn't it? Indeed, I agreed, it certainly was.

Forget Romantic Relationships--Let's Talk Towing!

The problem I saw here, I told her, was the distinction between "rabidly enforced" towing in private lots, versus "posted lots with de facto slack."

"Take McDonalds in Dinkytown, for an example," I said. "Their lot is huge, and it has about half a dozen warning signs...yet I've never seen anybody towed from that lot. They really don't seem to keep track of who is in the lot. It seems quite easy to go inside, buy a burger, but then slip out the back door to, for example, mail a letter at the post office and maybe do some quick shopping. OK, I'll admit...I do that. All the time."

But, she pointed out, this particular Caribou Coffee has eight precious parking spaces, and needs those spaces to stay in business. They can't really afford to be generous with their parking, the way McDonalds can. That's why she, personally, is always calling to get somebody towed who is just "stealing parking."

Thinking about this administratively, I thought, "The problem is the auto driver has no way to distinguish 'rabidly enforced' private parking from 'posted lots with de facto slack. One could eyeball the situation and judge...this business doesn't have a lot of parking, so many they guard it jealously...but how can you KNOW?"

People need a place to park, desperately, and everybody knows rules get bent all the time. The same person who is calling the tow truck may be in the opposite position tomorrow or next week...cruising, opportunistically, for a place to park "just for a minute."

Why is harsh, expensive towing or nasty notes left on windshields the only alternatives for private business? I've read articles--and I could post some examples--of customers who became permanently alienated by a business which towed them, a business they once patronized...albeit they also patronized the business next door, a moment later, while parked in the lot of the first business.

If I've been saying the City of Minneapolis, for example, should have a clever and high-tech way to "warn the driver" just prior to a tow, so why not give private businesses access to the same system? They wouldn't need to obtain the contact info for the driver...it would be a simple matter of typing in the tag number of the vehicle into a website, and generating an alert to the auto owner's cell phone.

A Way To Distinguish "Rapid" From "Slack" Private Lots?

I also had to wonder if there could be a way to "administratively distinguish" rabidly-enforced lots from other kinds of lots...and what kind of a bucket of worms this might open up. Let us say, for example, any lot of a certain size which saw 100 tows in the previous year would be required to post a red "rabidly enforced" sign. And, furthermore, only parking lots which really did tow 100 cars could display the scary red signs.

This would serve as a great warning for vehicles, wouldn't it? However...what if businesses said, "We need to get the scary red signs. Let's tow 100 cars in January and February, though we can let it go for the rest of the year." The warning signs might give an actual INCENTIVE to tow.

No, what might be useful would be if drivers could access the data through a system like OnStar, and know their odds of getting towed from a particular private parking lot.

The most practical way seems to be...just having a better way to warn drivers they are about to get towed. Only the most mean-spirited business manager really WANTS to tow somebody, a person who could be a customer tomorrow (albeit a parking moocher today) and most business managers would prefer to just have the car go away by being driven out of the parking lot, not towed, because heaven knows we often find ourselves on "the other side of the hook."

Keep Building The Movement To Reform Abusive Non-Consent Towing

These are the kind of ideas I had at Wabasha Caves, and discussed with my classmates...well, along with some other topics, like the work I'm trying to do in North Minneapolis to get crack houses boarded up and revitalize the neighborhood, as a relentless do-gooder.

I work to get other people on board, so I won't be the one-and-only "non-consent towing activist" in the nation. Maybe one day there really might be something like a "Wabasha Caves Conference." We will all talk, exchange ideas, exchange contact information...and then emerge from the caves to create a slightly-better world.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Minnesota Towing Statute And Its Many Flaws

If you need to fight towing charges, here is a link to the statute in Minnesota:


And here is the wording of the statute itself. (This statute was revised quite recently. You should always, always, always check to make sure a statute hasn't been recently revised before you go into court banking on the wording of the statute)

My critique of the statute is below. This is a layman's critique. I am not licensed by any State Bar and not qualified to give legal advice.


Subdivision 1. Towing authority. For purposes of this section, "towing authority" means any local authority authorized by section 169.04 to enforce the traffic laws, and also includes a private
towing company authorized by a local authority to tow vehicles on behalf of that local authority.

Subd. 2. Towing order required. A towing authority may not tow a motor vehicle from
public property unless a peace officer or parking enforcement officer has prepared, in addition
to the parking citation, a written towing report describing the motor vehicle and the reasons for
towing. The report must be signed by the officer and the tow driver.

Subd. 3. Four-hour waiting period. In enforcing state and local parking and traffic laws,
a towing authority may not tow, or allow or require the towing of, a motor vehicle from public
property for a parking or traffic violation until four hours after issuance of the traffic ticket or
citation, except as provided in this section or as provided for an unauthorized vehicle in section

Subd. 4. Towing allowed. A towing authority may tow a motor vehicle without regard
to the four-hour waiting period if:
(1) the vehicle is parked in violation of snow emergency regulations;
(2) the vehicle is parked in a rush-hour restricted parking area;
(3) the vehicle is blocking a driveway, alley, or fire hydrant;
(4) the vehicle is parked in a bus lane, or at a bus stop, during hours when parking is
(5) the vehicle is parked within 30 feet of a stop sign and visually blocking the stop sign;
(6) the vehicle is parked in a disability transfer zone or disability parking space without a
disability parking certificate or disability license plates;
(7) the vehicle is parked in an area that has been posted for temporary restricted parking (i)
at least 12 hours in advance in a home rule charter or statutory city having a population under
50,000, or (ii) at least 24 hours in advance in another political subdivision;
(8) the vehicle is parked within the right-of-way of a controlled-access highway or within the
traveled portion of a public street when travel is allowed there;
(9) the vehicle is unlawfully parked in a zone that is restricted by posted signs to use by fire,
police, public safety, or emergency vehicles;
(10) the vehicle is unlawfully parked on property at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International
Airport owned by the Metropolitan Airports Commission;
(11) a law enforcement official has probable cause to believe that the vehicle is stolen, or
that the vehicle constitutes or contains evidence of a crime and impoundment is reasonably
necessary to obtain or preserve the evidence;
(12) the driver, operator, or person in physical control of the vehicle is taken into custody
and the vehicle is impounded for safekeeping;
(13) a law enforcement official has probable cause to believe that the owner, operator,
or person in physical control of the vehicle has failed to respond to five or more citations for
parking or traffic offenses;
(14) the vehicle is unlawfully parked in a zone that is restricted by posted signs to use
by taxicabs;
(15) the vehicle is unlawfully parked and prevents egress by a lawfully parked vehicle;
(16) the vehicle is parked, on a school day during prohibited hours, in a school zone on a
public street where official signs prohibit parking; or
(17) the vehicle is a junk, abandoned, or unauthorized vehicle, as defined in section
168B.011, and subject to immediate removal under chapter 168B.
Subd. 5. Towing prohibited. Unless the vehicle is described in subdivision 4, a towing
authority may not tow a motor vehicle because:
(1) the vehicle has expired registration tabs that have been expired for less than 90 days;
(2) the vehicle is at a parking meter on which the time has expired and the vehicle has
fewer than five unpaid parking tickets.
Subd. 6. Private property. This section does not restrict the authority of the owner of private property to authorize under chapter 168B the towing of a motor vehicle unlawfully parked on the private property.
Subd. 7. Damages. The owner or driver of a motor vehicle towed in violation of this section
is entitled to recover from the towing authority the greater of $100 or two times the actual damages sustained as a result of the violation. Damages recoverable under this subdivision include but are not limited to costs of recovering the vehicle, including time spent and transportation costs.
History: 1989 c 256 s 1; 1990 c 503 s 1; 1992 c 580 s 1; 1994 c 536 s 19; 1995 c 137 s
10-12; 2005 c 56 s 1

In regard to Subdivision 3: The "four hour rule" is frequently violated, and paperwork faked up all over the place. Tow truck drivers are unscrupulous and want to get as many tows as possible. We need a video sting operation to show these sharks in action, otherwise what will a citizen say?

"Oh, I looked at my watch, and it was only 3 hours after the time on the tow tag. No, really, it was!" The fines for violating this Subdivision need to be much more severe than the petty fines in Subdivision 7, which are so minor they make it well worth the risk. Deliberately towing a vehicle in violation of Subdivision 3 should be GRAND THEFT AUTO.

In regard to Subdivision 4 (1), "Snow Emergency." Yeah, it snows in Minnesota in winter. That can't possibly be an emergency requiring the suspension of civil liberties. The many ways to revise the concept of a so-called "snow emergency" are a much bigger topic.

In regard to Subdivision 4 (5), "Stop sign." The statute not only requires being within 30 feet of the stop sign, but one must be "visually blocking" the sign. The "visual blocking" aspect is routinely ignored, however.

In regard to Subdivision 4 (6), "Disability parking." There is one interesting piece of case law on this, which is State v. Kortkamp (633 N.W. 2d 863--Minn.App. 2001). In that court case, Kortkamp fought a battle of principal over whether he had parked in a handicapped spot when he merely parked (partially) in the yellow striped zone painted on the ground adjacent to the disability parking space.

The court rejected a load of Kortkamp's arguments--that he shouldn't be found guilty because he didn't know his car was partially on the yellow striped zone, that the lack of a handicapped person trying to use the space was relevant, that the statute was unconstitutionally vague--but ultimately gave Kortkamp a victory because the statute in question really said nothing about the yellow striped lines and whether these were part of the no-parking zone.

The lack of case law on traffic matters is really notable but, then again, it's almost always more cost effective to just pay an unjustified ticket rather than fight all the way to the appellate level where the decisions of the court become enshrined as case law.

In regard to Subdivision 4 (6), "Posted for Temporary Restricted Parking." Neither 12 nor 24 hours is sufficient. Towing Utopia suggests 72 hours, weekends and holidays not included. The state statute should be revised to include personally warning the owner of the vehicle by telephonic and/or electronic communication prior to towing.

In regard to Subdivision 4(7), "Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport. Well, look who was powerful enough to get their entity written right into the state statute. Would that citizens had such power! Towing Utopia suggests owners of vehicles illegally parked at the airport must be personally warned 48 hours before towing, by telephonic and/or electronic communication prior to towing.

In regard to Subdivision 4 (13), "Five or more traffic citations." Needs revision. Should be 7 or more within the Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, where citations are handed out like candy and "booby traps" are laid for the unwary.

In regard to Subdivision 4 (16), "School zones." Towing utopia suggests "this shall not apply to vehicles bearing stickers or insignia from the particular school. It shall be assumed the vehicle belongs to a parent or school employee who must tend to a child."

In regard to Subdivision 6, "Private property." Abuses are rampant. Considerable reform is needed here.

In regard to Subdivision 7, "Damages." The minimum amount of damages needs to be revised. When were these set? In 1988? I should look into that. Furthermore, how is the cost of one's "time" defined? Is it my current hourly wage? Is it nothing for an unemployed person? Is it minimum wage?
Is it some standard amount?

Some good case law is needed here, some challenges to the way things are done. The vague and minor damages clause encourages abuses by towing companies...not that they've ever needed much encouragement.

If you have experience with any particular aspects of this statute, or suggestions about changes and reform, submit your ideas.

Tricked And Trapped On Washington Ave. SE

The City of Minneapolis appears to use calculated, deliberate ploys to write tickets and tow vehicles on Washington Ave. SE, and area frequented heavily by students and out-of-town visitors. I've fallen for their little scam myself. Here's how it works.

You pull up to a meter on Washington Ave. SE. You see other people parking there, so you figure it's OK to park. You check the meter to see if you really have to put in money. The meter says it is enforced from Mon-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and then lists a bunch of holidays when parking is NOT enforced. (The phrase "University holidays" is tricky and ambiguous, too, but let's concentrate on the big stuff)

If you glanced at a sign on the street, you'd see a big yellow sign repeating information from the meter, and warning you. METERS ENFORCED MON-SAT UNTIL 8 p.m. Maybe you check your watch and think, OK, it's 2:30 p.m. so I definitely need to pay, but if I keep feeding quarters in the meter I could stick around here and shop until 8 p.m, and then parking would be free after that. Cool.

So you put in your money and go off to shop at the University Bookstore, eat in a restaurant, or whatever. You come back an hour later. And your car is GONE.

It turns out there is lawyer-like fine print. You won't find it on the meter itself. You won't find it on the big yellow sign which warning you about meter enforcement until 8pm. If you look at a nearby pole with five--seriously, count 'em--FIVE signs mounted to it, you'll see the fine print on the third sign down.


This sign just fades into all the visual clutter and, in effect, contradicts the meter itself and the big yellow sign at the top of the pole, which would lead any reasonable person to conclude the meters require payment from 8 a.m to 8 p.m., but if you pay you can park there, and if you get caught not paying, well, you'll spend $35 to $40 on a ticket.

Every day except Sunday, the parking enforcement comes out there and collects a bountiful harvest of revenue. Almost always gets towed.

This is what we get from the City of Minneapolis. BOOBY TRAPS created for the benefit of revenue collection and towing companies. Once I saw a car being hauled away with its car alarm going, as though crying out for help.

How would this be fixed? Well, besides the idea I keep harping on...personal email and text message alerts for individual car owners, warning of impending tows...the messed up and confusing situation on Washington Ave. SE needs to be clarified and un-clutted by affixing small individual signs to each meter pole, bearing the words "NO PARKING 7-9 AM, 3-6 PM, Mon-Fri.

Of course, the light rail will take care of it all when it runs down the middle of Washington Ave. SE and over the Washington Avenue Bridge. We'll lose all that parking...and the cars will try to find other spots to park, creating a towing nightmare.

Yes, the "towing nightmare" I alluded to in St. Paul does stretch into Minneapolis along the planned light rail route, and it goes through the heart of my campus.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

San Francisco CRUSHED car, owner's stuff inside!

This horror story comes from San Francisco, and the trend-setting owner of the blog was nice enough to give a "shout out" to Towing Utopia, so I'll return the favor. This info thanks to the blog called "From Forbes Field to the bay and back..."
If you're driving in San Francisco, watch out where you park & check the time on your meter.

In the proposed San Francisco City Budget towing fees are going up :

Towing fee :

$ 188.75 to $ 238.75

Daily storage :

$ 36.75 to $ 50.00

I had a car towed awhile ago. I lost all the stuff in it because they sent it to the crusher after 30 days & it was the only car we had.

The last time I had to pay for a car to be towed to my mechanic, it cost $ 65.

And What About The Victims?

I was looking through Minnesota's statutes on towing, and some stuff I saw led me to believe crime victims get a break under the state statute if their car is towed to an impound lot.

But I wonder how many victims know and utilize these exceptions and how easy it is within the uncaring and abusive non-consent towing system? What about PRIVATE impound lots? I'll have to write more about the state statute, and perhaps look into other states. This will be a time- consuming endeavor but I'm (shall we say?) DRIVEN.

This column tells the story of a bizarre hit-and-run in Dinkytown, near campus, or should I call it a hit-and-stagger? Judge for yourself, here's a link to the story.


Whenever I write something "gonzo," I title it "Fear and loathing..." after the master of gonzo journalism. My little homage and admission.

I took the photo of this damaged car the next day. It was shoved out into the street a bit, and I was worried it would get towed. The owner must have had a cow when he saw his car, parked safely and legally near his home.

Huh...actually, come to think of it, I talked to the guy by phone and he was indeed having a cow. Who wouldn't? Poor guy.

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.