The Dreaded Undertoad

A few years back, Mark Evanier got his car towed. I was reading about that today (Evanier's blog is one of the few that isn't blocked out by my job's new firewall, so I've been catching up on a lot of his archives lately) and it brought to mind the following:

I have, in my life, had two memorable experiences with tow trucks. One was recent, and is mostly vicarious. A week or so ago, SuperWife and I were pulling out of our driveway as we do most weekday mornings, with two kids in the back seat, on our way to drop offs at two different schools and then downtown to two different office jobs. On this occasion, that process was interrupted by an act of no doubt drunken idiocy; to wit, sometime the night before, some no doubt drunken idiot had parked their car next to our driveway, in such a way that their vehicle was canted 30 degrees away from the curb, and, more to the point of our topic, jutting out about three feet across our right of way.

This necessitated SuperWife cutting the wheel to the right and backing our car out across the strip of verge grass and curb in order to get into the street. We were pissed, as you can imagine, but week day mornings are always high velocity experiences for us and we had no time to do more than mildly curse ('mildly' as there was a 7 year old in the back seat) whichever drunken idiot had inconvenienced us while going about our business.

It never would have occurred to me that that very same vehicle might still be in exactly the same position when we returned from work and school pick up (for the 7 year old; our 17 year old makes her own way home from school in the afternoon), and yet, there it was, 11 hours after we'd last seen it, parked in exactly the same place and at exactly the same 30 degree slant from the curb. Obviously, whoever had parked it there hadn't been back all day long; to add annoyance on top of annoyance, that entire side of the street was now empty -- had the erring driver bothered to check their vehicle at any time during the day prior to our return, they would have had their choice of valid parking spots to move their car into, and wouldn't have still been closing off a third of our access to our own driveway.

But clearly they hadn't troubled to do that. Having no idea who the car belonged to, and being more than a little pissed off now at having had to drive across the grassy verge strip twice in one day to use our own driveway, SuperWife and I decided to call the local police substation and see what could be done.

What could be done was that a cop rolled up within fifteen minutes, put a ticket on the car, then knocked on our door to explain to us at great and tedious length that the car might get towed sometime within the next 48 hours, or it might not, as it was considered a low priority item. He didn't seem apologetic, but actually, rather resentful of and irritated by the necessity of advising us of this. I myself was rather bemused; we live in a pretty high class, high income neighborhood, but we ourselves are at best very lower middle class. We snuck into this neighborhood by renting an apartment owned and managed by a former employer of SuperWife's; without her connections, we'd be living in some much less pleasant neighborhood and the cops would be pretty much ignoring any complaints we might make short of a home invasion. Still, I don't mind being mistaken for prosperous and potentially influential if it gets us official attention when we want it.

So after explaining all this, the cop went away, and I got ready to go out for some take out with Nate, as SuperWife didn't feel like cooking that night. A few minutes later, as Nate and I were heading out the back door, SuperWife called me to the front of the apartment in a very excited tone. I looked out the window where she was indicating, and saw a tow truck hooking up the offending vehicle. Guess it was a slow night for whoever had the city contract, which was, of course, fine with us.

So Nate and I went off to DQ for a couple of bags of anti-health food, and when we got back forty minutes later, SuperWife advised us that the owner of the offending vehicle had showed up knocking on our door five minutes after the tow truck departed with her car. Yeah, it was a her. According to SuperWife, it was a young woman, not un-pretty, with beautifully styled hair, reeking of Old Milwaukee, who insisted, in turn, that (a) the car had not been parked illegally or in any way that would inconvenience any reasonable person and (b) that she had just moved to the city and couldn't afford anything like this and (c) her grandmother was dying RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.

Then she asked SuperWife if there was anyone living in the building that she could do some work cleaning or something for to pay for the tow charge. Now, of course, what you want more than anything else in the world is for the inebriated dumbass who left her car parked at an angle across your driveway for an entire day and who then showed up five minutes after you had the car towed away spouting bullshit rationalizations and self justifications and outright lies, to actually come into your house and have access to all your stuff under the pretense that she is going to do some sort of 'work' for you.

Despite the obvious attractiveness of this proposition, SuperWife demurred, at which point, according to SuperWife's account, this fine woman became profanely abusive. Now, I myself would not become profanely abusive with SuperWife no matter how intoxicated I might be; the amount of alcohol I would have to imbibe to become that brave would put me into a stupor or flat out kill me first. And before I'd start throwing profanities around at SuperWife in front of SuperAdorable Kid, I suspect I'd just take some kind of fast acting poison, at least that way, my demise would be relatively quick.

SuperWife did not admit to any violence, but she did say that after this, the young woman departed our premises very quickly, and if she had one or both of SuperWife's bootprints on her ass when she did it, I would not in any way be surprised.

I will note here with some bemusement that this woman did not trouble herself about her vehicle for at a period of at least 12 hours, probably longer, after she parked it on a street in a neighborhood which she herself insisted she had only recently moved into... but she showed up like a summoned efreet within minutes of said vehicle being towed away by the city wreckers.

I guess everybody has their priorities.

Anyway, that's one brush I've had with tow trucks. My next anecdote regarding such is much, much longer --

I'm going to guess this took place in the summer of 1985. That was the summer I got out of Army Basic Training, which would fit, because in the course of this anecdote, me and three other people end up hiking from one side of Syracuse to the other, and that's not something I could have easily done at any other point in my life besides while I was still in the fabulous (never to be equalled) physical condition I enjoyed briefly after Basic, before falling back into rack and ruin from, you know, continuing to eat a lot of crap while not exercising. Also, one of the people involved, a woman I'll call Amy, was near to graduating from college when this happened, and a date of 1985 would fit that time frame, too. Besides all that, my relationships with most of my college era friends didn't long survive the watershed life event that Basic Training turned out to be for me, so, again, summer of 85 sounds just about right.

Actually, given that Amy was living in Lawrinson Hall when this occurred, but the weather was nice (that I do remember) it was probably autumn of 85 rather than summer. But whatever. It was a long, long time ago, yet, despite that, most of the salient details are still burned into my brain over twenty years later.

What had happened was this: my old buddy Slappy, for some reason, decided to swing through Syracuse for a quick visit. I imagine it was in some way work related, and I think by 85 he was writing professionally and more or less regularly for both Marvel and DC. (My memory blurs that far back. Slappy would have graduated around 1982, I believe, and then he was gone from Syracuse for a year or so, living in New York City, and then he returned to Syracuse for another year or so, when he lived on Dell Street and wrote a lot of POWER MAN/IRON FIST scripts and introduced me and a few other guys we knew to the Champions superhero roleplaying system, after which, he moved away again... so... yeah, call it the fall of 1985 and be done with it; it's not like anyone is going to contradict me anyway.)

Anyway, Slappy had borrowed his mother's car (I think) for the trip. He planned to come in and pick up me and Jeff Webb (who was Great, but not yet Late, at that time) and we'd go out and get something to eat and reminisce and maybe play some Illuminati (the portable version with the little cards you can't find anywhere any more that predated the current, boxed up, tabletop version Steve Jackson Games put out several years later). At the last minute, somebody suggested adding Amy to the roster, as she was the only other member of our college clique still around at the time. This meant Slappy had to pick me and Jeff up at our off campus digs, and then swing over to campus to get Amy, who was still living in Lawrinson Hall at the time. (Amy lived in Lawrinson Hall the entire time she attended Syracuse University; I'm pretty sure she was in her last year at this time, although it may have been her fifth year, as she changed majors at least once.)

Now, back then (and I doubt this has changed, but I don't really know) you could not legally park on campus without a parking sticker, and those parking stickers were among the most zealously guarded perks Syracuse University had -- students found it nearly impossible to get them; in fact, many faculty members had a difficult time procuring them. Slappy certainly didn't have one, and even if he had, it wouldn't have been on his mother's car, and it was very well known that if you parked your car on campus without a sticker, campus security would descend like winged velociraptors and have your car towed within seconds. (Campus security was notorious for taking their sweet time responding to pretty much any other kind of complaint, but unauthorized parking got their attention fast, most likely because it generated money for the University to have cars towed, and I'd imagine that somehow or other some of that money stuck to the security department itself.)

Whatever the case, Slappy knew better than to try to park an unauthorized car anywhere on campus, including in the Lawrinson Hall parking garage. So, we needed someplace we could park that was within an easy walk of Lawrinson, and Slappy eventually decided to use the parking lot of a nearby, very small, enclosed mall we'd frequently cut through on our way downtown to buy comics at Dream Days, back when we were all living on campus in Lawrinson Hall. (Dream Days, owned and operated by the always colorful Mike Sagert, switched locations several times while I was in Syracuse and finally went under sometime in the early 90s, leaving me to the tender mercies of more predatory comics shops like Twilight Book and Games. Since I've moved out of Syracuse, Twilight has also gone under, which leaves me to think that the Syracuse I once knew and loved must be pretty much as dead as the dinosaurs... which is just as well, since I'm happy in River City.)

So Slappy parked his mom's car in the lot and all three of us got out and walked the four blocks or so up to Lawrinson Hall, where we met up with Amy and all four of us walked back, chattering amiably back and forth about various the kind of stuff that is only ever important to you when you're young and geeky and you're still under the impression that not only are you never going to age or die, but you're also just a few years away from complete success and fame and wealth in whatever field it is you'd like most to achieve same in -- said amiable chatter which cut off as if shot by a rifle as we reached the southeast corner of the mall parking lot just in time to see Slappy's mom's car heading out the northeast corner at a pretty good clip, attached to the back of a red and white painted tow truck.

At which point, for perhaps the very first time ever, we all noticed the pretty prominent sign stating that this parking lot was for mall patrons only and any others parking there would be towed.

Buh buh buh BUMmer.

Slappy sprang into action immediately, turning to all of us and advising us that we had parked, gone into the mall, and had been shopping. He rattled off quickly which stores we had gone to and specifically told us that we'd decided not to buy anything and upon coming back out to the parking lot, had been horrified to see our car being towed away.

Having gotten our collective lies firmly set in our minds, Slappy then led us inside. Inquiries took us to the mall office, where a long haired fellow with a walkie talkie barely listened to the beginnings of Slappy's schtick before chuckling, shaking his head, and leading us all back outside again into the parking lot.

Lifting his walkie talkie, he depressed his send button and said "Hey, Luke, gimme a wave". At which point, another long haired guy who was sitting on a car at the corner of the lot (whom we had walked right by, coming and going, to and from the lot, without paying any attention to him at all), waved laconically at us.

After Luke waved, and at no point up until that point, I noticed he also had a walkie talkie. It was right there in his lap and I'm still willing to bet twenty two years after the events that it was right there in his lap both times our party had walked right by him. We just hadn't even noticed him, or it.

"He watches everyone park," Longhaired Guy standing with us said, his voice nearly toneless, but his eyes unmistakably sparkling with the unabashed pleasure nearly any of us would get at proving a bullshit artist to be a bullshit artist with irrefutable evidence right to his bullshitting face. "If you park and then leave the lot without going into the mall, he walks over to your car and gives me a shout on the box and I write down the plate number and call for a truck."

He paused, then, looking at Slappy invitingly, no doubt waiting to see if Slappy would renew his protestations of injured innocence. Slappy remained silent for several seconds, although his face was just about as beet red as I have ever seen a human visage turn. Finally, he more or less squeaked (obviously forcing his voice through a glottal wall of choked outrage at the enormous injustice of a universe where there were actual consequences for one's acts that a man of enormous innate charm and charisma could not immediately bluster, bully, and bullshit his way out of) "So how do I get the car back?"

Long-hair whipped out a badly beat up, rather dirty business card and handed it to Slappy. "That's the address," he said. "You go there and it's" -- here he named some figure for the tow and an additional figure for storage per day (or part of a day); I can't remember what it was, but I remember being stunned by the amount, although back in 1985 or so, when I would have been paying a rent of something like $225 a month and living off around $130 a week, anything north of $100 or so would have struck me as being exorbitantly expensive.

Longhair also gave us directions; as it turned out, we would have to go through central Syracuse (downtown) and then head on out to the west side; a walk of a few miles, at the very least. But it was lovely weather and we didn't have any other wheels and it wasn't like Slappy was going to go back to Boston and tell his mom her car was stuck on an impound lot in Syracuse, so off we went.

As we went, Slappy fulminated furiously on the rank injustice of the situation we were in, bitching endlessly about how unfair it was that people would actually have a 'racket' like this where by just because somebody parked illegally in a clearly marked private lot, they might actually get towed and have to pay to get their vehicle back. It was outrageous. It was ridiculous. It should be illegal.

I finally got tired of listening to him and told him (probably rather shrilly; 22 years ago, I didn't have much sense of humor about such things) that he was just embarrassed, first at getting his mother's car towed, and then, because he'd tried to bullshit his way out of it and been completely and totally busted doing it. That set him off into another long tirade about how he wasn't embarrassed at all, he was just indignant that people would take advantage of others this way and a civilized society shouldn't allow this kind of victimization etc, etc, etc.

I have to admit something here -- while I was as inconvenienced as anyone except Slappy (who was going to have to actually foot the bill to get his mom's car out of hock), and wasn't at all thrilled to find myself walking three or four miles across Syracuse into a not particularly great neighborhood on a day when I'd planned to be sitting in Hungry Charlie's drinking Pepsi and playing Illuminati with some old buddies, still, I was also digging on Slappy's humiliation. Digging on it in a BIG way. I say this with no illusions; it was small of me then and it's small of me now, but, still, I was totally into it. He was my friend (or so I genuinely believed at the time) and I was sorry for him, but, more than I was sorry for him, I was wildly exultant at seeing him finally, irrefutably, objectively and completely unfuckingdeniably, lose a goddam argument with someone.

You have to understand (well, you don't have to, but I'll try to get you there anyway if you'll hang in with me a little bit longer) that at this point, I had been reasonably close friends (or whatever it was it turned out we actually were) with Slappy for six or seven years. I'd lived in the dorm room next to his for two semesters, shared a house with him for a year, collaborated with him on many, many stories, precis', plots, and scripts, DMed him in countless roleplaying sessions, played in several RPGs he'd DMed, and played alongside him in many, many others DMed by other people. I'd written letters to comics with him, read comics with him, had classes with him, typed papers and POWER MAN/IRON FIST scripts for him, ghost written MARVEL UNIVERSE pages for him, and I'd even stayed at his family's house with him for a week over winter break back in January of 1980, when he and I and several others had gone to First Night in Boston together, among many, many other occasions I'd shared with him. I'd stayed up late bullshitting with him, shared hundreds of meals with him, gone grocery shopping with him, watched movies with him, gone on long walks with him, talked to him endlessly on every conceivable subject, been there for him when girls had dumped him, and he'd been there for me in similar circumstances.

And, throughout all of that, I'd argued with him endlessly about everything, and in all that time, I'd only ever won one argument with him. It had been when he and I were brainstorming supporting characters for some superhero concept we were working on together. I'd created a private investigator I wanted to call David Gallery, and Slappy had looked at me, snorted derisively, and said "You've been reading too many Don MacGregor comics; real people don't have names like Gallery."

So I'd gone and gotten a phone book and opened it up to the Gs and after flipping a couple of pages, pointed silently to three entire columns of people named 'Gallery' in the Syracuse metropolitan area. And he'd glanced at it, then flipped the phone book shut and changed the subject, and I had no idea he actually considered that I had won that argument until nearly a year later, when I was bitching about how he thought he was completely infallible and nobody could ever, ever win an argument with him, at which point, he refuted my point by mentioning how I'd won the previous argument about David Gallery. Which encompasses an enormous irony (Slappy won an argument with me about how he never lost arguments by admitting he'd lost an argument to me that he hadn't ever previously admitted I'd won) and also pretty much summarizes my entire experience being friends with Slappy (he was never wrong and I was never right, unless me being right and him being wrong at some point in the past would actually mean that yet again I was totally wrong and he was really right in the present).

Mind you, it wasn't just me. Slappy never lost arguments with anyone in all the time I knew him... not because he was always, or even often,, actually correct in his views and/or opinions, but because he could and would bullshit, bluster, browbeat and/or bully anyone into believing anything, or, at least, into saying they did, if only to shut him the hell up. To Slappy there was no agreeing to disagree and there was never any chance he might learn something from someone that he hadn't known before and, well, as I said, the only time in my life I ever heard him say he'd been wrong about something was when admitting that he'd been wrong about something allowed him to win an entirely separate argument.

Slappy, more than anyone else I have ever met, absolutely embodied the inability to admit to error. He could not bring himself to say that he was wrong about anything, and I don't think he was capable of emotionally grasping that some things were not objective, some issues had no absolutely correct answer, and some disagreements simply weren't worth arguing about. With Slappy, any discussion on any subject was all out war, there were no rules (for him; he would, however, insist that whoever he was arguing with follow an entire array of arcane debating requirements, like never ever interrupting him, always qualifying their statements as to whether they were fact or opinion, and always requiring opposing statements to be fully supported with citations of unimpeachable source material, none of said requirements which he ever felt any inclination to adhere to himself) and he was going to beat down the opposition no matter how much or how long it took him to do it.

And if you wanted to stay friends with him, or even on anything like amicable speaking terms with him, eventually, you just learned to give in to him.

And I have to tell you, seeing him balked for the first time -- seeing him forced to back down, seeing him have to swallow his own bullshit, seeing him confront someone and actually lose, seeing him objectively proved to be in the wrong in a manner that was entirely irrefutable -- well, like I said, I was digging that shit in a big, BIG way.

That may have been why we stopped being friends, although, as I say, Amy was also present, and those few of you who are actually reading this thing all the way through have probably already figured out that Amy was indeed the mutual college friend of mine and Slappy's who eventually, a few years later, ended up becoming Mrs. Slappy.

Whatever the case may be, it has been my experience, born out by both of these occurrences (recent and long ago) and now, by reading Mark Evanier's description of his own run in with a towing company, that this is one of those instances where there is simply no possibility of compromise or empathy or sympathy across the divide between two entirely opposing viewpoints.

If you are a person who is being inconvenienced by an illegally parked vehicle, then you call the tow trucks and are entirely satisfied when the fucker who parked across your driveway or in your private lot taking up valuable parking space without paying for it is towed away. It seems entirely just and correct and right to you that said person should be so inconvenienced and have to pay to get their vehicle back, because they damned well shouldn't have parked where they did and then gone off and left their vehicle there and they knew it and you know they knew it. So fuck 'em, they got what they deserved and that's just how that goes, baby.

On the other hand, if it's your car that is getting towed away and you're the one who is going to have to find some way to get to a lot halfway across the city and shell out some big wad of cash to get the car back, and this is totally going to fuck with all your plans for the evening or maybe even the next several, then it does not matter if the place you parked in was clearly marked as private or it was illegal to park there or you were making it difficult or impossible for other people to get legitimate access to their own driveways or parking spaces or homes or businesses. None of this means a thing to you; whoever called the tow company is a bastard and a prick and a motherfucker and you had no idea and you're sure you weren't really parked blocking anything and you were only there for a little while anyway and this is a travesty and it's terrible and it's wrong and it's unfair and it should be illegal and it's ridiculous and it shouldn't be tolerated and it's an outrage.

I get that, and I'm willing to admit, if I'd parked somewhere I probably shouldn't have and then left my car there for longer than I really should have and I got back just in time to see my car heading off down the road on the back of a tow truck, I'd be pretty pissed, too.

Here's what I wouldn't do, though -- I wouldn't immediately turn to three buddies of mine and start rehearsing the lies I wanted them to tell to get me out of it. Maybe I'd go in and try to lie myself, but I don't think I'd immediately try to implicate my friends in a conspiracy to defraud, especially when I knew damn well I wasn't supposed to be parking where I was parking in the first place. (In fact, I doubt after the car was already towed I'd bother trying to lie at all. I might go up and try to say whatever I felt I had to to keep a tow truck in the process of hooking up my car from completing the process, but once the car's gone, it's gone. At that point, I'd just be looking to get the situation resolved as quickly and as cheaply as I could.)

I also wouldn't go out to the street where I'd illegally parked my car and start pounding on doors asking if anyone knew anything about where it had gotten to. Or if I did because I genuinely had no idea (and given how quickly the drunken idiot got out there after her car was towed, I have to assume she either looked out her window and saw it happening, or was tipped by a friend or neighbor who had seen it happening), I certainly wouldn't have started screaming profane abuse at the person who advised me that my car had been parked blocking her driveway for over 12 hours, in front of her 7 year old child.

And I certainly wouldn't write a 3,351 word blog post fuming about how the homeowner's association that posted their street private are 'master villains', how the laws and regulations that allow it are at fault, how the tow truck service that hauled my car off from a street that had been posted private was 'crooked' and how they have 'a lovely racket here', or how terrible it would be if some doctor got an emergency call and came out to find his car towed, and sum it all up with 'it's a real sleazy way to earn money'. I especially wouldn't write such a blog post after I'd taken hours out of my life to call up various different cops and other 'law enforcement officials' to confirm that, yes, indeed, this 'scam' is actually legal and the cops can't do anything about it.

Why wouldn't I do any of this? Because, well, it seems to me that the best way to avoid having your car towed is, you know, to not park anywhere you're not supposed to park in the first place, and if you absolutely have to do it, well, get your business done as fast as you possibly can and get your ass back to your car and get your car the hell out of that dubious parking spot.

If you don't do any of that and your car ends up getting towed, well, okay. Maybe you didn't see the sign saying that this perfectly normal looking street was actually private and had restricted parking and violators would be towed. That's a legitimate excuse to bitch about your shitty luck, but at some point, it seems to me, a reasonable person who is spending several thousand words bitching about having his car towed in public to a presumably sympathetic audience might want to own the fact that they made a mistake, they paid a fee, and now their life is moving on. (I have no idea how much money Mark Evanier makes, but I'm reasonably sure that $125 is to him roughly the equivalent of what I'd spend on a this month's issue of BIRDS OF PREY, if I were still buying BIRDS OF PREY.) And if instead you spend 3,351 words endlessly raving about how every single other factor involved in the situation is at fault, sleazy, criminal, immoral, stupid, mean, or flat out wrong except you, the doofus who parked your car on a private street in the first place, well, I think you're kind of being a jack ass.

You're also being an ass (jack or jill, as the case may be) if, after parking your car in a drunken haze and staggering away to sleep it off and ignoring your illegally parked car for 12 hours or more, you see the car being towed out your window, hastily throw some pants and a shirt on, run out on the street and start pounding on doors, and upon finding the person whose driveway you were blocking all day and who therefore had your car towed away, you start screaming abuse at them in front of their 7 year old child.

Finally, you're being an ass if, upon seeing your car heading on down the road attached to a tow truck, you immediately embroil your friends in a conspiracy to deceive, and when that conspiracy fails, you then spend the next hour whining about how unfair it all is, and if one of your friends tells you to man the fuck up and quit bitching, you start screaming at him about how you're really a victim, here.

Yet, again... this doesn't seem to be uncommon behavior. Many, many people seem to respond with absolute screaming outrage when their car is towed (or, for that matter, when their car is in any way interfered with without their express permission) regardless of the circumstances, enough so that I have to suspect that it just goes back to the insane, near-worshipful devotion and awe that contemporary humans regard their motor vehicles with.

Even Adam Arkin's WEST WING character once admitted that if there was any one law he could break with impunity, he'd "park anywhere (he) want(ed)". So maybe it's simply that, at base, most people will not admit that on a deep primordial level beyond all sense or reason, they absolutely believe that they should be allowed to do anything they want with their vehicle no matter what, and anything that interferes with that absolute natural right is hateful, vile, and intolerable.

I don't know. What I do know is, when you mess with someone's ride, even the most reasonable people (like Mark Evanier generally seems to be, or, at least, as Mark Evanier generally portrays himself to be in his own writing) get really, REALLY pissy about it.

I think if I were a crooked tow truck driver, or even a legit one, I'd carry a gun.


Nate said…
Vehicle = Freedom

Parking restrictions = Incursions of that freedom

Everyone hates things that limit their freedom.

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