Fear and loathing at the impound lot

Squirrels do not gather nuts with such rapid speed as tow trucks gather victims.

John Hoff

My van had already been brutalized prior to getting snatched by a tow truck. When the first wave of the snowstorms hit, I calculated it was better to pay for all night parking on the West Bank and ride out the weather, rather than risk getting behind the wheel, slip-sliding around in snowy streets.

But my calculations didn’t factor in a dishonest hit-and-run. The broken taillight glass and the marks in the snow told a wordless yet sordid story. A vehicle with heavy-duty treads had cleared the parking lot of snow, coming too close to my van, smacking out the taillight on the passenger side. Plastic red shards landed on the ground but had not yet been covered by falling snow.

Roughly calculating the snowfall, I figured this mishap happened between 9:30 and 10:30 that morning, which was Feb. 25. It sucked, but it’s not like the Hoff family lacks several spare Dodge Grand Caravans on my mother’s rural farm, which was where I had snagged that taillight assembly in the first place.

I told myself to be calm, serene, like stones being smoothed by water. I called the owner of the parking lot and left a message, then sought parking on the East Bank. My vehicle wallowed like a beached whale in unplowed snow near Hong Kong Noodle, but I managed to find a single open space near McNamara Alumni Center.

My pimped-out 1990 Dodge Grand Caravan seemed safe enough, especially with the padlock mounted on the dysfunctional but now safely secured sliding side door. I call my vehicle a Dodge Grand Caravan but, technically, the rear hatch came off a Pontiac, so it’s sort of a hybrid. The paint job is a hybrid, as well, part original peeling factory coat and part spray paint. The van lacks a radio, because I bought it off my little brother for a fistful of sweaty bills and, um, my brother is a Mennonite and Mennonites don’t do radios, much.

They’re not big into newspapers, either, so he will probably never read how I paid half as much to get towed as I paid for the van in the first place.

Parking appeared legal where I parked. I thought, hey, it’s Sunday and this street has already been cleared. I can park all day, or at least until the snow starts coming down heavily once more. But at about 2327 hours TNT (Towing Nazi Time) my van and every other vehicle on that section of Walnut Street Southeast got abducted by bright red aliens with flashing yellow lights on their heads and hooks for hands. Squirrels do not gather nuts with such rabid speed as these tow trucks gather their victims.

Expletives flowed like a river of sewage when I figured out my raw deal. And then I grew calm. Stones being smoothed by water, I told myself. Some cop wannabes who didn’t look old enough to shave were driving around a parking enforcement vehicle much too new, too nice for such obvious rookies. Did they have the phone number for the impound lot? Of course they didn’t. That would involve knowing how to read and being helpful to the general public.

Honest to god, I calculated whether it was more cost effective to allow the tyrannical powers-that-be just keep my piece-of-crap vehicle. Lord knows I could easily buy another cheap van off my brother. There is one in his yard I covet this very moment, except for the missing headlight and multiple coatings of baby drool from his five children. My towed van would have brought the city of Minneapolis less at an auction than the towing charge, probably. Come springtime, the groceries in the van’s cargo area would have a certain fragrant ambiance.

Oh, it was tempting. But $600 worth of recent work on the brakes and a brand-new tire on the front driver’s side ($64, baby) helped me decide I was going to have to bail that worthless ho out of hock.

Twice during normal business hours I called the impound lot. After being on hold for 45 minutes, each time, I just gave up. City Councilmember Cam Gordon, Green Party, sure answered his phone. He answered it early in the morning, on the first ring. He was sympathetic and helpful. I told him somebody needs to make the impound lot elves stop stealing other people’s toys long enough to pick up their freaking phone!

Only when I was in a taxi, minutes from the impound lot, did somebody pick up the phone to confirm they had my van. The woman who finally answered said she was a city employee, helping to answer calls. I wondered aloud why the impound lot people couldn’t pick up a little ol’ phone receiver when they could pick up large vehicles with relative ease.

Stones. Stones being smoothed by Ö oh, forget it.

At the impound lot, a man whose vehicle was stolen stood in line with a hangdog face. He said he figured the impound didn’t have his vehicle, but he just had to check. Too bad he had to drive all that way for nothing, I thought, just because they never pick up their stupid phone! Another woman was pleading, desperately, that she no longer owned a certain vehicle and her nephew (who sounded truly worthless) had never changed the title papers.

I felt violated, seeing my Dodge parked where I had never parked it. But the camouflage counterfeit Care Bear was still on the dash, a gift from my little son. My copy of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” was still between the seats.

“Oh, baby,” I told my van. “Did you think I would leave you here? Baby, you know I got your bail, but you’re going to have to work it off. Yes, I’m going to put you right back out on the street again. Better earn my money.”

I’m not going to ask my van what happened at the impound lot. I understand it did what was necessary to survive. Driving past gates, waving paperwork like a passport to freedom, I saw vehicles that had been smashed and mangled in accidents, and sweet rides owners would obviously reclaim. For me, there is no more fear of the impound lot. The fear of getting towed is worse than the tow itself.

Snow. Beautiful, serene snow.

The private parking lot called to deny all responsibility for my busted taillight, of course.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]