18.9.08

The Day the City of Chicago Stole My Car


I park regularly on a street named Wolcott Ave; it's one of the only streets near my apartment that doesn't require a permit to park on. It is a short and generally timid street - its length is truncated by a park on one end and a dark gated alcove under train tracks on the other. Sides of buildings and fenced off parking lots occupy the properties bordering its sidewalks. My room mate Tim and I regularly vie for the closest parking spot to the house, and sympathize with one another when we're forced to park off of Wolcott onto 16th St., which is a barren road one block north of our street, running along the train tracks, devoid of foot traffic and thus vehicles are more susceptible to tampering. There's broken window glass lining the street always.

I left my parking spot, an undignified spot at the very south end of Wolcott, on the warm rainy evening of Friday September 12th with Tim in car to head to a video fundraiser and then an independent video store in Wicker Park. I rented 'Glory Stompers', a film starring a (pre-sobriety) Dennis Hopper as the leader of a biker gang called The Black Souls who talk a lot about snuffing and stomping and gettin' loaded, and end up doing each other in through various wanton activities. I was hoping to upgrade my parking spot upon our return to Wolcott, as there were empty spaces closer to the house when we left, but alas I was relegated to parking the same distance away from the house, on the far side of the street this time, even. It being rainy and late, I didn't notice, nor did I feel the need to notice any notices posted along the street indicating temporary changes to parking status on the street. 

    However, upon leaving the house the next morning at 10:30, I was met with an empty Wolcott where once many cars had been parked, including my own. At first I was hoping they ('they' being whoever it was that had the power to clear a street of cars, the city, or the cops, or a criminal maybe) had maybe just nudged the vehicles into one of the parking lots nearby or something, that my car had been moved just a little, because for some reason it wasn't quite in the right place, or something. At that point I saw the notices posted on a scanty few electric poles and stop signs along the street which I had not noticed or which were not there the night before: they read "NO PARKING TOW ZONE 9-13 6AM - 3PM POLICE ORDER City of Chicago Bureau of Traffic Services". The notice posted nearest my car had slipped from its spot at eye-level, to the bottom of the stop sign onto which it was strung. I understood at this point that my car had been stolen by the people who posted these signs, and that it probably wasn't nearby. Across the street on the sidewalk bordering the park I spotted two representatives of the Traffic Services Bureau. I asked them where the cars went and they said 'Sheit, were you the guy from NEW YORK' (I have New York plates) and I said 'Yeah man' and they replied 'Man, how do they expect you to see these little red and white signs here, and it's all rainy and shit...' and I asked where the pound was, and they told me to call '411' - 'No wait, it's 311 you ought ta call. Yeah call 311 and ask about the pound. Where's Western? Oh yeah thata way, there's the pound way down Western'. I asked them what was happening today, and they said some festival that was cancelled due to the rain. I thanked the yellow-slickered Traffic Men and went to find the pound, on the phone. But the phone service proved useless...my estimated wait time was to be 'more than three minutes' - I was waiting 'more than ten minutes' when I hung up. My license wasn't showing up on the pound database online, but I did eventually find some phone numbers that would connect me direct to each of the city's six pounds (they are paired up in three locations, though each pound, even those at the same location and office, has different hours of operation). I got in touch with a pound employee who confirmed that all cars from festivals were going to pound #6. I headed for pound #6, by foot and bus and then foot again. Walking from the bus to the pound was a fifteen minute bout through a torrent (brought on by the north-moving weather of hurricane Ike) and I was wetter than comfort could care to handle upon arrival at the pound.
    The pound office was filled to overflowing with people put out by the many cancelled festivals across the city; it seemed that temporary tow signs city-wide weren't posted until late the evening before the events of the day. It was not a happy place, and I was unhappily stuck there for four hours, at which point my car still hadn't been inventoried (it was there, but it hadn't been bureaucratized yet) and I abandoned my post to go home and eat something. Tim had cooked a whole chicken and its skin and meat transferred heat and vitality into my damp defeated sad sack soul. My brooding had been softened significantly by the sympathy I received from my father over the phone, and I was at ease with my lack come bedtime. The next day, Sunday, arrived with no repast from the rains, and Tim drove me back to the pound in the morning. I met a man who was there along with me the day before, who had just at that moment, after waiting yesterday and coming back today, been informed that he would need a valid City Permit to drive his can off the lot (he didn't have one, and you couldn't get one at the pound, and it was a rainy Sunday). The man, who was tall and had fish lips and no definition in his jaw, berated the staff with comments like 'you people don't run a service here, you run AN OBSTACLE TO PEOPLE GOING ABOUT THEIR DAILY LIVES!' The staff, to their defense, were working very hard the entire time and showed nothing but courtesy and patience for individual predicaments; the tall man was an ass, and was told to go get a pass.
 I paid $170 ransom for my car, and received an after-tow hearing date for the coming Wednesday. The penultimate challenge presented itself when I found my car in the lot, surrounded by a puddle four or five inches deep. I had the choice to ask the forklift driver who moves the cars around with his brutal machine and who had just moved a car out of the way so I could get to mine, to move my car out of the puddle, or I could forego my relative comfort (relative to yesterday) and save my car from further distress by wading through the puddle and soaking my shoes and socks. I chose the latter. I had my car again, and this was good.
    The final challenge was the court case, and through some documentary evidence of inadequate marking which wasn't admissible because it didn't document the entire street, my neophyte Chicagoan status, and my description of collective frustration among all parties towed without adequate notice that day at the pound, I won my case (the adjudicating lawyer told me, off the record, that this was a gift, and officially welcomed me to the city). The representative of the city then took me aside and, as I had asked to have payment sent to my parents' address in Toronto four months from now, told me I need to give her the name of the best furrier in Toronto, which was an odd request but I obliged and will call her shortly to give her that information. 
The city stole my car, and I'm not sure they feel bad about it, but my frustration has been put at ease now that justice has been served. Chicago still owes me a day, and so I'm expecting something municipally expedient to happen in the near future. 





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