Thursday, March 01, 2012

My angry rant of the month!!

Why have a blog if you can't use it to rant and rave once in awhile?

My vote for the scummiest people on the planet are the lowlifes who own and operate towing companies. Not the good folks from service stations or AAA providing roadside service; I’m talking about the dirt bags who tow your car from parking spaces, hold your car hostage, and then essentially rob you to get it back.

I recently had an encounter with one.

I attend an improv class every week. Been going for several years. The class is in North Hollywood at a small theater. Parking is in short supply, but we’ve always been able to park at the small pod mall on the corner. There are usually spaces. The bail bonds place is rarely crowded.

Suddenly, a few weeks ago (unbeknownst to me) they decided to make those spaces a tow away zone. A sign the size of a postage stamp was erected. So I return to class after my Aussie adventure, park in my usual spot, and blissfully head off to class. At 10:30 I return to find my car is gone.

Talk about an oh shit! moment.

My first thought of course is that it’s been stolen. Not to disparage the esteemed clientele that frequents bail bonds stores, but that thought did occur to me. Then a member of the class mentioned that they were now towing cars there.

Perhaps if the sign were larger than a fortune cookie I might’ve known that.

So I call the number. Yes, they have my car. It’s now 11:00 PM. Are they open all night? Of course not. They close at midnight. Swell. Where are they? East Hollywood bordering on downtown. That’s at least ten miles away. I’ve got an hour.

Andy Goldberg, our benevolent class leader, graciously offers to give me a ride. We head to Hollywood, make our way to Paramount Studios, journey east on Melrose. Within blocks the neighborhood becomes Bonfire of the Vanities West.

This was the towing company they used? They couldn’t find a single tow truck in North Hollywood? They had to go to Blade Runner land?

We keep driving and driving. And driving.  The clock is ticking. Street lights are at a premium now. We finally find the lot. It’s unmarked of course, but we see a bunch of cars that haven’t been stripped for parts (yet) so we figure that must be the place. From what they charge they could easily afford a “Tow Jam Towing” sign.

The price for retrieving my car: $307. That includes an extra fee because it was after hours. When are regular business hours? 9-4. It was 9-5 but the 5 was blacked out and the 4 scrawled in its place. I was also charged extra for the mileage from North Hollywood… as if I selected this particular towing service. A young couple was in front of me. They were practically in tears. $307 was probably their life savings. The clerk was more moved that the vending machine was out of Snickers.

At least my car started and the radio was still in my dashboard and not halfway to Tijuana. I’ve heard many stories where car owners were not so lucky.

Of course, the tow people could have been driving around in my car for an hour. I dunno. But there were no bullet holes and the radio station had not been changed. I can just picture it: a high-speed chase, the criminals leaning out the window firing at the police, Sirius/XM Channel 71, “Seriously Sinatra” blaring from my radio.

I understand that people are just doing their job and everyone needs to make a living, yada yada. But gouging the public when they don’t have to, taking advantage of people, not providing proper warning, essentially stealing property that doesn’t belong to them – that seems to be the norm in the car carrier profession.

So if you’re writing a movie or pilot and you have a villain but you’re wondering – what profession can I put him in? We've all seen hit men and strip club owners – that’s so last century. What can you do that’s fresh?

Make him a towing company owner. And if you're looking for a can't-miss happy ending: have his tow truck go off a cliff. And then when he returns home he finds someone had hitched his little house to the back of a flatbed earlier in the day and drove it to Henderson, Neveda because it broke an obscure 1935 zoning law. And for only $307,000 he can reclaim it, but he has to arrange to move it back himself. When he says he can’t afford it and his entire life is ruined, the clerk (hopefully played by me), says, “You think you have problems? The only candy bar left in the machine is a Uno Bar!”

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

The late Steve Goodman wrote a song about this experience, "The Lincoln Park Pirates."

John said...

I'd probably save some venom for the pod mall owner who OKed the postage-stamp sized sign and is no doubt getting a cut of the $307 under the contract with the towing company (You might want to find out how much it would cost to erect a humongous sign next to his property warning others of the scam, so that the towing company's profits from this deal work their way towards zero).

Mary Stella said...

Ken, can you buy a tire boot? Then you could park, boot your own car and prevent them from towing it.

Roger Owen Green said...

I SO agree with this. Happens in Albany, NY, when there were ill-advertised snow removals days. (They are better about notifications now, but the folks are still outrageous.)

Pat Reeder said...

What does it say about my brain that there is actually a permanent file in it that immediately recalled the lyrics of the aforementioned Steve Goodman song that I haven't heard in at least 20 years?:

"Oh, yay-hay, tow them away!
The Lincoln Park pirates are we!..."

And yet I can't recall the names of more than four people I went to college with. And not a single minute of any high school algebra class.

Trixie Malone said...

Get it all out Ken, thata boy, get it out.

Studio Executive #2 said...

I hope for everyone's sake that your government doesn't put together some sort of office to try and protect consumers from companies like this... because that would be anti-capitalist!

MikeBo said...

Ken,
You are definitely entitled to your rant. I can see that the banks and Wall Street both look up to the tow truck industry as their role model.

The Milner Coupe said...

I agree that those tow companies are low life assholes that have somehow retained equally nefarious legal representatives to make the kind of piracy you described legit.

And now, Hollywood has more than a couple of television shows glamorizing these in-bred, toothless, possum eating, grandmother fornicating, douche bags.

Maybe there's your next storyline for a film. Shouldn't be hard to cast according to your recent Oscar night review.

Janet T said...

My son once had his car towed from his assigned parking space at his apartment building, with the parking permit on the dash. Since he lived close to a college campus, the tow truck drivers trolled like the bottom dwellers they were. We fought it out with them, didn’t have to pay any of the fees (HA!), but there are several hours of our lives we will never get back.

Jake Mabe said...

Often, when you go take in a sporting event on campus at the University of Tennessee, you get a ticket or a tow for your trouble.

These folks are dirtbags, indeed.

David O'Hara said...

The so-called reality shows are a con. they paid me to use my truck to tow in an episode and the 'people' were all actors!

Anonymous said...

You're in America. Sue them.

Breadbaker said...

When you come up here to announce for the M's this summer, be wary. $307? Chicken feed. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/dannywestneat/2016927608_danny04.html
There's a bill pending in the Legislature to cap the fees, but it hasn't passed yet.

RockGolf said...

Your friend Mark Evanier had a similar series of rants on tow truck crooks almost a decade ago. It is supposed to be linked from http://www.povonline.com/notes/Notes030.htm but that link isn't working. Anyone got an archive of it?

RockGolf said...

Ah! Bless you Wayback machine: Evanier's Towing troubles found - click the link in my name.

Cliff said...

A _very_ recent series in the Seattle Times had examples of tow charges for this type of deal well into 4 figures. Heck a guy who's car was Stolen had to pony up tmovemen$800+

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Jack said...

I had something similar happen to me once where I got towed on a Sunday and they charged me $50 extra or something because it was "after hours" (but of course they are still there). When I asked how much it would cost to wait until the next day during business hours it was going to be something like $125 more because of the extra "day" (even though total they'd have it less than 24 hours).

So yeah I agree with you. Screw tow companies.

AlaskaRay said...

There are specific requirements for towing companies and property owners: the owner of the property must give consent for each specific tow (and not just generally to tow vehicles) and be present at the time of towing. See California Civil Code Sec. § 22658. The property owner must also display "in plain view at all entrances to the property, a sign not less than 17 by 22 inches in size, with lettering not less than one inch in height, prohibiting public parking and indicating that vehicles will be removed at the owner's expense, and containing the telephone number of the local traffic law enforcement agency."

If a towing company violates these provisions (or any of the other requirements of § 22658), you should totally sue in small claims court! You can get quadruple the amount the shady company charged you.

Also there's a law (sorry, but I can't site it right now) that a towing company cannot charge more than the police impound lot. The last time I checked that was $130.

If the sign was as small as you say or the property owner wasn't there, you should be able to sue the towing company and the owner of the lot.

Hope this helps.

Ray

D. McEwan said...

Way the hell back in 1975, my car got towed. It was parked by a business on EASTER SUNDAY! The business was, to put it mildly, not open. (I was attending a science ficiton convention across the street.

I happened to arrive at my car as they were attaching it. When I asked them nicely (not my strong suit, as certain other posters might note) to let go of it, they refused, so I unlocked it and got in, shut the door, locked it again, and refused to get out. They had to tow it (fortunately only about a mile) with me in it, blaring my horn as them every inch of the way. When we got to their lot, I paid them (Being 1975, it was a mere $120.)

They were gagey. Once I had my car back, the asshole managed to dodge the punch I launched at him. This is one of maybe three times in my life that I've actually tried to hit someone I wasn't releated to.

D. McEwan said...

"MikeBo said...
Ken,
You are definitely entitled to your rant. I can see that the banks and Wall Street both look up to the tow truck industry as their role model."


Greayt comment. You ae so right.

Mike said...

Got Tow Truck Problems?
You need: Socialist Workers' Utopia.
Vote accordingly.

Mary Stella said...

On a completely different topic, I read today that NBC inked a deal for a new show reuniting Roseanne Barr and John Goodman. Your thoughts, Ken?

The same article said that ABC, NBC and CBS all have comedy-heavy pilot seasons.

tb said...

There's a towing company actually called "Camel Towing". Thought that was pretty good..

Ray Barrington said...

You got your Rant of the Month out of the way on the first? What happens if something really honks you off on the 23rd?

Dan Tedson said...

He's Jewish. He'll add a month.

Greg Morrow said...

A guy using the name Krypton had a song called "Let's Blow up the Tow Truck", which I commend to your attention for a laugh.

sk85 said...

D. McEwan said "This is one of maybe three times in my life that I've actually tried to hit someone I wasn't related to."

That is a classic line. It made me laugh out loud.

I would like to add my support and sympathy for your rant.

I have a Friday question for Ken. I have to write a 3-5 minute movie for my film class. I have never written a script before. Is there any advice you could give? Besides whacking a tow truck driver.

Kati said...

This is my nightmare come true :(

We've lived in LA two months now and already gotten two parking tickets, it's crazy here! I don't have a problem with paying to park, or walking extra, or anything, but to me a lot of the signs around here are ambiguous as heck. Every time I go to my car now I'm convinced I see tickets littered all over the windshield.

One of the tickets was when we paid to park in a parking lot, have the receipt that we paid to park, and they have an electronic record that we paid to park. We got a ticket for...not paying to park. It's because we didn't read the back of the receipt where it said you have to leave it displayed in your car. Okay, we didn't think to read the tiny print there, our bad...other parking lots' receipts say to take the receipt with you and keep it on your person :\

I kind of think some places might be ambiguous on purpose just to wring more money out of people :\ So caution to anyone visiting the LA area, my goodness these guys aren't messing around!

Cap'n Bob said...

It's scofflaws like you, Mr. Levine, that make it impossible for decent, law-abiding people like me to park outside a bail bond company late at night.

Robin Raven said...

I'm so sorry you had to go through this. When I had my towed from Malibu, they took it to Tarzana. Not kidding. I don't know what it us up with Southern California towing, but it's so messed up. It was a little Chevy Metro, my first car, and I think the towing charges were worth more than the car.

Also, it's my birthday, and it's themed in "Cheers" so we were watching some of my faves. I gratefully received all the episodes on DVD. Nice to see your name and nice to laugh hysterically at this great show. ;-)It also brings back great memories as I hadn't seen some of these in years. Thanks for giving us so many laughs.

Brother Boomerang said...

seriously I hate trying to park somewhere when there are too many cars. they should tow anyone who is parked in the wrong place or didn't pay. Here in Korea I wish they would tow idiots who park all over the place away.

If your dream came true and tow trucks didn't tow or weren't allowed to the cars parked illegally and blocking traffic should would get your goat.

Hanuman 16 said...

Ken....wah wah wah...there are rules everywhere and u r not above them....welcome to the real world...

Kat said...

Yes. The same thing happened to my husband and me in Pittsburgh, and a homeless man actually informed us that the car had been towed; and we had our very, very young baby that we had to transport in a taxi without a car seat because, can you guess, yep, it had been towed with the car. Before we were let into the taxi, with our son, we had to explain to the taxi driver why we didn't have a car seat. We never parked in that street again.

Chris said...

Quick credit question: why do some shows have their pilot's production code as "02" and the second episode listed as "01" (If it's obvious that "02" is the pilot, written by the creator and introducing all characters).

I'm not talking about when the pilot is part of a different series of codes. For example, on Perfect Strangers, the pilot is "174902" and the second episode is "174901".

Chris said...

Why do, on some shows, all the writers get "Supervising Producer" credit. Who do they supervise? Isn't that credit sort of a "head writer" thing?

VP81955 said...

Ah, a front page from The Trentonian, a tabloid that makes the New York Post look urbane.

Jim said...

Im with one of the first posters, John. I have had my car towed, it sucked, also cost me north of $300, but the towing company didnt decide to start towing where you parked your car. The owner of said parking area made that decision so the bulk of your anger should be directed towards them. Also, towing rates are heavily regulated by the city, so tow companies can't just charge whatever they want, their fees are more or less dictated to them. Look, I know it's shitty to get your car towed, like I said I've been there. While there may be bad apples in the towing biz (like in any biz), the bulk of them are honest businesses folks providing a service all communities need.

Breadbaker said...

And indeed, the towing bill died in the Washington State Senate today. http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2012/03/02/state-towing-bill-slated-to-die-today-at-500pm

chuckcd said...

I got towed on a first date when I parked at the Improv comedy club.
Good thing it was my dates idea to park there! Cost me money but got me a lot of "points" which I cashed in later!

Jeffrey Leonard said...

I've had this happen too, Ken. They always give you the same excuse, "we're just doing our job". I told them the job they should have is to 'get a life'.

Anonymous said...

The people/government need to regulate towing truck companies and the laws about towing and towing fees. The regulations need to be spelled out and posted on the front page of newspapers for all to know so that we don't fall prey any longer. This is serious stuff. It appears that the average citizen/consumer is in the dark and as a result is being exploited. In San Diego, business property owners sign a generalized contract with individual tow truck companies to patrol their parking lots especially after closing. Neighboring opened businesses cannot use other closed businesses' parking lots after closing for their customers even if the parking lot is right next door or across the street. Their customers will get towed. You can thank the owner of West Coast Towing for getting this idea (patrol towing)pushed through the Courts in San Diego. It is difficult to know the parking rules in any given city. The people who know the most are the people taking the money. Don't be surprised if many towing companies aren't closely tied to the Mafia or another strong support entity to legally exploit the public. After all, the owner of West Coast Towing is making enough of a profit to get laws passed to benefit his type of business. It isn't that difficult to get a towing license to tow your neighbor in California. Maybe we all should start doing it since all I ever hear from the public is ranting. Realize that we need to pull together to fight this but how? Nevada is the worst offender. You have the property owners, tow truck companies, police, security guards, all getting a cut. You have to give up your car in Nevada because of how much is charged. If you want a good car for cheap, you go to Nevada where cars have been legally stolen to be sold at auction. Stealing cars has become a white collar crime via the use of tow truck companies and property owners. There's a story line.