4. The number of calls placed to 911. 6. The number calls placed to the Department of Transportation 19. The average number of hours it takes to get a car back after it’s been towed. 8. The number of phone numbers you have to call before you reach someone who can help you.

It all starts with the return to the scene of the crime. You arrive back to your car (or where you thought it was anyway) from your lovely dinner, your shopping spree, or maybe even a visit to an old friend, and it’s gone. The empty soda bottle you noticed in the street when parking it is still there, lying next to the curb. You check the signs. You run down 2 and 3 and 4 streets parallel to where you thought you parked it. You begin to feel as though you have lost your mind. In vain, you frantically press the alarm button on your keychain, holding it out in front of you as you run down the streets, hoping to hear the deactivation ‘beep beep’ from yards away. When it becomes clear that your car is indeed GONE – you begin to sweat and you wonder who to call.

911. “I’d like to report a stolen car…,”
If only it were that simple. Images of chop shops, spray paint guns, and spare parts flash through your mind as you wait for the police to appear at the intersection you have given them as a meeting point. You start to make a mental inventory of what was in your trunk. Then you start to calculate the formula of how much this is going to jack up your insurance. The 911 operator gives you a phone number for the D.O.T – to check and see if it was towed. Towed? But it was legally parked.

“Did you have any outstanding tickets?” the operator asks.
“Um..I don’t know”, you lie.

You call the D.O.T. and get a gruff sounding woman on the other end of the phone.
“We don’t have it. Call 911 to report it stolen,” she tells you.
Again, images of lonely hubcaps and spray paint flood your mind.
“Are you sure?” you inquire gingerly.
“Check back with us after 11pm. They stop towing at 11 – we’ll know then if we have it.”
Your desperation must tap into the last thread of kindness in her – she gives you her name.
“Call back after 11 and ask for me. I’m Pat.” It’s 10:45 pm now.
Time to call 911 again “They are on their way”, the operator says and hangs up.

10:59pm “Hello, is Pat there?” you query in your sweetest, most distraught tone.
“This is Pat. Who is this?”

You remind her who you are and she checks again – leaving you on hold for several minutes.
“We don’t have it,” she tells you when she gets back on.
You call Pat 6 more times between then and 11:20pm.

“Is there anyone else I can call about it being towed?” you ask in one last attempt to get an answer.
“Try the Marshall,”

You scribble down the number under a streetlight, cell phone cradled on your neck and thank her, wondering why she didn’t supply this information before.

You dial the number for the Marshall and get a recording telling you that the number has been changed, once again you scribble down the new number. You call the new number and get directed to another number – which you call and are given yet, another number. Finally you call that number and told that they are closed until tomorrow morning. The voice mail system mentions something about a web site.

Calling in to 911 for the 3rd time you are told there has ‘been a delay but the police are on their way’. You explain that you don’t know if your car has been towed or stolen – apparently this is too much information for the operator who tells you – again – ‘the police are on their way’ and then hangs up on you.

It’s now 11:45pm in a last ditch attempt to find something out you call your sister in Jersey – you have her get on the web and after about 5 minutes and a Google search she gets the following info on a web page after typing in your license plate number.
“A car associated with you has been towed” and she reads you yet another phone number to call for information. A sigh of relief is followed by the stressful thought ‘how much is this going to cost me?’

On your way home you call 911, yet again, to cancel your appointment with the police at the intersection. The operator informs you that you ‘Can’t cancel 911 calls’. But you ‘won’t get in trouble for leaving’.

The next morning you get up early after tossing and turning for most of the night. You call the number supplied by your sister only to be directed to another number, which in turn directs you to another number. Finally after being on hold for 25 minutes you are told that you car has been towed to Red Hook, Brooklyn by someone named Marshall Swift. You will need to pay $471.66 in cash at the Marshall’s office on lower Broadway. This includes your past due summons of $232.41, the towing fee, the Marshall’s fee and tax. Can you believe they charge tax on towing? The next call is placed to your office to inform them that you have a ‘stomach virus’ (no one ever questions or wants the details of a stomach virus) and that you won’t be coming in today.

You convince your mother (Who else will do this for you? You’re a single girl with no friends who have cars) to take you downtown and then to Brooklyn. Your mother parks illegally (it must be genetic) across the street from the Marshall’s office while you head up to the 11th floor. After 6 wrong turns down hot and smelly corridors you see it. The old time painted glass sign hangs above a doorway. Inside the doorframe you can make out a window with bars on it. Suddenly you have been transported back to the Wild West and wonder if this scenario isn’t some modern day version of a stockade. You arrive at the Marshall’s office with the maximum amount of cash allowed to be taken out of an ATM in day ($500) and are informed that the car is not registered to you (it’s a leased car). You need an authorization to pick up the car. You are informed by the office worker (sadly she isn’t wearing a 5 pointed star gold badge on a brown suede vest), that for a fee (there’s a surprise) the guy at the newsstand downstairs will notarize a form allowing you to take possession of the car. While waiting for the elevator you question the legality of this proposition but realize that this is not the time to take on the system.

Jack, the aptly named newsstand guy notarizes a photocopy of a form that you fill out authorizing yourself to take possession of the car for $5 – a relative bargain, considering. Back upstairs you fork over the cash and are handed a series of forms that will need to presented at the impound. Neatly typed directions to the impound in Red Hook accompany them.

Back in the car with your already over-critical, middle age, suburban mother riding shotgun, you cross the Brooklyn Bridge and she informs you that she’s never seen this part of Brooklyn. Part curiosity, part mocking you, she points out various spots of interest along the way. Like you needed this. Several right turns later you are about to pull up to the impound lot when your mother asks, “Do you think they will have a bathroom?”
“I doubt it,” you reply. "The directions say proceed to the middle trailer.”

She sighs loudly and you know then, that she will never let you live this down. This will become the stuff family lore is made of and for the next umpteen Thanksgivings you will have to hear about her field trip to Brooklyn. Lovely.

At the riverside impound you wait patiently for the other delinquents in front of you to settle up. This is not a place to make friends and no one is in the mood for idle chitchat. The trailer itself is behind the fence that surrounds the giant impound lot. A hole has been cut in the fence so that you can pay your impound fees ($10 a day for the first 3 days, $20 a day after that) and hand over your paperwork. The skyline of Manhattan looms mockingly in the background. You pay your fee, and hand over your paperwork. Six rubber stamps and $22.11 later (they charge tax on the impound fees – who knew?) they ask for your keys and instruct you to wait around the corner.

You walk to the side of the fence and stand with your fellow convicts. A large ham or turkey (you can’t tell) still partially in its wrapper lies on the broken up sidewalk, covered in bugs and feasting maggots. You realize that this is Hell.

Behind the locked fence hundred, possibly thousands, of POW cars are lined up in neat aisles. Jaguars, Mercedes, VW’s, Subaru’s, BMW’s, old and new - here they are all of the same social status – impounded. Headlights turn into sorrowful eyes begging for freedom, and the large impound sticker on the window (that takes weeks to get off, by the way) is worn by the vehicles like a scarlet letter. This is not a happy place.

Finally the gate opens and out comes your car, bearing the sticker of shame and a little dirtier than you remember, but nonetheless, a sight for sore eyes. You inspect it for damage (as if it would matter) and hop in. You make a mental note to pay your tickets on time from now on – that is, until the next time this happens.

At least you will already know how to get to the impound, and to make sure you go to the bathroom before you leave the house.

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