Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dude, Where's My Car?

Ah, the suburbs. For much of my life in DC, I have lived in transitional* neighborhoods where we face such issues as crime, poverty, poor schools, and the like. But yet the most noise has always been made about street parking, typically by new residents. Jim Graham's newest "Bill to Protect and Enhance Street Parking" is the latest example of an attempt to regulate a resource that is fundamentally self-regulating. But I'm not here to discuss parking in particular, but rather to tell a story of my experience this morning in the land where parking for residents is guaranteed and parking for non-residents is all but prohibited. Yes, this place is called Alexandria.

I spent the night last night at my gf's place of residence at Seminary Towers at 4701 Kenmore Avenue. This is a pretty big complex which features the following "benefits:"

  • Giant parking lot, never full, towing enforced 24 hours
  • Each resident is issued exactly 5 guest permits per month
  • The actual road on which the building sits, Kenmore Avenue, is private, meaning you can't park on the street.
  • The only nearby public street parking is on Van Dorn Street. It's not all that far away, but it's only on one side and is extremely limited.
  • The nearest Metro station is King Street, which is about 4 miles away, requiring a roughly 20-30 minute bus ride or $15 cab ride.
  • The 24-hour concierge from whom you must get a parking pass seems to be "out to lunch" (at least that's what the sign says) more often than not

I've parked there a bunch of times in the past. Nearly ever time, we've had to go to the neighboring building to get a parking pass because the concierge is away from their desk so often. Last night we planned ahead - let's get the parking pass before we go out to dinner since they're always "out to lunch" (presumably, asleep in the mop closet) late at night.

What happens next is the critical error that resulted in this morning's fun. Against N's advice I did not immediately hang the tag from my rearview mirror because I thought it might blow away on the highway while driving with the windows down. Despite being reminded by her about three times on the way home after dinner, I forgot to hang the permit.

Today, 6:30 AM, car gone.

1. Look at "permit parking only signs." There is no phone number.
2. Go to concierge. Nobody there. Shocker.
3. Call number on "out to lunch" sign for concierge at other building. No answer. Shocker
4. Walk to other building. Concierge not in sight. He comes back after a while and we get information on towing. A1 towing. Driving directions only. Hey thanks!! If I had a car, that would be really f*cking useful, but the only reason I care where A-1 Towing is located is because I don't have my car!! Call cab.
5. Cab delivers us to A-1 towing on Vine Street in Alexandria. My receipt, which curiously does not include their address, says "Excellence in Towing Since 1986." More on that later.

We get to the shady-looking impound lot easily enough, pay the $100, and are directed to the back corner of the lot where we can "drive ourselves out." Car is blocked in by two other vehicles. Awesome. I go back to the desk and they tell me someone will move the cars. While I am back, I overhear the guys in front of me arguing with the towing company. Apparently, they are residents of Seminary Towers for four years. Today is July 1. They were towed because their parking pass expired on June 30. They said that you can't get a new parking pass until the 1st Thursday of every month and they have done this for four years.

Now I don't know if this is true or not, but what the hell? What kind of building would have a policy of towing their own residents, with a parking sticker, at 12:01 on the day after it expires? How about a warning? How about a fine? How about telling the towing company please don't tow our own goddamn residents' cars with actual parking stickers just because they expired one minute ago?

Excellence In Towing

Anyway, after a while the guy starts to pull out the first car, a silver Toyota Highlander with Virginia tags. He seems to have a problem of some kind which requires access to the car, so next thing I know he's working the slim jim. The car alarm starts going. It stops. It starts going again. He finally breaks into the car (is this even legal??) and does whatever he needs to do and pulls the car out.

A-1 CrashWait for it... this gets good. As he's backing the Highlander into another spot so I can get out, it rolls off the wheel-hitch down a hill and crashes into two other cars in the impound lot! Thoughts quickly run through my head. The first one was, I need to go back to the desk right now and negotiate for my $100 back plus another $400 in hush money. Then I realize my car is still blocked in. Whatever action I might take needs to wait until I am free. A-1 Towing is obviously some place where laws do not apply, since I have just seen them break into a car and then crash it into two others. I will probably end up locked in a basement if I make any noise now. Instead I just took the picture here, which shows the tow truck pulling the Highlander from against the blue Corrolla looking thing that it crashed into first.

The operator goes back and hooks the tow truck up to the Highlander again to pull it out of the twisted carnage. This time he takes the additional step of actually strapping the wheels to the tow hitch so it doesn't roll off again. Way to close the stable door after the horse is gone! Apparently he also needs to get inside the cabin of the car again, and didn't bother to leave the door unlocked after his last break-in, because he's at it again with the slim jim and pry bar and the alarm is going off again and again. Whatever happens to me on God's green earth I am never allowing my car to be towed again.

Finally another guy, probably realizing he really doesn't want me continuing to watch this spectacle and take pictures any longer than necessary, comes with another truck and moves the other car blocking me in. One hour after finding my car missing, I am on the road again.

I hope this post serves as a warning to all.

1) Seminary Towers has the most draconian parking policies of anywhere I've ever been. There is virtually no legal public parking anywhere nearby, there are no pay lots, and residents are permitted a total of five one-night guest permits per month. They even tow their own residents' cars the day after their parking permit expires. I really have no idea what people are expected to do with their guests. Good luck having your mom visit for a week.

2) This policy is completely silly because the parking lot has always had plenty of parking available at any given time, including late at night. This is about making money. If you want people to actually continue living there, maybe you should think about not trying to fuck your residents all the time!

3) Apart from the silliness of the policy, there is no reason why anyone would park here OTHER than to visit someone who lives there. There is no shopping, no metro, really nothing else nearby other than Seminary Towers.

4) A-1 Towing: Be Very Afraid. I have no idea what the law is concerning towing companies damaging cars when they are towed due to "illegal parking," but there are going to be some very unhappy people this morning. Are they liable? I can't believe that they aren't liable for allowing cars to roll around their parking lot and crash into each other. But fat chance that they would ever take responsibility for what I saw happen when the victims show up for their previously undamaged cars. Not to mention damage that could occur while breaking in at their whim, or just generally yanking cars out of parking spots when they have their brakes on and are in gear.

Let this be a warning to all you people who bitch about parking in DC. When you make it impossible for anyone without a permit to park, you invite the vampire into your own home. Forgot to renew your RPP permit? Off to the impound lot. Got a visitor? Oh sweet you've got that one visitor permit. That one visitor permit. Good luck having a dinner party. Got a contractor coming by when you aren't home? How about a cleaning person? I guess you could just leave the visitor permit on your front porch all the time...

Let me assure you: it can get a lot worse than it is now.

*PC term for "gentrifying"


Titania said...

That building has some dealing with the towing company, I am sure. I think i like *my* suburbs, my friend with VA plates just parked for 4 months in front of my house while he was in sabbatical, with no permit or anything and nobody said a thing.

Shannon said...

Oh, wow. I just feel 1000 times better about living in the Ballpark District - at least I get one guest parking pass with UNLIMITED use.

Unknown said...

They only give you 5 guest permits per month, but would it be theoretically possible (it stays in the realm of the theoretical since none of us would ever do anything like this) to make permits with other dates in the same month?

Anonymous said...

Actually several buses which stop there go straight to the pentagon (that's the last stop), so it's very convenient! I'd love to be able to snag a parking pass, and I don't live there! That's how I found your post, searching for info on how to park there :(