The Fuzz

I was lucky enough to spend the day bathing away my stress in the cool green waves of the Atlantic Ocean. I spent the previous day in hell, and Jones Beach on Long Island was the magic curative for the frustration I had been feeling. I am severely grateful for what I perceive as gifts in my life—free time, good and helpful friends, enough money, the warm sun, white sand, chips and salsa, and the knowledge that after being harassed for 8 straight hours by the New York Police Department that I could go to the beach and forget about it.
These sound like simple things, but I have been reminded not to take them for granted. In many countries the frustration, sense of impotence and helplessness that comes from being caught in a corrupt system is constant. I only had to experience it for a day or two. And I’m glad I did. Because now I have a better understanding of how Serbs feel. And Kosovars. And Kurds. And anyone else who is victimized by just living in a country/environment where there is no way out from under the group in power and its history, where your hands are tied and you have no voice and no power and no hope.
And it will surely sound hilarious to hear that this epiphany came as a result of getting my car towed by the NYPD. I woke up with a migraine, which should have been a warning to just get back into bed and stay there. But I was picking up my friend, John, who had been gone for a couple weeks and I had to get his studio keys back to him. So I soldiered through the wildly undulating prisms invading my field of vision to drive my car to the subway at 8am. John took over from there and we drove back to his studio in Greenpoint. After a brief discussion about whether or not we were parked far enough away from the bus stop sign, we dropped his stuff off and then went to eat breakfast. We were walking back through the waterfront industrial area when he said, “Where’s your car?”
Now here’s the thing—the traffic cop could have easily just given me a ticket. It is up to the discretion of the officer whether or not to tow a car. I was apparently about 2 feet into the bus zone, but the officer decided to be a prick and tow it anyway. I called the tow pound, they didn’t have record of it. John took me on his scooter first to one tow pound and then another. I was thinking, “Oh, I’ll just go in and pay the fee, get my car back and I’ll never have to deal with them again.” How naïve I was.
Having lots of experience in civil and customer service, I know that by being nice and polite to the people who are the public front for an agency usually insures that they will be nice back to you. So I approached the clerk at the Brooklyn Navy Tow Yard with a smile and gave her my license plate number. With a curt shrug she informed me that they didn’t have my car. I began to ask questions about the steps to take to find the car, and she cut me off by rudely yelling, “It’s not here so SIT DOWN and wait!” I had no intention of doing that, so I walked back up to the street where John was waiting. Did I mention it was only 10am and already 100 degrees out? There was an officer standing outside singing “Isn’t She Lovely” at the top of his lungs. I commented, “I’m glad someone’s having a good day!” To which he responded that you can make every day a good day with some Stevie Wonder! Didn’t he realize I was weepy and hurt that the clerk had treated me like a criminal? So I asked John to take me home where I would check my car’s status online.
Of course, the minute I got home, Mr. Internet told me the car was actually there, at the Brooklyn Navy Tow Yard. So I did my laundry and then got a ride with my friend, Jean, back there. I got the same lady at the window and she was like, “Oh, yeah, you was in heyah earliah.” She started grinning and I thought she was about to apologize for being a bitch 2 hours ago, but what actually came out of her mouth was, “You can’t have yo’ car because yo registration expired.” So I asked her what to do and in so many words she told me she didn’t know, that it was up to me to figure out how to deal with it, and it wasn’t her job to know anything. I asked her if she could look up a phone number in the yellow pages that were sitting right next to her and she refused. So I lost it. I don’t remember what was said, but at some point I clearly remember her yelling, “You think I’m not NICE because I wouldn’t look up something for you? So I’m not NICE?” And inexplicably, I started laughing. Then I asked to speak to her supervisor, who actually turned out to be a nice and knowledgeable lady who offered options for dealing with my problem. Unfortunately, one of her options involved walking (with my laundry bag) through some pretty harsh housing projects to the DMV. I changed course about halfway there and got on the phone with the Virginia DMV. I waited at the bus stop—which I now know, is demarcated with two signs of varying distance which do not necessarily have to be there—then boarded the bus and by the time I got back to my apartment, I had temporarily registered my vehicle in Virginia.
I hauled my ass by bike back to the tow pound for the third time in 100 degree weather to finally retrieve my car. This is when it gets bad. By now it is 6pm and the line is out the door. The office isn’t air-conditioned and all the other ‘customers’ seemed to be older black men weighing between 250-500lbs. And they are MAD! And they are yelling and bitching and moaning, and the clerks are just sitting behind their windows in the air-conditioned office, not calling anyone forward out of spite. I am listening to sob stories about this guy spending his unemployment check on ‘this bullshit’ and another dude with greens stuck in his teeth tell me about how this is the third time this month he’s been towed and how the last time they scraped the whole side of his car up doing it.
Miraculously I get called to the window, and to a different clerk. Despite her sloth-like nature and obvious lack of problem-solving skills, she finally managed to fill out the paper work, stamp red ink all over the place and put a green receipt into my hands. I passed the Stevie Wonder-singing dude all over again and got into an “Escort Van” which drove me 20 feet to my car. I was so happy to be reunited that I didn’t even mind that it was 9000 degrees inside. I started her up and pulled forward. WHAT THE FUCK!!! It was all crunching and grinding noises. I backed up into the space and it was fine. Then I pulled forward again to drive to the booth to check out and it would barely go forward and the noise was atrocious. I started crying and asked the officer at the booth what to do because my car wouldn’t drive now when just this morning it was fine. She was like, “Damage.Claim.Form.Inside.”
A mummified dude in a cop uniform came out with a clipboard and looked at me and my tears and was like, “Oh honey, don’t cry, it’s just a car.” While normally I would agree with him, he forgot to add that it is just a car that drove just fine a mere 10 hours before they towed its 4WD ass backwards on the rear wheels! I stood in the sun, which was still blazing at 7:30pm, with the guy while he read and re-read the owner’s manual chapter on “Towing”. He finally determined that no, you cannot tow a 4 wheel drive vehicle in park on two wheels. He handed me a form and told me I had to fill it out and take it to the City Controller’s office in downtown Manhattan as soon as my mechanic fixes it. Ummm.. . . how am I supposed to get it to the mechanic? The mummy replied characteristically, “I dunno.”
The saddest thing is that the whole situation at the NYPD is a racket. Instead of holding a bake sale or a dinner dance or whatever fundraising they are supposed to do, the police department just fundraises by towing cars. It doesn’t matter if they have a reason or not—you still have to pay $185 to get the car out. You are NEVER eligible to get that back, even if the police officer was in the wrong. Nobody (including myself) speaks out against it or tries to reform the system because the whole thing is so traumatic that once it is over the last thing a person wants to do is revisit it. So it just keeps going, making me rethink what I wrote in my last post about being here.

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