We love New York. We travel there whenever we can. This Christmas season, we decided to save a few bucks by driving there for our stay. Big mistake!
Our trip went very smoothly. We made no wrong turns at all, and being able to drive right up to our building saved loads of time normally spent riding subways and walking. We dropped off our luggage in the building’s foyer, and parked on the street adjacent to the building. Our host had given us plenty of information about parking rules, letting us know that their building had access to Actual Free Parking in Brooklyn! So we examined our spot very carefully, and took a walk up and down the street to make sure there were no surprise signs. There was a hydrant on the street, but it was two car-lengths away from where we were parked, and there were even lines delineating the hydrant zone. We examined signs closest to the spot, and they confirmed what our host had said. Confident that we had covered our bases, we went inside.
Pulse-Pounding Big City Excitement
After enjoying our new digs for a couple hours, we decided to go out for some food. Just to be safe, with a touch of the paranoia that anyone has in a big city even in a nice neighborhood, we decided we should just peek at the car. To our astonishment, it was gone. We spoke with the building staff, who were kind enough to describe where the car could have been if towed by the city, the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We were still unsure if the car had been stolen or not, so we were freaking out. We called the Navy Yard, and indeed, after we provided a whole lot of bona fides, they said, yes, the car was impounded there. Based on the conversation, it was clear that they can’t (or won’t) identify your car with just your name and address, for instance.
Law and Order – Special Parking Victims Unit
The only good news was that the Navy Yard was within a few blocks’ walk. Towed cars may, in fact, wind up very far away from your NY neighborhood, as there are only a handful of sites where the car may be taken. We got to the Yard, and waited in line. Nobody is happy to be in a place like this. Several contentious conversations took place, and I will credit the attendants with pretty impressive performance under hostile conditions. They were understandably not cheery, but they were patient, and did explain things at length to some irate people. We asked what exactly had caused us to be towed. The attendant said the record indicated a hydrant violation. After how carefully we had tried to avoid this, practically to the point of OCD, we were stunned.
After grudgingly accepting the inevitable, my wife asked an employee what correct parking procedure actually is. She has a master’s degree, but even after a ten-minute, remarkably friendly conversation with this guy, she was no closer to understanding. He did add that if he saw our car on his rounds, he would not ticket us. Whether he had been the ticketer was not clear.
And the fee? 185 bucks.
After some fruitless discussion about our actual distance from the hydrant, we also found that our car had been taken just minutes after we parked. Dejected, but glad to have our car back after a puzzling extra 20 minute wait, we headed back to our building. We went back to the spot we had parked at and confirmed that we had read the signs correctly, and that we had simply been screwed. And without even getting a kiss first.
Now genuinely paranoid, we spent considerable time searching the neighborhood, reading parking signs, and asking for advice from merchants nearby. Even they could not definitively advise us. I finally found a street whose sign indicated free parking except for Wednesday morning, street-cleaning day. With little information and even less confidence, we reluctantly decided to leave the car there. To our relief, the car remained safely there for the remaining days of our visit, while sporting the bright yellow marker writing on the windows used during the impoundment procedure. I also took several photos of the car, and of all street signs on that block.
Creative Financing – A Special Tourism Initiative
Because the whole thing made no sense, two theories immediately came to mind. One was that they could have been looking for out-of-town plates (we do have a NY state plate, but not New York City). And if they had simply seen us taking out our luggage – quite likely given the timeframe – they wouldn’t have even needed to look up our plate number in the system: just Nail the Tourists.
Another was simply that this was one of those hidden revenue programs that cities routinely use to raise money quietly without raising taxes and fees, which also brought to mind the known practice of police being ordered by their management to under-report crimes so that crime stats magically improve.
Start Spreading Manure, I’m Leaving Today!
But wait, there’s more! A month after returning home, we got a bill in the mail. Certain that it was a mistake (we had paid at the Yard), my wife called the department. Oh, by they way, there was another Secret $115 Fee, one they NEVER mentioned during the careful discussion we had with them at the window. I wonder if this might have been a special extra kickback, maybe just for that particular borough.
I suppose this is also a way to “encourage” people to pay for those extremely expensive parking lots. And hey, if it causes you to use public transportation and cabbies next time you’re there, those are Revenue Sources, too!
In our own small city, we grumble about the parking policies, many of which actually discourage people from patronizing local businesses. And we’ve tried to negotiate with the city in situations where it was close. In one case, the car in question was about two inches over a line, which happened to be adjacent to our own yard, and no hydrant was at issue. Very petty and punitive, to be sure, but at least you could see where the city had a valid technical legal argument. But the situation in New York was not close. Not at all.
Thank you, City of New York. I see now. Our tourist dollars just aren’t enough; you need an extra pound of flesh, taken with a nice Bronx cheer. I hope you enjoy the free money. Don’t spend it all in one place – next time we’ll be going to another city instead.