Great Moments in Towing: A Late-80s Anthology


It’s been a long time since I’ve lived in Boston, which is to say it’s been a long time since I’ve been towed. Cars do get towed in Maine, I suppose, but vehicular hazards here are more centered on avoiding large antlered mammals in the roadway, as opposed large, often bearded, exclusively bipedal mammals hooking your stationary vehicle to a still-larger vehicle and hauling it away.

Further, my life here (I moved north in 1992) has been predominately family-oriented, pastoral and deliberate. In Boston, where I lived from 1986-92, I was single, urban and reckless — and nothing illustrated more viscerally the risk-reward drama of that urban, directly post-collegiate existence than lighting out for a party or club, circling a particular destination for a legal parking spot, successfully hunting one down (perhaps on the cusp of legality), leaving your largest and most valued possession there, only to return three hours later and find it gone — or find it untouched! It could go either way, of course. It was a survivalist game of cat and mouse that I played, with some skill, for many years opposite the traffic authorities across Boston, Cambridge, Brighton and Somerville. I’d like to think that six years of eschewing parking garages saved me more money than I ultimately spent on tickets and towing fees. But that’s not at all clear.

What I undoubtedly gained was a slew of great tow stories, which I will endeavor to chronicle here. Most tales of tow are tales of woe, where the system clearly got the best of me. That wouldn’t be a full and accurate portrayal, however. I could just as easily detail for you all the times I parked successfully in the alleyways that divide city blocks in Back Bay, or parked sans resident sticker (and sans incident) in neighborhoods all over Greater Boston, or discovered and repeatedly exploited my “secret” parking nirvanas on Church Street/Harvard Square, behind the Chapter 11 Saloon in Union Square/Somerville, and in that private driveway just off Charles Street/Boston. But I won’t be doing that. As they say in the newspaper business, it ain’t news when the plane lands safely.


Great Moments in Towing: “The Return”, Fall 1986

If there were an international governing body of traffic incidents, where meticulous logs were kept re. the speed with which one regains possession of a towed vehicle, I might just hold the world record. On this occasion, having seen the truck slowly pass by the first-floor window of my Beacon Hill apartment, my ’78 Dodge Omni in tow, there was nothing to do or say but bolt through the door and take off after my car on foot. I caught the truck in Government Center, maybe a third of a mile up Cambridge Street. At first the dude wouldn’t let me ride with him, but he ultimately took pity, acknowledging the effort perhaps, and waved me into the cab.

The impoundment lot on this fateful night was South Boston, hardly remote. Dude let me out 100 yards before reaching the entrance (so as not to reveal his breech of protocol). There was but one woman in front of me at the desk, in a fur coat and acting very Back Bay. They knew her, so frequently did she flaunt the parking system apparently. She soon paid and was gone; 5 minutes later I followed suit and exited through the same door. Dude was taking my car off the hook as I handed him the receipt. Hightailing it back to Beacon Hill couldn’t have taken 10 additional minutes.

I’d confirm the elapsed time, from the moment it was put on the hook to the time I returned to the Joy Street apartment, at 30-32 minutes. The period stretching from my moment of realization (that my car had been towed) to the actual Return could not have exceeded 25-27 minutes, and that’s gotta be some kind of record.

This wasn’t my apartment exactly, where it all started and finished. My girlfriend Amy and her roommate Tim (we had all three been at Wesleyan together) were the lessees. I just cribbed there a lot, and anyone who knows Beacon Hill — with its high-density residential, its narrow one-way streets, its proximity to three high -olume employment venues (Mass General, the State House and Government Center) — knows that parking thereabouts is about as challenging and high-risk as the Boston street scene could get in 1986. Tickets could be a twice-weekly affair, if one wasn’t careful. While this was a pre-computerized age (it took years for the DMV to realize what a scofflaw one was), boots and tows remained an ever-present danger. Who knew how close to the towing or booting precipice one stood? A letter might arrive; one might not read it for a week; two weeks later one might be four more tickets in the hole, maybe five. Was the next ticket the one that got you towed?

I have to confess on this occasion to another breech of protocol: We were going out that particular evening; it was early on a Friday or Saturday night. Everyone else, four or five others, were clustered in the back of the Joy Street apartment. Standing in the front bedroom, alone, I saw hints of the whirling red lights approaching. For an instant, I actually thought to myself, “Some moron got himself towed.” The regret was instantaneous, as I recognized the car — and that I was the moron.

No one even noticed when, without word or warning, I bolted out the door and down Joy Street. Twenty-five minutes later I returned and they were like, “Where have you been?”

I got towed.

“Oh no… Well, we’re going to be really late now.”

No, I already got it back. Let’s go.

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