My 12-year-old son was running next to car screaming as the tow truck driver snatched the family Prius from in front of our San Francisco hotel.
We had just arrived in San Francisco, and had parked the car at the main entrance to the downtown hotel. It took us all about two minutes to check in only to exit the hotel entrance and see our car being lifted by a city tow truck.
I ran to the tow truck driver's window and asked him to put the car down politely.
I said I would pay the fine just put down the car and let me park it.
As he drove away with my car down the busy city street, I begged him to at least let me get my cell phone out of the Prius so I could find out where he was taking my car.
I watched my car, our bikes on the car, and all of our stuff, disappear down the city street as my son eyes filled with tears.
Welcome to San Francisco, California, the city by the bay!
A hugely stressful three hours and almost $250 later I had retrieved my car from what I assume is the company the city sub-contracts to do its towing. Auto Return brags on their web site that:
"We automate the entire towing process — from dispatch to release. This
gives customers the best possible service and information every step of
the way. Customers pay fees and claim vehicles simply: in advance
through our phone service or in-person with an agent."
Somehow they forget to mention that they (at least in this automotive reporter's opinion) are a crucial part of a city and state sponsored extortion scheme to part unsuspecting tourist from their hard earned money with zero recourse, including the ability to retrieve personal property (read cell phone) out of the car before it is towed away.
My crime: I had unsuspectingly parked the car for an entire two minutes right next to the hotel's concierge parking zone along side a section of sidewalk with a yellow line on it.
Today we get the news the that the state of California is so broke that it is now on the brink of issuing $3 billion in IOUs.
So do you think that Auto Return and the city of San Francisco would have taken my IOU in exchange for getting my car out of the city's impound lot?
Do you think that the city meter maid who decide to tow my car would have listened to my story and given me a break?
Do you think that the tow truck driver who snatched my car would have had the decency to at least let me get my phone out of the car before he drove away with it?
Do you think that the hotel clerk could have warned me about the predatory nature of the local towing mafia instead of giving me that, "this has never happened here before lame excuse…and by the way I just happen to know the number you have to call to get your car back."
In fact, the only person who helped us was a local hotel elevator repair man who saw the entire incident and was so appalled that he gave my son and me a free ride to the to the impound lot to get the car back.
If I were in a position today to be handed a state of California IOU, I would consider it to be worth about as much as the paper it is written on.
Sorry California, but no thanks I have no time or sympathy for a politician, city, company, or state that actively condones and supports state sponsored extortion. You know a city and state have gone bad when it preys on tourist and this is one tourist who won't be helping out your financial mess anytime soon with my hard earned dollars.