Alene Meckley's story isn't that unusual. It happens all the time in the naked city, the kind of thing that's a thread in the great tapestry of life, the kind of thing that led a 76-year-old woman to curse like Tony Soprano.
Meckley, of course, is that 76-year-old woman and, to be fair, she really didn't curse like the fictional Jersey mob boss. She was kind of demure about it, issuing an apology for getting so mad that her language entered the blue zone.
No need to apologize. What happened to her happens to a lot of people, and they pretty much all respond by uttering words that would result in heavy FCC fines if they were uttered on television.
Her car was towed.
See, you uttered a bad word just reading that.
It happened last Monday. Meckley had driven downtown from her home on Days Mill Road, out toward York New Salem, to file her state income tax return and shop at the Save-A-Lot in the little strip mall off of North Duke Street.
She arrived shortly after lunchtime and couldn't find a parking spot on the street close to the state office building on North Duke so she drove into the parking lot in front of Save-A-Lot and parked there, pulling into a space close to Duke Street. The parking lot was practically empty.
She went to the state office building and paid her taxes. There was a line, but she wasn't in there very long, maybe 15 minutes, she recalled.
When she returned to the parking lot, her car was gone. She thought, for a moment, that she forgot where she parked her 2006 Toyota Corolla. It wasn't where she left it, and it wasn't like the parking lot was jammed with cars and 2006 Corollas.
While she was wandering around the parking lot, she noticed another woman also wandering around the lot. She recognized the woman from the York County offices; she volunteers with the York County Area Agency on Aging and knows a lot of the people who work in the former Bon-Ton building.
Meckley told the woman she couldn't find her car. She left it there just a few minutes ago.
The woman told Meckley that she, too, was having trouble finding her car. It was gone.
The woman called the police and the cops told her that her car was probably towed away and she'd have to get in touch with Intown Motors to get it back. She shared that information with Meckley and left to retrieve her car.
Meckley called a neighbor and asked him to come pick her up. Her kids were all working and her neighbor was her only hope. He came for her and took her to city hall. The woman at the mayor's office told her, "It happens all the time."
There was nothing city hall could do about it. It's a privately owned lot - the owner is from New Jersey - and Intown Motors is a private company hired by the owner to tow away those who trespass upon the private parking of others. The company was able to tow her away so fast because the lot pays someone to watch the lot and call as soon as someone parks there.
Her neighbor drove her to Intown Motors on East Philadelphia Street, and sure enough, her car was behind the barbed-wired-topped fence of the impound lot.
The guy at the desk in the office wanted $140 before he'd give her car back.
Meckley complained that she had been gone only a few minutes and that she had planned to go to Save-A-Lot.
The guy told her, "We tow people when they're in there shopping."
To Meckley, $140 is a lot of money. She lives on a fixed income, she explained, and she has a $69 doctor bill to pay.
She told the guy that.
She said he didn't care.
She told the guy she has a heart condition and a bad knee and a bad hip.
She said he didn't care.
She told the guy she had a handicapped placard, which was on the front seat of her car when it was towed.
She said he didn't care.
After some negotiation - and Meckley pleading with the guy - the guy agreed to give her a break and charge her $70.
She didn't have that kind of cash on her and asked if she could write a check.
"No checks," the guy told her.
It was either cash or credit card.
Her neighbor, fortunately, handed over his credit card to pay the fee.
The next day, she was still furious about it.
"Those people are (bad word)," she said.
She went back to Intown Motors and asked for her money back.
The guy at the desk said, "I'm not authorized to do that. I just work here."
She asked him how he could work for such a despicable place, and the guy said he had kids to feed and bills to pay. (I called and left a message for Intown owner Toby Johnston, but he didn't return the call before my deadline.)
She left without getting her money back.
"Those people are (another bad word)," she said. "I'm sorry. I don't talk like that, but those people make me so mad."
That's their job.
And they do it really well.
Mike Argento's column appears Mondays and Fridays in Living and Sundays in Viewpoints. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 771-2046. Read more Argento columns at ydr.com/mike or at his blog, Argento's Front Stoop at www.mikeargento.com.
Read a discussion of Intown Motor's towing practices at The Exchange at http://exchange.ydr.com/index.php?showtopic=3706&hl= or visit my blog at http://www.mikeargento.com/2008/04/intown_motors_strikes_again.php to further the discussion.