Monday, July 02, 2007

The Last Thursday Saga

OK, here's how it went, from beginning to end, on or about Last Thursday, June 28, 2007.

The night before I kept getting a message on Honk, my special little iBook, “You are not connected to the Internet.” Frustrating, yes. Enough to sit on the phone with Comcast, no. Not right then. All the lights were blinking and flashing, so I hoped while I slept that it would heal itself.

I woke up to a weather forecast predicting showers off and on all day Thursday and into the evening, and the same message on Honk. Drat!

I left the apartment in plenty of time to get to the #20 bus stop, no rain yet, my rain coat in my rolling black suitcase. Once I sat down to wait for the bus to come over the rise, I reached inside my sweater for my phone to call my Aunt Baker, down in Puckett, Miss. That's when I realized I'd left it plugged in beside my alarm clock! Double drat!

I hoofed the three blocks back to the building, quickly drag-rolling my black suitcase, unlocked the outer door at the side of the building, walked through the trash room, carrying my black suitcase to keep the wheels off the concrete floor, unlocked the inner door to the hallway, walked down hall and turned left, pushing open the swinging door between the lobby and the hallway, pulled open the heavy outer elevator door, slid back the inner expanding metal-gate-door-thingey, rolled in the suitcase, pushed the button for the fourth floor as the doors slid shut, reversed the order of the elevator doors when it came to a stop on four, walked down the hall, turned left, unlocked the apartment door, walked into the end of the living room where my comfy twin bed sits, grabbed the phone, pulled it loose from the charger cord, stuffed it into my bra, turned around with my rolling black suitcase by my side, walked back down the hall to the elevator and reversed the order until I exited the front door this time, turned right and headed for the #17 bus stop which would be my best bet now, running about 20 steps, walking 10 or so, running again, walking again, seeing the #17 and running toward the corner, hoping that those folks boarding it would be slow, praying the light would change so that I could cross the street, thinking if I angled to the left just a bit that the driver would possibly see me in the side view mirror. Whew! I made it!

Later on I left work, walked out into the sprinkles and/or rain to catch the #15 bus, and headed for the car, hoping to move it closer to the building so that Lamont and I could load up the photo cards, the wooden painted items, the art cars, the table, the folding chairs, an umbrella, some clear plastic to drape over my displays. Lamont planned to arrive to help in a couple of hours; all was on schedule.

Getting off at the closest stop to where I had parked the car on Saturday night, I felt the first twinge of foreboding when I didn't see it where I knew I'd left it. Getting closer, I saw several "Do Not Park Within 180 Feet" signs, dated 6/26-6/27, with PGE Tre Trm on them, stacked up beside where the car should have been. That answered my question. The Buick had gone bye-bye. At an unnatural angle. Not under its own power. Portland General Electric had taken care of that. Double dog drat!

I called Lamont who listened to me try extremely hard not to lose it as I said, “The car has been towed. I am so messed over; this is going to cost so much money; I cannot believe this!” He asked questions in order to pry details out of me and then thankfully played the role I sometimes play for him--the voice of calm reason. He suggested that when I got into the apartment I call and find the car. Surely, he said, it wouldn't cost any more that it had when Lindsay's car was towed once, around $170. I told him that I'd do just that, feeling doomed to the news of an astronomical fee to be paid to reclaim the car.

Once in the apartment, I knew one thing for sure—getting the phone number for towed cars would be easy. I’d just call work. I’d call the phone that I answer every day when I relieve my friend at the front desk for her breaks and lunch. I called work and asked my friend to please give me the number for towed cars, which she did, commiserating at my misfortune. I called that number which turned out to be the Portland Police Bureau. That man gave me the number of the towing company after I gave him the Buick's tag number.

I called Retriever Towing. “What kind of car is it? Where was it parked?” a man asked. Then he answered my question, “How much will it cost to get the car?” with “$176.” Flooded with relief because I’d been afraid it might be well over $200 since the minimum Neighborhood Clean Sweep ticket (remember the leaf clean up post?) is $208, I asked, "Do you take Discover?" (Mama and I always pay off the entire Discover bill each month, so I figured we’d at least get 1% of the fee as a Cash Reward; what’s that? $1.76. Well. Every. Penny. Counts. Now. Don’t. It?) He said that they took credit/debit cards as long as my ID matched the name on the card. When I asked where I should come to get the car, he said, "We're at NW 15th and Quimby, under the Fremont Bridge." I asked if he knew which bus I could take to get there, and he didn't have a clue.

Leland called me; I explained it all to him. He was painting walls out in Boring. He said he'd see me later, that it would all work out for Last Thursday. He sounded certain; all I had was hope.

Lamont called me again; I explained it all to him. I vacillated about the rain and Last Thursday, finally deciding to give it a go once I had retrieved the Buick.

Frustration crept back into my voice as I explained that I couldn’t get online to check the TriMet Web site for the best way to get from the apartment to beneath the Fremont Bridge. “I know I’m supposed to type in this unreal long Wep address/number/whatever it is. I cannot remember where to type it!” Still being the calm voice of reason, Lamont relayed my words to his roomie Brodie who knows about Macs. After following his instructions and still not getting connected, Brodie suggested I look for a nearby wireless password-unprotected network to use, just this one time, so that I could get my bus route worked out. Thank the computer gods, I found one and used it! I was still an extremely unhappy camper about not being able to use the computer connection I pay for, but thankfully I could get timely help by being a pirate of the airwaves.

I discovered that I could take the #20 to 10th and Burnside, walk a block to 10th and Couch (which for y'all in Jackson is pronounced kooch, rhymes with hootch, not pronounced couch, like that piece of furniture in the living room--unless you call it a sofa or divan) where I should get onto the streetcar for the rest of the trip to NW 14th and Marshall. Then I'd just have to walk .2 of a mile to the tow lot. It really was underneath the Fremont Bridge, but when you consider that the Fremont Bridge is well on its way to its center height over the river—90 feet—there was no oppressive, shadowy ambience there, just a high fence, 24-hour-camera-surveillance, we’ve-got-your-car-and-will-take-your-money feel to the place.

Admitted electronically after I pushed the tiny red button to the right of the gate, hidden among the chain-link, slat-woven fence, I walked up the metal stairs to the metal landing and into the trailer/office. With the help of a man in a navy blue short-sleeved uniform type shirt (he never stood up so I don’t have any idea about his pants), all it took was a swipe of the card and a signature by ballpoint, and I drove the Buick out through the wide rolling gate. It started to rain in earnest.

Having been in Portland for over a year now, I realized the rain could and probably would continue to come and go, so I did what anyone who has a mother who likes a clean car and who is driving a dingy, dusty car ought to do in a light downpour—I headed for the Kiss Car Wash on Burnside. Before being towed, the Buick had been parked beneath a tree or two, and it had been a good while since it’d been through the watery, swishy, soapy, blow-ey tunnel’o’fun! Plus, Kiss had a sale—10 of their $10 washes with all the trimmings for $54.95. Why not spend some more money on the Buick, I thought? I mean, the Saturday before we’d spent about $350 on the left-turn-signal-flasher and some emissions’ valve that had ceased to filter or some such, thereby causing the Check Engine light to come on. Impacted with carbon, it had to replaced. And already today we’d spent $176 getting it back into our possession, so what was another $54.95?

Soon I pulled into a parking space directly across the street from our building and made my way inside to finish getting all that stuff ready to put into the car. Lamont called and said that he was just about to come over the Hawthorne Bridge on his bicycle and that Leland was about 30 minutes away, coming from Boring to Lamont’s house where he’d leave his car and get onto his bicycle. Being a mama who likes for her two sons to get to do things together, I told him to go on back home and wait for Leland, that I’d get the stuff into the car without any trouble. My sweet Mama helped me with some of the lighter stuff, so before long I was driving off in a light sprinkle, headed across the Steel Bridge towards Alberta.

I found empty the same corner where we’d set up in May, just a few minutes before the guys rode up on their bicycles. I waited with the two folding chairs holding our space while the guys unloaded the rest. In no time, I was all set up and ready to sell, clouds and a drop or two of rain keeping me company while the guys rode their bikes down Alberta to a used cycle shop to look for some sort of used toe clips. All of a sudden, the clouds parted, revealing the bright blue sky and the sun. Wow, I thought, this is great! I got out a few more items, just in case someone wanted to take a look as they meandered down the sidewalk.

That lasted for about 30 minutes when I noticed gray clouds to the west. My cell phone rang, Mama calling. “The weather man just said the rain is coming back,” she reported. Yep, those clouds were coming my way, but not before a lady bought three photo cards for $5 which tickled me. I mean I needed to make at least one sale, didn’t I? (Thankfully some friends at work had bought some photo cards, too, and one art car!)

I got out the clear plastic and started to drape it over everything, cutting it into three big pieces and tucking it in here and there. In no time at all, little beads of rain ran right together, making pools reminiscent of mercury and worrying me that more was to come. I gave in, we packed up, put everything in the car. I wondered out loud about the dampness of it all, and Lamont commented, giggling, “Get your partner in crime to help you dry it when you get home.” (He meant his Grandma, and she did a bang up job!) We headed to Binks, a little bar just down the block, where I drank a desperately needed Coca Cola and made a pit stop before getting in the Buick and driving back across the Willamette to home.

Now, rightfully, this should be the end of the Last Thursday Saga, but it just isn’t. So.

After driving around for about 20 minutes, for the first time ever I found a nearby parking place on NW 23rd, just a couple of blocks from the apartment which meant that I could carry most of the stuff back home with ease. I was on my last leg, so this seemed a boon. The key-clicker-thingey's battery chose this moment to quit working, but, hey, I'd found a parking place.


About 11 a. m. or so on Friday morning Mama called me at work and asked, “Where did you say you left the car?” Have you guessed it yet? The Buick was gone, again. Drat! Drat! Drat!

I found the car through the two phone calls, discovering that unbeknownst to me I’d parked in a Loading Zone whose signs I couldn't see in the dark the night before because it turned out that they were quite high over my head—am I dingbat? Cursed or what? I called our apartment management company and asked if the recently available, five-blocks-away, $85-a-month-parking-space had been taken already. Yes. One possibly would come available the first few weeks of July. Put us back on the list, puhleeze.

You know the routine by now. Different tow company, Security, merely close to the Fremont Bridge, the driveway covered with leaves that stuck to my shoes spreading out around the edges like untrimmed pie crust, a much more informative man in a uniform shirt of an almost undecipherable color with smears of automotive grease, a swipe and a signature, $119 on the Visa Platinum (which we also pay off in full each month and get back an even smaller percentage, once a year in December), and I was driving home again, practically afraid to park, but lo and behold, the very first space to the left of the front door stood empty. I pulled in—we could watch this one from the bathroom window!

I triple dare you to think this ends here. Ha.

When I said the second man was more informative, I mean that when he handed me the paperwork, including a little bright yellow envelope, he explained, “The way it works here is when you get towed, you get a ticket. This is your ticket.” Slowly I pulled the slim white paper from the envelope, saw the amount of $60 and slipped it back inside, thanking him for his help and wondering why in the world the man hadn’t explained about the ticket the day before. I did remember seeing a little bright yellow envelope, but I hadn’t given it another thought. At home, I pulled the slim white paper from that envelope, saw the amount of $70 and slipped it back inside. The City of Portland takes Visa.

Think this just might be a never-ending story? I triple dog dare you to think so.

Yesterday afternoon about 25 laps before the end of the NASCAR race in Loudon, New Hampshire (no, that’s not an oxymoron—they race all over the country and last week a Columbian won out in California), I looked out the bathroom window and saw a sawhorse chained to the signpost beside the car, a sawhorse I knew held a sign that I didn’t want to read but that I must read.

Grabbing my keys, I told Mama I was going to see just what that sign that had appeared in the last few hours had on it. She looked up, shocked.

Yep. “No Parking Within 40 Feet,” “All Hours Tow Away,” something about POD, and “6/29 through 7/2.” That sign had not been there since 6/29 or the Buick would have already been gone, right? Y’all know it would’ve been gone while I discovered that Honk had indeed healed itself or while I took a nap on 6/30, right? I headed back up to the apartment to tell Mama this latest development and to get my purse. “I’m moving the car,” I said.

When I reached for the door handle, my fingers stuck to it. Looking closely, I noticed a sticky film of tiny dots all over the car, including the windshield which explained the sticky leaves at Security Towing. So much for the Kiss.

I moved the car right down the street, right into the Fred Meyer parking lot. Unbelievably, the key-clicker-thingey worked! Could this be a turning point? I shopped for groceries, giving up the chance to see my Dale Earnhardt, Jr. possibly win his first NASCAR race in a long time. I just couldn’t face looking for another parking space right then. (Junior came in 4th.)

I used my time wisely. I got the shopping done. I parked across the street where we can see the car from the living room windows. No signs appeared anywhere near the Buick the rest of Sunday or Monday. Some doggone car that never left the space for the POD never got towed! The POD appeared this afternoon around 2:30 p.m., parked in such a way that the illegally parked car could cut its front wheels just so and pull out onto Everett, but in such a way that no tow truck that I’ve ever seen could get to it. Drat.

Like Scarlet O’Hara, I’ll hope for a paid-for, off-street parking space tomorrow because today the Northwest Clean Sweep reminder brochure came in the mail. The Buick cannot be parked on the street in our neighborhood on July 30, between 7:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Or it’ll be towed.

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