Saturday, April 4, 2020

That Crazy COVID-19 Car Caper

It was gone!

My car was not in the parking garage where I left it.

I am currently living in an apartment complex with underground parking for all tenants. That feature costs an extra $40 a month. At that price, it is a luxury I can do without.

Across the street from the apartment is a free public parking tower. Our landlord negotiated with the city to allow tenants too cheap (or as I like to say it, too financially wise) to pay the $40 to park in the underground lot.

The city agreed. They requested these wise stewards of their wealth (okay, cheapskates) park on the third or fourth levels. No problem. I would park in the next county to save $40 a month.

On Thursday, to escape the doldrums of Utah’s stay-at-home directive, I decided to go for an early evening drive to get way from my computer. So, I grabbed my keys, put on my shoes, and walked across the street to the parking garage.

The early evening air was cool, trending towards brisk. But the sky was blue, and the sidewalks and roads were deserted -- a perfect recipe for responsible social distancing. Plus, I considered my car to be an extension of my apartment, so I saw no violation of the statewide directive.  

As usual, I climbed the stairs up to the third level of the parking garage. I clicked the unlock button to listen for the familiar beep from my ever-faithful car. That beep also reminded me where I parked. At my age, coupled with the infrequent use of my car because of COVID-19, I typically forget exactly where I park. So, the friendly beep gives me the assurance my car is nearby.

No beep.

My heart sank a bit as I feared I had left on the lights and drained the battery. A nuisance, yes, but a problem easily resolved.

I pressed the unlock button once again hoping I was simply out of range when I first tried and now my car would respond.

No beep.

So, I walked to the stall where I usually park. There was no car.

No big deal. I don’t have a reserved stall. I may have parked in a different location. I walked around the entire third level. There was no car.

Let me be clear, I am one who prides himself on obeying laws, guidelines, and directives. But, from time to time, I do park on the second level. I typically do this on Friday or Saturday when I know the people employed at the nearby offices are home for the weekend. Because so few people are going to the office these days, I remember telling myself, last time I drove the car, it would be okay to park on the second level. (So much for laws, guidelines, and directives, right.)

My sense of panic lessened as I walked down the stairs to the second level. I was confident my car would respond with its satisfying beep when I pressed the unlock button.

No beep.

As I did on the third level, I walked around that entire parking lot and could not find my car. Now I was nervous. Did someone steal my car?

Before sheer panic set it, I decided to walk up to the fourth level. I have never been up there 
intentionally. But last time drove, I was listening to a podcast about the worst-case scenario of this pandemic. It was possible that I was so invested in the dialog that I accidentally went to parts unknown in the parking garage. So, I climbed the stairs up to the fourth level.

It was like being in a strange new world. I had never seen this level of the parking garage. I felt out of place and looked around to see if someone was watching me, warning me not to step foot in this undiscovered country. I quickly looked around and did not see my car. I clicked the unlock button just in case.

No beep.

Now I was sure my car was stolen. Why else would it not be in the lot? I always parked here. There was no where else to park. But who steals a car from a public parking tower in Provo, Utah? And why my car? It just didn’t make.

As I walked back to my apartment, I kept calm by making a plan.

Step 1: Get my car’s details from the insurance papers in my filing cabinet.
Step 2: Call the Provo Police Department, not 911, to report my stolen car.
Step 3: Call my insurance company to get a rental car as a replacement until my car was located.

(Being in crisis mode does not mean you should proceed without a plan.)

But COVID-19 made this all a bit more confusing.

  • Were car rental places open?  
  • Were they considered an essential service? 
  • How would I get to the rental office to pick up my car? 
  • Were Uber, Lyft, or that pre-historic service called a taxi, considered essential services? 
  • Did I have a file with my car's insurance information?
  • Was the information on that insurance paper accurate?
When I got in my home office, I found my car insurance folder in the filing cabinet. The information on that paper was current. Things were looking up.

I googled the Provo Police Department to get their phone number. Google reported the police department was closed. Do they really close police departments? Aren’t they an essential service? Maybe that was why my car was stolen.

COVID-19 was now to blame for my misfortune.  Crazy virus!

I called anyway to see if Google might be wrong. A woman at dispatch answered. Things were looking up.

I explained I needed to report a stolen car. The dispatch lady asked if I had the vehicle identification number (VIN). I did. It was on the insurance paper. Things were really looking up.

I read her the VIN and she said she would check the database for towed vehicles. I laughed, quite smugly, and explained I parked in a public parking tower so there would be no reason to check the database. She asked details about the tower to see if I may have violated some law, guideline, or directive. I told her I never violate such things. (I failed to mention parking on the second level from time to time so as not to diminish my pretense of perfection.)

Then came the big surprise. She reported my car had been towed for parking in a red zone.

A red zone!

There are no red zones in the public parking garage. Was it possible I got caught parking on level two? No way.

Then it dawned on me what happened.

On Wednesday, I decided to go grocery shopping at 8:00 a.m. I am four months from being categorized as a senior citizen, so I couldn’t go at 7:00 a.m. I figured if I went early, I would have a better chance to purchase items hoarders had stripped from the shelves. (That’s my polite way to say toilet paper without saying toilet paper.)

I had a 90-minute window between teleconferencing meetings at work to get the store, shop, get back to the apartment, and put the perishable items in the refrigerator. This way no one at work would know I went shopping.

The more I think about, the more I see myself violating laws, guidelines, and directives all the time.

My shopping trip was a complete success. They had real toilet paper. I only took one package to fool myself into believing I am socially responsible. But the lines at the check-out counter were slower than normal.

My 90-minute window was slowly closing.

Finally, I purchased all my groceries, ran out to the car, threw in my loot, stored the cart in the proper location, and drove as quickly, yet responsibly, as possible back to my apartment. I had a total of 15 minutes before I had to host a meeting.

Time was running out.

After going shopping, I parked directly in front of my apartment building to facilitate a rapid unloading rather than parking across the street. If you only park for a few minutes, no one cares. But the place I use as my personal unloading zone is --- a red zone.

You can guess what happened next.

I had to make two trips to retrieve all my groceries from the car. After the second trip, I had to put all perishables in the refrigerator. I now had three minutes to start my meeting. I ran to my computer, launched my teleconferencing app, dialed into the meeting, and no one at work was the wiser that I had gone shopping.

Well, this meeting led to that meeting. One sent e-mail became many sent e-mails. One received e-mail multiplied into a hundred responses. My day took over and my car remained parked in the red zone for hours. Eventually the management office called the towing company and they removed my car from the red zone.

As bad as it was to have my car towed, it was far better than having it stolen. The dispatcher provided me the phone number of the towing company. I called them immediately because it was well after 5:00 and I assumed they were closing soon.

By the way, is a towing company really an essential service?

The man at the towing company told me it would cost $241 to get my car. Because they were closed, it would cost me $281 to retrieve my car the next day. I guess I sounded sad when he gave me that news, so he told me if I could be there in 20 minutes, I could pick up my car and not pay the extra money. Things were looking up.

But how would I get to the lot in 20 minutes. They had my car!

I have only lived in this apartment complex for seven months. I really don’t know anyone well enough to ask them for a ride. Plus, we have the COVID-19 crisis. That made asking a stranger for a ride socially irresponsible.

Luckily, my son lives about 15 miles away. It would be hard for him to leave his house, pick me up, and drive to the impound lot within 20 minutes. But that was my only option. So, I called him. He was not home. Now what?

I googled the address of the lot and discovered it was only 15 minutes away by bike. Better yet, the lot was right on my daily bike route. I passed by it every day. Things were looking up.

I called the towing company to explain I would be riding my bike and I would be there in 15 minutes. I put on my biking sweatshirt, my biking gloves, and my ratty old helmet. I found a rubber band to put around my pant leg so it wouldn’t get stuck in the chain. I walked my bike through my apartment, out the front door, and got to the stairwell. Then I noticed I didn’t have my car keys. I couldn’t just leave my bike in the hallway of the apartment, that would be like parking in a red zone.

I walked my bike back into the apartment, got my keys, walked back out of the apartment, locked my door, carried my bike down the stairwell, exited the front door of the apartment, and started my mad dash to the impound lot.

I had 12 minutes.

I rode as fast as I could. I was making great time. I knew I could make it in 10 minutes. That would really impress the guy who towed my car. There was only one problem. I unwisely decided I could find the lot on my own, so I did not use Google Maps. The lot was on a side street and not directly on my bike route. Still, I could read street signs, so I didn’t need GPS to tell me where to go.

I got lost.

After crossing into Springville, I realized I had gone too far. Going too far in a car is no problem. But going too far in a bike costs precious time. I put the address of the lot in Google Maps and followed its instructions to the lot. In total, it took 22 minutes to get there. I was two minutes late.

I knocked on the front door of the impound lot. No one answered.

I tried to open the door. It was locked.

I knocked louder. No one answered.

I walked over to the lot and saw my car sitting there looking sad. I am sure it felt abandoned.

Near the locked gate of the lot was the sign for the business which included the phone number. Last time I called, I used my work phone, so the number was not on my mobile phone’s recent list. I called the number hoping someone would answer. As I waited, I walked back to the front door of the building.

At last, the towing guy answered the phone. I told him I was just a few minutes late and wondered how we could arrange for me to rescue my car. The man said he could see me from his tow truck. I looked to my left, and there, 15 feet away, was the man sitting in his tow truck.

He saw me ride up to the front door.

He saw me knock on the door.

He saw me investigate the impound lot.

He saw me dial him on my phone.

He knew I would be arriving on bike.

Why did he wait for me to call him?

Well, I placed my credit card and driver’s license on the side of his tow truck and moved away six feet.

He verified the car was mine, ran the credit card through his handheld machine, filled out the paperwork, and backed away six feet.

I signed the paperwork and the credit card receipt and backed away six feet.

He unlocked the chain link fence opened the gate.

Then we just stared at each other. I thought he was going to get in my car and drive out off the lot. Then I remembered. He towed the car. I had the keys.

I walked in the lot and pressed the unlock button.

It beeped.

I drove out of the impound lot, loaded the bike in my car, and drove home. This time I parked the car on the third level of the parking tower.

Obviously, COVID-19 is to blame for this crazy car caper.


  1. How in-covid-ient for you! Just think—you could have paid to park in the luxurious parking garage for 6 months with that $240! ;)

  2. Things like this happen to the nicest people. :-)