Why I am considering never driving anywhere, ever again.

Today was Jane Austen’s Birthday and as part of the celebrations, I headed out with the Oregon Regency Society for tea.  We were all dressed in our nicest afternoon outfits and I decided to drive rather than chance public transit in my white sprigged muslin.  One must take such pains when laundering it that I thought the effort saved justified taking the Mercedes out.  This is the first time I’ve driven it since my Seattle adventures.

It was such a lovely afternoon that we decided to head to the bookstore afterwards.  Miss C– offered to drive us all in her car promising to drop us back at the tea shop afterwards.  This was really the first time, outside of a convention, that I’ve gone out in my Regency outfit. It confused the mundane shoppers, I think. They all thought we were off-duty carolers even though caroling is Victorian which is not the same thing as the Regency.

When we went back to the teashop, my car was not there.

There was a large sign that said that the lot was for patrons of the teashop and that everyone else would be towed. Even though I had a receipt from said shop in my reticule, I called the towing company. They had my car and for a mere $252 they would release it to me.

The shop itself was closed so I couldn’t cry foul to them.

We drove to the lot the towing company directed us to and met a tow truck coming out of the gated area.  The driver looked befuddled as he had just dropped off my car and didn’t see how anyone would have had time to call.  We must have arrived back at the tea shop about five minutes after he left with my car.  He couldn’t help me. The towing company was shut and only had an answering service available with no way to reach a decision maker. So we stood there, four women in Regency dress, while I paid the $252 so that I could go home.

Rob made dinner and a martini for me and we watched The Wire for a little catharsis.

I’ll be having a phone call tomorrow. Oh yes. Yes, I will.

And next time? Considering that my transit karma is now affecting in-town travel, My Regency dress and I will be taking the bus.

Edited to add at 10:59 am, Friday: The teashop is closed until noon, so I tried calling the towing company at 10:46am.  The gentleman who answered the phone said that towing company only has dispatchers and requires one to fill out a form on their website which “they deal with every couple of days.”  The managers are all out driving trucks and “don’t have time to pull their trucks over to deal with complaints.”

I have filled out the form and said, “I had tea at Tea Thyme and Lavender on Thursday evening and have a receipt time-stamped if you need proof that I was there at 5:50. The store closes at 6pm. My friends and I ran over to Powell’s and decided to take one car. When we returned, less than an hour later, my car had been towed.  We arrived at the lot as the driver was pulling out of it from dropping my car. I believe that my car was improperly towed as I was a customer of the establishment it was towed from.  I had no way to dispute this that night, so I would like you to reverse the charges on my card now.”

Edited to add:  I called the shop again and spoke to one of the women who was there last night, I think one of the owners.  She said that they did not call the company but that the towing company routinely comes by and tows any cars left there. “I’m so embarrassed but we have these big signs…”  I think her position is that, because it was after hours, I was no longer a customer and that it is my fault the car was towed. If I had told them that I was leaving the car, they would have put a note on it that I was a “legitimate” customer.  I pointed out that I had no way to know that I needed to do this.

She called the towing company (Retriever Towing) and “Chuck” said that he was looking at my email and would respond.

Edited to add: Brief update – Both companies say that the fact that my car was towed was my fault because once the store closed I was no longer a customer.

Further updates are in my post “Updates to the situation with the towed car.”

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24 Responses

  1. Glenns

    1) Knock’em dead! And one might do a little poking around on this towing company; sounds like they’re at least somewhat predatory and could use a little media attention.

    2) Didn’t folks of the Regency period have something like an overcoat/overdress they used when travelling? I have some vague memory of this.. perhaps this could turn into a sewing project. After all, back then you had roads of mud and wagons and horses that threw it everywhere… and a girl had to get where she was going presentably!

  2. D.D. Syrdal

    Those dolts! One hopes the tea shop will abide by its own rules and reimburse you not only for the cost, but for the inconvenience and trouble.

    BTW, if you need a good Mercedes mechanic, e-mail me. I have a 1989 with 240,000 miles on it that is still rolling and runs smoother than most new cars.

  3. Michael Chan

    I’m sorry, Mary. I do hope that everyone involved with taking possession of your property and ransoming it decides to politely return your funds and offers an apology.

    That said, if you stop driving, does that mean that the Tow Truck Tea-Totaling Terrorists will have won?

  4. Todd Thorne

    If this keeps up much longer, Bravo may call you. They’re considering launching a new reality show: Bad Karma Blues. Supposedly the grand prize is an all-expenses paid trip, but in your case, I’d recommend taking the cash equivalent.

  5. EH

    This has been in the PDX news recently (um – for me, that’s the last year). I want to say the WW or the O (?) did a piece on how the towing businesses have been screwing over legitimate customers at businesses by towing (regardless of parking legitimacy) because of the large slice they get of the towing fees. Because who is going to continue to argue when it’s a matter of getting a car back? Ultimately, they just pay the fees and the towing company wins.

    Good luck with something that is so annoying – and hopefully you found good things at Powells that help mitigate the pain.

  6. Devin L. Ganger

    Just Tweeted about it, let’s see if we can get folks to retweet. My wife and I live in Seattle and occasionally run down to PDX, and she loves tea, so this is good to know. I might see if she would be willing to post something to her blog and Facebook about it for her tea groups and mailing lists. If TT&L realizes this could get them a bad rep in the tea lover community, maybe they’ll see wisdom in reconsidering.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Thank you.

      Truly though, I’m not sure that Tea Thyme has much say in the matter. I think that Retriever probably told them the same thing that they told me and Retriever Towing is the one holding the money.

      1. Devin L. Ganger

        TT&L is in a financial relationship with Retriever and has the option of severing that relationship with Retriever. The fact is that TT&L is allowing a paying customer (one that they are still using to promote their services) to get treated like dirt by a contracted agency, and is not going to bat for that customer, needs to be known. We might very well have been in the same boat. TT&L deserves to know that their stance on this issue is going to cost them business.

        In a related thought, did you sign any sort of disclaimer or waiver authorizing them to use your likeness for commercial promotion? If not, and if I were in your shoes, I’d be highly tempted to send them a bill to the tune of $252 for my modeling fee…and go after it in small claims court.

  7. Maev

    Trying to be polite, but you are not entirely in the right here. You are a customer only while you are a customer. Not when you wander off somewhere else and take advantage of the teahouse’s free parking. Some places around here lease their lots out after hours, in which case leaving your car there after hours is stealing free parking from those who lease the lot. And taking up one business’ actual customer parking while being a customer elsewhere, even if you had been a customer previously, is still taking up customer parking while not being an actual customer. Is this someplace where free on street parking is hard to come by?

    My partner works in towing, for a really honest company who is constantly hearing how they are crooked rip off artists for following policy and looking out for the businesses they contract with.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      You would have a point IF the sign had said that parking was “while shopping only.” However, there is nothing posted in the parking lot of Tea Thyme and Lavender to indicates a time limit on how long one is a customer. The definition of customer is “a person who purchases goods or services from another.”

      The fact that my car remained there after the shop was shut does not change the fact that I was a customer and had every reason to believe that I had the right to park there the night the company towed my car.

      If they leased the lot after hours, you would also have a point because then the management of the lot would have changed and thus I would not be a customer of the new managers. They don’t lease it.

      I was their customer when my car was towed.

      1. Maev

        but it is understood that buying one thing from a store one time does not give you the right to park there eternally. You are a customer at the time you are patronizing their store.

        1. John Rea-Hedrick

          While I tend to agree that by actually leaving the premises, Mary may have ended her transaction (both Retriever Towing & Tea Thyme and Lavender clearly believe so), this was not Mary’s understanding of the terms of that transaction. Therefore, further conversation is in order.

          While no one should expect eternal parking permission (isn’t hyperbole great?) it appears Mary’s attempts at civil discourse on this matter have been rebuffed both by Retriever Towing and by Tea Thyme and Lavender. The result is now a deep and growing sense of ill-will all around.

          What a shame.

        2. Mary Robinette Kowal

          John’s already called you on the hyperbole. Although, if one were being silly one could make an argument that I was not a customer when I parked because I had not yet purchased anything.

          As I said, based on the visible signs, there was no reason to think that remaining parked there would be a problem since I was a customer.

          Add to this that Tea Thyme and Lavender has said that if they had known I was leaving the car there that they could have left a note saying that I was a “legitimate” customer. So it appears that they do not have a problem with customers remaining parked while continuing their errands in the area.

  8. D. D. Syrdal

    That puts a whole different spin on it then, if they would have been willing to simply write a note if they had known you were leaving your car there. Seems to me to give their tacit permission to park there even after leaving their establishment, if they’re willing to do something like that.

    I understand what Maev is saying, it’s generally understood that you use a business’s parking lot only while you’re there (kind of the same way you wouldn’t sit in the shop all day taking up a table without ordering something). But if they told you it would have been all right, well… I don’t know, seems to weaken their case a bit. But I’m not a lawyer.