Unfortunate events happen in threes, so given my recent parking ticket and towing, I’m due for another disaster soon. Two weeks ago, I got coffee with a friend in Studio City and abused the 1-hour meter limit, earning myself a ticket. Winston from New Girl showed up to the same venue a few minutes later, slightly making up for the fact that I would soon have to piss away $63 of freelancing and babysitting money (yes, I’m too old for a babysitting job, but we’ll get to that later). There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel for me, and my Monday morning towing confirmed this in a very unusual way.
The previous night, I had dinner and drinks with my boyfriend in downtown LA. We wanted to celebrate our anniversary at Bar Ama, where he took me on our first date, and I brought my silver Coach ringlet and regular purse over to his apartment in case I wanted to sport something fancy and light on the town. I ended up taking both to dinner, and prior to that, I left my car in my favorite parking lot, which has a 12-hour limit for each car. No one ever seems to monitor the area, so even though my pass was supposed to expire at 6:03 a.m. the next day, I didn’t return to the lot until 8:30. I’d broken the rules before and thought I could get away with it again, but I was wrong.
When I finally arrived at the lot the next day, my Honda Civic was nowhere to be found. You can knock me all you want if you hate the comparison, but I felt a little like Hannah in the season one finale of Girls. After an abrupt breakup with Adam, she hops on the subway and dozes off, only to wake up in Coney Island without a purse or way of getting back home. Rather than panic, she heads to the water and munches on the cupcake she managed not to get stolen on the journey to Brooklyn. I didn’t feel like flipping out either, but I knew I was screwed, at least until I had my car back.
Just like that, the thing I needed most in LA had been taken to some sketchy location thanks to my own bad judgment. Why had I believed I could get away with parking violations forever, especially since I’d had multiple nightmares about towing during my first few months in California? Well, this is the kind of thing that happens when you get too comfortable. You start to believe you — and your belongings — are expendable, untouchable.
When I decided it was time to quit hobbling around in circles, I called up the towing company to confirm my vehicle had been picked up that day. It had.
“I’m so sorry about that. How do I get it back?”
“I’ll give you the address. Do you have a piece of paper?”
I scrambled to pull a pen out of my purse and write down the location on my hand, transporting myself back to elementary school when that was such a common thing to do. I would have to show up to the lot before 5 p.m., when my vehicle would be impounded for inconveniencing the oh-so-considerate towing company.
Waiting in line at the ATM, I asked the guy behind me if he knew how to catch a cab. Downtown LA is fun, but it’s not NYC. Would I have to resort to Uber or Lyft even though I suck at apps? I hoped not. A few people gave me advice on services to call and wished me luck on my journey to the impound lot. Though I considered calling a cab company, I figured the fastest solution would be to hail down the next taxi in sight. There wasn’t much time to spare, as I had a babysitting commitment at noon. I had to move quickly.
As I was about to cross Spring Street, I noticed a blue and yellow car driving my way, so I inched closer to the road and swung my arms around like a flailing P.E. student. Like my car, any semblance of taxi etiquette I may have acquired in NYC was gone. I was just a wanderer in a city where nobody walks or interacts with each other. As the cabbie pulled over, I felt an instant sense of relief.
“Where do you need to go?”
“Verdugo Avenue. I’ve been towed,” I said, breathless. “Can you help?”
“I’m not a real taxi driver, but get in.”
This should have alarmed me, especially since I’m as paranoid as they come, but my car had just been hauled away by complete strangers and it wasn’t even 9:00 a.m. I didn’t have the luxury of being suspicious or lacking faith in others.
After fastening my seat belt, I checked my phone for directions and told the driver to go down Temple. We were only six miles away from the impound lot, but getting there would be tough given heavy morning traffic.
“Shit, I’m late for my court appearance,” he said.
“I can find another cab. I don’t want to burden you if you have somewhere to be.”
“No it’s cool, I’m already late. May as well reschedule.”
A part of me wanted to know what he’d done to warrant a court visit, but I decided it’d be rude to ask. Then I remembered he’d revealed he wasn’t even a real cab driver, so what was his deal?
“You’re not really a cab driver?”
“My dad is. He loaned this car to me, and you’re the second person I’ve driven so far.”
“What do you charge?” I asked, suddenly aware of the fact that I’d only withdrawn enough cash for towing fees.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Whatever you have is fine.”
This seemed oddly considerate of a random guy, and though NYC groomed me to assume all friendly gestures are manipulative and discreetly self-serving, I had a feeling this person wasn’t trying to work me, even as I continuously gave him faulty directions thanks to my flawed, outdated directions app. I expected him to grow angry, but all he asked was that I keep my eyes on the stoplights while he glanced down at the map on my phone.
“I feel awful making you drive in circles,” I said.
“It’s chill. I’m skipping court so I’ve got nowhere to be.”
“I hope you get that sorted out.”
“It’s complicated,” he went on. “I was towed too, you know. Three weeks ago.”
I thought back to my call from earlier in the morning. If I didn’t retrieve my car by 5 p.m., it would be impounded. There was no way his car hadn’t been taken into custody, but I didn’t want to be even more of a Debbie Downer than I already was, so I kept that thought to myself.
“Why were you towed?” I said.
“I had a bunch of stolen merch inside the car.”
“Merc?” I said, initially thinking he’d made a reference to mercury, a.k.a. poison, a.ka. drugs. I don’t know, people, I’m not into the drug scene and wouldn’t know what things are called.
“Merch, merchandise,” he corrected. “Stolen shit. Designer purses. Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabanna and shit.”
It occurred to me that I had not one but two Coach bags on my lap. Up until that point, I’d been pretty relaxed around this young man, whose life seemed messy but personality compassionate. He was still a stranger, and I’d gone against the first rule my parents had ever given to me, which was to never get in the car with someone I didn’t know. We do this as taxi passengers, but this fellow wasn’t even a real taxi driver. But I’d already made the choice to get into his car, and I had to pretend his back story didn’t perplex or bother me.
“Oh, where did you get all that stuff?”
“Hollywood. All stolen.”
“Well, it happens.”
At the next stoplight, I asked how close we were to Verdugo Avenue. Three miles, he replied.
“You can smoke in here if you want,” he said. “You’re pretty strung out.”
“I am. This just wasn’t the way to start my week, you know?”
“You’re telling me. I really didn’t want to be in court this morning. I’m hungover as fuck too.”
“The worst,” I said.
“The other guy I picked up was really fucked up. I was fucked up too, so we laughed about it while I was driving him home. Then I passed the fuck out.”
My nerves kicked in again, and suddenly Lorde’s “Team” started playing on the radio. Up until that morning, I found her music boring, whiny, and pretentious, but all I wanted to do right then was sing along with her. It was the only thing I could do to appear somewhat calm and composed. There’s something soothing about Lorde’s voice, and for keeping me contained for the duration of the ride, I’ll forever respect what she does.
“I like this song too,” he said, turning up the volume.
“She’s really making a name for herself,” I replied, a wave of ease overcoming me as we turned on Verdugo. We were only .4 miles away from the destination, so I told the guy he could drop me off “wherever.” And that was it. There wouldn’t be any drama with this fake cab driver, who really did want nothing from me after all, not even a cab fare (I gave him cash anyway, but it was amazing that he didn’t expect it after all that).
“The next time you’re having a bad day, help someone out,” he said. “It’ll make you feel better.”
Almost as soon as I got out of the car, my boyfriend called, distraught and worried as he’d just gotten my texts about being towed.
“My phone was on silent, I’m so sorry I missed your call. Are you OK? Do you need me to come get you?”
I didn’t even want to talk about the car. I just wanted to tell Ian about the weird thing that had just happened to me, but I was still too flustered and blindsided by everything to coherently share the story. I don’t feel very articulate or clear right now either — all I know is a perfect stranger, albeit troubled and reckless — did me a favor and sought nothing in return.
The towing company, of course, was another story. When I got to the customer service counter, I asked the employee whether they’d be reporting the towing to my insurance provider. No, just the LAPD, as they’re required to check in with authorities before towing cars so people don’t believe they’ve just been carjacked. I was off the hook insurance-wise but still feeling pretty down.
“I got a ticket last week. I really don’t want to tell my mom about this.”
“Let me tell you, it doesn’t get any better,” he said. “I’m 55 years old and still have to deal with my mom worrying about me. I wish I could say it stops with age.”
“Well, I’d rather have her here than not.”
“Me too,” he said, handing me my keys. “Don’t worry, Ms. Donovan. We’re not going to call your mom.”
I turn 26 in July, and here I was begging some random towing company attendant not to rat me out to my mother. I’m too old to be getting into these avoidable catastrophes, and quite frankly, I’m too old to be babysitting. As much as I adore children, particularly the boys I watch now, it’s about time I get on the right career track, and I can start by seeking out grown-up jobs of any kind. I may have to put in tons of hours and cut down on my TV-watching habits, but I’ll be on the path to becoming a fully formed adult. For some, it takes a series of mishaps, and though I’d rather not experience disaster upon disaster before getting where I need to be, I’m grateful for what each has taught me, as well as the interesting and dynamic characters that came along for the ride.