(Provided you read the television anti-theft device story prior to this one, everything should make sense.)
Eventually, the police did arrive. A few days after the television anti-theft device incident, though their arrival had nothing to do with that escapade. It was of a much more pressing matter: alternate side parking rules.
Let me explain. Each side of our street gets cleaned once a week. For three hours on Wednesday, you can’t park on the left side. And for three hours on Thursday, you can’t park on the right side. During those hours, a street cleaner drives up the curbside of each street in a vain attempt to keep the street clean. It’s also open season for the police in the case that a car owner forgets to move their car. Unmoved cars are given $26 tickets each time they are parked on the street when alternate side parking rules are in effect. Slight pain in the ass, but one we’ve learned to live with and even apply a formula to, to a degree anyway.
Wednesday afternoon was left side of the road street cleaning. Heather’s 1988 Honda Accord, a rusty old bucket of a storage space parked near our house most of the time and never driven unless we need to move it for parking laws, was parked on the left side of the street. At 12:45 PM, I went out to move the Honda and was greeted by a uniformed policeman.
Me: Is there a problem officer?
Patrolman Quintero: Yes, there is. This car is unregistered.
Me: Well, it’s not being driven, so don’t worry about it.
Patrolman Quintero: I’m not, but this vehicle can’t be parked on the street if it’s not registered, and I can’t let you drive it to move for the street sweeper.
Me: What if I push the car to the other side of the street then?
Patrolman Quintero: Are you fucking kidding me? And are you the owner? I need to speak to the owner.
The exchange was brief. On a crowded city street, in front of a taxi stand with the lights of Patrolman Quintero’s police car firing into our neighbor’s windows, a crowd had begun to gather, wondering what the disturbance was. I ran in, got Heather, whom was also informed of the melee by Patrolman Quintero, and we stared at each other puzzled. The neighbors were now out of the house, blissfully watching. Particularly, the neighbor just opposite our house.
I looked in his direction and yelled, “Hey, this doesn’t concern you. Why don’t you mind your own business?”
To which Patrolman Quintero responded, “That’s his right to watch.”
To which I said, “Well, it’s my right to tell him what I think about it.”
To which Patrolman Quintero responded, “You don’t want to get me upset, do you?” Standard fucking pig vernacular for “Shut up or I’ll make this a lot worse than it already is.
We stared each other down for about five seconds afterwards, and I was pretty glad that I didn’t turn away first. Minor, minor victory against a cop, but one nonetheless.
We didn’t have too many choices. The car was unregistered and was about to be sold. If the police towed it to the impound lot, the only way we would be able to get it back was by registering the car in New Jersey. After showing the court that we had registered the vehicle, with insurance, we could then pay the tow company for the move and storage fees. By rough estimate, between towing, storage, registration and the ticket fine, I worked that out to be around $500, which was roughly what Heather would get for the car if she went ahead with her original plan to sell the car in the first place. We were, as they say in the courts, at an impasse. A money pit of an impasse for a 20 year-old car with 250,000 miles on it.
We were then offered a “deal” from the cop. If Heather signed over the car to the city, he would simply tow the car, tear up the ticket and forget about the fines incurred from parking an unregistered car on the street. Heather would be losing the car that she hadn’t driven in six months and was planning on already selling, but we really didn’t have any other options. Quickly, we started emptying the car of anything we had stowed in the trunk. Old BMX trophies, a pair of white roller skates I bought at a church auction for $1.50, middle school yearbooks, you get the idea. Basement minutia, and since we didn’t have a basement in the apartment, the un-driven Honda parked on the street had become one.
I did one better, popping the hood and removing the battery (which Heather had just replaced on account of readying the car to sell it). We stripped the car of everything we could, thinking that if some scumbag from the police department would soon be driving the seized auto, we might as well make it difficult to get running again. The cop wasn’t happy about it, but hey, it wasn’t his car. Not yet anyway.
Amid this, our neighbors stood still, watching our procession of stored goods move from car to apartment and back again. It was then when the cop mentioned who had probably reported the car in the first place.
Patrolman Quintero: “This is a small street and your neighbors pay attention to cars that are parked on street for too long.”
I looked up, the neighbor’s face across from us looked blank, the same neighbor who’s car alarm goes off at all times of the day and night, the same neighbor I would now be terrorizing and calling the police on for the remainder of our tenure here.
In the end, the tow truck arrived and towed Heather’s car forever out of our lives. She was down a few hopeful hundred bucks, but that was about the only direct damage incurred. We didn’t spend any money to save a car that simply served as storage and was only moved to avoid tickets for alternate parking rules.
Indirectly, the damage runs deeper. Bureaucratic bullshit and strong-arming people without the means to financially fight back have always been a tool of the government, at every level, and yesterday, we were hand dealt a hard slap of reality by a cop, a nosey neighbor and a crusade over hard-to-find fucking parking spaces in an overcrowded town.
If, and when, I see that Honda Accord on the road anytime soon, some windows are getting smashed. And hopefully, they are the windows of the bastard that started all this.