As my parent’s daughter, I pride myself on being a strong, capable, self-reliant woman. From a young age, my papa made sure I knew how to wield a hammer, hold a shotgun, tend a garden, tie a slip-proof knot, shoot a basketball, and appreciate getting good and sweaty after a long day of hard work. By the time I hit high school, I knew how to check the oil in my car, how to change a tire, and how to drive my father’s manual Hondo Civic. (Well, almost).
I like that I was raised by a mother who pushed me, sometimes very hard, to meet my potential and who did not tolerate immaturity or laziness. I like that I was a bit of a tomboy growing up, that I had an athlete’s muscled body, that when I moved a few months back, I could lift heavy boxes and help carry furniture. I rather enjoy handy work. Home Depot is a place I could roam for hours upon hours. On the shelves in my study you will find an entire row of books from my women’s studies classes in college.
Growing up, my parents made sure I knew I could take care of myself. They encouraged me to be a woman, yes—but to be a woman who was just as strong and capable and self-sufficient as any man.
Which is why I am beyond humored by what happened to me last night.
Following a terribly hot but wonderfully focused and inspiring yoga class, I headed to the neighborhood grocery store to pick up a few essentials. It looked like rain when I left for yoga, so I drove up to the Harvard Square studio. Meaning, when I went to the grocery store, I parked my car in the little side lot…that I have parked in at least a dozen times before.
I hurried inside; I hurried through the aisles, hungry and eager to get home. My time in that store stretched no longer than 10, maybe 15, minutes.
And when I hurried out, I saw that the front of my car had been lifted up onto a tow truck.
I immediately called out to the man standing alongside my car. “Hey! Hey! What’s going on?! Are you towing my car?!”
The man looked lazily over at me and nodded. “Yep, I am, ma’am. Do you know this is a private lot?” Pause. “And you don’t have a permit.”
In my head, I started chanting, “Stay calm, stay calm,” but I could feel a flutter of anger in my chest. Taking a deep breath, I replied, in as steady a voice as I could muster, ”Sir, I have parked in this lot before, and I have never, ever seen a tow truck in here. Furthermore, I was in that store for all of 10 minutes. And this lot is EMPTY. I don’t think my car is prohibiting anyone who DOES have a permit to find themselves a parking space. Now, I am begging you, please, not to tow my car. Please.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. I began to think my cool, calm, and collected act had worked. And then he launched into this speech about how he had already called me in to the tow lot in Somerville, and I was going to have to go pick my car up there if I wasn’t willing to pay the fine. I ask how much the fine is. He says $65. I ask how he had the time to pull into the lot AND get his truck positioned AND get my car on his towing rig AND call me in to his stupid office in Somerville all in the span of 10 minutes.
He says nothing. I then begin begging again. I briefly consider whether bursting into tears will do any good.
He won’t budge. He says I can pay him $65, and he’ll let my car go. At this point, it’s pushing 8:30 p.m., and I’m starving and a little shaky and starting to freak out a bit. I decide that I’d rather just pay the jerk the stupid $65 and be on my way than stand there and argue in a damp, dark parking lot.
I pull out my checkbook and snap, “Fine. Do you have a pen?”
“Yes, a pen.” I want to add “you moron!” but hold back. “I need a pen if I’m going to write you a check for this ridiculous $65.”
The tow guy shakes his head. “You have to pay cash.”
At this, I tip over the edge. “What?!?! How do I know you won’t just pocket it? If I went to Somerville, would I have to pay cash? This is ridiculous! I’m not giving you $65 in cash!”
“Well, then, I’m not giving you your car,” he replies.
Hm. Well…I really want my car back. I really don’t want to go to Somerville. I really want to go home.
So, I start mumbling profanities, certainly loud enough for this spit of a man to hear me, and throw my groceries into my backseat and then storm back into the grocery store in search of the ATM. Tears begin the hot, stinging prickle behind my eyes. My stomach rumbles and clenches, and a cold sweat breaks out on my brow. I am furious. And, even worse, I feel totally and completely powerless.
Just then, as I’m withdrawing $80 from the ATM and realizing I’m now going to have go back into line to have a cashier break a $20 for me, another man comes up to me and says, “Are you okay? Is that guy out there trying to tow you?”
I can feel my lower lip trembling ever so slightly. “Yes, yes, he is,” I stammered, “he’s telling me that this lot is private, and I can’t park there, and he’s saying if I pay him $65 then he’ll let me go, but he’s telling me I have to pay him in cash, and I think this is all totally sketchy, but I just want my car back…”
I probably sounded—and looked—like a total nut.
The man—who was perhaps in his late 20s or early 30s, short, wearing a t-shirt on a cold night, and carrying no groceries of his own—put his hand lightly on my coated arm and said, “No, no, lady, he can’t do that. Don’t pay him. Look—he’s already taken your car off the rig. You just go out there and get back in your car. Don’t pay him a cent, you hear?”
I stood, in the doorway, hesitating, as this random but perfectly polite man walked through the automatic doors. He waved his hand for me to follow.
“Come on—I’ll walk to the car with you,” he continued, “and you just get in, understand? Tell him the ATM is broken or something. He can’t tow you—he’s not even allowed to try and get money off of you!”
Part of me felt like a scared and helpless little girl. I could almost hear, in my head, my small, child-like voice saying, “Okay, sir. Thanks for taking care of me. Thanks a whole bunch!” And another part of me, the wary, nearly 30-year-old woman, was saying, “Uhhh…who is this guy? Is he going to try to steal the $80 he just saw me take out? Is he going to follow me once I get into my car? Should I listen to him?”
At this point, we had reached my car. The man beside me was keeping his distance but was also gabbing away, like we were old friends—I don’t even know what he was talking about. The tow guy was standing at least 15 or 20 feet away from my car, talking on his cell phone, his back partially to me. My new friend/knight-in-shining-armor whispered to me, “See? He’s not even paying attention.”
And then he proceeded to open my car door for me. And he waved at the tow guy and yelled, “The ATM is broke, man! You shouldn’t be trying to tow this nice lady! Get outta here!”
And as the tow guy began to lumber forward, the man from the grocery store said, very loudly, “So good seeing you, honey—now you better call me this evening, okay? I want to make sure you got home good and safe, you hear? I’m standin’ right here until you get on your way.”
I could have kissed him, this short, t-shirted, and totally random man.
Safe in my car, with the doors locked and my heart absolutely racing, I burned rubber pulling out of that parking lot. As I sped down the side street, I passed the man, who was looking for me, who grinned and waved and gave me a cheery thumbs up sign, before I turned the corner and was gone.
Now, yes, of course, a small part of me feels badly for not paying the tow guy. Another small part of me can’t believe I had the gall to pull out of that parking lot. A much bigger part of me hopes that the tow guy doesn’t have my plate number or that I don’t receive some bill for $65.
But, most of me is overwhelmingly humored by the whole situation.
Because I don’t pull the damsel in distress card often.
And because I take pride in taking care of myself.
Let’s face it, though. Male or female, single or married, young or old—we all get ourselves into situations of distress.
And, sometimes, humanity surprises you. Sometimes, you just need a little help getting yourself home.