In 2000, after living with my husband Rick in a house in the Andersonville section of Chicago for several years, we decided to move to a condo in the Margate Park neighborhood. At the time, we both had cars and, while living in Andersonville, a garage in which to park them.
Andersonville is a swell neighborhood with many appealing attributes, but public transportation isn’t one of them. I used to refer to the 22 Clark Street bus that traversed the area as the “2X2,” since it usually traveled in pairs. That’s the best explanation for why we had two cars.
The condo – the first of two we would live in on Margate Terrace, and the third address I had on that block since 1989 – came with one off-street parking space. We agreed that Rick’s car should be the one to occupy it. My car, a used, boxy 11-year-old grey Toyota Corolla in decent condition, which I’d only had for less than year, would be relegated to street parking.
One cold, wintry night, after spending more than 30 minutes looking for street parking on Margate, Ainslie, Castlewood, Gunnison, Winona, Carmen and Argyle, I threw in the towel and parked the car on the west side of Sheridan Road, just south of Argyle. I was grateful to have found an unmetered spot.
The next morning, after cutting through Buttercup Playlot to get to Sheridan, I discovered that my car was not in the parking space where I had left it the night before. My first thought was shock and awe that someone would want to steal such a vehicle. Ugly as it was, it was dent and rust free, so maybe a car thief could conceivably want it for their very own.
Just as I was about to return home and, in my pre-mobile phone period, call the police, I noticed the sign with the snowflake on it, and the words, “No parking/ 3AM-7AM/Dec. 1-Apr. 1 or when snow is over 2 inches/Tow zone.” Because we had a garage in Andersonville, I hadn’t paid close attention to overnight parking restrictions.
As luck would have it, this happened during Rick’s winter break – he was a Chicago Public Schools teacher. We made some calls and discovered that my car had been towed to the City of Chicago Auto Pound at 701 N. Sacramento. Rick was gracious enough to drive me there and wait as I paid the fine and then located my car in the lot.
Rick had some errands to run and as we approached the exit at the pound, in our respective cars, he headed south on Sacramento and I headed north. Shortly after pulling out of the lot, I noticed that the car was driving funny. Pulling to one side and making a subtle “thunking” sound – neither of which it had done before being towed.
When I got to North Avenue, I turned right. After driving east for a few blocks, the car died. I was in the right lane and was able to pull over, close to the cars parked at the curb, and turn on the emergency flashers. I noticed a bodega and a laundromat near where I double-parked. The grocer didn’t have a payphone, but the laundromat did. (This was, of course, before cell phones were ubiquitous.) I took out my handy-dandy AAA card and dialed the toll-free number. I provided all the necessary information and was told that a tow-truck would be there within the hour.
I hung up the phone. I stepped out of the laundromat just in time to see another City of Chicago tow-truck towing my car away. I started yelling and waving my arms. The sidewalk was icy, with a narrow path carved into the snow. I walked as fast as I could, calling after the truck, which would slow down enough for me to catch up to it before speeding up again.
This went on for a couple of blocks. An eastbound #72 CTA bus saw me waving my arms as I ran/walked and pulled over at the next bus stop, assuming that I was trying to flag it down. I hopped aboard and paid the fare. I mean, why not? It was cold outside and the chase game with the tow-truck was frustrating and surely wouldn’t end well.
As the bus approached the intersection of North, Milwaukee and Damen, it occurred to me that there was a AAA tow-truck on its way to a location at which my car was no longer to be found. I pulled the “Stop Requested” wire and exited the bus at a nearby corner.
I found another payphone and dialed AAA. Almost in tears, I updated the operator, who did her best to calm me down. I hung up, defeated, and hailed a cab for home on Damen Avenue.
Just as I was walking in the front door of the condo, Rick was walking in the back door. We met in the middle. I held up the receipt from when I paid the fine for the first towing that morning and started bawling.
Once Rick helped me regain my composure, he took control of the situation. He called the number on the receipt and was told that my car had not, in fact, been towed back to the auto pound. My car had been “re-lo’d.” I’ll spell that. It’s R-E-L-O-apostrophe-D. That’s short for relocated.
The tow truck driver parked my car in the first legal street space that he could find on his route. That space, as it turns out, was on Ashland Avenue, just south of North Avenue. Once again, I called AAA and arranged to have the car towed to our mechanic, also conveniently located on Ashland.
Rick drove me to where the car was parked. I had the choice of standing outside in the cold to wait for the tow-truck or I could sit inside the cold car and wait. I chose sitting.
The tow-truck arrived within the hour. I regaled the kindly driver with my tale of woe and was finally able to find the humor in it. We dropped my car off at Ashland Tire and Auto.
A couple of days later I picked up my car and paid for the repairs. I was fortunate enough to find an actual legal parking space on Margate Terrace. I bought a “For Sale” sign at the hardware store and put it in the car’s rear window. I sold the car that week.