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Another Portland Blog

Wednesday, November 15, 2006



Let's start this tale of vehicular woe from the beginning.

Last Super Bowl weekend someone decided to drive an early-90s Nissan into my bushes. After being hit by vandals, the car hung precariously on the edge of a hill overlooking my house. Numerous calls made by both myself and my landlord to PPD's Abandoned Vehicle's Department went unanswered. After complaining about the problem here on the blog, Oregonian columnist Margie Boule somehow caught wind of the situation and came to the rescue. One article on the cover of the Living section later, a tow truck showed up and the Nissan was taken away.

Fast forward nine months. Up until last week I was the not-so proud owner of a 1984 Toyota van. Despite its limitations, the old bucket of bolts was at least 1/10th as lovable as Herbie. I couldn't muster up the courage to pull an "Old Yeller" on it after I purchased a marginally less ancient Toyota last May. If I was an eccentric millionaire, I would have fixed up the van with hydraulics, covered it in exotic car decals and hauled it out to local auto shows to shock the natives. But since I'm not an eccentric millionaire, the van sat outside of my place in a spot near where the Nissan had been ditched all those months back.

As the cliches say, how the tables had turned.

Right around the same time, the house across the street from mine was torn down to make way for two "McMansions." The builders obviously had no love for the van, which was taking up limited street parking near their construction site. They seemed to make a hobby out of tossing empty fast food containers at its roof. I arrived home one night to discover a gash in the van's side door. Had one of their vehicles bumped into it or had one the contractors decided to see how deep of a scar they could create with a flathead screwdriver? I guess I'll never know. I'm just glad they had a Port-a-Pot brought in shortly after ground broke.

Despite the animosity and partly out of spite, I kept the van in its spot. The week of Halloween a yellow slip appeared under one of the wiper blades. The Abandoned Vehicles Department had deemed the van an "abandoned vehicle" despite the fact I had kept it clean, running and parked directly in front of my place. I had made one major mistake in my battle of wills against the McMansion's minions: I had failed to run the van through DEQ and/or update its license plates. Still, I wasn't worried. It took an article in the state's largest newspaper to get the Nissan removed. Doomsday would come before anyone from the city would ever arrive to take the van away. Still, I put in a call to their office and left a voice mail requesting that they give me a couple of weeks to find it a new home. Surely, the city had better things to do with its limited resources than haul away the flagship in my growing fleet of Toyotas. Like hire more cops that beat people in broad daylight or another under-used streetcar line or ignore potholes and leaf-clogged storm drains while putting together a lame-brained Bus Mall revamp.

On Election Night Eve I found a parking ticket on the windshield. With nowhere else to stick the van but my front lawn, I finally decided it was time to let the old thing go. The next morning I had planned to wake up early and make arrangements to have it donated to the Portland Rescue Mission. I figured that maybe the van's old bones could be sold for scrap and used to feed at least two homeless people a small lunch.

Of course, the van was gone by 9 AM the next morning. The cit-cit-tay took my baby away, away from me. A perfectly justified tow or a cold-hearted van-napping, I guess it's a matter of perspective.

And so began two days of hassles. The Abandoned Vehicle's Office responded to a second voice mail in a few hours after ignoring the first one for over a week. My van had been taken to Sergeant's Towing in North Portland. If I wanted it back, I would have to pay $140 in towing fees after snagging a temporary "ride permit" from a DMV branch. If I ignored the problem entirely, the tow company would charge me an additional $15 a day fee until they finally got around to selling the van at auction.

I called the rescue mission. They were willing to send a tow truck over to Sergeant's to pick the van up...but not before I went out there, in person. to pay the bounty on its head. So off I went into what is probably the last remaining part of east Portland that hasn't been replaced with condos or Whole Foods Markets. Sergeant's Towing, located smack dab in the heart of an industrial wasteland, is a place where bad things happen. Members of the staff live on site in trailers and the property is lined with a barbwire-laden fence covered in warning signs. "NO, EXPLOSIVES AND WEAPONS ARE NOT WELCOME HERE!" "OUR STAFF IS ARMED" "VERBAL ABUSE AND INSULTS WILL NOT BE TOLERATED! YOU WILL BE GIVEN ONE WARNING AND ONLY ONE! THEN YOU WILL BE ESCORTED OFF THE PROPERTY!" While I didn't see him, I'm pretty sure that Chopper, the dog from Stand By Me was somewhere in the back. Or at least one of his granpuppies. And that mutt probably lives on nothing but red meat spiced with peppery spray and the hindquarters of tow victims that make the mistake of raising their voices.

It's the sort of place you want to get in and out of as quickly as possible while avoiding eye contact and sudden movements. Or anything else that might be taken the wrong way. I could tell you more about Sergeant's Towing but, to honest, these are probably details best kept out of a public forum.

Yes, I fear Sergeant's Towing. I did snap a photo of the fence though.

Later in the day the van was picked up and carted off to the one of the rescue mission's offices. In exchange for it I was given a copy of a receipt and the assurance that a tax rebate form would follow in the mail if they manage to sell the thing. And so ends the life of a van that once got into a fight with a bison and survived the Mojave. The little van that could and could have kept on couldin' if I hadn't gotten tired of its numerous squeaks and minor problems--- its terrible gas mileage, soda-stained interior and the weird smell that no amount of cleansers, household, automotive or otherwise, could ever erase.

Now there's just the matter of that tow bill. The Portland Office of Transpiration made the mistake of mailing me a letter last week with the following included at the bottom, almost as an afterthought:

"You may request a hearing to contest the validity of the tow."

Why yes, Portland Office of Transpiration, I would like to contest the validity of the tow, especially after I made numerous attempts to contact you about a vehicle that, while it may have been considered "abandoned" in the eyes of local ordinances, was anything but. If I have no legal ground to stand on, the very least I can do is waste enough city funds to make up for the $140 I lost because one of your bureaucrats couldn't be bothered to return a phone call. How much does it cost to arrange a hearing like this anyway? Ah, no matter. You would probably just blow that cash on a single racing stripe for the OHSU tram.

My Toyota Van will be avenged, if it's the last thing I do! For you have turned me into a crank, a crank bent on wasting as much city resources in the misguided pursuit of a distorted view of justice as possible!

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