Recently, my sister and I had good lunch at the Bad Waitress Diner, but it cost us close to $250. The turkey wrap I ordered had fresh avocado and a tasty sauce. Margo’s Eggs Benedict had a great rosemary hollandaise. What left a bad taste in my mouth was the $232.79 towing charge we paid for participating in the Caravelle Chinese and Vietnamese Restaurant’s parking lot scam.
As we pulled into the parking lot the Caravelle shares (sort of) with the Pancho Villa Mexican Restaurant, we saw a tow truck trying to negotiate the turn from the parking lot into the alley. We idly wondered if the car it was towing had died. We should have thought a little harder about that, but we were busy yakking. Margo lives in Ohio and we were enjoying one of her rare visits to the Twin Cities.
We noticed the sign near our spot that said, “Pancho Villa parking after 3 p.m.” and thought, It’s only 11:45. We’re good to 3:00 and we won’t be here that long. We should have noticed the guy posted next to a light pole across the street from the parking lot.
We ate our lunch, talked about our respective children, and speculated and laughed about the young women and young men at the sidewalk tables outside our window. (Was that guy checking out the woman with the short skirt? Did she just flip her skirt like that so he could?) All in all, a good lunch.
Until we walked half a block back to the parking and discovered my car was gone. Huh? It should be right here. Didn’t we park it here? It was TOWED?!? But by whom? Pancho Villa? We went inside and found the hostess. She explained that they always ask their patrons where they’ve parked, because five minutes after someone parks in the lot next to Pancho Villa, the Caravelle calls for a tow truck. The whole lot is Caravelle’s until 3:00 p.m. Oh. Clearly, we’d misunderstood the signs. $&%#!! We thanked the helpful hostess and left.
I felt so stupid. Angry, too. How could I have misunderstood the sign so thoroughly? And where was the sign saying we’d be towed? We found it on the opposite side of the lot, by the Caravelle. As I wrote down the phone number for Cedar Towing a guy stood nearby, repeatedly hawking and spitting, to the point where I wanted to turn to him and say Mom-like, “Knock it off!!” Still dazed, it never occurred to me that he might be trying to get our attention or possibly signal someone else, like the guy leaning on the pole across the street.
We walked back to the Bad Waitress to ask for a phone book (neither of us has a smart-enough phone, so we couldn’t look it up). Once there, we explained what happened. The manager seemed unsurprised and unfazed. She didn’t have a phone book, but she did have the phone number for a taxi service. We copied the number and went outside to call and wait.
When we called Rainbow Taxi, the dispatcher said something like, “Oh yeah, the Bad Waitress. I know where that is. We’re over there a lot.” Duh. Finally, it clicked. Caravelle may be the masters of the towing scam, but the Bad Waitress and Rainbow Taxi are complicit, or at very least, well aware of it.
Earlier, I’d felt stupid and frustrated—Why wasn’t I street-smart enough to think about the possibility of being towed? What a dope! But after talking to Rainbow Taxi, I was furious and determined not to give another dime to this racket. Fortunately, we spotted a taxi driving by and decided there were enough taxis in the area and we could hail a cab on our own. We crossed the street to catch a cab headed the right way. Blowing off Rainbow Taxi was a tiny revenge, but it felt good. Half a block down was the guy next to the pole, still scouting for the Caravelle, while his partner (the spitter) loitered in the lot to see where parkers actually went.
The cabbie who picked us up had a Greek accent and chatted with Margo. I was too crabby to talk. During the ride to Cedar Towing, we stopped at a light, and a person with a disability crossed in front of us on a scooter. The cabbie remarked, “That’s fine on a day like today, but these people on scooters go out in the winter, too. Then they get stuck in the snow and I have to get out and help them get across the street.” Here was a genuinely nice man. He wasn’t trying to scam us. I relaxed a little.
At the towing company, the woman told me the cost was $232.79. How is a half hour’s work worth $232.79?!? But I decided to keep my mouth shut until after I had my car. I asked to see the car before I paid, and the clerk made sure I knew it was a big hassle for her. Her manner implied that it was unreasonable of me to think they might have damaged the car in the process of towing it. Yeah, right.
The guy she called to escort me to the car was less sophisticated. When I asked him how they towed it, he said they took it on a flatbed. OK, so far. SUVs shouldn’t be towed with just a hook. They need to be towed on a flatbed. I inspected the car carefully and found fresh scratches on the hood (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) I called the guy over and asked what might have caused that. He tried to say maybe the scratches were already there, but I cut him off saying, “No, I just had the car washed several days ago and dried it myself, so I know those scratches are new.” He acknowledged that when he was looking for the VIN number, something might have scratched the hood.
Inside, I asked the clerk what Cedar Towing planned to do about the scratches. She said I could call her boss, but he was on vacation right now. Of course he is, and he probably will be for the rest of my natural life. So I paid, but as I left I said, “Great scam you and the Caravelle have going.” Of course she blustered back, “It’s not a scam. There’s a big sign.” I laughed at her. She said in parting, “You’re entitled to your opinion.”
Yes, I am.
Margo took photos of the scratches with her phone (for all the good it will do) and we left.
So of the three restaurants we dealt with that day, I’m recommending Pancho Villa, because I’m pretty sure they aren’t in on the towing scam. But, just to be safe, you’d better plan to walk over there.