Biff Meets the Spiders From Mars in San Jose

Gross Encounters of the California Government Kind

A true story, with only slight exaggerations as to my reactions

(Selected for Lycos City Guide!)

It was a beautiful morning in downtown San Jose, even if it was too early for real people to be out and about. The street was deserted, so I didn't have to trash any cars to parallel park. Since I was from out of town, I scrutinized the meter carefully; you never know if a town charges to park on Sunday or not. Usually I don't work on Sunday, but Dinah's ox was more or less in the ditch, and I was the closest thing to a tow truck that was available. We had breakfast, then spent the day giving the tutorial, which seemed to go well.

Too well.

After the class, we were supposed to go to dinner with some bigwigs from The Vendor. So, having invited a few folks to ride along in the rental car, we headed to the hotel to meet the others. There was, it seems, to be a parade.


"Oh, neat. A parade!", quoth Dinah. "Yeah, great. A parade. We'll never get across the street," I responded with my usual, cheery optimism.

Despite my unease and ingrained lack of trust in parades, we were across the street in record time. Naturally, being too stupid to worry over obvious portents of doom, I merely pressed forward, dragging the others in verbal tow. Nearing the hotel entrance, I pointed the car out to my cohorts.

Or would have, had it still been occupying the same space in which I had left it almost 11 hours ago. The meter poles, which had all been nude earlier, were now festooned in Christmas colors, proudly proclaiming that any cars parked in these spots between noon and 8 PM that day would be towed. It was exactly 6:10 PM.

We have ignition. We have ignition.

My mind raced furiously. I couldn't decide whether to jump up and down and scream, assault the nearest cop, take a crowbar to the parking meters, or what, so I just stared blankly at the spot and sputtered like a minibike running out of gas. Finally my mind connected the lack of signs that morning with the current state of events, and I was hauled from my coma.

My engineering background has taught me to deal with everything rationally. I began turning around rapidly, staring in all directions, and shrieking loud enough to catch the eyes of a couple of nearby cops and most of the crowd of thousands awaiting the start of the parade.

We have liftoff.

After several reboots, my neural nets began to reintegrate, and something approaching intellect crept cautiously up from the depths. Decisions were still beyond my capability, though, so we wandered through the hotel lobby a few times until I decided to call the number printed on the sign before trying anything else.

After listening to a 5 minute recorded message by a bored, female voice (which, by the way, was entirely in English, and included the sentence, "If you do not speak English, you should probably bring an interpreter with you") I was directed to another number for further information. Naturally, 30 attempts in the next 10 minutes yielded only busy signals and unanswered ringing. It was time to hie me thence. Dinah refused to go on to the dinner, and insisted on coming along. Since I didn't know if I had enough money, or even if they would take money (the being San Jose, they might require a Tofu Bank Master Card) I accepted the offer.

A very nice policeman with three stripes on his sleeve listened patiently and understandingly. He encouraged us to tell our story instead of blindly paying the fees. A detective walked up about then looking like he needed volunteers as targets in a search and destroy mission, so we thanked the uniform and split, after he gave us directions to the tram, to save us cab fare. The detective glared after us. Later I found small burns on my back.

Thinking about the situation as we awaited the tram, I got angrier and angrier. Even if I didn't have to pay, this was costing a lot of time. And we were missing dinner, which for me is sort of like the Pope missing communion. The tram cost us $2 - background noise for this night.

Boosters clear; main engines firing.

I was definitely going suborbital. Most of the people on the tram ignored us, but a couple were giving me the same looks they were giving the loud lady with the accent talking about the conspiracy against her. I shoved my sweater in my mouth to stop the blathering, and tried to look sane. It didn't work, but this was California so it was no big deal.

We managed to get off at the right place, despite the fact there were extra stops not listed on the lovely transit map pasted right in front of us. We walked the 2 blocks to the police station. The nice lady at the auto desk informed us we were about the 15th or 20th bunch with this complaint, and asked us to wait for a supervisor who was on break.

While we waited, we watched what could have been 3 stooges from a week night TV police station sitcom. There were an Hispanic, an Oriental, and a standard model WASP - all the same height and build, with black hair. They were young, seemed not too far past Rookie in rank, and didn't care that we were there. One was bragging about how he knew exactly how many beers to drink in an hour and stay just under the legal limit of BAC to be able to drive. When a woman called asking for a Spanish officer, with a complaint about her runaway child, the Hispanic guy wagged his head no, and the Oriental told her that officer was on break.

I said something about Unix to Dinah. As an afterthought I looked towards the cops and mumbled "not you". One of them smiled and waved. I began looking for an escape route or an automatic weapon.

The supervisor returned and explained we had to have proof of ownership or rental (which was in the car, of course). After much quoting of rules and regulations she finally agreed to call Budget for us to get said proof via fax rather than make us hire a cab, which would waste yet another hour and about $30.

Orbital velocity reached.

I called Budget and a wonderful supervisor said we should have the police call, and she would take care of things. (In the 15 minutes it took the police to finish with their next customers so they could attend to us, she went off shift, unbeknownst to us, of course.)

While we waited, two women who had come in after us kept staring at us, mostly at Dinah. San Jose is pretty close to San Francisco. I don't know if Dinah was thinking about that, but she was beginning to wonder what was going on, when one of the women explained she'd overheard a Unix reference, and noticed Dinah's conference badge. Her sister was there for the conference, and her car had been towed under similar circumstances. Anita (the towee) said Avis was faxing their info right away. About that time the supervisor informed me that Budget had said in effect that their customers were of less value than camel dung, and why were we bothering them?

All systems go.

I called Budget, and eventually got the new supervisor (actually someone in the Customer Disservice Department - if you ever deal with them, be sure and ask for Maron, hiss at her and hang up), and tried to explain. She was rude, she was abrupt, she interrupted, she refused to listen - in short, she was a door-to-door used car and vacuum encyclopedia salesperson working for a car rental agency. Apparently my right to privacy extended to protection from myself, from getting the car back that night, and from anything else. I tried to explain she could call the police herself, from a number in the phone book, to verify it wasn't a laptop computer and backhoe operator requesting the information, but as I said she interrupted a lot. Only after I mentioned how helpful Avis had been to Anita did she agree to talk with the desk lady again.

At this point, instead of making sure who she was dealing with (I had, after all, called her on a pay phone this time) she gave all the information to the person I handed the phone to (the desk lady). Both the desk lady and her supervisor noted, "she's an idiot." I had to disagree. She was merely doing her job - and doing it well. I'm pretty sure her title was Chief Mongo Jackass Supreme For North America.

At this point we'd been there nearly an hour. Anita and Jenne had kindly agreed to wait for us (Jenne had a car there) and give us a lift to the wrecker lot, assuming we ever got done. Jenne went out to put plastic over her car window (which had been busted that day for the removal of her stereo). Wonderful lady that she was, with a fine grasp of the situation, she left a good bit of the glass in the police parking lot when we left. She kept waiting to get busted for breaking and entering, but fortunately the 3 stooges were otherwise occupied, telling each other jokes about funny busts they'd made or how strange their mothers looked when someone asked if these guys were their sons.

The supervisor, despite having gotten everything asked for from Budget, decided it wasn't enough, and we were to go get copies of the paperwork. The desk lady waited until she left, and gave us the release forms anyway. I would have hugged her, but I was afraid of the 3 linebackers playing cop behind the other desk. She said SJPD would pass the information on to the towing company.

Tracking radar on.

Receipts for $41.50 in hand, we drove to the impound lot. Noone was home, but they had thoughtfully placed a pay phone outside. After a 10 minute grilling, during which we gave all the same data to the towing company rep that the police department had just acquired and promised to relay immediately, we sat down to wait the 1 minute they said it would take to reach us. Fifteen minutes and some squad car scrutiny later, Brian showed up to take our money.

"Don't y'all have a dog?"

"Had a doberman. Died last week."

We'd wondered why the dog the sign mentioned had been so quiet (I had voted it was waiting for a chance to surprise us). It's a good thing I hadn't known about Dobie - by this point I was terribly close to just liberating the cars.

After taking all the same information we had just given the dispatcher and the desk lady, Brian cheerfully accepted our gifts of $91 (US), cracked a few jokes, and called another lot where the cars were actually stored (this was news to us) to have someone come lead us there. Jenne explained she knew the area, but Brian insisted this was just as quick, we'd be there in 3 minutes flat, and couldn't get lost this way. He split. (Before going, he admitted no signs had been visible when he had been called to tow the cars.)

Target acquired. Motors firing.

Jenne broke out some crackers to share (which I'd have happily paid $10 each for since it had now been over 8 hours since lunch). Fifteen minutes later, Jenne called the other lot (it was on a business card she had palmed in the shop while Brian was copying down our ID numbers, sock sizes, and home phones (I would have given him the Atlanta weather number if I could have remembered it)) and got directions; it seems the tow truck had gone on a call.

Ballistic flight achieved.

After a mere 5 minute wait while the 2 bored guys at the other lot (obviously lacking the mental capacity to be trusted to come show us the way) completed some nebulous transaction they didn't want us to watch, we were led to our cars, where we again showed ID, receipts, recipes and such. It was now 3 hours and $134.50 later than when we realized our car had been stolen - by the city of San Jose and Consolidated Wrecker (home of the lifetime warranty on all work - I only hope that means they will keep stealing that car back from Budget). There was, as Brian had predicted, a special gift awaiting us - a lovingly hand-crafted, carefully displayed parking ticket under a wiper on each car. $134.50 down and $26 + postage to go.

Impact. Warhead did not explode.

We eventually found a restaurant and got dinner, but not the dinner we were supposed to have eaten, and not with those with whom we were supposed to have eaten.

Before I left that lovely city in the Valley of Excessive Pollution, I managed to get one of the signs which had NOT been there that morning when I carefully scrutinized the meter. When I go back that way in a couple of months, if the city has not made reparations, I intend to alter the date and time, place it carefully on the pole of the reserved sign for the car parked in the City Manager's spot, and call Consolidated Wrecker.


Leading Dweeb:		Miles (Pond Scum)
Leading Lady:		Dinah (Pond Scum)
Angel 1:		Desk Lady (SJPD)
Angel 2:		Jenne (Apple Computer)
Angel 3:		Anita (Tenon Intersystems)
Bureaucrat:		Supervisory Cop (SJPD)
3 Stooges:		SJPD extras
Good Cop:		Tall Guy with 3 stripes (SJPD)
Evil Detective:		Danno + 100 pounds of fat (SJPD)
Festering Sore:		Maron (Budget Customer Disservice)
Key Grip:		Brian (Consolidated Wrecker)
Other Toe Personnel:	Larry, Daryl & Daryl
			(Consolidated Wrecker)

Last updated: 1 Apr 1994

Copyright 1992, 1994 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.

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