December 5th, 2004



So, my car got towed from the Apple parking lot last night.

I was parked in one of the non-registered spots in the middle of the lot. I arrived about 10:15 (I'm guessing at the time from IM messages to Brad). At 11:50 or so, I went out to the parking lot, exhausted from hacking, and discovered that my car was missing. I was overwhelmed to the point of tears. I checked the other cars in the parking lot (quickly, because there were only four of them), and considered walking around the block to check whether I had parked elsewhere, but I clearly remembered where I had parked in the lot.

Then I got enough of a grip to realize that it might have been towed instead of stolen. I went back up to Apple, called Lori to come pick me up, and called the towing company. Their answering machine redirected me to another number, which connected me to an actual human driving a tow truck. He confirmed that he had towed a grey Honda Accord. He told me that it would require $140 to release the car, cash-only. I asked how to go about contesting the charge, since I was an Apple employee and had been working there. He said that he was just an employee, and the boss who was authorized to make such decisions was out of town until Monday, so my best approach was to pay the $140 and then take it up with the boss on Monday. He was pleasant and apologized for the inconvenience.

I was, however, worried about getting ripped off, so before Lori and I left Apple, I printed up two copies of a note that said, in effect, "I towed Ralph's car tonight; he paid me $140 to retrieve it; he showed me his Apple badge proving that he's an Apple employee." My intention was to build an ironclad case for arguing with the boss, or for taking him to small claims court if necessary.

As Lori and I left, she realized that she had a flat tire. (Not out of air, but very low.) I found a penny in the parking lot, and she quoted "find a penny, pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck." I pointed out that since it was just after midnight, we'd get almost 24 hours of good luck, and boy we could sure use it.

We went into the BP next door, but their air machine was out of order; fortunately, the Citgo up the street had a working air machine. But it really seemed that we were

I withdrew cash from the Dollar ATM and we headed down to the intersection in Hazelwood that the guy on the phone had given us. We then called him on Lori's cell phone, and he said that he would drive by in a couple minutes and we were to follow him. This seemed very cloak-and-daggerish, but I guess it was easier than having him try to give directions on the phone.

Once we got there, the guy was totally obliging; he apologized for the inconvenience and didn't charge me anything. He said that he had no way of knowing that I was there, because the Apple lights were dark; I pointed out that the lights for the common area were visible from the street side, but not from the parking lot side. (The next time I'm there late, I'll turn on the lights in Roger's office.)

I asked if it would have helped for me to have displayed the parking permit more prominently. I didn't completely follow his response because I was pretty tired, but I think he said, "No, we had no way of knowing that there was anyone there."

He did give me a business card and suggested that I display it on the dash as a hint to them for the future.

Flat Tire

Automotive inconvenience has continued today.

I drove to Giant Eagle this morning to get some groceries for the week. As I got out of my car, someone pointed out that I had a flat tire on the rear right wheel. I don't know how long I'd been driving on the flat, but it was very flat.

I'd gotten a flat a few weeks ago, for which I'd used Fix-A-Flat and then taken the tire in to a repair shop to get it checked out and fixed. The repair shop hadn't been able to find anything wrong, and had suggested that the next time, it might be better to change the tire and bring it in without using Fix-A-Flat, so that they'd have a chance of repairing it. I considered that, and decided that with my super-busy work schedule this weekend, I valued short-term convenience more. So I added "Fix-A-Flat" to my shopping list and went in to do my shopping.

Came out, loaded my groceries in the trunk, used the Fix-A-Flat. No visible effect. The tire did not inflate one iota.

I considered calling AAA at this point. I thought about it and decided that since I was parked in a parking lot, on level ground, during daylight, with reasonably pleasant weather, this was about as good an opportunity to change a tire as I could reasonably get, and if I was ever going to change my own tire instead of calling AAA, this was the time to do so.

So I moved the groceries from the trunk to the back seat (along with the sofa cushion that I've been meaning to take to the cleaners), got out the jack and the miniature spare tire, and went to work. The compact jack that comes with the Honda Accord is really pretty nice, it turns out--it works fairly smoothly on a screw principle that's easier than a typical lever jack (for a compact jack without a long lever arm, that is), and it turns out that if you're looking closely at the bottom of the car, there are marks indicating where the jack should go.

But things were not to be that easy. It turned out that I was unable to exert enough torque with the short lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts on that tire. (I blame the mechanics who checked out the tire recently, who probably used an air wrench to tighten the lug nuts too tightly.) So I called AAA after all.

I put up the hood of the car as the traditional symbol for "Yo, AAA, this is the car that needs assistance". Another guy in the parking lot noticed me doing so and asked if I needed a jump start. I explained the situation, and he offered to change the tire for a few bucks. He pointed out that AAA would take 45 minutes or so (which was true), and since I had a lot of things to do today, I agreed. But I made him demonstrate that he could loosen the lug nuts before I called AAA to cancel. (He had an X-wrench in his car, which made it much easier.)

When we took the tire off and laid it in the trunk, Fix-A-Flat came gushing out in a puddle. We looked at the tire more closely, and he was astonished; half the sidewall of the tire was sheared down, on the side facing the interior of the tire, in a circle around the tire that removed the top halves of all the lettering on the sidewall. There's no way to repair this problem; this tire will have to be replaced.

We put the tire down in the tire well of the trunk, but I still had a puddle of Fix-A-Flat on the carpeted area of the trunk. I realized, though, that among the groceries I had a package of 8 rolls of paper towels that I had been meaning to bring into the house; I opened one of those to mop up what I could of the goo.

Lori's father, who is very handy and knows cars, was likewise astonished to see this tire; he declared repeatedly that he'd never seen that happen to a tire before.

The whole car has the industrial-chemical smell of Fix-A-Flat, unfortunately. Driving involves unpleasant choices between the headache-inducing smell and the chill of driving with the windows open.

There's a fair bit of suspicion that the towing may have caused this. The time element is a reasonable match, of course (particularly since I was too punch-drunk with fatigue last night to notice a flat tire), and it is known that towing companies often resort to dragging cars with chains to get them out of inconvenient spaces. We don't have a specific explanation for the astonishing sidewall damage, though.


In all this, I remained surprisingly calm. I felt that I'd be justified if I were to cuss and scream and rant and rave, but I didn't actually feel a need to do so. I was certainly very aware that I was encountering far more automotive inconvenience than usual, but I was also very aware that on a scale of automotive woes, this was minor compared to anything involving flame, rearrangement of metal, or rearrangement of flesh. I don't think I even cursed out loud at any point (though I could well be wrong there).

I am a whole lot more emotionally stable than I used to be. I can tell that I'm a lot more stressed and freaked out than usual this weekend, and I'm still pretty calm and equable. This is pretty neat.


We also found out today that Lori's aunt died. (She'd been dying for a few years, and we weren't especially close, so we're not grieving personally so much as feeling sympathy for people who are.) Mike, you may want to think twice about sharing my lucky penny.