I get to school early. 6:30am. I leave from the north side of the city and need to travel all the way to Hyde Park, which is quite a trek. The reason for this early rising is that traffic is pretty laid back at this hour and with the enormous amount of construction work being done at the school and the presence of many many construction workers, the earlier I get to school, the easier it is to find a parking place. The construction workers actually get to work before me, so I park now about a block away. Of course, getting to school so early gives me time to plan, get a little work done, and mentally prepare for the day. This morning I had four more papers to grade, just the perfect amount of time to finish before classes began.
I realized around 6:45 that I had left my phone in the car and went back outside to retrieve it. Standing on the sidewalk in front of school, looking across the midway, I realized that there were no longer any cars parked there. There were a couple of construction workers standing nearby as I shouted, “Where’s my car?!”
“They were just towed.”
So began my day.
I had to find someone in the school to figure out who I should call and what I should do and then I had to find a phone to do all that (my cellphone was in the car, remember?). Because I was parking in a new area, I hadn’t focused on the “OR” in the sign posted nearby (see image at right). Apparently neither had the 30 or so owners of cars parked on the midway this morning.
I had to apologize to my students for not finishing all their papers. I was pretty angry especially when I learned that my car had been towed about a half an hour away. My students tried to comfort me and I tried to calm down by sharing another towing story with them—
One evening, years ago, when Jane Byrne was Mayor of Chicago (1979-83), I had parked my car in one of those “almost” legal spots downtown. Because Jane Byrne lived downtown, the police were especially vigilant about monitoring illegal parking. (It turned out that I had parked on the very block where she resided.) When a friend and I left the play we had attended that night, I found that my car had been towed.
There were no ATM machines or cellphones then and in order to get one’s car back one needed cash. My friend and I had to use pay phones and take buses to a variety of friends’ apartments to gather together the cash necessary (I believe it was $50.00) to get the car released.
The car had been towed to a lot on the far west side of the city and so a very long bus ride later we found ourselves in a line waiting to pay the fine. There were two lines in this car pound and there were quite a few people in both. What made everything go more slowly was that everybody had a case to make, everybody had an excuse, everybody was trying to connive and weasel out of paying their fine to get their car back. Of course, each policeman at the head of each of the lines was immoveable and eventually each person ended up paying their fine.
At one point a third policeman entered the room with two very large, very aggressive german shepherds on leashes from which they were actively straining. The policeman struggling to control the dogs, said to the other two, “I’m going to let the dogs loose.”
My friend and I thought the police had planted drugs in and among the cars and that the dogs’ sensitivity to sniff out the drugs was sustained by this nightly ritual.
When it was my turn to plead my case, I actually just paid the fine seeing that it was after 3:00am and no one’s clever arguments had worked so far. The policeman told me that my car was in row D number 47 and to go get it.
I responded that I would but I wasn’t going out there by myself with those big dogs loose. He looked at me with a puzzled expression and then turned to the policeman at the head of the second line. “Are the dogs chained?” he asked.
The second policeman answered, “Yes, the dogs are loose.”
“Ok,” the first said, “Go get your car.”
“Wait a minute. He just said the dogs are loose.”
The first policeman was quite bewildered (or maybe just very tired) and asked the second policeman one more time, “Are the dogs loose?”
Raising his voice with some irritability the second policeman said, “Yes, the dogs are loose.”
“Alright go get your car.”
“But he just said the dogs are loose. I’m not going out there if those big dogs are loose.”
It was almost like slow motion now, the way the policeman looked confused and perplexed and shook his head from side to side so very slowly, staring at me, looking over at his partner, looking back at me. Then one more time he asked, with very measured words, “Are. The. Dogs. Chained?”
The second policeman, also in slow motion, looked at the first and said loudly, emphasizing each word at the precipice of anger, “YES, THE DOGS ARE LOOSE!”
The first policeman stared (for what seemed like a quite a while) at the second, who continued to process the surly people in his line. Then he turned to me and told me to follow him. Silently, he walked me over to row D number 47 to get my car.
The students seemed pleased with the story. “What about the dogs?” MH asked. “I mean they can’t plant illicit drugs! That’s illegal. Amendment Four, search and seizure! They need a warrant! That’s your private property!”
“Tell it to the judge,” CG said.
“So, Ms. Y. I know you’re all upset and all, but is this yet another example of the importance of careful reading?”
From the mouths of babes.