first person: Car Trouble 

Unfortunately, my car hadn't been stolen. It had been towed by the city.

The next morning a clerk at City Hall told me my car was at the Whitcomb Street lot. My friend drove me there on his lunch break. I paid $150 to the attendant to redeem my vehicle. "I don't think this charge is justified," I said.

"Look, you either write a letter or go down to City Hall to contest the fine," he told me with an impatient wave of his hand.

I wrote a letter. Two weeks elapsed with no response. I called City Hall. A polite but weary voice told me, "You must come down to City Hall to make an appointment to go before the judge. Sorry you were given misinformation."

That afternoon at City Hall, after waiting in line for 30 minutes, then stating my business to the clerk, she said, "Oh, you're in the wrong line. You want to be over there," and she waved me off to her left.

Could someone please put up a sign?

I waited 20 minutes in another line and noted that one of the clerks had a motto hanging in her cubicle — "I'm too blessed to be stressed." I didn't feel blessed. My stress level was way up there.

A clerk and I filled out a document to contest the towing charge and we set up a court date. I asked if there was parking available at the John Marshall Court House, the place where my case would be heard. A woman in line behind me piped up, "Honey, there ain't no parking 'cept street parking, and if the judge takes too long, you might get a ticket or towed. I'm tellin' you like it is, honey, 'cause facts is facts." I resolved to walk the two miles from home to court.

On the appointed day after entering the courthouse, the guard asked me if I had a cell phone. "Yes, I do."

"Get that thing outta here. You gotta take that back out to your car," he barked. What car? I walked today.

"Is there some way we can resolve this problem?" I asked. "May I leave the phone with you? Do you have a room for such things?"

"You can't bring that phone in here. Get it outta here." He was adamant.

Why didn't City Hall tell me about prohibited items when I made my court appointment?

I left the building, sat down on some brickwork, and looked around. Perhaps I could hide my phone in some bushes. Nah. Somebody might see me and think I'm planting a bomb. Maybe I could give it to the hot-dog vendor until my case is heard. Nah again. What if he calls all over creation and uses up all my minutes? I called my friend Linda. Trying to keep the tears out of my voice, I explained the pickle I was in.

Within 10 minutes, Linda drove by the courthouse. "Come here, give me a hug," and she reached both arms out of her car window, comforting me like a mother whose child has had a bad day at school. I passed her my cell phone like a runner in a relay race and she was on her way.

I entered the courthouse again and made my way to the second floor. A guard frisked the men, but only rifled through the women's handbags before we made our way into the courtroom and sat on pewlike benches waiting for the judge to appear. I had to leave my bottle of water in the lobby.

"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" The officer of the court swore the group of about 25 people in. I soon stood before the judge, who asked me, "What do you have to say?"

"I was out of the country for 10 days. I had no way of knowing the streets were to be cleaned when I was away." I handed the officer of the court copies of my boarding passes, showing that I had indeed been traveling while Richmond cleaned the street where my car was parked.

"I'm going to dismiss these charges," the judge said. "Next time, before you leave town, ascertain whether street cleaning will take place during your absence."

I was happy to have the charges dismissed, but why did the court have to verbally wag its index finger at me?

An officer of the court directed me, "Go see the clerk." Finally, I was going to get my $150 back. No, not so fast. I was to take a document showing the dismissed charges to the lot where my car had been towed. The attendant there would reimburse me.

I walked home, hopped in my car, and headed over to the Whitcomb Street lot. It was vacant — surrounded with a chain link fence. I asked three people (a guy on the street, a gas station attendant and an officer in a nearby juvenile-detention facility), "Where did the lot go?" All three pointed me in the direction of the empty field.

Next morning I called City Hall. "What happened to the Whitcomb Street lot?" The second person I spoke with told me to call the clerk at traffic court. The clerk at traffic court told me to call Mr. H____. Mr. H____'s phone message told me he was at a training seminar, but "I'll be back tomorrow and talk with you then." I didn't want to wait. I called the police. The officer told me that the Whitcomb lot was used "just for the overflow." She directed me to the appropriate lot — the place where I would be reimbursed. I was, about an hour later.

Couldn't traffic court have announced that the Whitcomb Street lot was defunct?

I wish my Toyota had been stolen instead of towed. I then could more easily affirm with the clerk in City Hall, "I'm too blessed to be stressed." S


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