That is a Horrible System

Ever lost your car in Brooklyn?

Image: Timothy Krause via Flickr

Sunday morning at 11 AM: I park my car at the corner of Bedford and Gates on a Tuesday street parking spot. I check the signs. I’m good. I go about my day.

Monday at 7:15 PM: Arrive back at the spot where my car was parked to move it for street cleaning. My car’s not there. What is there are a bunch of cones and a new sidewalk. Ok, seems like the car got towed. Who towed the car?

7:20 PM: Get home and search the NYC towed car database for my plates. No dice.

7:25 PM: Call my local precinct, the 88. The 88 tells me they can’t find my car. The 88 tells me they’re not my local precinct. Call the 79, they say, that’s your precinct.

7:30 PM: Call the 79. The 79 wants to know what color is the car? What make? What year? 2010, I think, I say. Were you parked in front of a driveway? No, I say. The 79 says a bunch of cars got towed off Franklin, but not Bedford.

Do I want to report it stolen, they ask. It’s probably not stolen, they say, but there’s a chance it is stolen.

Is there any drawback to me reporting it stolen if it’s not stolen, I ask.

No, not really, except if it’s not stolen and you find it and you start driving it around and you forget to tell us that it wasn’t stolen and we pull you over, we can arrest you for driving your own stolen car. But it’s probably not stolen, they say. Someone else could have towed it.

Wait, someone else could have towed it? Who? Anyone can just have anyone else’s car towed anytime they want?

Well, if you were parked in front of a driveway.

I wasn’t parked in front of a driveway, I say. I was parked in front of a bodega.

Well, did you try asking the people at the bodega?

No, I say. Should I have?

Yeah, try that and then call back in a few hours. Sometimes there’s a lag in the system. Could be a day or two.

A day or two!?

7:45 PM: I walk back to where the car was parked and into the nearby bodega and talk to the bodega guy. I feel like Olivia Benson in L&O SVU asking about a suspect but I am only asking about my stupid car. The bodega guy says, yeah, they towed cars. Yeah, it was Con Ed. There were signs. Didn’t you see the signs!?

There were no signs when I parked 30 hours earlier. I go outside and poke around the cones surrounding the fresh, wet cement on the sidewalk. Inside one of the cones is a crumpled up sign that says: TOW AWAY ZONE / NO PARKING MONDAY / ROAD REPAIR / NYC DOT.

Ah hah! Mystery solved! Not Con Ed…DOT! Witnesses are unreliable, says my inner Olivia Benson. Never trust them.

7:50 PM: Go home and Google “towed by NYC DOT.” Get the number of the Brooklyn auto impound, which is in the Navy Yard and open til ten. Call them.

Ima put you on hold and when I come back have your plate number ready, says the lady when she picks up.


Lady comes back and I give her my plate. We don’t have your car here, she says.

It was towed by DOT, I say.

Call 311 and get the number for DOT, she says.

8:00 PM: Call 311 and explain the situation. 311 says, I can’t find a record of your car being towed. I say, yeah, I know, there’s no record.

Do you want me to report it stolen, she asks. Well, there’s a sign I found and a new sidewalk, so I’m guessing it was towed. I can put you through to 911 and you can report it stolen, she says again. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t stolen, I say.

Would it be in the system if it was DOT, I ask. Yeah, DOT is a city agency, she says, so yeah. Could it have been someone else who towed it, I ask. Well, where was it towed from, she asks. Bedford and Quincy, I say.

Heroic 311 operator then goes into the system to look up the FUCKING PERMIT NUMBER for who did the work and she finds the number and then she looks up the number and the number leads back to…


Should have trusted Bodega guy.

Do you want me to put you through to Con Ed, she asks. Someone will be there now.

Sure, I say. Sure.


8:15 PM: So now I’m on hold with Con Ed. This whole time I’ve been trying to go to the gym so I just fucking go to the gym and get on the elliptical and wait on hold with Con Ed. 8 minutes into my workout I get off hold and a guy picks up and asks me what’s going on so I tell him the whole thing.

So you’re basically just like, “dude, where’s my car?” right now.

I’m exactly like, “dude, where’s my car?” right now.

Ok, this is a weird one, he says. Can I put you on hold?



He comes back from hold and he says, I’ve got some bad news. The bad news is a construction crew towed your car but they went home at 5 so I can’t reach them.

Where did they tow it, I ask.

Oh, well when the construction crew tows it, they usually just leave it in a 3 block radius. But they’re all gone right now. So if you want you can just walk around clicking your…

Wait a minute, I say. You’re telling me they just move it somewhere else and there’s no way to know where except that it’s in a three block radius.

Yep, that’s what they do.

And so if I call back tomorrow during business hours, you’ll call the crew and they’ll be able to tell me where they put it.

Well, actually, I’ll call the crew and they’ll call the tow services they used and then hopefully the tow service will remember where they put it.

Wait, I say, you’re telling me they don’t write it down!?

Well, it’s kind of up to their memories, he says.

That is a horrible system, I say.

Yeah, he says, kind of laughing. People rip the signs down, he says.

I try to figure out how people ripping the signs down justifies this horrible system for a moment, but I can’t figure it out.

But can you at least confirm that it was Con Ed that did the work, I ask.

No, he says.

Even if I tell you where I was parked?

Can I put you on hold?



He comes back from hold and he says, I don’t really know Brooklyn too well but I don’t see Bedford Avenue. I see Putnam? Hancock?

Yeah, I mean those are streets that are nearby but they’re not the street where I parked my car.

Yeah, sorry I can’t be more help, he says.

No, no, thank you, I say. I learned something new tonight. Something very new and very weird.

9:10 PM: For the third time this evening, I walk back to where the car was parked, pressing the lock button that honks the horn as I walk. I walk two paces past the bodega and hear the faint sound of my car which is LITERALLY PARKED AROUND THE CORNER IN A MONDAY SPOT. The car has a parking ticket. Otherwise, it is fine.

Roughly Month Later: I attempt to appeal the ticket by sending this piece in full through the official online hearing text field on

Roughly Two Months Later: I receive word from the city that I do not have enough evidence to contest the ticket. Here is what they say:

“Respondent testifies the vehicle was relocated by Con Ed, but no documentation establishing that this vehicle was relocated. Respondent’s claim that the cited vehicle was relocated is not supported or persuasive. There is no persuasive testimony or evidence to support the defense. This summons is sustained.”

My claim of the cited vehicle being relocated is not supported or persuasive and there is no persuasive testimony, I say, quietly, alone to myself and the email informing me of my lack of persuasive testimony.

I pay the city $45 and move on with my life, knowing that I have now learned at least one invaluable life lesson for my troubles and my hard-earned cash:

Always trust the bodega guy.


Gina Pensiero is a writer and strategist living and working in NYC. She’s also in a band called soft center.