Bessie gets incarcerated|

Bessie goes to the big house

The beloved van Bessie gets left in the wrong place and ends up where no van wants to be.

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare: the phone rings... you pick up the receiver... and on the other end you hear those haunting words: “Mrs. Maletsky, Bessie is in the Big House.”

Okay, so that’s not actually how things happened the other day. But the ultimate result was the same. Bessie, my beloved, beleaguered van, was dragged away, cuffed to the back of an uncaring tow truck, and locked up in the vehicular version of jail, the impound lot. Poor Bessie! I can only imagine her shame at being hoisted up by her backside, nose to the ground, weaving in and out of San Francisco traffic. She was given, in essence, a perp walk. Ohhh, the humiliation she must have felt!

I have to admit, it was all my fault that my beloved had to suffer such slings of outrageous misfortune. Granted, I had my excuses, but none of them could erase the pain inflicted upon my dearest motorized friend (or my pocket book).

Let me explain...

On Thursday afternoon I began a new series of classes for the local Chinatown YWCA. The class is a combination of games and crafts meant to inspire fearless creativity in sport, art, and thinking. It’s something that I believe in strongly, and I am offering this to the community because I feel drawn to the need for such after-school programming.

Because it was my first day there, I was a tiny bit nervous. I was all on my own and in an unfamiliar surrounding. Whenever I do the Chinatown Public Library program (which I’ve been doing for some time now), they graciously provide me with a parking space. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with the Y; they have no spots to offer up, and if you’ve ever tried to park in San Francisco’s Chinatown, you know my concerns. There are hills that easily start at a 30 degree angle, streets congested with traffic (both human and vehicular), very few parking spots to begin with, and construction zones that take away at least four spots on every other block. On top of all that, add in the hidden signage that proclaims the area a car-free zone from 4:00 - 6:00 every weekday, and you might begin to understand my accidental error.

Oh, and did I mention that it was pouring rain? And that I had four large boxes of supplies, and five wiggly pool noodles to transport from the van to the Y? Just trying to load the wheelie cart was worthy of a viral YouTube video. There I was, in the pouring rain on top of this incredibly steep hill, trying to brace the cart with one foot while stretching and loading with the remainder of my body, my footing slipping with each back-wrenching box. I was so scared of accidentally letting go of my loaded cart and taking out half a dozen umbrella-toting grandmothers at the bottom of the hill that I was literally sweating. The pool noodles were flinging around in the wind, slapping me in the face, and threatening to take flight. It was just a little but crazy. So please, excuuuse me darling D.P.T. if I didn’t see the parking sign that was halfway down the block, behind a leafy tree.

Anyway, the load-in aside, the event went swimmingly. The kids were amazing. They were funny, inquisitive, excited, charming, you name it. In fact, the one hour lesson easily spilled into two as we explored the joys of paper, pipe cleaners, and beads.

The tragedy didn’t hit until I was loading out.

One of the sweet Y staff members was helping me with my wayward pool noodles when we crested the hill and I spied the empty spot where Bessie had previously been precariously perched, emergency brake pulled hard as possible, wheels turned at a 45 degree angle to prevent any slipping in the rain. Bessie was... gone. As were the 15 or so vehicles that had been behind her two hours before! My stomach bottomed out... and it hit me. Bessie had been towed. I asked the young man, Patrick, to hold the cart, and crossed the street to discover the hidden parking sign. (It took me at least a minute to even locate it!) Oh, poor Bessie, I thought.

After returning to the Y and learning where Bessie was being held captive, I hailed a cab (no small feat in itself, but that’s another blog entirely!) and made my way to the impound on 7th Street between Bryant and Harrison. After following an almost yellow brick road-esque series of twists and turns, I was directed to the payment center... a place which I can only describe as one of the saddest places on earth. The interesting thing is that even though people were in various stages of anger and outrage, the underlying feeling was one of defeat and hopelessness -- basically because everyone knows that no amount of screaming, yelling, crying, or gnashing of teeth is going to do any good. The placidly smiling folks behind the bullet-proof glass hold the key, sometimes literally, to your car’s freedom. To their credit, the folks who take your money were pretty friendly, and guardedly sympathetic, acknowledging that it’s a bummer what happened to you, but not releasing the city from any honest claim to have done what they did. “Did you see the sign?” the slight-of-build, clear-of-skin, bright-eyed, and rather cute teller asked me. “Not until I came back to get my van,” I said.

After explaining that it was halfway down the block and hidden by trees, he nodded sadly and replied, “Yeah, Chinatown is a tough area to park. Gotta keep your eyes open.” End of discussion. I knew it was pointless to bring up the pouring rain, the fear of granny-bowling with my cart, or the fact that the class was a donation of my time and energy.

After receiving the proper paperwork, I was shuttled into a paddock where we offenders were issued forth, one at a time, to claim our wayward wheels. Once ushered into the compound I immediately spied Bessie. She looked to sad and remorseful, and I swear there were tears in her headlights. I was just so happy to see her in one piece, without having succumbed to the jailhouse pressure of tattoos or piercings, that I nearly cried... Although that could have been from the sight of the sodden $75 parking ticket clinging to Bessie’s windshield.

All in all, the ordeal cost me about $530. It sort of reminds me of that credit card commercial: “Cab ride, $20. Bail, $439. Parking ticket, $75. The smiles on the kids’ faces at the Chinatown YWCA, priceless.”