The car was totaled, and I'm a wreck

November 27, 2006|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

If you're ever looking to go on a great adventure, one that'll get your heart pounding and stomach churning like nothing else, here's a suggestion: Have your car towed away in Baltimore.

This happened to me recently after my 21-year-old daughter was involved in an accident downtown with one of my cars.

She was OK, thank God. But the car, a 1996 Ford Taurus wagon, was not. So the car was towed away, and when I learned in a phone call that it was totaled, I did not exactly break down weeping.

Regular readers of this column know all about the Taurus wagon, because it was the worst car Detroit ever made and cost me thousands of dollars in repair bills, which I whined about incessantly in print.

So I was glad to be rid of the stupid thing. But there was no telling how my mechanics, the Fabulous Kleim Brothers, would handle the news.

So I drove out to their Cockeysville world headquarters to break it to them in person, since they have taken fine European vacations and bought expensive yachts and put their kids through Ivy League colleges with all the money I paid them over the years to fix that piece of junk.

Sure enough, both men sank into a deep depression. In the blink of an eye, their lifestyle had changed drastically.

But me, I was feeling pretty good with the Taurus out of my life. This feeling lasted exactly four days.

Then I received a letter from the City of Baltimore, informing me that the car had been towed to the Department of Transportation lot on Pulaski Highway.

The letter further stated that I owed $285 for towing, storage, administrative fees and transfer charges. And if I didn't arrange for the car to be towed out of there, I'd owe even more.

I called the crooks at my insurance company and complained about having to pay this. But they said since I'd dropped the collision coverage on the Taurus, they weren't responsible for any other charges, and I could go jump in a lake.

Great. Even in death, the stupid Taurus was costing me money.

So the next day I drove out to the sprawling, dusty gulag that is the Department of Transportation lot, where thousands of wrecked cars lay rusting in the autumn sunlight.

There were quite a few other people there to claim their cars, and none of them looked very happy.

We were all instructed to take a number, just like you'd do in a bakery.

But unlike in a bakery, a couple of people waiting in line looked like they wanted to shoot someone, which probably explained why one of the DOT employees behind the counter was wearing - this is absolutely true - a gun in a holster.

Time seemed to move very slowly as we waited.

There is an unwritten rule which states that in any understaffed city office designed to serve the public, the heat must be jacked up to unbearable levels, in order to make the process even more draining and everyone even more cranky.

Therefore, it was about 110 degrees as we all milled about, scowling at the people behind the counter. (Although not at the woman with the gun.)

Finally, after what seemed like hours, my number was called.

A nice woman named Vanessa waited on me. She explained that I could pay the $285 fee by cash or VISA or American Express card - no checks - except that it would now cost me $300.

"Why $300?" I asked.

It seemed like a reasonable question. Vanessa answered in the tone of voice you would use on a particularly slow third-grader.

She said that I needed to call a junkyard to have the car towed out of the DOT lot. And since it was now late afternoon and the junkyard tow truck couldn't get there until tomorrow, they had to charge me another $15 daily storage fee.

"Fine," I said. "I'll pay with my VISA card."

"OK, that'll be $315," she said, pointing to a chart listing additional fees for the use of a credit card.

By now, I was looking to shoot someone myself, except then they'd probably charge me another 15 bucks for clean-up fees, plus another $15 to have the body removed.

After I was all paid up, a nice woman named Robin drove me out to a vast lot filled with hundreds of junked cars. We stopped at the smashed-in frame of the Taurus. Robin told me to "retrieve any items needed."

There wasn't a whole lot to retrieve: jumper cables, a pair of gloves, an ice scraper.

I stood there for a moment. It felt like something needed to be said.

Then it came to me.

"Look what you've done to the Fabulous Kleim Brothers - I hope you're happy," I whispered to the Taurus.

Then Robin drove me back to my car and I left before they could charge me for something else.

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