- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

City officials are laboring extra hard to determine whose responsibility it is to notify a car's owner that it has been towed.
In their case, that's paper-rock-scissors. Or they could take turns.
Towing vehicles, of course, is one of the leading activities of the city. Writing parking tickets is another.
A well-towed city keeps the riffraff away, no doubt, and in the nation's capital, the concept has been elevated to a science.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams wakes up each day and issues the following order: "Gentlemen, start your tow trucks."
It is funny how it works. Baltimore has row houses. Washington just has rows of tow trucks.
There would be no rush hour in Washington if it weren't for all the tow trucks. You usually can spot them by their "car on board" bumper stickers.
They tow, they save lives, they perform a vital public service. Hold your applause; their modesty precludes overt displays of congratulation. However, they do accept all major credit cards and money orders made out to a friend of the city.
Youngsters aspire to be one of three things in Washington: a politician, a federal government employee or a tow-truck operator.
Tow-truck operators have it the best. They buy a tow truck. They then tow the first vehicle in sight. No word-processing or finely honed social skills are necessary, only an insatiable interest in towing vehicles.
Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey says, "Book 'em." A tow-truck operator says, "Hook 'em."
The job, alas, is not perfect, as the owner of one of the towing companies named in a class-action lawsuit recently made clear to this newspaper. Towing a car is easy. Notifying the owner of the car or the next of kin apparently is incredibly complex.
Some people change their phone numbers, a few die, and still others say, "My car is missing. What the heck? I'll go buy a new one."
To be honest, Washington is developing a reputation as the Rubik's Cube of vehicular management. All too many intersections in the city come with a mysteriously functioning stoplight, a sneaky camera and an idling tow-truck operator waiting for you to make his day. You park at your own risk. The city's motto is: "We ticket, we photograph and we tow. The cost is all yours."
Most cities attempt to be inviting places and come up with neat little slogans or nicknames. Washington's says: "Towing strictly enforced."
Washington's postcards come with a blue sky, the Lincoln Memorial and the big smile of a tow-truck operator transporting a BMW to the place where naughty cars go.
Washington won't pick up the phone. It will pick up your vehicle. Who knows what might happen after that? There are no guarantees in life or in towing. The city may get back to you in a couple of months.
It is 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Do you know where your vehicle is? Guess again.
The city has been towing vehicles for decades, and only now are officials working to come up with a system that notifies all suckers, the sucker in this space included.
As they say in the mayor's office, better late than sorry.
All of it probably depends on how you look at it.
Most people see a vehicle as a means of transportation. The city sees it as a means of revenue. You see a car and ask: "How does it handle?" The city sees a car and asks: "How does it tow?"
The city has been feeling the post-September 11 economic pinch. The tourism industry is down, and it is going to take a team of medical doctors, spin doctors and lawyers to improve Mike Tyson's table manners.
That leaves the city with parking, photography and towing.
That leaves everyone else with one essential question before taking a vehicle on the asphalt arteries of Washington: Do I feel lucky today?
You are now ready to play Washington's version of hide-and-seek.


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