Last Monday I rented a seven passenger van to pick up VIP cargo in Miami Beach: my Mom, Granny, and two of my aunts. They were visiting from Colombia and had just arrived from a three day cruise around the Bahamas. I had to drive five endless hours listening to the tune, “Are we there yet?” sung by my son every five minutes.
The moment these women boarded the van, it turned into a chicken coop talking non-stop all at the same time. We spent the night at the Cadillac Marriot and enjoyed the ocean view without knowing that, the next morning, we would have an unfortunate encounter with a very dangerous species of blood sucking parasites, and I am not referring to the Zika mosquitoes.
On Tuesday morning, we packed the van and stopped at a brunch restaurant on Collins Avenue to eat breakfast on our way out. I paralleled parked on the street right next to the parking booth and put a bunch of change in the meter just in case we took longer than expected eating and chit-chatting.
The “hens,” as my husband called us, were pretty efficient eaters and we were ready to hit the road in less than an hour. I walked outside holding my son’s hand and when I saw the street, it was empty. I walked faster dragging my son like a wheeled suitcase feeling my heart beat in my ears.
A second later, a young man came out of the establishment near by and I approached him like a schizophrenic asking him in Spanish, “Please tell me this is not a tow away zone!” The guy looked at me terrified and said pointing at something, “Yes it is, you didn’t read the sign?” As stupid as his question was, it was true; for the first time I saw the damn sign, which by the way, was so small I needed magnifying glasses to read it.
I was clueless and my loved ones looked at me trying to find the answers. I called the number on the sign, shaking, and a police officer picked up the phone. I told him what happened and begged him to guide me during the ordeal. I re-capped the whole story and added all the drama I could, and in less than five minutes he found the van and gave me the name and address of the towing lot.
While I was on the phone with the police officer, another man came around saying that he saw the tow truck that lifted our van and two other vehicles. He claimed that he tried to find the owners and told us–suspiciously accurate–where they had taken the car.
My frustration turned into decisive anger. I called an Uber ride and the nicest driver picked us up. He acknowledged that this was not the first time he met tourists in our situation, and he added that the towing industry in Miami was a carousel of money that prayed on this area, which was almost 100% touristic.
Twenty minutes later we arrived at the towing facility named Tremont. Inside, it was a grim, small building with metallic walls. It had security cameras everywhere, an ATM machine, and a security glass window with a very small opening at the bottom. Silently, I handed the rental car keys to the guy behind the glass, as if I were a criminal.
He asked me if I had the rental contract, but I told him it was in the glove compartment. He buzzed the door to the lot and I went into the van to retrieve the paperwork from the glove compartment. Minutes later he gave me the total: $287 in hard, cold cash.
At the end of the transaction, the guy looked at my family–especially my little man and my Granny standing with her cane–and said “I am sorry.” I looked at him for a brief moment and then I gave him, respectfully, an ear full. “I know I parked in the wrong place but a fine isn’t enough? You had to take the damn car and leave my family on a sidewalk in an unknown city? You guys are shameless.“
When we left the building, two more couples, both with shopping bags and long faces, walked passed us to recover their cars. Before writing this blog, I researched the topic a little bit further and found an article in the Miami New Times, that referenced the abuses and even illegal procedures of two towing companies in Miami Beach: Tremont–the one that towed away our van–and Beach Towing.
“Under Florida law, tow companies cannot snatch a car willy-nilly. Instead, whoever owns or rents the property where a vehicle is illegally parked must call to order a tow. Yet Beach and Tremont routinely flaunt this pesky regulation by deploying lot watchers, usually homeless people, to call their dispatchers on easy prey, according to several victims.“(*)
I have to admit, reading this article relieved me from the guilt I kept experiencing for days and made me feel less dumb. Nevertheless, like my wise Granny said, “We didn’t lose anything that couldn’t be replaced.“
To my dear readers in Miami and future visitors of that city, keep your eyes open and beware of the tow trucks, because like mosquitoes, they are everywhere!
Thanks for reading and sharing.
This column was sponsored by Zellner Insurance Agency. Many things is life don’t have insurance. For everything else call Zellner (888) 208-8119