Cambrian: Slice of Life

Scrooged in San Luis

We shop locally whenever we can, but some things aren’t available in Cambria. Rather than going online, we try to spend our money in this county. However, the Grinch struck us in downtown San Luis Obispo recently, during the height of what many merchants are fervently hoping will be a business-saving holiday shopping season. The episode cost us $340 and a slight nervous breakdown.

After searching in vain for a parking spot on or near Higuera Street, we’d pulled into a privately owned parking area north of Morro Street.

Yes, downtown has parking garages, but they weren’t close to our destinations. My 84-year-old husband, who has vertigo, walks with a cane. I didn’t want to drop him off in the rain on Higuera in the middle of December-Saturday traffic, then have me drive away to find a distant parking space.

Many years ago, when I worked for KSLY Radio, some owners of businesses near the parking area told me the public could use those parking spaces on Saturdays and Sundays, because the financial businesses that owned the properties were closed on weekends.

That proved true for more than 30 years.

Yes, there are “no parking, private” signs posted in the lot. But the entrepreneurs said that wasn’t enforced on weekends because it would discourage badly needed commerce downtown.

Don’t you believe it.

Our Camry was parked there for about an hour. Another driver, who was parking there when we drove in, had headed to Louisa’s Place and hadn’t returned by the time we did. The lots were nearly full, but there were spaces available. Meanwhile, we did a significant amount of costly shopping. I’d tell you how much we spent and where, but our children and grandchildren read this column, and I don’t want to tip them off about their gifts.

We returned to put our treasures in the car’s trunk, then left for one more shop-stop, a frozen yogurt treat and buying a few Cal Poly souvenirs for stocking stuffers.

But when we returned again, our car was no longer parked where it had been.

In shock, we consulted the “no parking” sign and immediately called the tow company listed there. (Bless cell phones.) The dispatcher said our car wasn’t there. We called the police department, and kindly dispatcher Carrie told us they didn’t have it either.

Wide-eyed, I said that if the car hadn’t been towed then it must have been stolen, right there in broad daylight, which seemed unlikely. With diligent research, however, Carrie found the car, and yes, it had been towed away. Carrie, Officer Tom and tow driver Ryan all were courteous, cheerful, helpful and as gentle as possible.

But why us?

Many other cars were parked there and in the adjacent lots; some vehicles had been there far longer than we had. Those people couldn’t all have been employees of local shops. Besides, we’d seen other drivers arrive with families, piling out of their cars en masse and heading off to shop, just as we had. And their cars weren’t towed.

Just ours.

Ryan said that if we’d parked a few spaces down, rather than in the streetside space nearest the building, our car would never have been noticed, let alone towed away.

According to the tow company, the person who leases the parking spot we’d taken was the one who called in the complaint. Apparently, he was ticked off because we’d parked in his pet spot. We think we know who he was.By then we’d gone from shock, to fear, to relief that the car was safe, to sticker shock and then sheer fury that we’d been singled out.

What if we hadn’t had the $340 to pay the fine?

When I got into the car, I saw a rain-drenched notice on the window, which said in part, “We are giving you this warning as a courtesy, but your license plate number has been recorded. Next time you will be towed.”

Yeah, sure. Next time I parked there? Apparently that meant the next time he looked and saw we hadn’t left yet.

If anytime in the past three decades, someone had posted that warning flyer on our windshield, we’d have never parked there again. We certainly won’t now.

We were parking in a private lot. And just because we and other people have been doing it for decades didn’t make it allowable any more, I guess.

But wouldn’t you think whoever ordered the tow might have considered the season, the weather and the money we very likely were spending downtown? Have San Luis attitudes really changed from neighbor to Scrooge?

So, I’m wondering: Next time the street-side parking spaces are full, will I willingly go ’round and ’round the block in downtown SLO until a vacancy opens up? Or will I head out to the big-box stores where parking is available by the acre and where traffic allows me to drop my husband off at the store — without risking life, limb and bumper — and then I’ll go park my car someplace where it won’t be towed away?

Or will I just give up and shop online?