The towing business can be a misunderstood heap of anger and stress ultimately leading disgruntled drivers to take out their frustrations on a small local business.
I’ve been driving for seven years and I have never been towed, until I came to Tallahassee.
I ran around thinking the worst: maybe I parked in the wrong spot, maybe I had a lapse in judgement or worse, maybe my car had been stolen.
But I’m not alone.
“I thought my car got stolen," Frederick Oliver says.
Renaya Campbell thought the same, “It was like oh my god, somebody stole his car!”
Both Oliver and Campbell have been towed as well and jumped to conclusions similar to mine.
“Oh my goodness, I was scared," Oliver explains, "after I found out where my car was, it was a nightmare.”
Oliver has been living in Tallahassee all his life and, like me, he was towed because of a misplaced permit.
“It’s an issue that a lot of people deal with a lot," he says.
Campbell experienced something similar when her friend’s vehicle was towed. He visited her student apartment complex and was unaware of the ‘visitor parking’ policy that was in place.
“I didn’t know they had visitor and people parking so one night we went out and then we came home and fell asleep," Campbell explains, "the next day we woke up, his car was gone.”
So, just like me, Oliver and Campbell went on the hunt.
“It was like, 'oh my God we got to find it, we got to find it!” Campbell says.
One of the places the cars were likely to be is at Ability Towing--one of several shops in town.
It’s General Manager, Brian, didn’t want to give his last name because of a recent altercation with a customer.
“You gotta have thick skin," he explains, "I mean, cause I understand people are not necessarily mad at me they’re just mad at the situation and they’re just taking it out on me.”
He's been working at his dad’s shop since he graduated high school.
“In 1998 my father started it, started with one truck one guy," Brian says, "and we expanded to, currently have three guys, three trucks, we have an operating junk yard and we’ve been going on for thirty years now.”
In his time working at the family shop, he’s seen it all. “I can talk to you for days about this stuff.”
From drunk drivers looking under plywood to see if their car was lying underneath to punches from angry customers, Brian explains it’s been a strange journey.
“We’re just doing a job. I mean we’re here seven days a week if you need us on Christmas Day, we’re here for you," Brian says.
"Don’t be mad at us when we tow your car the next day, I can’t control where you park, and I can’t control what the people you parked in parking lot wants I can’t control that. They contract us to do a job and that’s what we do.”
In Tallahassee different companies are contracted to patrol different private property owners lots and enforce their particular rules. Towing companies often look through multiple garages a day and don’t really have the time to dissect each incident. For example, my car was towed after my permit fell from the rearview mirror.
“Yeah you might’ve had the pass somewhere but what about the 35 other people that didn’t over the last month," Brian explains, "I can't control what these people do.”
Towing in Tallahassee is also heavily regulated with different city ordinances depending on where you live, with both the police department and local businesses getting involved. And three years ago, the city raised recovery fees making it more expensive to get cars back.
Furthermore, hard-to-come-by city parking spots, and lots of drivers from two universities and a community college mean local towing businesses often face the heat from the public. Brian says although the limited downtown parking is an issue, he believes towing laws are necessary for the city to function.
“It would be a nightmare down here," he says, "I mean between FAMU and FSU it would be crazy.”
But he gets why those who’ve been towed might not agree.