I had a tour to give. That’s what I do for a living.
Unlike most tour days – I left my house in plenty of time to park for free in the Treme and walk to the meeting point rather than dropping $20 for paid parking near Jackson Square.
After the tour, I discover my car is missing. Circle 1. I figure it must have been towed. (Who steals a 1999 Honda Accord, right?)
I call the car pound and they tell me it’s there. I walk to the pound, wait 45 minutes and they tell me I need my registration to retrieve it. It’s in the car, I tell them. Go to the lot and get it, they tell me.
I walk around the lot for 20 minutes, accompanied by an armed security guard. The car’s not there. I go back to the office and wait 45 minutes to ask them: Where is my car?
Not here, they tell me. They give me a list of 20 private tow companies that might have it, or suggest I call the police.
Who steals a 1999 Honda Accord, I ask? Circle 3.
I spend two hours walking to the closest private tow lots. Nothing there. I’m tired. I take a cab home. In the morning, I start calling all the other lots. Nothing.
On a hunch, I call the city pound again. My car is there, they tell me. I take a cab. I walk the lot looking for my car to get my registration. My car isn’t there.
I wait 45 minutes in a dull, tiny windowless cubicle that constitutes “customer service” at the impound lot, which hasn’t been painted – or even mopped or dusted – since Jimmy Carter was President.
Nobody is happy here. Nobody wants to be here. Not even the employees, it seems. There’s no bathroom. There’s a candy machine but it’s broken. Circle 6.
My car’s not here, I tell them. Half an hour later, a lot of shuffling paper and clickity-clacking on their computer terminals, they tell me: It’s in the auxiliary lot. You need your registration to get it out.
Auxiliary? That sounds fancy. In truth, it’s gravel and dust. I go to the auxiliary lot and: There it is! I fetch the registration and walk back to the office. Forty-five minutes later, I pay my fee. $1000 because of unpaid traffic light camera tickets that I didn’t know I had.
But I’m a safe, careful driver, I protest. How could this be? They tell me I can protest at City Hall, presumably in some worse dungeon than where we presently stand.
There are babies crying. Mothers rocking in self-soothing motions. Tourists seething. No one is happy. The security guard is filling in Sudoku squares.
The impound lot on Claiborne Avenue is where happy comes to die. Circle 8.
I’m not sure my car is worth $1000 but I pony up. It’s been two days and a lot of taxi rides. I just want my car.
I get a piece of paper releasing my car and walk to the back lot to get it. Relieved and relaxed for the first time in two days, I start the car and put it in gear. Thump, thump, thump. There’s a flat tire.
I walk back to the office and tell them about the flat tire. For thirty minutes, they shuffle paper. Clickity-clack. Yes, there’s a report, they tell me. The driver said he hit a curb with my car.
Well what about it, I ask? You can file a complaint and turn in the receipts at City Hall, they tell me.
I don’t have a jack to change the tire, I tell them. Can I borrow one? Not allowed, they tell me. Well, there are ten tow trucks here; can you tow me home, I ask?
Not allowed, they tell me. Circles 11 and 12.
I call United Cab. Ask if they have a driver with a jack who can come help me. $40 they tell me. OK, I say. I just want my car.
I wait two hours. Circle 13. I pay my fees, I pay everything, I drain my 401K. Dante’s Inferno has 9 Circles of Hell but the New Orleans impound lot has, fittingly, 13.
But look at the bright side: I saved 20 bucks on parking.