My car was missing. It couldn’t have been one of the city’s tow trucks that took it because it was parked in a private space, Capital One Bank’s parking lot at N. Carrollton and Canal. For years, patrons of nearby businesses have viewed the bank as a good neighbor that has allowed them to park in their space at night. One neighborhood activist once extolled the virtue of banks to me, saying that their parking spaces for their daytime business can be used at night by others. On the S. Scott Street of the bank, where Café Minh now stands, there was once a burger place called Michael’s Pub back before Katrina when Capital One was a Hibernia Bank. I remember one of the pub's owners saying that without the bank allowing them to use their parking lot, they would have been out of business.
There are signs in the bank’s lot warning people not to park, but I always took that to mean during banking hours. Good ol' Capital One has always been good about nighttime parking. I have been doing it for years. The space is safe and near a block full of restaurants.
Yet, my car was gone. I quickly concluded that it had been stolen because, I thought, Capital One would never conspire with those companies that tow vehicles from private lots. What would be the point? Allowing parking generated good will and created foot traffic that kept the area safe. Yet, my car was gone.
After an hour of waiting for the police, who never showed up, I walked home feeling angry and violated. We later took a ride back to the site where I noticed something I had never seen before: a more detailed sign saying that there was indeed a contracted towing company and giving a phone number. “Not good ol' Capital One,” I thought. I called the number. Yes, it had my car. “But why?” I argued. People have been parking in the spot for years. Plus, I’ve been standing in the lot waiting for the police and no one else was towed. Apparently, a tow truck driver passed by at the wrong time. My car was gone. And the news would get worse. According to the sign, the fee to get back my car was $170.50 plus the possibility of a gas surcharge and a storage fee. This was corporate greed at its greediest – taking my car than charging for the gas and the storage. Then the kicker: the lot where my vehicle was dragged to was on Almonaster Avenue, a no man’s land stretch at the edge of the city.
To get to it from Canal Street a person has to take the expressway to distant Read Boulevard, go down it for about a mile, turn right on Almonaster Avenue and go another mile down a desolate road. Along the way you’ll pass scrapyards glistening in the thickets. The poorly identified pound consists of a trailer and a yard filled with vehicles and one employee. Since this is private enterprise, rules are few. Adding in my surcharge and storage fee I owed $193 (cash only) – oh, but they didn’t have change for $200. I would have liked a receipt, but the copy machine wasn’t working. I didn’t wait. All I wanted to do was get the hell out of there.
I wondered, though, about people who worked hourly, who stood on their feet 20 hours a day to make $200 and who trusted the bank’s parking. They did absolutely nothing wrong, but were plunged into a financial hole and still had to find a way to get to Almonaster, where they had to hope an attendant was present.
As someone who knows the ugly side of the towing business said, “It breaks my heart; it is parasitic.”
Though it will hurt local businesses, Capital One has a right to deny parking in its private lots. There are no doubt overzealous attorneys advising about liability issues in this litigious world. Certainly, someone could slip on a tossed bank receipt while walking back to their car, but there are times when companies need to take a stand and be brave. Imagine how forward thinking and compassionate it would be if Capital One put up a sign saying:
FOR YOUR SAFETY AND CONVENIENCE
PARKING ALLOWED FROM 5 P.M. TO 11 P.M.
PLEASE SUPPORT OUR AREA BUSINESSES.
Here the bank could be a leader in the community and maybe set an example for others. Even their lawyers could park there.
Meanwhile, I have a suggestion for the Capital One decision-makers and their attorneys: They should take a field trip to 8101 Almonaster Ave. and see the place where people who believed in them have to go to rescue their vehicle. With them, they should bring a can of Fix-A-Flat, a first aid kit, water, bug spray and emergency provisions. They should also leave instructions at the office where to find them.
In my case I had to make one extra stop before going there – to get 10 $20 bills from the Capital One ATM.
This blog is based on a New Orleans magazine editorial written by Errol Laborde.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.