I wanted to share my experience on September 14th, my very first time with a booth at 2nd Friday in Mesa. This months theme was Pirates, and since I'm getting more and more into that topic, it was the perfect event for me, as it also forced me to get my butt in gear and make pirate merchandise.
My initial experience was one of excitement, and joy. I wore a pirate costume, and spoke with the many others who were there for the pirate theme, as well. I loved meeting everyone, smiling for pictures, and talking about the event, entertainment, and seeing the joy on people’s faces. It was a night to remember, and I quickly decided I wanted to do it again, next month! Next month will be an Apocalypse theme, so it's time to break out the ghosts, zombies, and other survivalist themes! I was excited for it.
However… my opinion quickly changed. The wonderful experience of seeing a man, a vendor I’d never met before actually leave his booth to help introduce me to the woman organizing the event and get me set up to sell, despite the fact I had arrived late due to car trouble. The wonderful people I met, the fantastic atmosphere… it was almost ruined. I had been so excited to see I’d made enough to cover my expenses, my gas, and finally have a little money for my savings so I wasn’t borrowing money by the end of the month … and I lost it all.
My stepfather went to get my car and park in a now vacant space next to where my booth was set up. It was my “baby”. My first car ever, which I’d only gotten a few short years ago. While he was away, I spoke with another vendor, a very talented artist named Keith Decesare, and we discussed his work and coming back each month to this event, when suddenly my stepfather returned, looking worried and panicked. His phone was dead, and I told him I had a charger in my car.
That was when he told me.
My car was gone.
I instantly went into shock. We had gone back and forth between my table and the vehicle multiple times… While I stayed at the table, my stepfather made trips back and forth, retrieving my rolling canopy, and some tape, getting my cash boxes… back and forth, and had no signs of a problem. The lot was full, to the point we worried I wouldn’t be able to get out, so how could the car suddenly go missing? I started fumbling my words, trying to cope, when he told me he needed to borrow my phone, and told me that the car wasn’t stolen, it was impounded. When we thought my car was stolen, a few people looked over but showed no interest. The moment my stepfather said impounded, everyone in the area, instantly looked over. The artist I was speaking to was in shock, and everyone around us kept repeating the same thing, "how was this happening during an event?" A few people announced loudly that they were checking on their cars and some returned, but many did not. One who returned was full of outrage.
I called Jeremy, the owner of the impound lot. He instantly knew what I was referring to, despite the fact that he was at home. He told me the parking lot where so many of us had parked was private property, and that despite their being no lights on that it was open and there were signs posted all along the building, and they didn't like these events… I was also informed that it wasn’t his problem if the signs weren’t visible when the lot was full. He never raised his voice, and I tried to keep calm, even when he informed me that the price of the impound, if I went and got it right then, would be $300. If I did not retrieve it tonight? $500. I nearly dropped the phone. Here I was happy I made $50, despite being late, and they wanted $300… when they’d had my car only an hour.
I don’t have $300. I work a volunteer job for [url]streetlightusa.org[/url]. Besides that, I take care of my mother who is a blind veteran, and my brother who has autism and cannot drive. I sell at conventions and events to make whatever money I can. Beside me had been two cars that parked directly after I'd pulled in, and I’d seen their drivers were young as well, and started fearing for them. I asked again how the company could do this during an event, that was sponsored by the city, and while the owner never shouted, or was rude, it was very evident that they did not care for the city of Mesa.So many people were now outraged and stated they wouldn’t come downtown again... Which is tragic for the businesses fighting so hard to survive.
In the wake of this event, however, I got a different response than I thought I would. I assumed people would blame me, that I had done something very wrong. Instead, people showed me a different side than the anger I thought I was worthy of. My stepfather went with the tow truck driver, to try and solve this issue, and another man, a photographer who had been taking pictures and already being a wonderful person, stopped by to see if I needed help packing. When I explained I had no vehicle to put the items in, and why, he ran off, saying he knew exactly what was going on and not to worry. He spoke to my stepfather, and actually knew more about the situation than the tow truck driver did, and offered to stay with me so that I was not there at night by myself. And he did stay. He stayed the entire time.
People went and sought out others who had lost their vehicles to try and help them out. Everyone agreed, impounding happens, but the extreme price to get the vehicles back was something no one could understand, especially given that they only had the vehicles two hours.
Since I could not pack my stuff, people started buying things and refusing any discount I offered. They stayed for a long while, asking what more they could do? I was shocked at their kind nature. I met a few others whose vehicles were also gone, and the discussion did turn back and forth from the fun we had at the event, to wondering if they’d ever come back. I myself had to admit that I’d feel bad suggesting the event to people, especially after we found out just how many cars were impounded. One couple brought up the question as to why the police weren’t called? They had checked where I’d parked, and told me there were signs, but that from where I’d been parked so far from the building, in a full parking lot, the signs wouldn’t be visible. They wondered why the building staff, which the owner of the impound lot identified as Transitional Living Communities, did not call the police, since the mesa police have a much smaller impound fee, and likely would have contacted the event owner to see what was going on? It was even speculated that they specifically called the company with the largest fees, as one man loudly suggested. This man said he worked impound and charged $75 the first night, and added on a hundred for the next morning. The theory that was the most clung to was that these events are traps, waiting for the parking lots to fill up, and then charging fees of such insanity that they would make over a thousand dollars in just a night. (As they did last night)
Having the vehicle impounded is not the issue. It happens. I can swear I did not see the signs, and others told me from how far back I was parked, they couldn't see the signs either, let alone it meant no parking during an event run supposedly by the shops and establishments we were parked behind. It is a lesson not to go with the crowd, and never to assume. Just because a lot is filling up with others attending the event you are, does not mean it is safe to park there. Things happen, though, and if I was in the wrong I knew I needed to pay my debt, that wasn't the issue... The issue was that they charge more than the city would, while many cities in Arizona state that's illegal, and then being told they do so at every event Mesa has. Every event, in a community still trying to drag itself up from when nearly every shop was closed, and returning itself to its former glory. A location that actually gets attention and donations from people who frequent Downtown Mesa events, was having the attendees cars impounded by a place they knew would charge us $300 per car, rather than call the police and having us pay $120-$170.
It concerns me, and others, as to why this happened in such a way. I’d have far preferred having the police called, as it would save me from the suspicion as to why the owners apparently have this problem every time there is an event, but don’t put out traffic cones, or contact the event coordinators to see what the problem might be and how to rectify it. If it happens at every event, then you must know your signs are not visible enough, wouldn't you think? The owner of the impound, Jeremy, informed us that the owner of Transitional Living Communities apparently just gets "pissed off" every single event, and rather than set out reflective cones, or talk to the event staff, they always call the same company and are happy with the fees and "service". The impound lot was on the same street, so no one can figure out how they can justify $300 fees.
I want to be sure these things don’t happen again. I had heard that there were others from more than that one location who were towed, but I cannot speak as to where. Downtown Mesa is where I grew up visiting and shopping, and I want it to thrive and grow! Looking up the facility that called the impound lot, it is supposed to help homeless addicts… so it confuses me as to why no compassion was shown. I don’t want to diminish the work they do, as I have no record on it and have to assume they help people who come to them… which is why I believe they would be open to a discussion of prevention, and am contacting the administrators of 2nd Friday to see if they can start a discussion. 2nd Friday is run primarily on donations, and so crowd control can be difficult if not impossible, but I would be more than willing to purchase and donate some reflective cones and even put them out to prevent people from parking where this occurred. When my stepfather got my car, which has fresh scratches in the paint, he said there was a list of at least ten other cars from just that one lot! This is also when he was informed it happens every single time there is an event, and I know it has detracted me from coming back there… The lack of parking is an issue, but is an exciting one as it shows how many people come for the event, but when things like this happen it does cause trouble.
I do want to end this on a good note, however. The man who stayed with me stated he knew people in an Arizona newspaper, as well as event staff at 2nd Friday. He did everything he could to help me out, and purchased buttons for a group of teens who were looking over my product. He restored me from the brink of despair and when he went to pay for the buttons once my stepfather was there, he said he included a “little tip” for me. When I unfolded the bills, it was $100! I will tell that part of my story to everyone, as it showed me that people come together during hectic events, and that there are good people out there who know when someone has been wronged, and strive to help! I live In Gilbert, and the main experience I have here is seeing our neighbors try and hit my mother with their cars, and scream nasty things at her, my brother, my sister and I… Mesa showed a glowing light in the dark, and I’m not just talking about when the lamp posts went off and on. The community showed me they stand together.
Having your car impounded happens. We’re humans, we make mistakes, one man with swords and a pirate hat pointed out. But people can, and do, come together. It was admitted many times that if there are signs, they have the right to impound, but such a sickeningly high amount disgusted people, and they did everything they could to help. One artist even gave me a free sketch card, coming over all the way back from his vehicle just to give it to me and told me he just wanted me to feel better.
People have sent me the following links http://www.mesaaz.gov/police/towing/Default.aspx
http://www.azcentral.com/news/election/azelections/articles/2010/07/02/20100702arizona-towing-laws-details.html - This one especially got people upset, wondering why Mesa was allowing people to be charged so much?
I wish I could give the first and last names of everyone who helped me, but for many I didn’t even get a first name. I don’t feel right giving one or two peoples names without the others, as they were all angels to me on Friday night and will ensure I return next month. I will never forget the man who stayed with me so I wouldn’t be alone, helped me sell more of my product to try and off-set the impound fee, gave me a hug and yelled “Merry Christmas” after giving me a $100 “little tip” and driving off once I was safe.
Mesa showed it’s true colors to me tonight… There are the swindlers, lurking in the dark, and the saints who walk under the streetlights, like unmasked superheroes just trying to look out for their fellow citizens.