The closest lot to the Paramount Theater invites Collier's to tow those who overstay.
This is where Woodard sends cars that don't leave in time.
By David M. Post
I don't begrudge anyone running a successful business in a capitalistic society. I do, however, want people to have the ability to make an informed decision; and anyone considering parking downtown might be wise to consider the clear and unambiguous message sent by the owner of the lot across from Lee Park: maximize profits at the expense of patrons.
It all started when my good friend and I decided to take our wives to the opera at the Paramount Theater on a Sunday afternoon in February. With a bit of luck we would make the wives happy and get home in time for the Virginia basketball game. Neither mission was accomplished.
My friend was recovering from major surgery. This, coupled with the fact that we had the wives "in tow" (future pun intended), suggested that we park as close as possible. I chose this Market Street lot in spite of persistent urban legend that the owner was quick-with-the-hook.
I wait in line watching people utterly confused about operating the mechanical ticket machine. With no attendant, we purchase our parking for $2.75 an hour. The machine spits out my three-hour ticket, which I dutifully deposit on my dash before locking the car and setting off to the opera.
With limited opera experience, I didn't realize that the three hours for which I'd paid $8.25 wouldn't suffice. When the performance ends, I quickly pick up a pizza and hurry to the lot– to discover my car is gone.
I think to myself:
1. I am over 60 with considerable life experience.
2. I'm a lawyer.
3. I am 6’3” and weigh 225 pounds.
4. I have traveled to over 70 foreign countries including the most dangerous city in the world.
5. I've survived a kidnapping attempt.
6. I've been caught in the middle of a firefight.
7. I have been shot at from close range (it didn't work out well for the shooter).
8. I'm happily married.
However, I really didn't have the skills to handle what would follow. I read the posted instruction for retrieving my auto by calling the number. This I begin around 5:10pm and continue every five minutes. No answer, no return call, no anything. It's getting darker and colder.
About 30 minutes into the ordeal, I spy an acquaintance sprinting to his auto to avoid the tow and enlist him to give the wives a ride home.
Still dialing, still no answer or return call. T minus 60 minutes and counting.
As I stand in the cold and darkness, I begin to form a visual image of the lot owner. I envision an accountant at home with his family enjoying a glass of warm cider in front of a roaring wood-burning fire. No gas logs for this guy.
As the heat dissipates from my pizza, I envision the lot owner arranging a weekend respite from his stressful day job, which no doubt includes tying young maidens to railroad tracks for missing a timely mortgage payment.
I then conclude that the owner is a banker. Bankers love plastic cards that generate revenue and fees without the benefit of human involvement: just-give-me-the-cash. [For the real story on lot owner Keith Woodard, read the article on page 16.]
When I finally reach a voice on the end of the line, it's 6:25pm. Come to the impoundment lot, I'm told. Bring $145 in cash.
It was then that I become utterly convinced that the lot owner is a banker. The $8.25 I paid for parking may be just a loss leader for the real profit center: the $25 share he gets back from the towing company. The bulk of the revenue comes from my $2.75 error.
Simply brilliant. This guy should teach at Darden.
We pop in to a nearby restaurant to ask for directions to the impoundment lot. Turns out the restaurant has the place on speed-dial.
After a nearly mile-long trudge, we arrive at what we guess is the storage facility. It is difficult to be sure as lighting is almost nonexistent. There's a bulb in the distance, or perhaps it's a whale oil lamp, far beyond the "Beware of Dog" sign.
I finally encounter a real person and ask if he works for the towing company. I introduce myself with first and last name, and I ask for his. He says that identification would violate company policy. I ask for his first name only. No luck.
I see nothing on his attire to confirm his employment. Great, I am now giving $145 in cash to a total stranger. Maybe there is someone even smarter than the banker.
Mr. No Name is actually pleasant, but I start tallying my total:
1. $8.25 parking
2. $145.00 towing
3. $3.00 ATM
4. $26.00 cold pizza
In analyzing the receipt provided by Mr. No Name, it appears that of the $145 cash paid, $95 is the basic towing fee, then there's a $25 "redemption fee" for retrieving the vehicle after-hours, and another $25 to the owner of the lot, something Mr. No Name confirms.
Other than telling a few hundred of my closest friends and writing this epistle, I am finished with this matter, as this lot is now off my list of places to park. You, however, have the benefit of hearing my experience. Whether or not you ascribe credibility to my account is your decision: caveat emptor. One additional irony is that printed on the parking ticket is a statement basically saying "Have a Great Day in Historic Charlottesville."
I want to take this opportunity to wish you the same, Mr. Banker: "Have a Great Day!"
You've earned it.
Author David Post is a lawyer working in Charlottesville and London.
Since this incident, the Woodard lot has lowered the hourly rate from $2.75 to $2.25 but raised the nighttime towing/impoundment fees to $160. The profit-sharing arrangement appears to remain in place.