City’s towing policy is not the cat’s meow

Taking care of a tabby left his friend with a big tab

I have a friend named Chuck who owns a cat named Tuck. When Chuck and his family leave for a few days, Chuck wants Tuck to be visited daily by someone, lest Tuck become lonely and sad. Chuck and his family are good-hearted people. Responsible people.

It would be possible, of course, simply to leave Tuck alone with water and food and extra litter for 72 hours, the duration of Chuck's holidays (Chuck being as hard-working and responsible as he is).

My own sister -- a true cat lover -- scoffs openly at the notion that a cat left untended teeters on the edge of despair. She says cats have a mode like the "sleep" mode on a computer. They stare into space. They stare out the window. And most of all they sleep. Just like they always do, she snickers.

Yet Chuck and I (for I'm good-hearted too, if less responsible) believe otherwise. That's why we visit each other's cats when either of us is gone.

That is what I was doing several weeks ago when I pulled up in front of Chuck's house in south Minneapolis and parked behind his well-maintained, fuel-efficient second car, the one that never drips oil.

His car was next to a wooden sign with the warning that the street would be swept the next day, and citizens must move their cars.

I, as Official Cat Visitor, bore responsibility here. I entered the house and fed Tuck, told him he was very smart and cute, which he knew, and began looking for a car key. I couldn't find one.

I called Chuck's hotel. He had no idea where to find a key.

I grant you, this is a rare flaw in Chuck. Evidently he cannot tell you, when summoned to the phone out of the blue, where to find a second key to his second car.

But is it a flaw that should cost him $140? Particularly on a sweeping day, as opposed to plowing?

Carefully I placed a sign, in large print, water-resistant, on the windshield: "Owner Out of Town." Chuck was already making plans to go out and tidy up where his egregiously parked car would force the sweeper to miss a spot.

It didn't work.

A family with tiny children arrives home late on a Sunday to find the car gone. It must be retrieved before morning. That's a two-adult job. Who stays with the kids? Or do they all head out to get the car? And how do you explain to the tots, so previously trusting, that local government is a heartless, vicious tyrant?

Perhaps I overstate. Mike Kennedy of the city's public works department says it's crucial to get every bit of street swept, to protect our streams and groundwater. In fact, the tow truck operator was contractually required to take Chuck's car. It would have been illegal and immoral for the tow guy to have a heart.

"We don't want to tow," Kennedy says. "We want to sweep. And we always tow before we sweep."

So the only purpose of towing is to facilitate sweeping? It's not extra punishment?

"We would never tow after sweeping."

Except in Chuck's case, where they clearly towed after sweeping. Either that or the sweeper men decided to have some fun by sweeping a big wide arc right where Chuck's car had been.

I don't want to overplay this. Maybe it's the first time it's ever happened. But it does turn this particular event into gratuitous meanness. And makes me think that Mr. Kennedy's "We don't want to tow!" may not fully represent the position of the tow truck guys, who get about $50 per tow in the spring and fall. Plus, it rekindles my suspicion that this whole sweeping endeavor is motivated to some extent by the interests of the Towing Oligopoly as much as by love of groundwater.

Make the ticket a little more expensive. But don't tow.

Maybe I'm just mad because I feel like I let Chuck down in some way.

I do take comfort in knowing I at least visited Tuck successfully, keeping him content. In fact, Chuck says Tuck slept through the whole ordeal.