Tonight, I went to get a drink with some friends. I hadn't seen them in a long time (a few months). They suggested that we meet at a local bar, The Prospector. When I got there, the streets were crowded, so I parked in a lot across the street from the bar. The lot was part of a Big Lots store, but since business hours were closed, there were no prohibitive signs, and I had previously parked there without incident. I didn't thin much of it.
When we left the bar, my car was gone. A friend of mine also had her car towed. A truck was towing ANOTHER car in the lot, and we got a tow company phone number from him. Before we called the phone number and went to the tow office, we took photos of the 'no parking signs,' which were poorly lit and graffitied over. We got to the tow company before 11pm. No one was around. I called the main office at at 10.52 pm and was told that we would need to wait about an hour to pick up our cars. We waited 10 more minutes, and though we watched a truck enter the lot with a car, our cars were still not in the lot. I called again, and was told that our cars were on a flatbed truck, which was why it was taking so long to have the cars delivered (this seemed incongruous to me, but I let it go, not having the upper hand). After another ten minutes, I called the tow company again. By this point, we had seen a flatbed truck enter the tow lot, also without our cars. I got voicemail at the company, but we had begun talking to the tow truck drivers. During the whole time, Sara had been getting absolutely no sympathy from the LB police, who were happy to let us sit and wait in the middle of a bad part of town while the tow truck manager took his time getting down to us.
After alamost 30 minutes, the drivers (by this time, there were two) told us that the flatbed truck had broken down, and that's why our cars hadn't been delivered to the lot. If we paid $200, they would tell us where the cars were, and we could go and get them. They added that the staff at The Prospector should have known (and advised us?) that we'd be towed (which doesn't seem to address the concern of the poorly-maintained signage). Finch, the sympathetic tow truck driver, explained that the tow company had a contract to start towing after midnight, but he didn't have a response when we pointed out that we had been towed before 11pm. My friend Sara paid first. She was charged $125 for the tow and $75 for 'labor.' When she balked at the labor charge, she was told it was because she has an all-wheel drive, which necessitates the flatbed truck. They charged me the exact same price. When I balked at the $75 labor charge, they told me it was because they had to put my car on a flatbed truck. I balked, and they changed their story to say that they charged me because the electric motor is harder to tow (I checked it out, and according to this article, there's not really a big difference when towing the Prius short distances. Clearly, they were lying through their teeth, trying to justify the additional expense. Fortunately, I made a recording of the last bit of that conversation, so I have a recording of the tow driver contradicting himself.
We finally both paid our $200, and Finch, the more sympathetic of the drivers, took us to our cars. They had been off-loaded on the side of the street. Sara says that her car had been driven (the radio station was changed), but my car seemed untouched. However, the 'broken down' flatbed truck was nowhere to be seen. Had it actually broken down? Was there any proof? I'm unconvinced.
I'm going to write to The Prospector, Big Lots, Signal Hill Towing, and the Long Beach PD, letting them know of our extraordinary experience tonight. If I break a law or a clearly-identified private-property rule, then I should pay the price, but in this case, I broke no law, and whatever private property rule I may have broken was not clearly identified.
In the meantime, I am going to boycot all of the above businesses. Big Lots doesn't seem to be a community player, The Prospector doesn't take care of its patrons, and Signal Hill Towing, well, they don't seem to see the value in honesty.
Here are two photos of the no-parking signs. Note the graffiti, and how close we had to get in order to get enough light to properly photograph them: