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Freedom: American Values and Towed Cars on the 4th of July

Published in ChicagoNow, July 5, 2017

Early evening as I drove down Sheridan Road in Evanston, traffic was at a standstill. Of course, it was the 4th of July. I should have taken a different route. But as long as I was stuck there, I enjoyed watching the groups of folks grilling, picnicking, and playing along the lakefront. I heard the happy laughter of young children. And then I discovered the cause of the traffic jam.

Police were loading car after car onto flatbed trucks that were towing them away. True, the signage along Sheridan states it is a two- or three-hour parking zone. And there was a small tow away zone sign posted next to the regular parking restrictions. But really, on the 4th of July? With the entire street parked up, it was reasonable for people celebrating the holiday with grilling and games of volleyball, waiting for it to get dark enough for the fireworks along the lake, to miss the sign and assume the parking rules had been suspended.

Perhaps there is a safety reason for making this area a tow away zone so emergency vehicles can park next to the curb. And yet, I imagined those people after the fireworks ended, carrying all their gear and sleeping children, and finding their car gone. What were they supposed to do at 10 pm? How would they get home? What kind of celebration of freedom and American values ends this way?

A ticket would have been a fair punishment for ignoring parking regulations. But towing? According to the city, once their vehicle is towed, these people have to contact the North Shore Towing Company to obtain release of their cars. “Tow charges are $145 and storage fees are based on the amount of time your vehicle has been stored by North Shore Towing.”

I didn’t hear any loudspeaker announcements warning people that cars were being towed. I doubt that bus service was provided for people to get to public transportation or to the lot to retrieve their cars. I also imagine many would have a hard time coming up with the money right on the spot to ransom their vehicles.

Bet there will be some real fireworks today as folks go to collect their cars. But that frustration and anger did them little good last night. I can’t imagine how upset they felt being stranded in the dark with all of their tired kids and picnic gear in a place with no close public transportation. It would definitely be “phone a friend” time.

I keep replaying the Norman Rockwell scene I watched before I saw the cars being towed. It was a true celebration of American values and the 4th of July. Groups representing the beauty of our country’s diversity gathered to celebrate our freedom and founding. Watermelon. Ice cream. Soccer balls. American flags.

Have we become so punitive and rule-bound that we would actually endanger families by removing their means to get home from a celebration of our country’s freedom and independence? Are these our values now?


by Laurie Levy
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