I was a little worried about how Pittsburgh would compare to Philadelphia, where I’d been living for 4 years. But I was trying to keep an open mind, since I had committed myself to this place over a beach with surfing every day of the year (UCSD). I arrived late the night before the “Immigration Course” started on Monday (9/26/04). I was staying with a friend from high school, Dana. She provided me with a guest parking permit, which I used to park near her house that week. Everything was going pretty smoothly – The week went well, and I got my key early from Mozart on Friday. There, I asked them about where I should park my car, since they had said I could have a garage spot for $50/month, which I was going to try for awhile. This was the first time they mentioned that the garage was full, and had been for years. They had no solution for me, but told me to call later to talk to the person in charge of parking.

Determined not to let that phase me, I moved in a bunch of my stuff, and put my car back near Dana’s house Friday night and slept on the floor of my new apartment. My parents and Steph were coming the next day, so I wanted to have most of the stuff from my car moved in by the time they arrived. When I went down to get my car, it was gone, replaced by a bulldozer. In fact, half the block had been cleared off. I noticed some new signs, “Emergency Maintenance”, posted on the nearby trees. They definitely were not there the night before. Trying to hold it together, I asked the guy in the bulldozer about my car. He seemed sympathetic and got a hold of some people on his walkie talkie who relayed the info that the cars had all been towed, and I was to check at the City Auto Pound.

I had already set up my internet, so I was able to look up the directions to the Pound from my apartment. What I didn’t realize then is what has been beaten into my head a thousand times since – don’t trust maps in Pittsburgh to help you. The way to the pound was up Bigelow (from its intersection with Centre), past the Bloomfield bridge and then down a street called Herron Ave on the other side of the Hill district. I had decided to skate there, since they had stolen my car and I was in a hurry. I can’t really explain how scary my trip was. There were no sidewalks, and Herron Avenue was the steepest hill I had ever skated down. I almost lost it many times. The other thing that was different from Philadelphia (where I learned to skate a few years before) was that gravel was all over all the roads.

Without physical damage to my body I arrived at the City Auto Pound, one of the few destinations with marked signs (I later noted). Even though it had been 3-4 hours since my car was towed, the fee was $150 to get my car back. Once again I attempted to control myself, telling myself to take it out on someone who deserved it later. With that, I paid and took off, and spent the rest of the day unpacking with my parents and Steph.

So now I had two problems. I wanted my $150 back, and I needed a place to park. Mozart was absolutely no help when I called, and the woman at Mozart in charge of parking, Melissa, was entirely unsympathetic and accusing when I complained to her about it. She shifted the blame onto me, for not asking directly if there was space in the garage. I figured that when I signed my lease, and they told me parking was available, that “available” meant I could pay the price and have one. But apparently what “available” meant was some people currently had parking spots. My mistake. Anyway, she told me the same thing that the girl who showed me the apartment 6 months before had told me, that I had the option of getting a city parking permit. I would have to go downtown for this.

So I made my first trip to downtown, armed with my notorized statement that even though the car was in my dad’s name, I’d be parking it. I waited in a 2 hour line, missing part of my immigration course at CMU. As soon as the permit office worker looked at my address, she told me “We don’t give permits for your building.” I argued, saying my landlord had told me they do, that there was some mistake. She said, “I don’t know what Mozart’s problem is, we always tell them there are no permits for the Schenley Arms.” And that did it. I immediately called and talked to Melissa, who denied telling me a few days before that Schenley Arms was in a permit zone. Her excuse was, “I told you the city has a permit parking program. And you never asked if your building was included.” So now I saw their game. Mozart gives no more information than they are required to give, and frequently lie/cover up. Hey it worked to get me in my apartment. Now they had me for at least a year, complete with my parents as cosigners if I took off. Couple that with the fact that you have to resign 6 months in advance of your lease ending, and it is awfully hard to just leave Mozart once you’re in. Needless to say, I gave Melissa an earful of expletives. I remember being so angry I had to sit down. This time she blamed me for not asking the correct question, and the city for “having it out for Mozart from day 1″ and not giving them permit parking. I later found out this too was a lie. Nothing was resolved at this point.

I knew from my new acquaintence Andrew that the adjacent building had plenty of open spaces in its garage, so a few days later I attempted to get Melissa to allow me to pay for one of those. Of course they disallowed this, as it would give me access to this other building. She did offer to allow me to pay for a spot behind the dirty bird, about a half mile from my apartment, in an outdoor lot. I felt I had no choice, so I went with it. $35/month and a decently long walk to my car. (Later my car was broken into in this lot; of course Mozart told me “it’s your problem, not ours.”) I didn’t get a parking spot in my building for 2 years.

My other project was easier though, right? Get the $150 back. Surely a judge at traffic court would see the ridiculousness of the fee? I skipped out on some more IC activities to go to traffic court. Traffic court was pretty funny actually: basically you put your name in at some clerk, and then sit and watch everyone else argue some parking ticket or something. Most were people trying to not pay for like 15 tickets and the boot or something. The judge invariably said “I’m reducing the fee, go see the cashier.” and sent the people out the door of the courtroom. She never argued or tried to get to the bottom of each case. Just going through the motions. Then this guy got up and started talking about how his car had been towed from the same spot as mine on the same morning. He told it exactly how it was, how I would have told it. She said her catch phrase to him as well. He tried to argue a bit but she had moved on. I wasn’t next so I ran outside to see what had happened. I introduced myself to him, quickly explained that the same thing had happened to me, and asked how much he got back. He goes, “Well it’s down to $50, so I’m happier than $150. This is all the time I have for this though, good luck.”

I went back into the courtroom, and I was one of the next people. I argued as logically and correctly about why it made no sense to charge me for the inconvenience of having to find my car after it was towed for work done early on a saturday morning with no warning whatsoever. To debunk the emergency maintenance thing, I told her what the workman that morning had told me, that the work had been scheduled for a week and they just forgot to put up the signs. She claimed (somehow) that the city can tow me, and charge whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, with or without a reason. I was dumbfounded – how could a judge lie to me like this? I kept up the good fight though for awhile, only leaving when she started to yell at me. After all, I wanted at least the $100, and I could appeal to another judge.

Now the kicker. After receiving my $100, I asked the cashier how to file an appeal. She said “That will be a nonrefundable fee of $50.” I swear I almost punched her in the face. It was like a reflex. I never have seen such blatant highway robbery organized by what is supposedly a legitimate government. At best, I could get my $50 back to pay for my appeal. Unbelievable. Whatever hope I had for Pittsburgh was lost that day.

How I got the city to agree to set up a meeting to discuss permit parking for my building.