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A $300 Bill

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In March of 2007, I was forced to stop my car during morning rush hour, blocking the entrance to Tulsa Highway 169. I only wished at that moment that I had a better reason for doing so besides running out of gas. It didn’t help either that I had developed a pride issue during that period of time. A semester before, I had made some stupid decisions that flunked me out of Oklahoma State University and, though they didn't say so, my parents were viewing me as a screw-up. Because of that, anytime I messed up, which apparently was often, I was determined to fix it without help.

So I couldn’t call Mom. I couldn’t call my stepdad’s mom because Mom would find out. So I decided to call the police. The first time I called, I was given a non-emergency number to call. What? Me blocking traffic wasn’t an emergency? I called the emergency number and was very rudely told that it might be a couple of hours before they could send an officer to help me. Great!

I kept trying to stay positive but it wasn’t easy. By the time I hung up my cell phone, cars behind me were honking, desperately trying to merge left to pass by. No gentlemen, huh? Forgetting how to turn on the emergency lights, I popped up the front hood to try to prevent some people from honking. Thirty minutes passed. I called in at Victoria’s Secret, one of two jobs I had at the time, and pretended I was too sick to come in. Forty-five minutes passed. I almost caved in and called Mother, when something happened to change my mind.

[[[According to Mom, at this point in the story, I was walking the half-mile to Quiktrip to get gas to take back. That’s a complete lie. Again, forty-five minutes passed and I almost decided to call her when]]] I heard a man shouting and asking if I needed help. I turned around to see a middle-aged African-American man exiting a late ‘80s, green, beat-up Astrovan. The rear door slid open to reveal another middle-aged African American man. They offered to take me to a gas station. I at first said no because I had already called the police and didn’t want to miss them, but then changed my mind because it was only a half a mile away.

They took me to a Shell station. I rushed in to purchase a gas can. My debit card was declined, however, because it hadn’t registered the Kohl’s check that I had deposited into the account before running out of gas. Crap! I calmed down and decided to just have them take me to my bank, which was near my car. I went to the van and explained what was going on.

“What? I got a job interview in forty minutes,” the man in the back said.

“Sorry, girlie, but we need to get to this interview,” said the man driving. “That’s why we’re not in Okmulgee right now.”

“Well, can you drop me off by my car just in case the cops come? ” I asked.

“Sorry, sweetie, but I’m not leaving you on the side of the road. Besides, I’m pretty sure the cops won’t come.”

As they entered the highway entrance that I was not blocking, I panicked silently. I was thinking that if I made it through alive there was no way I’d tell Mom what was going right now.

We entered a warehouse area. It was well-kept and there were workers outside, but that didn’t completely calm me down. The man sitting beside me exited the van and entered one of the businesses in front of us. Then the driver turned off the radio, slid back his seat, picked up a hat from the floorboard of the back seat beside me, lay down, and covered his face with it. It didn’t take long for him to start snoring.

To pass the time, I quietly exited the van, walked back and forth on a sidewalk, then entered the same business the other man had entered. I peeked inside two of the offices, not sure what I was looking for, seeing office desks covered with paperwork and magazines. I found a water cooler with paper cone cups beside it in the rear end of the lobby. Those were not my favorite cups since I have a bad habit of breaking them apart before I’m done using them, but I decided to take not just one, but two, just in case.

I then entered the van, trying to stay quiet, but woke the driver up when closing the door.

“Girl, what are you doing?”

“Getting water. I got one for you,” I lied.

“You’re crazy, girl. Thank you though.”

Twenty minutes later, since all I could do was read the clock, the other man reappeared with joy.

“Congratulations. When do you start?”

“Monday. I should have my car out of the shop by then.”

“Good. I’m tired of hauling your lazy ass around.”

“No you ain’t. Now, miss, are you ready to get you driving again?”

“Heck yeah!”

But when we arrived back at point A, I saw something horrible. My car was gone. No popped-up hoods. No traffic merging to the left. My car was gone.

“Calm down, girl,” the driver said. “I’m sure someone just moved it to that bank. We need to get there anyways, right?”

“Sure,” I choked out. My heart sank again after we had circled the bank with no success.

“Um, girl,” the man beside me said, “we’d love to keep helping you and all, but we need to get back home soon.”

“It won’t be long,” I tried to assure them. “Let me just try to find out where my car is. It won’t be long. I promise.”

However, as soon as I entered the bank doors, I heard wheels squealing, and I turned around to see that beat-up van driving away. I guessed I was on my own now.

I called back the non-emergency line to discover that my car had been towed to a downtown car pound and that I had to go there within 90 days with my driver’s license, the car title, and about $300 if I wanted the car back. Thinking that the title was in my car, I still tried to think of how to get my car without Mom ever knowing.

First I called Tulsa Transit but became discouraged after being told about fifteen different spots to walk to to get a bus, one even being three miles away. So I picked a random taxi service to call and was relieved to hear of one that they could pick me up in twenty minutes.

At the bank I waited in line for a teller and explained my situation. Despite feeling sympathy for me, she disappointed me by saying that without the receipt from the transaction that morning, she wasn’t allowed to give me money that hadn’t shown up in the account yet. Crap! Well, thank god it was payday and I still had a paycheck waiting for me at Victoria’s Secret. But wait! I remembered having called in sick there.

The taxi arrived, so I decided it was worth risking my job and started my mission at Victoria's Secret. First, I worked to stay under the radar, ducking behind panty drawers when a boss walked by, only letting a coworker see me to hand me my check, and then rushing out. By this time my bank had closed, so I had to find a check-cashing place, where I received a gold membership card (which I ripped up a year later) in exchange for giving up twenty dollars of my check when having it cashed. Next, I stopped at a Quiktrip so I could finally buy a gas can. I bought two and filled them both up. Finally, we arrived at the car pound.

The lot had a prison feel to it: bars attached to the main door, wanted posters on the bulletin boards, and cold gray walls like the ones you see in a prison movie weren’t encouraging. The receptionist pointed to the next room. I entered and waited behind two very different couples: a white redneck couple, with the skinny Eminem wannabee complaining and the very pregnant girlfriend telling him to shut up; and an elderly couple quietly wrapped in each other’s arms. When it was my turn, the lady got frustrated with me for not having the title in my hands ,but allowed me to look inside my car after having someone take me there.

When we walked outside, the lot attendant motioned for me to sit inside the golf cart because my car was in the back. We drove past more than a thousand cars before parking by mine. I immediately unlocked the door. There were papers everywhere, so it took me a good ten minutes to look through everything: the glove box, back seat floorboard, the trunk, and lastly inside my backpack. That couldn’t be right! I looked again. The tag was nowhere to be found. Frustrated, I paused to think if I had missed a spot, even rechecking everywhere a third time, and then decided to accept the truth: the car tag was at home.

Trying to not feel defeated as I entered the taxi to drive me home, I still tried to think of a way to not let Mom find out what was going on. The best plan I could think of was to enter as if it were my lunch break from my second job, try to find the tag quickly, and distract anybody from looking in the front yard. Hard to do at 7pm, but I went with it. I cringed at the taxi meter miles going higher as he drove to the other side of town, knowing those numbers would double by the end of the night.

I entered my house, rushing but trying not to look rushed. Every family member there was shocked to see me. They kept asking me questions that I didn’t want to answer, but I had no choice after Mom went in the front yard to smoke a cigarette and saw a taxi instead of my car. She paid and sent away the taxi despite my insisting on taking care of it myself, then lectured me for about a hour, then drove me downtown, despite hating to drive there, and helped me get my car out, even paying for gas.

“I know that you felt that being grown up means never asking for help, but that’s what responsible grownups do,” Mom preached to me. “Everybody makes mistakes, but you can’t fix them by piling mistakes on top of it. You got to use common sense. Instead of asking for my help and maybe losing twenty bucks, you end up paying a $300 bill. Now, how stupid is that?”

Well, I wish I could say that I learned my lesson at that moment. It would have saved me a lot of money between then and now. Unfortunately, I do have some more amazing car tales left to tell, but that’s for another time. For now though, I must admit, that $300 bill was pretty stupid.

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  • Mom

    Thank God that sometimes ignorance is bliss. I never knew about her getting into the van with two guys before reading this. Since she kind of lectured herself, I didn’t, but OMG!!!
    Parents can learn from this also. (Like I did.) Tell them to call you and you will come – no questions asked and no lectures given. Safety is always more important than pride.

  • I hope you learned your lesson. (Which is “NEVER GO BELOW HALF.”)

    My daughter made a similar error with a parking ticket. What should have cost $77 ended up being a $400 mistake just because she didn’t want to call her mother. Silly girl.