San Francisco Tow Truck Fandango

From the “one day we’ll be able to laugh about this” department…


Above: the Ferry Building Marketplace on the San Francisco Waterfront.

For the love of money! Mosaic Wine Group spent a wonderful couple of days in Arizona and California last weekend, which could not have gone much better — beautiful weather, great friends and plenty of terrific wine. The stars seemed to be aligned for us on our entire trip, everything falling into place at every turn. Life was good!


We were on our way to the airport in Oakland with plenty of time to stop and grab a quick bite before heading home, so we decided to stop at the Ferry Building Marketplace on the San Francisco waterfront, which offers a great variety of restaurants to choose from. We arrived to find the streets lined with parked cars, meters and gaggles of tourists. Parking is always an issue in San Francisco, but with the way this trip was going, surely this day would be a different story? We drove along Market Street and, VOILÀ, found a totally rock-star spot at the front of a long line of parked vehicles. We deposited our coins, which provided us exactly an hour for a quick lunch, and then off to the airport.

Perusing the many restaurants and their wares, we all settled on different sites to soothe our senses. Mosaic’s Melinda Redman had her eyes set on Fish-n-Chips, and thus began our gourmet treasure hunt. What better way to end a great trip than with a cold beer and some of the local digs? Appetites sated. Then it was time to regroup and head to the car. Jeremy Parzen would be first to arrive at the car, with his lovely (new) fiancée, Tracie B, in tow. Uh-oh… something was amiss — and I just typed the word TOW! The long line of cars were all being towed, one by one, with ours being at the front of the line and freshly departed.


It turns out that there was a sign posted behind our parking spot that said this lane was changed to “No Parking” during rush hour traffic after 3 pm. Here we were at 3:23 pm and our rental car had been towed! Our flight was at 5:55pm, across the water in Oakland, and now we had to deal with recovering our car and belongings. GREAT!

As city planning and efficiency would have it, the City of San Francisco has streamlined its bustling towing prowess by having the impound located just a few short, almost convenient, miles from this bustling tourist hotspot. A quick $10 cab ride and we might just be able to make our flight. Our skilled and compassionate cabbie was more than accommodating and seemed to share in our frustration of such an exasperating situation, as he had obviously witnessed plenty of these transgressions in his day. He assured us that the process would be quick, but that we would probably have to shell out $100-120. Those fish-n-chips were getting more and more expensive, and weren’t sitting quite so well. Arriving at the enormous impound, we scurried to the entrance, to find window after window after window of customer service personnel anxiously waiting to “help.”


Gracing our window was a cheerful city employee ready to assist. She gleefully pulled up our account and surveyed the charges. “Your charges today will be $286.60.” WTF?!! There’s nothing like that hollow feeling of helplessness and anxiety, but we would have to power through! We have a plane to catch and missing the last flight out would certainly cost more than $286.60, with hotel, etc. I convulsingly handed over my credit card to move on through this speed bump of a situation. Just get me outta here I thought, before I say something that will get me in trouble and keep us stuck in the city (possibly even in jail). A disingenuous smile and a “thank you very much,” and we proceeded to the lockup attendant, who was ready to take my receipt and pull our vehicle around like an award-winning valet from any top-notch fine dining restaurant in the country, only much surlier.


Our rental chariot arrives, devoid of any pomp and/or circumstance befitting such lofty expense. We had hoped for a ticker-tape greeting, or at least some kind of a homeless brass band concerto. Nothing! We hopped into our vehicle, ready to depart with just enough time to make it to the airport for our flight. But wait, there would be one last surprise for us. A shiny yellow parking ticket, gleaming in the setting sunlight of the day. Cost: $70! 

San Francisco tow truck experience… Priceless! Thank you, San Francisco Department of Tourism. This poignant little tip o’ the hat is a bargain at twice the price! Well, perhaps not…

Some day we’ll be able to laugh about this. Or will we?

Click here for instructions on what to do if your car is towed in San Francisco. If you do not retrieve your car before 4 hours, more charges apply.


One response to “San Francisco Tow Truck Fandango

  1. Dan, thanks for the shouts-out and the kind words. It’s just entirely ridiculous that they tow the cars in front of the Ferry Marketplace: obviously, the majority of them are tourists (like us) and have no idea that their cars will be towed (since the whole line — literally, 15-20 cars — was towed). This is an egregious example of governance where the law does not reflect the interest of the people and it preys on visitors who have little or no recourse. Adding insult to injury, the “efficiency” of the towing company and its operators underscores the fact that this whole scheme is just a racket (as our cab drive pointed out) to generate cash for the city — at the cost of tourists. Thanks again for such a great trip. I’m sorry it ended on such a sour note but, regardless, the trip was truly wonderful.

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