By ALEX VAUGHN
We have all been out on a Thursday night: the Drive comes alive, it’s almost the weekend, and it’s time to let your hair down. You pull into the vast parking lot and rush in to meet your friends. You have a couple of drinks, socialize, and when you look out over the car park and see all the guys around, you can’t help but think “wow, how lucky am I to live in–or at the very least visit–Greater Fort Lauderdale and to have somewhere like The Shoppes of Wilton Manors to use as a base!” Well, yes you are, if you aren’t towed.
The signs are posted: the parking spaces in The Shoppes are reserved for patrons of the businesses. A bit extreme, as it is the center of Wilton Manors life, but ok, fair enough. Many of the establishments on and off the Drive have their own reserved- for-valet parking spaces. The signs are clear: you can’t leave your car unattended unless you are patronizing one of the businesses. What they don’t tell you is if you break the rules, you will be sent somewhere in which you could be killed.
You can imagine my utter shock to find that after a great evening catching up with friends, our car had been towed. There was no help or explanation offered, other than to “call the number on the sign,” which we did. Although told over the phone that we needed to pay to pick it up, at no point was it mentioned that they only accept cash- -do most people routinely walk around with over $100 in cash on them?
I know it sounds awfully dramatic, but if you get towed, say “goodbye” to the safety of Wilton Manors, to the ability to be yourself, and to feel safe and secure. In fact, say “hello” to the worst district in Fort Lauderdale, the area around 1800 West Sunrise Blvd., which is where your car will be towed. West Sunrise Blvd. is notorious for a few things: it is where a spring breaker last month was beaten to within an inch of his life for possession of his laptop; it also, as of last month, has the area’s highest rate of homicides; and it is where I found myself last Thursday night.
We took a cab to the tow yard, and immediately knew we were in the wrong neighborhood. Since there was no ATM nearby, we walked through what I can only describe as a frightening, dangerous area to a gas station where we got cash.
On our walk back–nervous, frightened and trying to be as aware as possible–a mugger snatched my partner’s $2,000 gold chain from his neck. The police officer who took our report was very clear that no one should ever be in that area at night, under any circumstances. We learned that the hard way.
I couldn’t agree more with parking rules: you park only where you visit. But if you break that rule, should you be forced to take your life into your hands? Many would argue to go during the day to pick up your car if it’s towed, but it was implied to us they would impose extra charges for holding it overnight.
For gay men, one benefit of living in or visiting Wilton Manors is the element of safety: the towing policy violates that.
There is an empty lot behind The Shoppes with some 30-odd spaces: would it not make more sense to tow the cars back there, and simply raise the towing fee?
There would be people who argue the fee will be too high, but right now the fee could end up costing you your life. Attention has been called to the towing policy before, but having experienced firsthand the unbridled danger of what it means to be towed action must now be taken—before someone in the community gets hurt or killed.
Alex Vaughn is the former Editor-in- Chief of the Florida Agenda.
Editor’s Note: At press time, Rivercrest Realty Investors, the owners of The Shoppes of Wilton Manors, have stopped utilizing the services of EMS Towing.