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Day 21 of Lent – “Redeemed” from the Impound Lot

March 5, 2013

Verse for reflection: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say this—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. (Psalm 107: 1-3, NIV)

The inside of New York City Police Department’s impound lot, where they send vehicles towed off the streets of Manhattan, is a place you don’t to be. Everyone is mad or at least unhappy—even the workers. Who would want to work there?

This one appeared as shady as one in a TV show or movie. What “evidence” from someone’s crime is hidden there? Which of these cars have been stolen? Abandoned with a dead body inside?


Jim Bowman taping residents and family members discussing care in an urban New York  City retirement community, Village Care of New York. Photo by Wayne Gehman.

We were in New York City taping interviews for a documentary, Embracing Aging: Families Living With Change; at 4 p.m., we needed to move the car but I was running just a few minutes late at the end of an interview. I volunteered to go move the car while the guys tore down the equipment. I reached the street at 4:07 p.m. and it had already vanished. No sign left behind. Not even a number to call on the parking sign. What do you do?

I go back to the building and asked the concierge. She said to call 311, a non-emergency phone tree that I could quickly tell was going to take me hours to wade through. The concierge also knew the address of the impound lot off the top of her head and said it was not far away. I thought I might as well grab a taxi. With only one impound lot in the whole of Manhattan, this was my first stroke of luck all day.

The taxi dumped me out near a pier along the Hudson River and pointed me to the tin/metal warehouse that functioned as the impound lot. I could easily imagine a shoot-out or clandestine interrogation/intimidation of a “witness” happening there. I followed a bunch of signs and finally found a room with a sullen clerk silently directing me with a jerk of her head to a window marked “Information. Start here.”

Seated behind bulletproof plastic, a clerk in heavily accented English tried to tell me three times what I needed to do. Finally I told her I’m hard of hearing (which I am) and she said it again. I had to surrender my driver’s license and leave it with her while I walked to another building, marked NYPD. I felt almost like I was being arrested. There I had to wait for a van to drive me to our company van on the impound lot where I retrieved the car’s registration card, to take back to the clerk.

Meanwhile, one of the other detainees is pounding his fist into the wall of the office and yelling “It’s a scam” because the clerk had denied him the right to use his credit card to pay the hefty $185 towing fee, because his name didn’t exactly match the name on the registration card. “And I suppose there’s no ATM near here?” he shot back. “What am I supposed to do?” A mother who had her car towed had just gotten her adult daughter out of the hospital and was in tears from frustration and stress.

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When the clerk finally stamped “Redeemed” on the top of what had quickly grown to be a pile of paperwork about my case, I was struck by the theological nature of not only the stamped word, but the whole experience. I was no longer a crook, who had stolen seven minutes of street time from the parking meter. I was free to drive out of the impound lot; it was not only me that was saved, but the Mennonite Media vehicle: we hadn’t abandoned her; we “bought” her salvation. She was “made good” (which is what redeemed really means) and we were free to head home.

Action: Thank God for the gift of redemption. Perhaps you can respond with a gesture of thankfulness and give someone else a “free” pass today—someone who has wronged, slighted, or looked over you, and share the good feeling of being left off the hook.


Here’s a video clip of the documentary we were producing that day. The actual ticket reads that the car was picked up at 4:01 p.m, one minute after time was up. Be warned.

Portions first used for my Another Way newspaper column for MennoMedia.


From → Faith, Writing Life

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