Essay: Finding a Hidden Upshot to a Towing Experience in Laguna Beach

Illustration by Faye Rogers

So I’m driving with my girlfriend, Lisa, in Laguna Beach, heading to a creative salon—where you can read, perform, or do improv—run by my friend Jeffrey (because this is pre-pandemic when you could socialize all you want, no problem). I’ve got a story to read aloud, and so does Lisa. It’s a pleasant evening, and as far as I know, nothing’s wrong.

Then a police car pulls up behind, lights flashing.

“Are you Terance?” the officer wants to know, leaning through the passenger-
side window. “Is there anything you’d like to tell me? Anything you’d care to explain?” He’s got a ruddy complexion and a blond mustache and looks eager to hear my response. I almost hate to disappoint him.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him, “but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Take a look at your license plate,” he says.

I get out and do that. I have a plate frame that says Terry Black / Famous Author, though part of the F is snapped off and I really should replace the damned thing. But I don’t see any sign of law-breaking.

Until he says, “Look at your registration sticker.”

Whoops.

It reads 2018 instead of 2020. It’s orange instead of yellow, so you can easily see it’s out of date—two years out of date. I have no idea how that happened.

“It wasn’t on purpose,” I insist—not a good defense, but it’s all I’ve got. “I must have lost the paperwork or something.”

“We’re going to have to take your car,” the cop says.

And they do. A tow truck shows up, and my car is taken to a towing yard, where I can pick it up after I’ve settled with the DMV, and the Laguna Beach Police, and the towing company. Meantime, Lisa and I are left on the sidewalk.

“How do you feel?” asks the officer, in a moment of compassion.

“Like an idiot,” I admit.

Luckily, we’re not far from the party, and it’s not expensive to take an Uber the rest of the way. Jeffrey and the gang are sympathetic to my story, and they try to make us feel better with an assortment of fresh salads, hors d’oeuvres, and a chance to perform before a jovial audience. But the question How do we get home? lurks in the background. I think of my old friend Fiona, once a regular at Laughter Yoga, who would have driven us anywhere; but she dropped out years ago and we haven’t kept up since.

“I’ll drive you,” says another friend, Jeanne, who’s sweet-natured and (it turns out) lives not far from us, in Lake Forest. Problem solved, at least for tonight.

Monday morning, I call in carless at work (“No, really, I have no car.”) and look for help getting my wheels back. Everyone’s busy, including Lisa, who’s a nurse and can’t take the time off. Luckily my screenwriter friend Nelson steps in, offering a ride to the Laguna Hills DMV office, where after only two hours my registration is current again. (I did register for 2019, but forgot to display the sticker, and then for 2020 I held off waiting for a smog certificate, which I got, but somehow never completed the application. You might be thinking “What an idiot, he deserved to be towed.” And my response is: “Too true.”)

But now I need to get my car back.

“Sorry, I can’t take you to Laguna Beach,” Nelson says, “because I’ve got a conference call.” He’s working on a pilot script for Warner Bros. Television; they have notes, and the studio can’t wait. I thank him anyway, ready to Uber the rest of the way.

Only I don’t have to.

Because with zero notice, I call my old friend Fiona, the one with whom I’ve lost touch, who I kept meaning to call but somehow never did. We shared many adventures in times past—like a breathless Laughter Yoga Parade and a storm-tossed Catalina ferry crossing—but we’ve drifted apart since then. I call her up to apologize for not calling sooner and to ask for a ride. To my relief, she says, “I’d love to.”

She shows up smiling, as always. I offer to buy her lunch, but she says, “That’s OK, I had a banana before I left.” I buy her lunch anyway—a tuna salad sandwich from the Kosher Bite deli, highly recommended—but it seems a small reward for her trouble. Plus, she gives me half the sandwich, and the pickle, in addition to my own Hebrew National all-beef hot dog, so it’s not a great sacrifice.

We go to the Laguna Beach Police station. The LBPD entrance is set back from the street—you have to walk partway around—but Fiona knows exactly where it is because (she confesses) she’s had numerous cars towed in Laguna Beach and knows the routine. I go in and pay the fine: not cheap, but what the hell. Now all that’s left is to pick up my car at a place called To’ and Mo’ Towing.

The place is tucked away on the side of Laguna Canyon Road. It’s a blocky structure with a locked door and a little window, maybe 6 inches tall, that you have to stoop to look through. A sign warns you not to threaten bodily harm, either verbally or in writing, because To’ and Mo’ will prosecute your ass (not their exact words) if you try it. I assure them I have no intention of bodily harming anyone, and the counter guy (swarthy, with an ingratiating smile) takes my check and opens the gate and—thank God—gives my car back.

I thank Fiona. She says, “I feel honored that you allowed me to help you.”

Well, I don’t deserve a comment like that. No one does. It’s sweet and noble and humbling and makes my whole day. Because just saying that demonstrates what a true friend, and what a good person, she is—giving this whole nightmare an unexpectedly pleasant ending.

There’s a moral here (besides keep your car registration up to date). It’s that your friends are precious, more than you know. Stay in touch; don’t forget them. And for God’s sake, don’t just call them when you happen to need them.

Because they might not be as kind as Fiona.

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