Don’t Park in Austin: a long-winded travel tale with a moral at the end

I try so hard to love Austin, really, but Austin doesn’t make it easy.

Yeah, I had so much fun there, what a cool city, it’s not like the rest of Texas, blah, blah, blah. Doesn’t matter. In life, bad memories so quickly suffocate the good ones, like a python squeezing the life out of some innocent Bambi lookalike. Bambi’s not what we remember–we remember the python . . .

When Gadling decided to hold our annual get-together deep in the heart of Texas, I was elated. For one, I’m Texan, born and bred. I planned on flying to Houston, spending some time with family, then heading up to Austin for a weekend of blogger decadence. I drove my parents’ car up and made it all the way to tiny Bastrop, Texas when my vehicle overheated (it’s darn hot in Texas). A mechanic in town said he would fix the car but that it would take the whole weekend. Luckily, this tiny Texas town had an Enterprise Rental with one last remaining rental car which allowed me to be back on the road to Austin within the hour.

Our first day in Austin was super fun as I met all the legendary magicians behind this fabulous website that you know and love. On Saturday night, the fun-loving Gadling crew went out for dinner and settled on Ironworks BBQ, which claims to be “Real Texas Barbecue.” I parked in their parking lot which had a sign that read “For Ironworks customers ONLY”, which we all were. We spent about two hours at the restaurant and probably around $300 on food collectively. Afterwords, we hit one of the nearby clubs. When I came back to the get the car (around midnight), the parking lot was empty. Apparently, once the restaurant closes, they tow. (Really? That’s how you treat your out-of-town guests?)
Now, what in the world could possibly be worse than getting your car towed? Getting towed by J&J Towing–that’s what. Apparently even weird cool hipster Austin has its share of sheisters and they all work for J&J Towing. Thanks to the internet, I discovered that J&J Towing actually has a long and strong reputation for illegal tows for which they’ve been successfully sued in several courts of law in Texas. They’ve even earned a single brave star on Yelp with the best review being “These People Need Jesus”.

I concur. These people do need Jesus, but a simple conscious would also suffice. At 1 AM, I called them up to retrieve my car. Not only were they rather rude and unhelpful, all they told me that there was, “No way you’re getting your car back this weekend.” Since I was driving a rental car, the towing company requires a notarized affidavit from my rental car company stating that the car was in fact in my name at the time of getting towed. This is a new state-wide law in Texas, according to Justin, the man I was speaking with (Justin refused to give me his last name for fear that I would send some Texas-style justice in his direction and perhaps he was right).

Realizing I was now legally liable but legally powerless, I turned to Enterprise Rental for help. I called their Roadside Assistance number, waited through 10 minutes of hold advertising and then was told by a bored employee that there was nothing she could do. And then (I kid you not) . . she hung up on me (Gasp!). Now a little angry, I then called the Customer Service line, held for another ten minutes and was told again that there was nothing they could do for me. When I asked, “That’s the best you can offer me?”, she hung up on me, too. No she didn’t!

I fell asleep angry and powerless at 3 AM, then woke up at 6:30 AM and contacted the Enterprise Rental at the Austin airport (the closest office that was open on a Sunday). I then took a cab out to the airport, handed over my first rental keys and convinced them to give me a new car for the duration of my rental. They agreed that getting a notarized affidavit on a Sunday in Texas was impossible but that it was now their problem and that this kind of thing happens “all the time.” Yes,you heard it from Enterprise: rental cars in Austin get towed all the time and are never successfully recovered by their renters.

By 11 AM on Sunday, I was situated with my third car in two days and left the final throes of Gadling’s fun-filled weekend for another day of work just north of the city. The next day, Monday, I returned my second rental car to the office in Bastrop where I discovered that my first rental car had still not been recovered. I was charged $280.00 for the towing and impound but promised that there would be no further related expenses. Enterprise confessed that they too were having a very difficult time retrieving the car from J&J Towing and that it might take days more, if not the rest of the week.

In retrospect, seeing as I had purchased full insurance on the rental car, I should have just reported the car stolen, which is actually kind of what happened. If you park in the parking lot of the establishment at which you are eating and when you come back you find the car is gone, then your car was stolen.

Now there’s a Texas way to deal with this situation and there’s the nicer way. Since, I’m a nice guy, I’m sticking to words. Frankly though, y’all disappointed me! City of Austin–you fail. Ironworks BBQ? You fail, too. And Enterprise Rental? You get a D minus (have fun getting your car back). As for J&J towing, I leave you to your own heavy stack of karma. I imagine when you eventually do get served, it’ll look something like No Country for Old Men and the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The travel moral of the story is don’t park your rental car in downtown Austin, ever. Better yet, just skip Austin and head straight to the Hill Country. They can’t tow you out there and if they try, you’re legally allowed to shoot them. The other moral of the story is that the state of Texas has a bunch of cockamamie laws regarding rental cars, so watch out!

The final moral of the story is: Don’t Mess With Gadling! Just like you don’t mess with Texas, you don’t mess with a bunch of travel writers. We may be limp-wristed computer nerds with passports, but these days, the keyboard is mightier than the tow truck.

*The real casualty in all of this was Mike Barish’s Hello Kitty piñata, who at this very moment is still sitting locked up in the scuzzy backlot of J&J towing and enduring who knows what kind of hellish torments.