Guest Column by Mike Harris

I usually ride my bike around town, but on Wednesday July 20, the bike needed some adjustments, so I had to strap it to the back of my Honda Accord and drive up Franklin to The Bicycle Chain. After turning left into the parking lot between Vespa and Noodles and Company, I wound around to the right until I was next to The Bicycle Chain.  

I had my choice of open parking spots and chose one in front of a white, graffiti-tagged wall with a sign that read, on quick glance, ‘For Customers Only.’  Knowing that my business would be brief and feeling confident that I was a customer, I unstrapped the bike and rode it in to the shop.  I exited the shop around twenty minutes later, only to find there was not a silver Honda in sight.  I quickly had to face the reality that I had been towed.  

A closer inspection of the sign informed me that I needed to be a customer of 306 or 214 Franklin and not 210.  Should parking in a small horseshoe of businesses require such specific analysis?  Obviously it does in Chapel Hill, unless of course you are comfortable paying $100 in cash to a tow truck owner who appears to stalk the lot with predatory efficiency.  

I was so impressed with the support and compassion the employees of The Bicycle Chain provided.  They were immediately on the phone with George, the owner of this tow “service.”  Their frustration seemed to equal mine in that George had recently told them he would not tow their customers.  

I continued to pursue information regarding the oddity that one would get towed from a parking lot adjacent (about twenty or so size twelve foot strides) to where they were providing local business.  I learned that my situation was far from an anomaly.  I came across story after story about being towed while providing business to the local economy, not only from customers, but also from owners of the businesses themselves.  I was simply left with questions.  

One of the questions I attempted to ask George was what the mission of his business truly is.  Is he providing a service when no spots are available and somebody is craving a bowl of noodles, or is he cashing in on people who are having adjustments made on their bike while their car sits feet away in a merely half-full parking lot?  

I also question the ethics of his business practice.  As I pulled my car out of his fenced in lot I requested a receipt for the cash I gave him.  However, the girl who was pulling her car out alongside mine (I wish I could make $200 that fast as a public school teacher) was not given a receipt.  So, is there record of her payment?  How is this dealt with when April comes around and George is filing taxes?

My final question is for Chapel Hill – how do you expect locals to contribute to the economy when fixed video cameras are watching their every move and waiting to alert George out on Old Greensboro road that it is time to race over and collect five twenty dollar bills.  Sure is tempting to just stay in Carrboro.

I’m just glad that my bike is now fixed (it turned out to be quite an expensive brake adjustment once George’s “service” was added in), so I can get around town and avoid advancing the wealth of tow truck “services”…well, at least until they start towing bikes.

Mike Harris


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