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Oct 03
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Getting Towed in Chelsea

photo credit: Carlos Smith via photopin cc

photo credit: Carlos Smith via photopin cc

COLUMN: In Everyday Life
by Stacey Mitchell

It was one of those evenings where everything felt so perfect that the idea of something going wrong seemed impossible. Looking back, I had a momentary lapse in memory – whenever there is a high, there is a relative low likely to follow. The impermanence and transitory nature of life is filled with momentum, inertia, joy, and sadness.

My evening began trying to find a parking spot. It was my first time parking in New York City. On this Friday evening, I was going to hear an acharya (a senior buddhist teacher) give a talk on the Buddha’s teachings. I parked in front of a restaurant ten blocks away and felt lucky to get the spot considering it was Friday night in Chelsea.

The talk focused on the inevitability of human suffering in the world. At the end of the talk, everyone was on a high, feeling inspired, as if nothing could stop us from manifesting compassion in the world. The teacher reminded us suffering may be around any corner once we walked out the door for the evening. Some of us would have a pleasant evening and others might experience the inevitability of the impermanence of situations linked to human suffering. The acharya said if we catch ourselves getting self-involved or putting our negative emotions ahead of more positive thoughts, just look up towards the sky and see that there is something more than our ego clinging to our mind.

After the talk ended I walked back to my truck. It was a pleasant night and Manhattanites were out in droves in trendy bars and restaurants with laughter echoing down sidewalks. I was soaking in the great dynamic energy that New York offers with a smile that emanated into space.

I began to approach the corner near the restaurant where I had parked my truck. The only problem was I didn’t see it. My heart skipped a couple beats. I knew I parked there.

I went into the nearby restaurant and asked the maître d’ if he noticed a truck at some point in the last couple hours getting towed. It was busy and he said not necessarily, but asked me where I was parked. I pointed. He said, “Oh, there, in front of that fire hydrant?” I said, “What fire hydrant?” “That one,” he pointed out. I said, “That green and grey blob? That is not a fire hydrant. The fire hydrants where I come from are a certain shape and are typically red.” He said, “Well, this is New York City, and, depending at what point of history they were installed, they come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.”

A panicked four hours followed. The restaurant told me what tow yard I might find my truck and suggested I call 311 to confirm. The problem is that I had Canadian plates and 311 didn’t keep track of Canadian plates. I got transferred to the local precinct, but my phone kept dropping. I was tearing up because of the stressful situation. The staff at the restaurant helped me find the local precinct. The police assisted me in confirming which tow yard my truck was at. I took a taxi to the tow yard.

Throughout the situation, I caught myself panicking, negative thoughts penetrating my mind, not thinking of others around me. Instead of being calm, I chose to focus on the stupidity of the situation, the cost of getting my truck out of the tow yard, panicking if I couldn’t get my truck out before the tow yard closed for the night, wondering if I would be able to get home.

Since relocating to New York, I thought the police I came across on the city streets, parks, and subways were friendly, giving helpful directions to new residents and tourists that were lost. I think the police that don’t enjoy dealing with people must be assigned to the city tow yard.

As I approached the bright fluorescent and white institutional cement walls of the tow yard, there were others struggling to get their vehicles out before the end of the night. I approached a window with no one in front of it. A police woman saw me approaching and started shouting, “Back away, back away!” I asked, “Me?” She replied, “Yes you! You were not invited to approach! I repeat back away!”

Her aggression startled me. I hardly looked threatening, being emotionally beaten and defeated. I backed away submitting to the karmic winds of the night that seemed to intensify – throwing me back further into a gravitational pull, where I found myself on a hard cement floor.

A couple minutes later, I heard the same woman shout, “Get up here!” Cautious to not make her angrier, I asked, “Me?” somewhat timidly. “Yes, you! Come up to the counter!” My attempt not to make her angrier failed and I was about to cry in front of her.

Part of me wanted to defend myself, but I refrained. We went through the logistics of showing my identification and filling out paperwork. She seemed miserable. I saw her suffering, I saw my suffering, I saw our interconnectedness that was karmically bound by this moment. I gave myself just enough space in that moment to remember the acharya saying if we see ourselves in self-absorption, to look up. I looked up into space.

I’m not sure exactly why, but I just started laughing. I continued to smile at her. She looked back and laughed with me. Maybe she thought I was a bit crazy for laughing at my situation or maybe we just shared a moment. I’m not sure it really matters why, just that it happened.

At that moment, I stopped thinking of everything that was going wrong for me. I saw the reciprocal exchanges I had with others that evening. I realized that many people helped me – the maître d’, the officers at the precinct, the taxi cab driver, the police woman at the tow yard, the friends I called as tears flowed down my cheeks.

As two am was approaching, I got in my truck and drove north along the West River, going home for the night. As I started the ignition, the song on the radio was Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” Often when I hear a song in a situation, I forever link my memory to that song. I try to give it meaning in that moment. Many Marvin Gaye fans would say one of their favorite songs is 1971’s “What’s Going On?” Though he was singing about the war, it was a cry for how we treat each on a daily basis, to see, as he sings:

photo credit: untitledprojects via photopin cc

photo credit: untitledprojects via photopin cc

We don’t need to escalate,
You see, war is not the answer,
For only love can conquer hate,
You know we’ve got to find a way,
To bring some lovin’ here today…
Talk to me, so you can see.

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Stacey MitchellStacey Mitchell has worked over the last few years for different Shambhala Centers (Shambhala Mountain, Gampo Abbey, and Dorje Denma Ling). Stacey has followed the teachings of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, G.I. Gurdjieff, and Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche. She now resides in New York state, where she works for an international peace organization and continues to play poker.

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1 response to “ Getting Towed in Chelsea ”
  1. Barbara Elizabeth Stewart
    Oct 3, 2014

    Nice — that tow pound lady must face dozens of really belligerent people everyday — people furious at being towed and taking it out on her, yelling at her, swearing at her. What a job. Nice you had a human moment with her.

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