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The HeliOS Project is now.....
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Thursday, June 04, 2009

How to screw a kid's day up

This isn't really for anything else but public record.

It's important that it is recorded. If for nothing else, the searchable text that will insure the proper dissemination of information. You'll see in a moment.

Last Wedensday was a busy day for us. With 4 HeliOS Project installs and a HeliOS Solutions appointment, my day started at 6 am. A boh reader and Linux guy named Jason had asked us to go out to Elgin Texas and install Linux on his mom's computer so HeliOS Solutions was happy to oblige. Fact is, due to circumstance, she was eligible for a new compter from The HeliOS Project so what turned out to be an install morphed into a very good day for this fine lady.

She got a great deal for a C-note I would say. Heck, it's a pretty good deal for anyone I would think.

Arriving at North Bluff Estates in South Austin, we found that two of our installs were across the street from each other. One location to unload the Rodeo for 2 installs was a good thing. We knocked on the door of the first install, introduced ourselves and unloaded their computer and got to work. About 20 minutes into the install I realized I needed a VGA to DVI adapter and stepped out to my car to get it.

Or where my car HAD been. Holy crap on a cracker, someone had stolen our vehicle.

I should have been so lucky.

It seems that the North Bluff Estates property management company has a policy that prohibits cars parking on the grass. That seems reasonable. Grass is hard enough to keep alive in the Texas heat without having to battle leaking motor oil and various toxic fluids that drip from older cars. In this neighborhood, that's about all there is. When I imagine someone parking "on the grass", I picture an entire car sitting squarely amongst the greenery, touching nary a bit of road surface.

Personally, I don't consider this "parking on the grass".

Fact is, rule or not; there is nothing posted at the entrance of the mobile home park about this rule, nor is there any such warning posted throughout the entire neighborhood about one's vehicle being towed away for said infringement. As well, if you are in an area that allows for towing off of personal property, you are required to have signs posted telling you where you can pick your car up.

Seems that less than six inches of tire sitting on a grass surface here is enough to get you towed to the automotive hoosegow.

Bad move.

See, I owned two towing companies here in Austin in the early 90's. Doing a quick check with the city of Austin, I discovered the rules of vehicle impounding have not changed. Again, you must post warnings of tow-able offenses and you must post signs in reasonable places telling you where to go to pay the ransom and pick up your recently-kidnapped car. This being "private property" may let them off the hook for this particular fact, In thinking about it, I'm now second guessing my own knowledge here. Regardless, it's still sleazy.

They are seriously out of city ordinance compliance in other areas anyway. This is a matter I will personally bring up to the licensing board in the morning. In talking with a few of the older residents of North Bluff Estates, I found out that this place is bought and sold more than a US Congressman's vote and every time someone new buys it, they jack the rent up as far as the law allows. Because the population of this neighborhood is largely Hispanic, no one complains much about anything...many are not in a hurry to explain to law enforcement about their current citizenship status. Good hard-working people these folks are. We've done a lot of work in here in the past. I don't give a damn what language they speak.

What we have here is obviously a true and compassionate landlord.

So we had little choice. I spent most of the day borrowing the 200 bucks, trying to get the vehicle released. I made them stand there while I inventoried the contents of the vehicle. I wasn't in too much of a hurry to get it done. They couldn't care even less that we can't do installs for a week...we'll have to pay our debt before we do anything else. Once we do that, then we'll get back on course.

Making them witness me inventorying the contents of my vehicle wasn't much solace.

You ever seen the inside of my vehicle?

To equate it to a poorly kept computer parts facility would be kind.

A computer junkyard on wheels is probably more apt. I can almost see a dozen heads shaking in unison right now..the poor souls who have had to ride amongst the carnage within my car.

So anyway...all of this being said, the fine folks at North Bluff Estates couldn't care less about any of this. Here's where they should. We HAD 41 kids here scheduled to receive HeliOS Project computers during the last half of 2009.

They won't be receiving them from us.

I can't afford any more arbitrary impounds of our vehicle so some tow truck driver can make a quick 20 bucks. What's the next reason for impound? Bad paint job? mismatched tires? We've started making the calls and letter-mailings today, informing the un-chosen why they are un-chosen and our deepest regrets.

The people at North Bluff Estates simply do not care. Having been in the business, I would be interested to see the name of the person who signed the contract with the towing company...I mean just to see. I would never even come close to suggesting anything as unscrupulous as a kickback arrangement back to the management or anything.

The point of the matter is that they truly don't care.

They made it a point to say as much.

All-Righty then

EDIT - We have made arrangements to do the installs in this neighborhood. A few of the suggestions in the comments have been accepted and acted upon. Thanks for the ideas...your instincts were correct, there are "residents" that will not allow our vehicles to be towed again.



Nikonoel said...

OMFG! When I see such a stupid behavior, I just tell myself I think I'm finally NOT gonna move to the US.

Unknown said...

Welcome to the world of preditory towing. Tow first, ask questions later. Only thing you can do is just not go there.

Unknown said...

That is despicable. Do they not even have driveways that you could park in to avoid this problem in the future?

Unknown said...

That was "parking on the grass"? Geez. That's beyond lame.

PV said...

I haven't heard of stupidity on this order before.

a Linux Mint 6 user since 1 May 2009

Amenditman said...

Sometimes, when business is slow, the towing company just cruises through the neighborhood and checks if there are any offenders they can nab. The management company and their neighborhood rats don't even need to report a problem.

Even better, the management company encourages this predatory behavior.

Shame for the families who live there and need our help though. Perhaps they could come to us and we could help them at the HeliOS Project International Headquarters.

Sum Yung Gai said...

I got nailed with predatory towing one time, too. So, I paid 'em with my VISA card...then issued a chargeback. :-)

As for these 41 kids, maybe you could arrange meeting at a friendly school's gymnasium with these 41 families. This way, they can come get their computers, take 'em home, and they're off to the races. What do you think?


Unknown said...


We're working on it...maybe over thksgvng/xmas break when I can get a school library close by.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about this.
As the person in charge of having parking violators towed from the company property, I would like to suggest to these people a method that I find to be nearly 100% effective in solving the issue completely:
Find the driver (or just leave a note on their windshield), politely explain the policy, and ask them to move their vehicle. Works every time for me.


Anonymous said...

I would be interested to see the name of the person who signed the contract with the towing company...I mean just to see. I would never even come close to suggesting anything as unscrupulous as a kickback arrangement back to the management or anything.

Ken, I know you stated this TIC but I think you realize this corruption is rampant. It is more often the Tow truck company that approaches the property manager with this and it's done behind closed doors with no witnesses. Impounding as you know is an extremely lucrative business and it's competitive as well.

Sleazy isn't the word I'd use but you are a bit more restrained than me. I would however think carefully about not letting these children pay for the sins of some uncaring corporation. I live in Dallas and I would be glad to come down and help in a neutral facility.


James Dixon said...

Well, the good news is that arm is apparently better. Did the music help? :)

As for this, I've seen it before but never been directly involved. But you're correct that this incident is far more egregious than any I've heard of before. Of course, things like this are why I choose to live in the country rather than a city/town.

Unknown said...


Give 'er one more shot, but this time....... have someone guard the vehicle in question, especially someone who is allowed to carry a firearm.

kozmcrae said...

I absolutely did NOT hear anyone say FLASH MOB!

James said...

How about you just park properly in designated parking spaces?

Unknown said...

"How about you just park properly in designated parking spaces?

Geez dood, I wish I had thought of, how dumb of me!

if they had "designated spaces", I would have been in one. This is a slum of the first order and people get shot or knifed there on a weekly basis.

Ironically, I understand many of those assaults take place over the few "designated spaces" they do have.

Assuming that the person you are addressing is an idiot isn't always the best way to start a conversation.


Michelle Minkin said...

"This is a slum of the first order and people get shot or knifed there on a weekly basis."

See helios, some people do not take into consideration the potential danger you put yourself into when you do what you do. I remember when you were stabbed down on first street. My guess is that most anyone commenting here wouldn't go where you go to do what you do.

And that includes me. The difference between me and them is that I take into consideration the risks you take. So on behalf of those who look down at you for what you do, thank you for doing it. At least I did not assume you carelessly parked. Then again, I know you.


Anonymous said...

Ken, I took a drive over to South Austin to look this place over. Man, I know you are licensed to conceal and carry, I hope you go into places like that armed. I found myself putting my gun on the front seat as I drove through those streets. There are obvious gang members on every other corner, "signing" their territory as you drive by. From the picture, I can see how you parked and the way it is layed out, you damned near HAVE to part partially on the grass to keep your a$$ off the street.

You are my man Ken. If this is typical of the places you have to go to do what you do, I have a whole new appreciation and respect for you.

Be safe bro.


Unknown said...

Slime exist everywhere. Sorry that you ran into them, and they messed up an install.

I like how you posted on your blog, that's one way to get the word out of what scum these people are. But I'm a vengeful sort, and I'd like to see them hit harder than this.

President Obama has appointed Aneesh Chopra as Chief Technology Officer of the United States. Presidential appointees like to take office, and make an immediate impression. I would write to Mr. Chopra about your experience, naming the towing company as well as the estate, asking for his support for charitable organizations that are being preyed on by predators like these. Don't ask him for money, ask what he would suggest you do.

Yes, I know he's a busy man, yours is a small charity, and he's got many things on his mind. My experience with appointees in government is that they are always interested in what is happening, even if they can't do anything, and they definitely can't do anything if they don't know about the problem.

And pardon me, but with 40 some odd families waiting for computers, it isn't a small problem.

Oh, and one other suggestion. Let the local street gang know what you are doing, and ask them to watch your truck. Yeah, a lot of them aren't nice guys, they do drugs, etc. But there are a lot of them who do care about their local community, and most of them have real problems with authority... Like those idiots who would tow a vehicle being used by a charity to deliver charitable goods in their community.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I live in Austin on William Cannon but on the West side of 35. That place has been a crap hole and a crack distibution point for as long as I can remember. It fits right into the Dove Springs mentality. "If you haven't seen them before, shoot them."

Those people are nothing but slumlords helios. I highly suspect they get big kickbacks from the tow truck company weekly. If there are a lot of cars towed from there, then that is a pretty good indication that they are taking money.

Unknown said...

MadHatter, that's good thinking.


aikiwolfie said...

This is why I'm glad I don't live in America and don't ever want to live there even though I know a lot of people their I count as friends.

It seems anything goes unless you're big enough to stand upto the bullies.

Michael Hall said...

This sounds like just the kind of "On your side" investigative journalism local TV news craves. You should drop some of them a note explaining how you were prevented from doing good by this incident, it would be a great promotion of HeliOS to boot!

I'm not saying flash mob, but if someone should happen to list the email addresses or phone numbers of some local Austin media, well who knows what would happen.

Amenditman said...


That's the best suggestion I've heard yet.