Abandoned Car



Neighborhood: Caroll Gardens

I’m a 54-year-old New Yorker who lives three blocks from the Brooklyn row house I grew up in.

The last 18 months have brought a lot of changes to my neighborhood. Storefronts on Carroll Garden’s Smith Street are boarded up, the sidewalks are lined with restaurant lean-tos, and street parking is more unattainable than ever.

There are a number of reasons for that last category, but one is the recent scourge of abandoned cars. In the late 80’s then-Mayor Koch promised to find and fine abandoned car owners  $500. This time, though, no one seems to be doing much about Brooklyn’s permanent parkers.

When Covid first hit there was a blue Volvo station wagon on my block that never moved. It drew my attention because its sunroof leaked, which meant whenever it was hot the inside of the vehicle would fog up. It reminded me of the dust covered cars left behind in Metro North parking lots after 9-11. I called 311 maybe a dozen times, called my state assemblywoman and state senator… nada. I called the local precinct over and over again. But the car remained.

As I’d circle the block searching for parking I’d think about the spot that should be vacant and remember all the times my car had been ingloriously towed. That mixture of relief and anger as the operator confirmed my car was at the Brooklyn Navy impound yard. Thank god it wasn’t stolen! Which almost instantaneously morphed into an indignant and unjustified – those bastards!

Every time I walked the dog, grabbed a coffee, or put out the trash I’d see that station wagon. I’d relive the 5 to 10 minute process of calling and complaining to 311 – pretending to take down the confirmation number for the service request I knew would go unanswered. It was frustrating, maddening and made me feel powerless – stuck in a city that didn’t work. No matter what I did, the Volvo remained.

Soon it was joined by a white Ford van in far worse shape with a well-aged Krylon paint job barely obscuring the graffiti it was meant to cover.

The Volvo took more than a year to get removed from the block. Now the van, with two flat tires, was the sole survivor. Weekly 311 calls were made, and it still took an additional 9 months. Nevertheless, its disappearance made me giddy – even if those newly liberated parking spaces were seemingly never available.

Then, almost as soon as the scofflaw Tin Lizzys were gone, a new sidewalk squatter emerged. In May, I began to wonder if the 10-year-old Mazda, parked directly in front of my house, had also been abandoned. It’s registration was current, but it never moved and bright orange tickets accumulated on its windshield – one a week.

The dance had begun again. Call 311 – please hold for your complaint number. Call my local precinct – explain to the officer, no this isn’t an emergency.

Several months in I noticed a message keyed into the driver’s side door, “move your car!” But the rough stencil missed the point. It was no one’s car anymore. I’d seen this movie before and I knew it played in long, drawn out, multiple parts. New York City’s bureaucracy was undefeated, unhurried and unimpressed by my pleas to remove the abandoned hulk – even when I’d get a repeat 311 operator whom I’d talked to previously.

Suddenly, an idea.

What if I took a non-permanent, yellow, wax crayon and wrote on the windshield in block letters DEFUND THE POLICE. I imagined it would certainly get the attention of the NYPD. Might that speed up the process?

Last night, right as it turned dark, I did the deed. The result was less impressive than I imagined. You could only see the thin scrawled words from a certain angle. The handwriting was messy and rushed, making it almost illegible. But in the right light you could make it out. A three-inch high message, DEFUND THE POLICE.

If this was a social experiment, the results were immediate. Less than 24 hours after the windshield graffiti appeared, New York’s impenetrable administration and recalcitrant NYPD were moved to action. The Mazda was impounded. I even watched the blue and white tow truck hook it up and pull it away the very next morning.

I guess you just need to ask the right way.


Christian Martin is a husband, father of two almost grown kids, dog-owner and former basketballer. He has worked in media for 30 years at NBC News, A+E Networks, SiriusXM, Martha Stewart, iVillage, Marquee Brands and many others. 

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§ 8 Responses to “Abandoned Car”

  • Angelique says:

    A perfect New York story. Very clever and funny (ish) solution to a frustrating problem. I definitely felt Christian’s pain with the mixture of relief and fury once I found out my car had been towed and not stolen.

  • Loved it! Funny, well written, identifies real problem an offers a solution!

  • David Ewing says:

    Hi Christian, Been a long time. I hope you are well.
    David Ewing

  • TSB says:

    This subject is close to my heart. And that of Calvin Trillin, Baumbachs Jonathan and Noah, Mary Norris, The Comma Queen, and many others. It’s good most of the way… and then its great.

    But, as this is a NYC site, allow me to complain. I wish you had held this beat a little longer: “Last night, right as it turned dark, I did the deed.” You know, “The sky was clear, birds chirped, a car backfired in the distance and I went into a panic…” Something to hold that moment, let us be there with you. But you can fix it when I put it in the anthology about parkingh that this piece has inspired me to do. Thank you for it.

  • MacSamurai says:

    There’s been a Kia Forte parked in front of our Cobble Hill co-op since January. Many of us on the block have gone through the same 311 and local precinct routines many many times. In our case the car has CT plates and registration that expired 8 months before it landed here. It hasn’t been reported stolen. It accumulates a few tickets each week but they don’t even bother writing a new ticket each day. Since there’s no one registered to bill for the tickets or the tow or the storage, I suspect it will remain here for the foreseeable future.

  • Priscilla Fales says:

    Well written and even though I was born in NYC, I have never lived there. Even so, I feel your frustration. Poor you……

  • Jeffrey Loeb says:

    Great piece—witty, long-sufffering, and unfortunately true to life.

  • Christian Martin says:

    I’m not the author of this piece, and for whatever reason these replies go to my email address. I stopped by to say thanks for an entertaining read and a clever resolution to the problem, Name Twin!

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