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A computer fix-up turned into more adventure than expected…

November 22, 2009, 4:52 PM

So on Saturday, I went down to Reston to visit my friend Matthew Tilley. The DVD drive on his computer was acting up, and so our goal was to confirm that it was actually a bad drive as HP tech support had indicated over the phone, and then if that turned out to be the case, to get a new drive.

So after dealing with traffic getting over there (heavier than usual due to the upcoming holiday), I made it to Matthew’s apartment complex. We hung the visitor’s pass on my car and parked in the designated visitor spots. We tested the drive, and it wouldn’t recognize anything short of one music CD, even after ensuring that the discs were clean of fingerprints. So that confirmed HP’s diagnosis – the drive was busted.

Not to worry, though – I came prepared. I brought tools, and so I popped the cover off his computer. Matthew’s computer is an HP Pavilion “Slimline” computer (like this). One thing about those miniature computers is, they don’t waste a lot of space. I’m used to tower computers with a lot of airspace in them, and this one was jammed with equipment just about everywhere. It certainly makes for a more delicate operation, as you could accidentally slip and take out an unrelated component. On the other hand, computers I’ve had, especially my old Gateway, have a lot of room to get in there with your hands and move stuff around.

Eventually, we figured out how the DVD drive was wedged in there, and got it out. One thing I found interesting was that the fan was kind of clipped in there on a plastic bracket. It snaps to the side of the optical drive on one side, and then snaps to the computer chassis on the other. Clever. Thankfully, that came out easily, though it was still a bit in the way until we realized it wasn’t hard-wired in there, but rather hooked to the motherboard via a connector. Once we made that realization, I pulled it completely out and placed it aside.

With the drive out, I verified what kind of connectors we needed (IDE), and then we went shopping. First stop: Target. Bad news: No internal drives. Drat. Next stop: Best Buy. There, we took our time. We looked at the new line of iMacs (*drool*), then at some of the PCs, where I got to take a few minutes to fiddle with Windows 7. I don’t have Windows 7 at home yet, and I’m in no hurry to upgrade from Vista until after my computer’s mid-life rehab in a few months.

And then we found the drives. We ended up getting an HP drive that matched the specs. And I opened the package to verify. Matthew got a little nervous about my opening the whole thing up in the store, but I was determined to make only one trip to Best Buy, and so I opened it up, looked at the back of the drive, verified that we had the right connections, and then boxed it back up. My justification was that if they didn’t like it, they could kick me out (and lose the sale). We also got a can of compressed air to blow out all the gunk that had accumulated in there. Then we swung by Quizno’s on the way back to grab some dinner.

Returning to Matthew’s house, we parked the car in the overflow section, we had our subs, and then did the computer. Now that I knew my way around his computer, the drive went in easily. I commented that it’s a shame that we weren’t doing a memory upgrade while we were already in there. See, the way his computer is laid out, when you lay it down flat, the optical drive is on top of the memory, and thus you would have to take the optical drive out anyway to put more memory in. That’s worth noting should Matthew want to add memory in the future.

So we got the new drive in, closed it up, and fired it up. It worked beautifully. The new drive was immediately welcomed by the computer as a new member of the family, and everything worked as expected. We were right – it was the drive.

So now, since it was getting late, I prepared to go home. I got my tools, my coat, and Matthew and I walked out to my car. I’m hitting the remote to open the car doors from a distance, and nothing happened. Matthew thought it was that we were too far away, but then we noticed an empty parking space. No car. I got towed. Matthew knew the name of the company that does the towing in his complex, and so I gave them a buzz. They had my car. Damn them. Turned out that none of us knew that the overflow parking was not for visitors after all, and the hired thieves known as Battlefield Towing had towed my car.

So we went back to Matthew’s apartment. After verifying that I could in fact retrieve the car right away, we got directions to the towing place (in Chantilly) on Google Maps, and got ready to go. Matthew wasn’t too sure about where we were going, but I have no fear when it comes to these things. I had directions, and so I gave them to him, and I ended up driving his car to get there. We had two problems going there – first of all, a wrong turn out of Matthew’s complex. Two or so miles later, we realized it. So we turned around. Then we were on the right track. The only other problem was that the towing place’s location was not exactly obvious. We went to the end of the road, and, not seeing any signs, went back, and investigated a few locations. I was looking for a large outdoor impound lot, and while we were investigating one potential location, I saw a tow truck go past with a car hooked up to it. I said, “Looks like they got themselves another customer!” and followed the tow truck in hot pursuit. There, we found the thieves’ den, and paid the $125 in ransom money to get my property back.

Once I paid the ransom, we went in to retrieve my car. Matthew and I got in, and we drove out of their indoor impound lot. I stopped just outside of their bay door to let Matthew out to get into his car. In doing so, I blocked two tow trucks in, knowing full well that I was doing so. Oh, I made sure to wait as long as I could before letting the thieves out, since they were waiting behind me, waiting for me to move so they could go find some more customers. Yes, I was doing that just to piss ’em off. One of them honked at me. My one regret of the evening was that I did not flip them off right then and there. I waited until Matthew pulled out of his space and into the street, and then I left, since of course, I couldn’t leave them trapped all night (though I would have loved to have done so).

So all in all, we had quite the adventure. The computer work was fun, and then the towing adventure was, in the end, kind of interesting, though it certainly shows what kind of slimeballs that these predatory towing companies are. But yeah, I’m laughing about the whole incident now, since in retrospect, it’s kind of funny, and I got to drive Matthew’s car in the middle of the night through parts of northern Fairfax County. His car reminds me of when I drove my sister’s car for a while in 2006 after I smashed into the deer. It handles like her car. And his car has the headlights that come out of the hood when they turn on, and from the driver’s seat, it looked like the car had frog eyes. I don’t know, but it amused me.

One also has to wonder why Matthew’s apartment complex sees it necessary to impose all these weird parking rules. For visitor parking, you have to have the pass, and park in designated visitor parking. And when the designated visitor parking is full, you’re out of luck, even if there are other spaces available. Seems overly complicated if you ask me. My complex keeps it simple. You get a visitors’ pass from the management office for the time you expect to have your guests over, and then as long as the visitor’s car has the pass on the dashboard, they just park. My complex has designated handicapped parking, and a designated spot for the maintenance supervisor, but otherwise, it’s first come first serve.

Web site: About predatory towing in Falls Church

Song: You broke the Internet!

Quote: So all in all, the towing run was a fun adventure, though not one I'd particularly like to repeat...