Sunday, April 13, 2008

Towing Utopia Gets...TOWED!!!!!

(Rusty but trusty, the "Vernie Mobile" pictured in front of my apartment in St. Paul)

Summary: I'm not down on tow truck drivers at all. Tell me your colorful tales, and I will celebrate the good you do!

Stuck In The Worse Part Of Minneapolis, Needing A Tow

I knew this day would come, judging by the car I drive. Sooner or later, I'd have to call a tow truck on myself, due to a mechanical malfunction. And the driver would see the message on the back (GOT A TOWING HORROR STORY, WWW.TOWINGUTOPIA.COM) and would ask about it, pointedly.

That day came. Busted tension spring on my serpentine belt, and the battery went dead due to I-don't-know-what, but I suspect the glove box light. It happened in North Minneapolis, in a place where you don't want your car to this case, the driveway of the house I own on 6th Street North, where I board up crack houses to revitalize my newly-adopted community, devastated by mortgage fraud, but that's another tale for another day...or another blog.

The driver swore he ran over a crack pipe as he hauled my car on his flatbed. He said, "I could see the Brillo pad sticking out of it."

He was not the first tow truck I called, though I have "M & E" towing in the speed dial of my cell phone, based on a previous positive experience. The place where I brought my car, Highland Tire Auto Service, Inc., is a Hmong-owned business and they immediately recommended "Hmong Towing Service."

Well, I figured, why not? The driver would know the location, after all. So I called Hmong Towing Service. The person who picked up said he didn't have the tow truck today, but he could give me the number of the guy who had the truck. (I think he said it was his brother) I called the other number but I could only leave a message. I wasn't going to sit around waiting, so I began calling other tow truck services from a handful of business cards the owner of Highland Tire had behind his desk.

One "business card" was a phone number written on a scrap of paper. I called this one thinking, "Well, I bet his price will be good." The guy who picked up told me, in a deep and sad blues-singer voice, "I ain't got that tow truck no more."

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True...

Hmong Towing Service suddenly called back. He said he would "beat any price" to tow my vehicle, especially since the actual tow was a matter of TWO BLOCKS. Forty bucks, he said, to tow it. If I would consider having the repairs done at his shop in Maplewood, he'd tow my vehicle FOR FREE.

Though I preferred to have the repairs done at Highland Tire, a forty-dollar tow sounded wonderful. How could I resist? The only problem was I had to wait for an hour.

To save so much money, I was willing to wait an hour. No problem. I sat in the waiting room of Highland Tire and watched the fascinating social interactions. It was Saturday and the owner's children were hanging around, playing and watching videos, including an interesting romance (all in Thai or Vietnamese) called "Honesty."

I couldn't understand a word of the video, but I was moved. I actually shed tears. This medical intern (so shy, so sincere, with such a promising future in medicine) in love with a beautiful girl, but afraid to express his feelings...until a handsome rascal playboy with a broken foot (from jumping out of a bedroom window?) teaches him some valuable romantic lessons, backed up by a musical chorus of colorful n'er-do-wells who seem to be hanging around the hospital.

So I sat there for an hour, watching "Honesty" and another movie about a guy who switches bodies with a dog, accomplished by--what else?--a freak lightening storm. (Even in another language, I saw it coming a mile away)

Exactly an hour later, I began trying to call the tow truck. And I called. Every ten minutes, I called, until another half hour was burned up. One of the young girls took a phone call. Naturally, I didn't know what the phone call was about, because they were speaking Hmong. Their expressiveness in two languages was fascinating...they would speak Hmong sprinkled with English, and English sprinkled with Hmong.

It was obvious the little boy was learning some of his English from the rough neighborhood right outside the door. He told his sister, "I will kick your (expletive) if you get all up in my business."

The girl behind the desk told me Hmong Towing Service had called. They were sorry, but they were really behind and wouldn't be able to tow me today.

"I just waited for an hour," I said, teeth on edge. I asked for the phone number which had just called. She gave it to me. There was a baby in the room. I said, "It is best I go outside, you probably don't want the baby to hear this."

I stood in blowing snow flurries and left a blistering message on the voice mail. And then I called M & E Towing like I should have done in the first place. The driver said "half an hour" and he was there in exactly half an hour.

While I waited, the young girls kindly shared a slice of pizza with me. It had an entire layer of hot peppers. It was good, though. I wolfed it down. They knew all the jingles to the various pizza delivery companies, and had been singing them, earlier.

Tales From The Tow Side

The driver's called himself "Bear" and said he'd been a tow truck driver for 15 years, but had been a mechanic for a while. Just recently he had returned to his first love, which was towing.

Bear seemed to freeze when he saw the message on the rear of my car. I had to say, "Yeah, I run a blog, but it's about abusive non-consent towing practices. Something like this--you towing my car because of a mechanical problem--that's more like the free market. I'm not into that so much."

In fact, I told him, I wouldn't mind collecting some interesting stories from tow truck drivers. I'm not against tow truck drivers at all, I said, it's the city governments which really need to wake up and smell the transmission fluid.

Right away Bear had a story. He'd once towed a 1968 Bel Air. The driver had hit a median at 140 miles an hour. The front bumper ended up where the doors were supposed to be, and the engine was found in the trunk.

"Well, what happened to the driver?" I asked.

He was just in pieces.

Another time, Bear said, he saved the life of a woman and two children. He arrived first at the accident scene, coming upon a car tipped over in a swamp. He put a line on it and flipped it up. Inside the car was a mother and two children, alive.

I wanted to know if Bear took pictures of any of this stuff. He kind of shrugged. I said if he would share his stories and pictures, I'd tell his stories of tow truck heroism. Bear said it was his mother who was more into computers.

"Mama Bear?" I asked, with a grin.

Bear showed off a little. His ability to judge clearance is amazing. He got my car into the work bay at Highland tire with half an inch of clearance to spare. I even took a picture of it.

"Watch this!" he'd said, grinning, as he put the truck into reverse.

My one complaint: M & E doesn't take credit cards.

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