Towed You So

If you’ve been to Park City during the Sundance Film Festival, then your car has been towed. During the time when the most people visit the town, that’s when the city decides no one’s allowed to park there. It’s like inviting guests over for dinner and then setting the front door on fire before they arrive. Sometimes Park City builds new parking lots just to declare no one can park in them.

For the record, I was not parked illegally when I was towed Friday night. I was parked in an officially designated Sundance parking lot. Allegedly, I was “blocking an entrance,” which I honestly do not understand, since I entered through the entrance, drove another 100 feet or so, and then parked parallel to everyone else. Perhaps what the tow guy meant was not that I was “blocking an entrance,” but that he “wanted to steal $170 from someone.”

I tried to explain to the tow guy, whose name was Gus (names have been changed), that my car should not have been towed. But I didn’t try very hard. For one thing, I feared explaining something sufficiently for a tow-truck driver to understand would tax the limits of my vocabulary and reasoning skills, since tow-truck drivers tend to be that unfortunate combination of 1) stubborn and 2) stupid. For another thing, never in the history of mankind has a tow-truck driver said, “OK, you’re right. We shouldn’t have towed you. There will be no charge, and I apologize for the inconvenience.” If a tow-truck driver’s brain ever even attempted to combine those words in that order, his head would explode. (Raise your hand if you would like to see this.)

Gus used airtight logic in explaining things to me. He said, “You must have been parked illegally, because you got towed.” In other words: “I towed you because you were parked illegally. How do I know you were parked illegally? Because I towed you.” Similarly, all tow-truck drivers smell like a combination of cigarettes, B.O., and engine grease. How do you know they smell like a combination of cigarettes, B.O., and engine grease? Because they’re tow-truck drivers.

But I have gotten ahead of myself. Before I even talked to Gus, I had to talk to the nice folks at the Park City Police Department. They believed the car to be in their possession, so I paid them the $80 and waited for an officer to arrive and show me where the impound lot was. Then we discovered that in fact, PCPD had turned the job over to a private company, Summit Service, and it was in their lot.

Fine. No problem. As long as SOMEONE had the car, I didn’t really care who. (Well, within reason. I wouldn’t want Drew Barrymore driving it, for example, or Hitler.) I called Summit on the phone and was told by Gus — you remember Gus — that since it was after hours, he could not release the vehicle. I would have to come back the next day, he said, and when I told him I had no place to stay in Park City overnight, he told me that, well, then, I shouldn’t have gotten my car towed. That’s when I tried to explain I hadn’t INTENDED for the car to be towed, and that it SHOULDN’T have been towed, but you know how far I got with that.

Mind you, Gus had towed the car only an hour earlier, so he wasn’t opposed to working after hours. It was working after hours when it might actually HELP someone that he was opposed to. Stealing a car, fine. Giving it back again, no.

(And it is stealing, by the way. If your kid were on my property without my permission and I responded by locking him in my closet until you paid a large amount of money — cash only, please, and the amount might change according to my whims — you would have me arrested.)

After much humiliation and begging and pleading on my part, I finally persuaded Gus to meet me at the impound lot and release the car. He told me to get my $80 back from PCPD, because I would need it to pay him. He sounded like he was the greatest martyr the world had ever known for doing this. He did not specifically SAY that he thought I should teach my children to pray in his name, but it was implied.

But there is more to the story. The $80 turned into a lot more, it was really cold outside, and Gus told me about his new bed. Join us Friday for the harrowing conclusion to this greasy story.

I have a friend who once played Juliet in a production of "Romeo and Juliet." At the time, she described her disgusting co-star as always smelling like a combination of cigarettes, B.O. and grease. That image has stuck with me all these years.

What a dreadful experience this was. It was so dreadful, it took two columns to retell it. It reminded me of my terrible airport experience at Christmas, in that no matter what I did, it just kept getting worse.

Response to this column was immediate and clear: The tow-truck drivers of Utah Valley were angry. So were their wives and mothers. All of these people called me and three of my editors. (Yes, someone's mother really did call.)

The gist of the calls was this: 1) Not all tow-truck drivers are smelly. 2) Tow-truck drivers provide a valuable service, too, helping people when their cars have broken down and whatnot.

I don't disagree with either of these points. The only reason I brought up the smell thing was to rebut the idea that in ALL cases, if your car was towed, you MUST have been parked illegally. Just as there are exceptions to that generalization, there are exceptions to the smelly-driver generalization, too.

And I certainly agree with the second point, and I made sure to bring up the distinction between good tow-truck drivers and bad ones in part two of the story.

But let's look at another issue here. What I said (or implied) about tow-truck drivers was that they tend to be smelly, stubborn and stupid. With the exception of the drivers themselves (and their families), most people will agree with that. Maybe they wouldn't say it in public, but deep down inside, that's the current stereotype about tow-truck drivers. Stereotypes are a major part of comedy, and that fact only bothers people when the stereotype turns out to be about them.

For the record, years ago I worked for an answering service that had a towing company as a client. We had to take their calls and dispatch their drivers. It was then that I realized how stupid, stubborn and smelly they tended to be. My experience in Park City merely reminded me of it.

A few of the angry callers also pointed out that I probably had been illegally parked. That point is irrelevant. Whether I should have been towed or not, Gus certainly should have released the vehicle -- especially considering he'd only towed it an hour earlier. My guilt or innocence was not the issue, and I spent very little time on it in the column. In part two, I didn't mention it at all.

Did I mention Gus himself called? Yeah, he did. He wasn't happy. He was still stuck on the notion that he had done me a huge favor, and THIS is the way I repay him! Read part two and tell me what a nice guy Gus is.

We received this letter to the editor the very day the column was printed. Notice how well he refutes the notion that tow-truck drivers are stupid by his clear and lucid writing.

Dear Editor,

My name is [name]. I am twenty three years old, and I am a tow truck driver. I have been driving tow truck for about a year and a half. I drive for two different tow companies. I drive for "FLYING ACE TOWING" and "DYNAMIC TOWING". And I am writing into reponse to the ignorant and egotistical remarks of a Mr. Eric Snider. I called to confront him on his article that came out in the Jan. 23rd 2002 Daily Herald. I told him that I didn't think that it was fair that he piled all the tow truck drivers and tow companies into the same group. His only defense was that he didn't base his opinion on his only bad experience. But that he had actually worked for a tow company doing dispatch for them. So basically what he meant was that he smells like B.O., cigarette smoke, and engine grease too. [Because for sure answering a phone is the same thing as driving a tow truck.] As for the rest of us tow truck drivers; we like to take what us Neanderthals like to call a shower! Maybe you should try it Mr. Snider! (your co-workers might like you more!)

Maybe if he hadn't been driving and parking with his head up is brightest side maybe he would see and notice that there is a legal and an illegal way to park. There are about 20 different tow companies in the Provo area. And with the exceptions of one or two I would trust my car with any of them. [That wasn't the issue. I believe the only people I said I didn't trust with my car were Drew Barrymore and Hitler.] I hear people complain about the tow truck drivers and their rates. But if you look it's always someone who is parked wrong or driving illegally. [Wouldn't the people who WEREN'T doing anything wrong be the ones who would complain the most about towing fees?] No one ever complains when they have been in an accident and need our assistance or when we are helping the law enforcement take drunk drivers off the road. You give me a city where there is no tow truck drivers and I will show you a city with arrogant drivers parking wherever they please (such as Mr. Snider) [because you were there and you saw where I parked] and illegal drivers doing as they please. So next time you want to base you opinion on honest tow truck drivers. Give me a call and I will take you out on my next run at 2:30 in the morning. When we go to pick up a car that has wrapped around a tree. Because the driver was to drunk to drive. Oh and Mr. Snider I bet you watch where you park next time!

[name] (who don't smoke! And showers daily!)

Who don't smoke. And showers daily! Hooray.

This one showed up a few days later. Note that it uses the words "shocked" and "appalled," and that it compares me to the KKK:
Dear Sir or Madame:

I was appalled and shocked at the blatant prejudice and impartial judgment [I'm assuming he didn't mean "impartial," since that means "fair, unprejudiced or balanced"] that was displayed by Eric Snider that was displayed in the "Snide Remarks" section [Ooh, a whole "Snide Remarks" section would be AWESOME!] of the Daily Herald Newspaper, dated January 23, 2002. If I were to make similar assumptions about all journalists the way he did I would say all journalists are prejudiced, intolerant, judgmental jerks. [You'd be right, too.] But what I refuse to do is profile and lump all people in the same category from one incident. [Oh, if only my remarks had been based on only ONE run-in with tow-truck drivers!]

His categorizing all tow truck companies and operators is offensive too say the least. The majority of tow truck operators and businesses are honest hard working contributors to the communities that they live in. In fact I venture to say that some would consider them a lifesaver (i.e. when you drive your car off the road in Provo Canyon with a foot of snow on the ground at 3:00 a.m. in the morning). These individuals and companies are out at all time of the night (when others are cuddled under their electric blankets asleep) performing a noble service for those in need. [Except in the incident I described in the column, where the noble driver refused to get out of his new bed to go do his job.] For Eric to categorize all tow truck drivers as stubborn, stupid, smelly, unintelligent, persons are ridiculous. He might as well wear a white pillowcase on his head and join the KKK, because he is perpetuating stereotypes and prejudice just as that organization does. [Especially the part where I said we should kill all tow-truck drivers in order to keep the non-tow-truck-driver race pure!]

Perhaps Eric wrote this poor excuse for an article in his rage (I can't imagine any up-standing person in their right mind would make these stereotypes) [How sad that he has NO IDEA what the average person thinks of tow-truck drivers! Does he think I just made up these stereotypes?] and we should write-off the article as foolishness. Maybe these are words said that he now understands were imprudent. [Nope.] Perhaps he will write a retraction when he comes to his senses. [Again, nope.] But, until that time anything he writes will be disregarded as outlandish nonsense [ah, so he HAS caught on to the purpose of the column!] from a bellyaching immature journalist who had one bad experience and decided to take it out on an entire group of people.

Then there was this e-mail:
Eric I hope you are getting slammed with E-mail ['cause that'll show ME!] about the lack of intelligence you have.Tow Drivers are a range of different types of People we are everything from Computer Programmers to Small Business owners just trying to make a few extra dollars to feed our families since here in Utah the wages are so high. Some Tow Truck Drivers are exactly as you say but they are the minority in the group. You should do some research into what you are slamming before you offend a large number of people and should put the blame where it belongs. The biggest problem with your attitude is if you drive around parking lots and really look at how many people park illegally you might think twice about blaming the Tow Truck Driver for getting out of bed late in the evening and responding to the Police Dept. call to remove a vehicle that can't walk a few extra feet to park legally. ['Cause for sure there are plenty of legal spaces, just sitting there unused, during the film festival.] Just remember if you get stuck at 2:00 in the morning who is going TOW your Car for you get you gas or unlock your car or even better rescue your wife or family member.I hope you have a great day and you better drive nice cars that don't break down. Matt

A full eight days after the column ran, I came back from lunch to find this voice mail. The voice was that of a smoker, and the woman had a thick Chicago accent. It was so delightful, I transcribed it.
Hi Eric Snider, my name is Michelle and I own a dispatching service for the towing industry. I happen to service a lot of towing companies all over the world, and it's brought upon me your story that you had written in your paper, which I don't know why anybody would even let this be published. I think you are very incorrect. I think your ignorance for the towing industry is beyond recognizable.

How dare you speak of the towing industry and the drivers and everybody in it the way that you have spoken in your article. You say that they smell like a combination of cigarettes, B.O. and engine grease -- I mean, what is that? Is that very professional of you to speak in that manner of anyone? You think that you're much better? [Well, I don't smell bad, if that's what you're asking.]

You say that a tow truck driver is unfortunate combination of stubborn and stupid? Who gives you the right to speak of anybody in this manner? [The First Amendment. Why do people always ask that? I thought "freedom of speech" was common knowledge.]

The point here is, is you were illegally parked. [That's funny, because the issue of whether I was illegally parked is precisely NOT the point. The point of the column was unfair towing practices and prices, NOT being towed without just cause.] I deal with companies that do relocations, and that's what it's called, relocations and removals. When your car is illegally parked, they have every right to come in there and tow your car away. [I would apologize for suggesting otherwise, except that I DIDN'T suggest otherwise.] You are no better than the next person who is illegally parked just because, what, you work for the paper, you feel that you should be cut some slack? There is no slack. And as defensive as you were in your article, and as criticizing as you were to our industry in your article, proves your guilt of parking illegally. [Nicely done, Matlock.] It's not your property to park on, it's somebody else's property that doesn't want your car on there. [Actually, as mentioned in the column, it was public property, marked as Sundance parking.] That is what we are hired for.

People like you disgust me as well as the rest of the industry that I can speak upon. I cannot believe that you have that much ignorance. Of course, you go to voice mail because you're probably getting tons of calls due to your ignorance. He has every right to charge you an after-hour release, and he has every right to make you wait until the next day, and I think he should have. And then you pretend to listen to him? He's a person like you or me. [Well, like you, maybe.] You should have more respect for the human life. You shouldn't even be working in that industry, for a newspaper. I'm going to tell your editor this, and I'm sure you're going to have more lawsuits than just one for this. They should be ashamed to have you as a writer. Next time check into it a little further before writing your ignorance remarks.

Michelle was not the first person to throw out the word "lawsuit." Apparently, some people think it is possible to defame an occupation or group, which it is not. If it were, all the blondes would have banded together by now and sued the Internet for spreading all those lies about them.