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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Winter Doldrums

I guess you’d call this one, “When crazy battled stupid.” At about 1 AM on Tuesday, December 4th. The driver of a Dodge Caravan was northbound on Interstate 15 outside of Victorville, California. He was doing about 80 mph, and weaving in and out of the light traffic. But just south of the Stoddard Wells Road exit he got caught behind a slower Toyota Corolla and after several frustrating miles he pulled up next to the Corolla, flashed some id, and motioned for the driver to pull over into the breakdown lane. The driver complied and the Caravan pulled up next to him in the slow lane. The Caravan driver got out and approached the driver’s side window of the Corolla and identified himself as an FBI agent. The Corolla driver asked for a better look at his i.d., so the Caravan driver punched the obnoxious slowpoke in the nose, breaking his glasses. I guess his FBI stood for “Force Beats Intelligence”.
The twerp then hit his accelerator and made his escape, and probably feeling satisfied that at least he had punished the 4-eyed jerk who had been annoying him for so many miles, the puncher got back into his Caravan and was about to pull away when a huge Peterbilt dump truck plowed into the rear of his unofficial FBI Caravan, instantly killing the not-an-actual FBI agent, 24 year old Mr. Kyle Barry. The Peterbilt driver was uninjured (thank God) and the California Highway Patrol decided not to charge him. They are now awaiting alcohol and drug results before guessing why Mr. Barry was driving like such a dick and why he chose that particular morning to impersonate Fox Mulder, and why the Corolla had willingly pulled over on a lonely and dark stretch of highway just because the guy tailgating him had asked him to.
That same night, Tuesday December 4th, at about 8:30 PM., snow plow driver Steven Jensen was making his fourth run along Highway 210 near tiny Battle Lake, Minnesota, when he spotted a man dressed in black standing in the middle of the road. Being a public servant, Mr. Jensen stopped to offer assistance. But the man began to pound on the side of the plow and tried to pull out the flags on the front bumper. Steven locked his door but still rolled down his window and asked the man if he needed help. The man jumped onto the doorstep and demanded that Steven get out and turn the plow over to him. Wisely, Steven chose not to comply with the would-be-hijacker, and as he pulled away the man jumped off. Steven called 911 on his cell phone and returned his plowing.
What Steven could not see was that the crazy guy then tried the same stunt with a pickup truck, actually getting his hands on the driver before being dragged about 20 yards when the driver pulled away. Shortly thereafter the Battle Lake P.D. arrived and placed the man under arrest. A spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation pointed out that the man would not have gotten very far very fast in a snow plow, and added, “It’s one of those things where you shake your head and wonder what the heck’s going on in the world.”
Now let us travel from Battle Lake, Minnesota to the “Battle of the Snow Blowers” in Levis, Ontario, Canada, and just the day before the previous two incidents. On that Monday night, December 3rd, a 72 year old woman dragged her snow blower out and began to clean off her walk. Unfortunately and perhaps by accident the machine threw part of the snow onto the entranceway of her neighbor’s home. The 43 year old neighbor responded by getting his snow blower out and blasting the snow right back across the old ladies’ walkway. As soon as he had finished the old lady came back out and blew the snow back onto her neighbor’s sidewalk. As she did so he returned outside with his blower and for about 10 minutes they blew snow at each other. At the end of that time the duelists stood in the street, their tiny engines revving and their tiny tempers flaring, until, finally, the 43 year old man leapt upon the 72 year old woman and began to choke her. At this point the old ladies’ 70 year old husband ran outside to protect his wife and got punched in the face several times for his Sir Galahad impersonation. And finally, another neighbor called the cops. It must have been quite a show before they arrived to place the 43 year old man under arrest for assault on an obnoxious old lady.
And finally there are the adventures of “Retriever Towing” in Portland, Oregon. It’s a tough job, towing cars, and in praising one of the Retriever managers a trade publication described it this way; “…the nature of this work demands highly developed people skills and the effective management of volatile situations…” Still, “Retriever”, whose drivers work on a commission basis, has been accused of towing cars with handicapped stickers from handicapped spots (“The driver couldn’t see the sticker in the dark.”) and still demanding impound fees before releasing the car, and towing U-Haul trailers from the common parking areas of apartment complexes. One writer posted on a billboard, “I started off being totally nice about the whole situation and 2 minutes later the guy at Retriever was holding his hand on his pistol ready to pull on me”, and another complained, “Those guys at Retriever were the trashiest scumbags I have ever come across.”
Owner Gary Cole has brought some of this criticism upon himself, by instituting a “temper fee” for those his staff deem to be verbally abusive. But where are all these abusive people coming from? Gary’s source for business is a company called “Private Parking Auditors”, which supposedly patrols “Parking for Customers Only” lots and calls in “Retriever”. And who is Private Parking Auditors? Well, Gary Cole is a partner, and the president is Michael Cole, his son. It makes me wonder what evidence “Private Parking” produces to convince property owners they need to give “Private Parking” an exclusive contract.
The “towing coordinator” for Portland, Marian Gaylord, suggests that the temper fee is unjustified. She says, “Often tow operators don’t seem to understand they are not police officers.” Proof of that attitude arrived in the Portland suburb of Grisham at about 2:20 am Thursday December 13, 2007. Two Grisham Police Officers, Tyson Conroy and Tom Pohlman, responded to a 911 call of an assault at the Kempton Downs Apartments on the 3100 block of North East 23rd street. It was quickly established to be a domestic dispute and after about ten minutes the situation was deemed to be well enough under control that Officer Conroy was released to respond to another call. It was on his way out of the building that Conroy radioed Officer Pohlman to inform him, “You might want to come down here. They’re towing your car.”
When Pohlman got downstairs Retrieval driver, 32 year old Steven Swyerson, insisted the car was parked illegally in a designated fire zone. Officer Pohlman responded logically, “It’s a police car.” At this point Steven locked himself in his cab and called the Grisham police station on his cell phone to complain of his treatment the week before when he received a speeding ticket in Grisham. The station eventually called Retrieval Towing and a supervisor showed up to coax Steven out of the cab. Then, at 3:37 AM, Officer Pohlman slapped on the handcuffs, arresting driver Swyerson for unlawful use of a vehicle, obstructing government administration, interfering with a peace officer and third degree criminal mischief. Mr. Swyerson was taken to the Multnomah County Detention Center in Officer Pohlman’s car.
Later, outside court, Steven offered a powerful justification; “I was watching my rearview mirror, the only one I could see out of, and grabbed the car, lifted it up, got out to do my business and the next thing I know, it’s a police car. I had no problem dropping it. He didn’t have to aggressively ask me. I had already dropped it and was leaving. He threw spikes under my tires”. And there it was; both of Retrieval Towing”’s favorite arguments; he didn’t see the handicapped sticker and anyway the owner was too aggressive.
As Cary Cole told the industry trade paper “Footnotes”, “We need to clean up our act…The towing owners are changing with the times. To those who don’t like to speak out – go back to school and take a course in public speaking.” It was advice that could have come from Al Capone. And maybe it did.
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