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It’s Tow business, Not Show Business

Jul 6th, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

I have resisted watching any of the reality TV shows about towing. First of all, believe it or not, until about a year ago, we did not have satellite or cable at our house. We had one of those hokey digital converter boxes with rabbit ears, so about the only TV I watched was PBS and Sunday football. We broke down and got Dish Network a year ago, because it was bundled with something else and resulted in an overall savings for a year or so. One thing that has not been saved, however, is hours wasted watching reruns of Friends, Cheers, Family Ties, Frasier and Sanford and Son, as well as Rocky III twice a month and The Fugitive every three weeks. I don’t even know the names of the reality TV shows about towing. My thought has been, it wasn’t that entertaining when I was doing it, so why would I want to watch someone else do it?

Reality TV is obviously here to stay, however, so I might have to see what the stink is all about. Last night I watched about 15 minutes of one of the repo shows, and I have to call BS on it. I am sure the action is probably scripted, if not rehearsed. I’ve heard the argument that these shows give the industry a bad name, but really, it’s not the towing industry or the repo industry they are representing. It’s the reality TV industry, which is just a forum for people who want attention without having to learn how to act. The 15 minutes I watched were relatively compelling, which is why I knew it wasn’t real. Yes, if you went through 200 hours of my work shifts when I was running impounds, you might find 30 minutes of compelling Reality TV, but it wouldn’t have been outrageous. There wouldn’t have been anyone with bleach-blonde hair (that came later, when I was in management), there wouldn’t have been fisticuffs, the cars and tow trucks wouldn’t have been sparkly clean and waxed, no one would have looked and sounded so interested in their work, and there wouldn’t have been near as much talking. And that would have been the part worth watching. The other 199 hours and 30 minutes would have been sheer tedium. And I was a busy guy many nights.

I have thought, however, that my experiences would make compelling entertainment, but not as reality TV. I think an hour-long drama, filmed and presented like the CSI series, with mostly on-location filming, would make an excellent forum. You take real experiences, you embellish, and you create a story with an arc out of it, and you depict what happened accurately but with focused intent. Towing is not usually life-or-death, so I don’t mean that it would be as heavy as CSI, but the format and look would be like that: restrained, respectful, serious and compelling. Incidentally, if you are worried about what the general public will think about our industry if they watch any of these reality TV shows about towing, imagine how cops, lawyers, professional athletes, doctors, actors/actresses and trophy wives feel. Do you honestly feel worse about calling the police for help after you watch some cop show where a character does something unscrupulous? I think we can separate what we see on TV from the real reality, even reality TV.

I worked with a lot of guys who saw their work as glamorous or deserving of the spotlight, and it made me chuckle. I don’t know if it’s the light bar on top of the truck that does it, but there are many wannabe-cops in our industry. Problem is, it’s usually the ones who either washed out in that line of work, or who never got in because they wanted to be in law enforcement a little too much. The best example from my memory is a dispatcher whose parents were both police officers. He wanted to be a driver for us, but his driving record was not good. He carried a triangle kit and road flares in the trunk of his car, and had a rotating deck light inside his car. If he came across somebody repairing a tire on their bicycle, he would hop out and put down a flare pattern. He was okay as a dispatcher. However, one night while he was on-duty, one of our drivers witnessed a motorist bang into a car right outside of our office, and the car kept going. Our driver radioed in to Mr. Flare and started following the car. The motorist drove very slowly. He obviously knew our driver had seen what happened, and he was probably assessing his options. He drove around the neighborhood for about five minutes and then returned to the scene. He got out, and our driver got out of his truck, and they were talking politely about what had happened when our dispatcher came flying out of the office onto the sidewalk with a pistol drawn, yelling, “Hands on the hood of the car!”

I am not making this up.

I am happy to report that no one was shot. I don’t know if the gun was loaded. I do know that I did not know he had a gun with him at work, and I do know that he was in deep you-know-what for bringing one to work, not to mention drawing it on a member of the public. When I talked to him about it the next day, I tried to explain to him in a respectful way that he had a tendency to get over-involved in what was going on around him. He was legitimately shocked to hear that someone might draw that conclusion. He was just trying to be a good citizen. It never occurred to him, apparently, that it was odd to carry traffic diversion devices in his personal car, and to use them frequently. I think I kind of burst his bubble that day but, if he was going to continue to work for us, it needed bursting.

When two-way radios were the norm, you would hear it every day — guys with a little too much excitement about their work. Just to be on the radio, where eight other people had to listen to your bantering — that was enough to set their egos soaring. I would just switch them off, which is what I do with reality shows about repo companies. That’s not what this business is about. Even if you’re doing repos primarily, this business is about solving other people’s problems, and to do that, you need to be focused on them and their problem, not on yourself. It’s the tow business, not show business.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper