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Working Holidays

Jun 29th, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

We’ve got a holiday coming up — Independence Day. For many of you, it won’t be a holiday at all because you work around the clock, 365 days a year. I’ve certainly worked my share of holidays and I missed many fireworks celebrations in July. When I ran impounds, July 4th could be a very lucrative night. With the big fireworks celebration downtown on the river, our account reps would set up some private lots to patrol on the big night and we’d tow in the improperly parked cars. I know — it doesn’t sound patriotic, but what’s more American than free enterprise?

It’s been many years since I ran on-call at night or on weekends. The first company I worked for had four drivers and trucks, so we alternated every other weeknight, every other weekend. The dispatch company who dispatched police calls for the county sheriff would just call our home phone if he had a call for us. The “technology” in that day was the beeper. Our trucks actually had phones, with cords. If you tried holding the receiver in your left hand, you ran the risk of it catching on the steering wheel and getting it wrapped around. My brother-in-law was the manager, and one day he was trying to back a car into a driveway on a busy street while talking to one of the drivers on the phone and the cord got wrapped around the steering wheel. He was hurrying to get out of the way of traffic, but not quickly enough for a friendly motorist who got out of his car and started haranguing my brother-in-law. The guy got animated and stuck his arm in the truck window, so my brother-in-law swatted at it with the phone and broke the cord. So our driver heard honking, then yelling, then silence. Only in towing, you know?

When the dispatch company would call us in the middle of the night for a police tow, “Fred” would be cheerful and upbeat, saying things like, “Good morning, Sweetheart! Got a rollover for ya!” Then when I switched companies, the same dispatch company dispatched the Portland police calls, but when he called them into our office, he was about as gruff and unfriendly as could be. When you answered, he’d just start spitting out details: “Tow Desk. Tag Warrant, Ford, Frank-Adam-Sam-One-Two-Three, Pine, Second-to-Third, south side.” If you asked him to repeat something, he’d yell, “Told you once!” and hang up. We used to joke that “Tow Desk” was a card table, a rotary phone, an ashtray full of cigarette butts and a bottle of gin. I don’t know, maybe they were getting paid a lot more to dispatch the county sheriff calls than the PPD calls.

When I covered the occasional graveyard shift at the new company, our parent company would answer the phones at night. Every afternoon we had to drive the “log book” over to their office. The log book which was a record of all the impounds done the past 90 days or so, so they could look up vehicles and give quotes to vehicle owners. Marilyn, the graveyard shift dispatcher, was very persistent about getting hold of the drivers who were running on-call. One night she called my apartment and I didn’t answer the phone. It rang and rang and rang until I might just as well have gotten up and answered it, as irritating as it was. But I didn’t. The next day my boss showed me a copy of the call slip where she’d made a hash mark for every ring — all 63 of them — to illustrate how flaky I was. I got it within five or six rings after that.

I talk to customers who have a routine for getting on the road quickly for those middle-of-the-night calls. When the phone goes off, the driver hops out of bed, puts on the clothes he has laid out, while his wife writes down the information. He heads straight for the truck and she texts him the info so he doesn’t have to stop and wait for anything. If I were to start running on-call again now, it really entertains me to think about my wife waking up to take down call information and text it to me. First of all, if a noise of any kind woke her up, she’d be very unhappy and I’d have to get out of there quick just to avoid being struck by something. And if she took the time to text me, it would probably be, “Locks r changed – don’t come back.”

And yet I love her dearly.

I genuinely hope you all have a safe and joyous holiday. And have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper