Mean Tow Truck Driver

I play drums in a local rock band. While I’d like to say we play only the largest of stadiums and arenas, it’s actually the small clubs, bars and random other venues in the Philadelphia area where we wind up performing. Late one summer, my band found itself playing a large outdoor concert with an array of other local bands. Being the band’s drummer, my vehicle was permitted to pull up, through an access road, to the rear of the large wooden structure, in order to make loading and unloading less of a chore. It was a welcome privilege when we arrived in the late afternoon, but in the evening, on the ride back down the unlit, unpaved access road, I rammed into an unyielding metal standpipe. I got out to inspect the damage.

While the standpipe was happily undamaged, my car’s right rear wheel was now set on a nasty angle. Typically, the flat bottom part of the tire is parallel to the road. My tire now offered only the right edge of the tire to the asphalt surface. I did some test driving down the dark road. Under 30 m.p.h. my car was driveable, but once I got over that speed, the car’s momentum caused the wheel to lift more, and proper steering gave way to severe fishtailing. The drive home would have taken 45 minutes – but the conditions this night were far from normal.

Being a stubborn male, I attempt to make the trip, deceiving myself into thinking I could just drive slower and keep the reckless driving to a minimum. Twenty sweaty minutes later I arrived at the entrance ramp to Interstate 95, quite proud. I entered the highway, though, and was terrified - the speeds that were barely passable on the local roads would get me killed on the interstate, and anything faster put my car’s rear end alternately onto the shoulder and into the middle lane of the highway. I pulled over at the top of an overpass, frustrated, realizing I’d only made my situation worse. My cell phone was at one bar’s worth of battery power, my car was packed full of drums on the busy overpass, and it was 12:30 a.m. on a weeknight. I called for a tow truck.

More than an hour later, the truck arrived. A large man in oil-stained overalls emerged. “Mr. Pastucci?” he asked. People often transpose the first two consonants of my last name - I’m over it. “Yes,” I said, relieved he’d arrived.

The tow truck driver introduced himself as Dan. He looked over some information on his clipboard, then looked at my car. Everything seemed to be in order - one car, broken down on the side of the highway - check. He made annotations on his clipboard for a few minutes, then turned to me.

“So what happened to the vehicle?” asked Dan the tow truck man.

“Oh, I hit a metal pipe and bent the back tire off the axle.” I was fairly proud I could give Dan this much information.

“I don’t understand. You can just drive your car real slow and it will be fine. But you - you went and called a tow truck.” What was he accusing me of? My stomach started to rumble.

Dan looked at the rear tire, seeming perturbed. “But it’s not flat.” His eyes were squinting - something was amiss in his automotively-oriented world.

“Yes, it’s not flat - I actually hit the pipe a few miles from here. I can drive it at low speeds, but when I go faster than thirty, it starts fishtailing.”

He offered what must have, to him, seemed like a reasonable suggestion: “Then just drive it slow.”

My patience was fading. “Well, I tried that, and it did get me here - but once I made it onto the highway, I just couldn’t keep it that slow - the other cars were slamming up behind me, trying to push me out of the way.”

For some reason. He wasn’t buying my reasoning. Keep in mind - the man is getting paid to do this. Dan took a seat on the guardrail, his back to the street below. He was completely unfazed. My car shook with every passing vehicle, only a few feet away. Dan was in no rush at all, though.

“I don’t understand. You can just drive your car real slow and it will be fine. But you - you went and called a tow truck.” What was he accusing me of? My stomach started to rumble.

I adopted a more serious tone. I explained to Dan, while looking directly into his eyes, that yes, my car could be driven - but only very slowly. And, driving slowly on the highway was extremely dangerous. The other thing I could do would be to drive fast. But, driving fast caused my car to lose all control. So, I called him to pick me up, and tow me over the bridge, to my apartment. I somehow figured a way to work in the words “pay” and “hired”, to remind Dan that I wasn’t asking a favor of him - this was his actual vocation.

I opened the passenger’s side door and was quite alarmed to see a woman already seated. She seemed rather nervous, and in her lap sat an oversized plastic container holding some type of thick maroon sauce. Normal.

Reluctantly Dan agreed to tow me. He asked me if the emergency brake was on. I informed him that it was. He was fine with this. Dan then pulled out the winch and tow wire, and hooked it under my front axel. He started up the winch. Since I’d only just told him the emergency brake was on, I assumed he was just going to get some tension on the wire. I gave Dan too much mental credit - the winch caught, there was plenty of tension and white smoke as the winch’s motor tried to pull my car. He screamed to me from the roadside, “Take the brake off! Take the brake off!” I did so, and my car lurched forward, bringing it halfway up his flatbed in an instant. Dan glared from the roadside. Somehow, he was pissed at me.

He finished his winch work, got my car fully in place on top of his truck, and locked it in position. I opened my car door carefully and looked down. I was now eight feet off the ground, on a shoulder tightly butted against the busy highway. The only way down was to jump. I waited for a space between two large semi’s and leaped down, then quickly got back to the shoulder before the next truck blazed by. This felt wrong.

Dan then indicated to me that I should join him inside the truck. I opened the passenger’s side door and was quite alarmed to see a woman already seated. She seemed rather nervous, and in her lap sat an oversized plastic container holding some type of thick maroon sauce. Normal.

Our host became quite formal as he offered introductions. “Latasha, I would like you to meet Mr. Pastucci. Mr. Pastucci, this is my lady, Latasha.”

“Pleased to meet you,” I said, sliding in beside her.

Latasha did not turn her head one degree, presumably out of fear. A meek “hello” was all she could get out.

We began the drive back to New Jersey. You would have thought Dan was driving a German sportscar, based on the careless way he changed lanes and took the turns. I watched my car through the tiny cab window - it was barely hanging on behind us, bouncing left and right as we raced down the road.

Dan wasn’t concerned, though - he may have had his “lady” right next to him, but that wasn’t about to stop him from flirting overtly with the dispatcher on the other end of his truck’s radio. “Flirting” might be too tame a word - he was describing to her the things he wanted to do, in graphic detail. The dispatcher woman sounded like a case study in emphysema, her hacking smoker’s cough combined with the radio’s frequent static gracefully helped to obscure her dialogue. At my side, Latasha continued to stare robotically into space, saying nothing.

We arrived at my apartment complex more than an hour later. Figuring I could maneuver my car in the parking lot, I had Dan drop me off at edge of the lot. He apologized for his truck’s volume - it had some serious exhaust issues - and I didn’t want it to disturb my neighbors.

“Do you think anyone would mind if I watered your flowers?” he asked, as he lowered my vehicle. Realizing what he meant, I replied, “That’s fine.” He walked a few feet away and took a whiz near the tall grass that bordered the fence of my apartment’s tennis courts.

In the meantime, I ran home and grabbed my checkbook. I’d already verified with Dan that his company definitely accepted personal checks. This was good news, since the tow would cost $38 and I didn’t have that much cash on hand, in my wallet or sitting around my apartment. He also revealed that this was his very first day as a tow truck diver - not his first day towing for this company, but his first day towing cars, ever. It was no surprise, but still, not comforting news. In the dim lamplight, I wrote Dan a check, added on a small tip so as to avoid his wrath, and bade him farewell. The truck drove off, his truck exhaust echoing off the flat-fronted buildings. I was relieved to see him leave the complex.

It was now nearly 3 a.m. I carefully drove my car into my assigned spot, quietly opened the door, and slowly unloaded my drums, piling them into my first floor hallway with a minimum of sonic disturbance. I planned to wake up early and bring my car to the repair shop before rush hour traffic was too intense. Proud that I’d held it together throughout the night’s ordeals, I readied myself for long-delayed slumber.

I don’t typically expect phone calls after 3, but at that moment my phone rang. It was emphysema dispatcher woman. There was a problem, she informed me - the tow company no longer accepts personal checks. Then I heard it - the rumbling, sputtering truck that brought me home. Dan pulled up in front of my door, and started beeping. Not thinking I’d hear the racket, he also opted to yell his version of my name: “Mr. Pastucci! Mr. Pastucci!!!” To say that he was making a lot of noise is not accurate - he and his truck were shaking the building’s foundation. I went out, cordless phone in hand, and simultaneously attempted to negotiate with him and his dispatcher.

The company was adamant that I needed to pay the full amount in cash, but I was not about to have Dan haul me to the nearest ATM to get him the necessary funds. My neighbors were already gathering at their windows and doors. It turned out that Dan had absolutely no money on him, and did not possess any type of ATM card himself. He needed my fees for the tow, just to get him back across the bridge to Pennsylvania. Good planning on his part, I felt.

I didn’t budge though. I wasn’t about to take another drive with this person. I stated that I’d give him the cash that I had, slightly more than he needed to pay the bridge toll, and I’d void my original check and would write out a new check for the difference. The tow company argued on the phone, but I stated there would be no alternative - I had been told on the ride over that they accepted checks. Had that not been the case, we’d have stopped at an ATM on the drive over. I stood firm.

In the end, Dan accepted my funds and drove off for the second and final time. My car’s damage was in excess of $1,400. Insurance did cover most of that, though my rates were jacked up significantly the following year. The five mile drive to the repair shop the next morning was nearly as harrowing as my trip the night before, but having sworn off crazy tow truck drivers, I was happy to chance it on my own.