Stealing Cars With the Pros

Photo by Steve LoweryIt's 2 a.m., and I'm sitting in a truck deep in a Westminster residential neighborhood. There are no sounds save for the truck's idling engine.

Foo Dog is to my right, looking almost bored. Cowboy is in the driver's seat to my left, poring over a thrashed Thomas Guide.

"Planning your escape route?" I ask.

Cowboy nods. Then he drops the guide behind the bench and gets out of the cab. I glance around.

"He's rigging the tow hitch," says Foo Dog.

I lean back. A minute later, Cowboy jumps back into the cab and shuts the door quietly. "By the way," he asks me, "do you want a bulletproof vest?"

I stare at Cowboy for a moment. "You're kidding."

"Nope. You want one?"

I hesitate. There is a light on in the house. There are people in there. They could wake up. Chances are good someone will tear out of there as the guys are working.

"Are you wearing one?"

Cowboy shakes his head.

I look over at Foo Dog. "I think there are cobwebs on mine," he admits.

"I'm fine," I finally say.

"Okay," Cowboy says. Then he puts the truck in gear and backs down the street, toward the black Thunderbird he intends to steal. He backs the truck up the driveway and stops. He and Foo Dog get out, leaving the doors open and the engine running.

They hook the hitch under the rear bumper and chain it in two locations. As they work, I glance furiously from their backs to the house to their backs again.

Except for a slight rattling of chains, they make no sound. And there is no movement in the house.

Cowboy and Foo Dog finally get back in the truck. Seconds later, we are rolling into the street, the Thunderbird hooked to the back. There is still no sign from the house that anyone knows their Thunderbird has just been stolen. From start to finish, only a couple of minutes had elapsed.

"Okay, keep an eye out for . . . what, Anthony?" asks Cowboy.

I look at him, puzzled.

"What was the other car in the driveway?"

I think about it but can't remember. I finally tell him I was more concerned with watching the house for signs of life than paying attention to what else was parked in the driveway.

"Blue Jeep Cherokee," Cowboy says without hesitation. But we never see it.

A few minutes later, the Thunderbird is unhitched from the truck and sitting in a deserted liquor-store parking lot across town. Cowboy is in the car's front passenger seat, his feet resting on a pile of papers taken from the glove box. The Jimmy Eat World song "The Middle"—"Everything, everything will be just fine/Everything, everything will be all right"—is playing on the Thunderbird's radio. Foo Dog calls the cops and tells them what he and Cowboy have just done.

"You can really tell what kind of people had the car by what they kept inside," says Cowboy, who used one of his "try-out" keys to start the car. "We find a lot of marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the cars. A lot of pornography, too. I remember one car that had a ton of gay porn hidden under the trunk mat with the spare tire. Guys hide their porn in the cars so their wives won't find it."

Cowboy then begins tagging and bagging all the items in the car—including a stuffed animal, maps and a jacket up front; a copy of Orange Coast magazine; and two cans of refried beans in the trunk.

When they're done, Foo Dog gets behind the wheel of the Thunderbird and Cowboy gets back in his truck. He sits beneath a photo of his bikini-clad wife with the legend "I Love You." "It's there so if I get shot, it's the last thing I see," he says.

Cowboy and Foo Dog—who did not want us to use their real names—are repo men. "We're just peckerwood white guys," said Foo Dog. "Just homeboy white guys."

They drive all over the county, a thousand miles per week, Sunday through Thursday. They are bank agents hired to steal cars back from people who can't make their payments. Of course, it's not really stealing, since the cars they're taking belong to the banks that hire Cowboy and Foo Dog.

This is the story of one night's work.

I met them in Costa Mesa three hours before they went after the Thunderbird. They were quick to lay down the ground rules.

"Do you swear?" Foo Dog asks me.

"Fuck, yeah," I say.

"That's fine," says Cowboy, "but I don't wanna hear G-D."

"Yeah, my buddy's a real Bible-thumper," says Foo Dog.

Later, as they haul to auction a couple of cars from the previous night, Cowboy playfully taunts me.

"You have a truck like this," Cowboy says, referring to a Mazda he picked up the night before. Using a Slim Jim, he enters the truck in half the time it would take me to pull out my key and unlock the door.

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