By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
"Those trucks are really easy to break into," says his partner. "But BMWs and Mercedes aren't. You can't break into a BMW. We took a hammer to the window, and it wouldn't break. No bullshit."
After dropping off the cars at the auction lot, the guys head to their first target: an F-150 pickup in downtown Anaheim. The company sheet on the car says it's at an apartment building, but they disagree. The case is too old. They illuminate a few trucks in the complex lot with their Maglites, but nothing looks right. After a few minutes, they pull the sheet from the clipboard and move on to the next one, a Chevy Cavalier in Santa Ana. Same deal.
In these cases, the guys become little more than intelligence gatherers. They will report back that the car wasn't at this address, and the search will have to continue another time.
Around 12:30 a.m., they go for food. At a corner not far from a Jack in the Box a homeless woman sits hunched over forward, sleeping soundly.
"We give bums unclaimed money and jackets we find in the cars," says Cowboy. "We're out of jackets right now. There are a lot of people living on the streets in Santa Ana. They're really hurting."
Then it's off to their empty office, located in a nondescript North County warehouse. While Foo Dog eats at a cluttered desk, Cowboy makes keys next to the "wall of shame"—a collection of personal photos taken from cars and never claimed. Most are of families, kids and loved ones. One was of two women lifting their tops for the camera. Another showed a woman in the water, wearing a nearly transparent swimsuit.
They are accustomed to the public's interest in their work. "All the time, people come up to us and say their buddy used to be a repo guy until he was shot," says Cowboy as he punches out key blanks. "And he was always shot with a shotgun—for some reason, the shotgun is very popular. The worst are people who come up to us and ask what we're doing. 'Better not be fuckin' stealing my car!' they say. It's all bullshit."
An old truck sits behind him, overflowing with trash bags filled with items taken from cars. And a Camaro, once driven by a tow-truck operator who fell behind on his payments; the Club he used to protect it is still locked to the steering wheel.
By 1:30 a.m., they are back out on the streets, looking for a Lexus. The sheet says it's probably parked outside a house, but once again, they can't find it. This isn't surprising. Once a sheet said they had to find a Suzuki Esteem when the target was actually a Suzuki Samurai.
A half-hour later, they head to a car dealership in Garden Grove to find a pickup truck driven by an employee there. The sheet instructs them to find a security guy who supposedly knows the truck's whereabouts.
As they park in front of the dealership, they see the security guy standing out front; he says he's waiting for a cab. Cowboy gets out and asks him about the truck, but he says he doesn't know where it is. All the security guy knows is that it isn't on the lot. The cab finally comes, and he leaves.
"I can't believe we ran into the right guy," says Cowboy. But he's not sure he believes the man. "You know, that truck's probably on the fucking roof."
A few minutes later, they're in Westminster for another search. This time, they're trying to find a car in a residential neighborhood. But the address on the sheet takes them to a small office park. "This is where the guy told the bank he 'garages' his car," says Cowboy. "People are such liars."
Next they grab the Thunderbird, secure it in storage, and head to Aliso Viejo on the empty 73 toll road. They encounter just one person, a tollbooth operator. As Cowboy drives off, he warns her, "Watch out for Sasquatch!"
Before he started repoing cars, Cowboy was a physical trainer. One of his clients was a repo guy. He showed Cowboy the ropes, and the rest is history. His partner has a slightly different story.
"I was a manager at Boeing," says Foo Dog. "I've got a business degree. I was in charge of scheduling all the work in the machine shop. I kept the shop schedule so everything came together at the same time. Then I got laid off. I could've had another job just like it, but I didn't bother. I hooked up with this guy, and I love it. I get to work with my buddy. I can provide a home for my son, and I'm there for him. I'm head coach for all his sports. Then again, my sleep pattern is screwed. Your body gets torn up pretty bad."
Their first South County target is a big black F-150 pickup. The sheet says it's at some cavernous apartment complex. They find the pickup in just a few minutes, parked facing a wall with cars on either side. They also find that the guy who drives the pickup lives in an apartment overlooking the parking space. Once again, even though it's 4 a.m., the dull blue light from a TV flickers in the apartment window.