By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Because of a large trailer hitch on the back of the pickup, Cowboy has to back in his tow truck at a 45-degree angle. After doing so, he and Foo Dog get out and start hooking up the hitch and chains.
For a while, the clanking chains are the only sound to be heard. Then the pickup's alarm shatters that silence.
But the apartment remains quiet. Somehow, the whole complex stays quiet. Cowboy and Foo Dog go on with their work.
The alarm doesn't stop. Once again, I find myself staring at the apartment, watching for the slightest movement. I see nothing.
When they finally finish, the guys get back in the truck and begin easing the massive pickup out of its parking space. Even with the alarm blaring, there's no sign of life in the apartment or anywhere else in the complex. Slowly, methodically, Cowboy negotiates the truck through the complex as the pickup's lights flash and the alarm screams.
"No matter how many times you jack cars," says Foo Dog as the truck rolls into the street, "it still gives you a rush."
Foo Dog knows about the rush. A month ago, he was driving a car they had just repoed when he lost control and crashed it into a freeway center divider. He broke his ankle, but he didn't skip a beat. Not only was he back at work the next night, but he even waited until he finished that night's work before going to the doctor.
"A big problem in the industry is that some guys just want excitement," says Cowboy. "They want to steal cars. They're hoods. They don't last, but they do give us a bad name. Most repossessors use drivers, but they're usually knuckleheads. They do all kinds of dumb shit—messing with the car radios, then BAM! Guys do that shit all the time. But Foo Dog is a pro. He's really my partner."
A few blocks from the Aliso Viejo apartment complex, a white van suddenly appears in the truck's rear-view mirror, hauling ass toward us.
"Here he comes," says Cowboy, slowing the F-150-encumbered truck way down and moving into the street's center lane. The van races alongside but never slows down. Neither do any of the three cars following it.
Cowboy drives around until he reaches a dead end at the Benny Hinn Ministries. There he turns the truck around so it's facing the street.
First they disable the Ford's alarm. This requires careful work. "We absolutely can't damage the cars," says Cowboy. "The state of California has one-time redemption, so these people could get their cars back. For that reason, we never use screwdrivers on ignitions."
When the guys finally open up the F-150, they find motocross gear, speakers, even an unopened box of expensive chocolates. Cowboy gets out his cell phone and calls the guy who drove it.
He tells the guy he has just repoed the car. He tells him there is a lot of stuff in the pickup, and if he wants it, they would come back and deliver it to him. He also says the pickup takes a special transponder ignition key, and he would like it. Cowboy says if this is too much, he'll just store the stuff, and the guy can get it later. But Cowboy adds that he doesn't want "the hassle" of making a new key, and he wants the original. Now.
The guy agrees to surrender the key.
"I expect you to be polite, okay?" says Cowboy as he ends the call.
You can never be too careful in this business. "A guy just last week threw a wrench at me from his balcony at 4 a.m.," says Cowboy, all trace of compassion drained from his voice. "If a guy gets violent, he probably won't get his car back. The bank gets bothered when violence is committed on one of their agents. Pushing around a repo man is like pushing around the mailman or UPS man. We're just out doing a job. It's nothing personal. But people freak out. I remember one woman, we let her get her stuff out of her car, and she poured antifreeze into it just to fuck with us."
Cowboy and Foo Dog finish their work on the pickup at 4:20 a.m., and we head back to the apartment complex.
"This is where he's way nicer than me," says Foo Dog as Cowboy goes over to the apartment. While Cowboy is a few yards away, Foo Dog keeps watch.
Eventually the guy comes out, smoking and dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. He gives Cowboy the key and tells him how he couldn't make the payments because he'd been laid off.
"We've all been laid off," says Foo Dog when Cowboy returns.
"I've been laid," says Cowboy as he starts the engine.
As they leave the apartment complex, Cowboy spots a small rabbit hopping around the shrubs.
"We see animals constantly," Foo Dog said earlier in the evening. "We've saved raccoons in Laguna Niguel. A baby raccoon was stuck in a trash can. The rest of the family was hissing at us, but we threw a blanket in there so he could climb out."