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
"I've got three dogs I brought home that we picked up," says Cowboy.
"He's an animal lover," says Foo Dog.
"Someone's gotta love 'em," Cowboy fires back.
As they drive through the empty streets, the tow truck's passenger door rattles incessantly. It's a big, white Chevy truck with an immensely powerful engine. But because it weighs less than 10,000 pounds, the Chevy is actually considered a "tow car."
In the back are a couple of caster-mounted jacks used to move cars that are parallel-parked, tools, and trash bags filled with stuff taken from cars. It has no tailgate and a black single-ram hydraulic hitch. "Power up, gravity down," Cowboy explains. "It comes right off. People don't really recognize it when they see it."
This is their backup truck; they blew the transmission on their main truck weeks ago. That's not surprising, since they put 60,000 miles on that truck last year alone.
They drive with the windows rolled down because they get in and out so often. The heaters don't work, so it gets cold. To keep from freezing they wear sweaters and knit caps. To pass the time on the road, they joke with each other and sometimes point out license plate sequences that don't seem to match the year of the car.
With Foo Dog driving the pickup and Cowboy in his truck, they set out for their next target: a Hyundai, also allegedly parked in an Aliso Viejo apartment complex. Finding the complex isn't easy, but once there, they locate the car with no problem. But the license plate on the car is different from the one on the sheet, so Cowboy checks the Vehicle Identification Number. It's a match. Foo Dog parks the pickup near the entrance of the complex, and both men hook up the Hyundai. By now, the morning sky is overcast, with sunrise just an hour away.
"We're going to make contact on this one," says Cowboy when they finish. They hunt around for the apartment and knock on the door. No one responds to repeated knocks, so they return to the truck and call her.
"Nope, we can't take money in the field," Cowboy tells her. He also asks her for the key. It takes a few minutes before the woman comes out to empty the car. Cowboy helps her carry some of it.
"She had two baby seats in the back," says Cowboy. "That's why we knocked."
Cowboy and Foo Dog once had to repossess a car belonging to a guy named Alberto or something like that. When they finally found the car, a woman was driving it. This didn't seem to be a problem, as the woman was hot. She was also cooperative—so much so that they let her get her stuff out of the car before they hauled it away.
Oh, and they wanted to know where they might find Alberto or whatever his name was.
"Uh, I'm Alberto," she said in a suddenly male voice.
This unnerved the guys. Still, they were impressed.
"That girl had a smokin'-hot ass," says Cowboy, recalling the incident. "I still think about that ass."
Being around so many people burned by the inability to make monthly payments has given Cowboy and Foo Dog a real hatred of financing.
"I don't finance anything," says Cowboy while driving through the now-sunny streets of Laguna Hills. "I pay for everything up front or I don't buy it. If you miss three payments, then we show up. And this can happen to anyone. Anyone. We've repoed preachers' cars. We've taken cars belonging to cops. We've taken cars from out front of million-dollar homes. Orange County is a place where a lot of people live beyond their means.
"Most people think missing three payments means being three months behind in paying, but because you pay on the first of the month, you're only two months behind when you miss your third payment," he says. "These people think it's the worst thing that has happened to them. But for some, it's the best thing because it straightens them out. The best you can do is voluntarily surrender the car."
"Yeah, but less than 10 percent of the people do that," says Foo Dog disgustedly.
Their last target is not one of those 10 percent. It's a Ford minivan belonging to a guy living in Laguna Hills. A little after 6 a.m., we find the van parked in a driveway in front of a very nice house.
"This guy's an attorney," says Cowboy as he slowly drives by. "I just know he's going to be a prick."
Heading down a side street, Foo Dog parks the F-150 as Cowboy unhitches the Hyundai, which he plans to stash there until he can collect it later in the day. Cowboy then readies the tow hitch. As they roll back around the corner to the house, they notice the attorney standing in his driveway.
"Oh, shit!" they yell as Cowboy hurriedly backs the truck out of sight.
After waiting a few minutes, they roll forward again. This time, he's gone. It's daylight now, and a few neighbors are out doing their morning power walks.