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A Tower’s Battle Cry
By Harry Anderson
Scott, the third generation of the Knox family to manage the garage business, had summoned his drivers to meet with a visitor who would be coming to collect their stories. Six of the fleet of Knox’s eleven tow trucks filled the lot of the garage located in woodland on Gleaner Chapel Road in North Scituate, midway between Routes 6 and 101. The six burly men, bundled up against a stiff February wind, crammed into the tiny office along with Scott and his visitor. For the next two hours these innately taciturn men took turns in telling their stories that, collectively, revealed the danger, the humor, the humanitarianism of a tow truck driver.
Scott held up a tablet to get things going. “Each guy has one of these, and they’re never without it, twenty-four hours a day. Calls come in from AAA and the police at any time . . . on average 55 times a day. Accidents, car breakdowns, or what have you happen around the clock, and we have to be ready to go. And you have no idea what you’ll be seeing because every call is unique. No two days are alike. And you gotta deal with it.”
That introduction spawned a flow of recollections. “Remember when a call came in to change a flat on 295? It turned out to be 22 blow-outs! There was a big pot hole on the interstate, and cars were hitting it left and right.”
“Yeah, and how about that afternoon on Route 146 in Lincoln when I had to jump onto the hood of a car to escape getting hit by some idiot who was barreling right at me?”
“You’re lucky. Three years ago, remember?, I got creamed by a drunk and ended up in the ER with a fractured skull.”
“The worst happened a year ago just before Christmas. There were four fatalities in the space of a couple of days. The one I went to still gives me nightmares. When I was backing up the wrecker, I saw fluid coming out of the banged up car and thought it was a puddle of gasoline. I was afraid of a fire. But it wasn’t gasoline. It was blood! The driver was still in the car.”
“How about a couple of years back when the cops called us to pull a car out of a church? Yup, someone veered off the road up in Foster and the front end of his car plowed into the Mt. Vernon church.”
Scott intervened and said that for some reason on Mondays calls really ramp up. “But Thursday and Friday nights are the ugliest because that’s when there are a lot of DUI’s on the roads. But overall, 75% of the time we fix the problem and get the driver going again. And what a great feeling that is!”
“Sure is. A lot of people give us a tip later. Sometimes it’s not money. For example, there was this hunter who phoned AAA on his cell, asking for a tow. God, he was way into the woods and my cable – all hundred feet of it – couldn’t reach his broken down pickup. I attached a piece of chain and a rope to it and just barely got to his bumper. After I pulled him out of the woods, the guy gave me five pounds of venison.”
“Hey, how about the guy who gave me a couple of VIP tickets to a Celtics game?’
“Someone gave me a hundred dollar gift certificate to Dunkin’ Donuts.”
“One time for a tip I got a box full of mouse traps. Honest! The driver was an exterminator.”
“I can top that. After I jump started an old lady’s beat up car – she must have been a cat lover because there were cats all over her yard – she tipped me with a bag of cat food.”
“But get this. A lady was so grateful that she named a dog after me.”
Scott again intervened to make known another aspect of the towing business that perhaps many people do not see. “We never abandon anyone. Like the family whose car broke down over at the Chowder Shack on 101. We couldn’t fix the problem and had to tow it to the garage, and we ended up squeezing the mother and father and two kids into the cab of the wrecker and driving them home to Bristol. But that’s nothing. Once – and I’m not making this up – I took a family home all the way to Jackson, Maine, from here in Scituate and came back the same day. No, we abandon no one. And I think all you guys would agree with me. Don’t you sometimes feel like a bartender? I mean, how someone who gets in the truck with you will vent and you just listen? Makes him feel better.”
When added up, these six men have 90 years of experience among them. In turn each of them explained why they have stuck with a job that is fraught with peril. Over and over they repeated the same thing: helping someone in trouble gives us a lot of satisfaction. Even the youngest who can’t shake off the trauma of a fractured skull and continues to undergo counseling sticks with the job.
Scott put it this way: “Sure, you sacrifice your life for other people. But when you go out to help them, you realize how much you’re needed. That keeps you going. And there’s something else. We guys, we’re like a family. Get this, each of my eleven wreckers puts 55,000 miles on the odometer per year. That’s a lot of time on the road! And we’re in this together, sometimes sleeping in the wrecker so that we’ll be ready to respond to a call immediately.”
“Look,” he said, “here’s a plaque AAA gave us. It says, TO KNOX’S GARAGE – 2018 SERVICE PROVIDER OF EXCELLENCE. And in this magazine is a list of New England’s top twelve roadside assistance providers, and right there is us.”
Behind him as he left, the visitor heard someone shout, “Do us a favor? Tell the public this when they see us helping someone on the highway: ‘Please slow down and move over!’ We have wives and kids, too.”