City Events Can Blow the Impound Market Wide Open

May 9th, 2014 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Nick KemperRose Festival is approaching here in Oregon. Rose Festival is a few weeks in late May/early June when we celebrate the coming of summer. It usually rains. There is a carnival down by the waterfront, a couple of parades and a lot of Navy ships come up the river and unload sailors for a week of exploration. There’s a Starlight Run, a couple of fireworks displays and several pretty high school girls are named to the Rose Festival Court. There are concerts in the park, a lot of good food and beer and wine, and general good feelings all around.

When I started running impounds in downtown Portland in 1986, the commercial division of our company was abuzz about Rose Festival. The Rose Festival Committee contracted out to have our trucks assist at the Starlight Parade and the Rose Parade. Trucks were stationed along the route and if a float stopped moving under its own power a happy tow truck driver would be waived in to become part of the parade. The drivers were giddy with anticipation, hoping a float would conk out near them so they could bask in the glory. They usually managed to not embarrass themselves or our owners and parade-watchers would give them a cheer for their help.

The real reward of Rose Festival, however, went to us in the impound division. There’s nothing like a major city event to create parking problems and blow the impound market wide open. Starlight Parade falls on a Saturday evening, and we would gear up with every truck on the road, lying in wait for the sun to go down. Our account reps would work to identify which accounts were close to the parade route and would generate the most impounds. Some years we impounded nearly 100 cars in five hours. For a few years running we emptied out a health club parking lot only three blocks from our impound lot — probably 30 cars in a little over an hour. The Safeway downtown would get plugged up and we’d be in there working with the security guards to clear out the unwanted vehicles.

Even on the days without major events, Rose Festival brought so many out-of-towners into the urban area that you were bound to be way busier than a normal impound day. You’d get called down to the waterfront and waved in through crowds of fair attendees to nab some motorcycle that someone tucked in behind a beer garden tent. Every night seemed to bring a flood of work, especially Friday and Saturday nights. And during the parades, you’d get sent in for street clearing. The city would put up bags over the parking meters the day before to signal to vehicle owners that THE PARADE IS COMING DOWN THIS STREET – DON’T PARK HERE. But some people need a stronger signal. We be called in 30 minutes prior to parade start and told to clear 12 cars off a block. These were not impounds — we’d move them to the next closest legal parking space, which by that time was 23 blocks away.

The City paid us by the move — a courtesy to the vehicle owner, who would call later to report their car stolen and be told that it was now on 16th and Madison. Sometimes the only way out of the mess was down the parade route, so you’d be the first float of the parade, towing away some Honda Accord, cruising down the parade route, doing the parade wave to the local citizenry, flipping on the overhead lights to make sure no one jumped out in front of you, especially the Accord owner. Beautiful irony, because the drivers at our commercial division would have been lording over us for weeks now that they might get to pull the Elks Club float for the last four blocks, which involved sweat and the use of chains, and here you were, cruising along unescorted down Broadway, shades on, music up loud, listening to the mixture of cheers and boos.

They say that big events in the city are good for business, but few businesses benefit more than an impound tow company. Sporting events do that as well. Some of my biggest paychecks of the year were the last two weeks of May and the first two weeks of June. On Starlight Parade night it sometimes became too busy and you’d be stuck outside the impound lot waiting in a line to get in and drop your car to go get another one. If you were crafty you’d do your paperwork, take off the straps and tow lights and be in and out while some rookie was out in the lot fighting with his dollies. And the really important factor was to end your shift and get out of Dodge before the angry mob came down to get their cars.

My boss always worked the office to help our dispatchers and vehicle-release personnel. Saturday night was one of my off-nights, so I was under no obligation to stretch it out into the wee hours of the morning. So once the impounds started slowing and the lot started getting full and the crazy people started lining up outside the office, I’d quietly park my truck, lock it and sneak out to head home. On Monday I’d get the customary question: “Where’d you go the other night?” We’d be too busy to argue about it, and he was getting the biggest bonuses of his year too, so he’d let it go.

I suppose I do kind of miss the excitement of this time of year, though I don’t mind being behind a laptop rather than a steering wheel.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper

www.TowPartsNow.com