I think we have totally missed the boat on marrying work schedules with sleep schedules.  I have battled to stay awake from morning till night since I was a kid.  Beginning in middle school, I would come home from school and put Dark Side of the Moon on the turntable and crash in my room until dinnertime.  When I was 20, I got a parts delivery job, and it became part of my work routine to pull off to the side of the road somewhere and take a 30-minute nap.  I made it a part of my routine after I fell asleep while crossing the I-205 bridge into Washington and bumped mirrors with a car in the next lane.  

In my twenties I went to school in the morning and worked swing shift.  Some days I would skip class and snooze on an old couch in Cramer Hall, or just not make it out of my pickup after parking for 30-45 minutes. 
 I usually held out for most of my work shift, but I laid down across the bench seat many nights to catch a few Zs.  When business got slow, I brought a pillow to work with me – it was more ergonomic.

My daughter asked me recently if I ever almost fell asleep while driving, and my instinctive answer was, “Every day.”  I have a long commute – about 45 miles – and I tend to burn the candle at both ends, so I have to manage my fatigue.  There’s something soothing about being behind the wheel.  For me, it’s kind of like reading.  If I open even the most interesting book ever written at bedtime and start reading, I’m good for about 2 pages.  My wife can read for 3 hours in bed. 

We all hear about these cultures where taking a nap in the middle of the workday is routine.  I’ll believe it when I see it.  Supposedly this happens in Spain, or Italy, or one of those European countries where the economy has collapsed.  I have a cot in my office, which I used to open up once in awhile to rest my eyes.  Now even that is onerous – I’ll just sink down in my chair and “meditate.”  I know, from my own experience, that if I do this once or twice a day, for just 10-15 minutes at a time, I do better work all day long.  About the only thing you can do effectively when tired is sleep. 

I don’t think we have to pay people to sleep, although really that is preferable to paying them to make mistakes when they’re tired.  We also don’t have to encourage or recommend it, although, again, that would probably be a good idea.  Why don’t we just condone it?  Let employees know that they can take an unpaid sleep break during their work shift, and maybe convert an old office into a nap room.  Go to the army surplus store and pick up some fold-up army cots. 
Excuse me for a few minutes.  I’ll be back.

Ah, that’s better.  My train of thought was derailing.  Thinking about sleep was making me drowsy.  This seems like a no-brainer to me.  I’m sure there is research indicating that people who get the proper amount of sleep are more effective, efficient, and creative.  We know that the body/mind energy cycle is not a 24-hour cycle.  It’s more like a 3-hour cycle, meaning that we could all benefit from resting for a few minutes several times a day.  Especially after a meal. 

I’m a big fan of results-based performance evaluation.  Yes, there are processes that we want employees to follow, provided that they are proven and tested (we also want to periodically re-evaluate processes, to make sure they stay optimal).  I’ve found that giving people the space to engineer their own work often leads to something better than I expected.  Some people need more guidance than others.  I’m reminded of a Dilbert cartoon when the Boss finds Wally carting off office equipment and supplies to his car and asks him what he is doing.  Wally answers, “You told us to ‘act like we own the company,’ so I am.”  If you’re going to trust in the results-based system, you can’t forget to check the results.  An employee who takes advantage of granted freedoms won’t be able to hide their results for very long.  Maybe accounting personnel should be exempted from this program.

Embrace the nap.  And remember to dream.
Nick Kemper


My daughter was driving on the Marquam Bridge in Portland recently, moving slowly in traffic, and a semi truck and trailer came into her lane and knocked her into the next lane over.  Thankfully, she was not hurt.  The spot is a notoriously dangerous section of freeway where many vehicles transition from I-5 to the I-84 onramp, or from I-405 to I-5. 

 It reminds me of when you were a kid and you set your Hot Wheels race track up so that cars would randomly collide.  Also, traffic is often slow or stopped, so you see a lot of people accelerating to get ahead of the car next to them so that they can change lanes, and then they slam on the brakes to keep from hitting the traffic stopped at the far end of the bridge.

No other vehicles were involved, and my daughter had the presence of mind to pull off the next exit, at the end of the bridge, but the semi truck kept going.  It never stopped.  The police informed us later that several motorists called to report the truck, and some of them recorded the license plate number, so hopefully the driver will pay the price for his transgression (I am extremely thankful to all of those people who called).  Unreal.  Hit-and-runs happen, but rarely with a commercial vehicle.  I have to wonder if he even realized what he had done.
Last month I was on my way to work, and I passed a semi truck and trailer, and then later on he passed me, and I noticed that he was following the car in front of him VERY closely.  We were on 99E, a state highway with many signals that goes through towns every few miles.  I followed the truck for about 15 miles, and he drove aggressively the whole time.  At one point, I dialed the number on the back of the trailer to report him, and the way it was answered made me think that the number went to the driver’s cell phone, so I hung up.  I wish now that I had followed through.  Even if it was the actual driver who answered, I wish now that I had pointed out to him how dangerous his behavior was.  There is no excuse for aggressive driving, from anyone.  I’ve driven aggressively, and I’ve done it in a tow truck, and I can honestly say I didn’t gain from the practice.  Aggressive driving in a commercial vehicle is particularly egregious, and in a large commercial vehicle, it’s criminal.  Really.  My daughter’s life was at stake.  There’s NOTHING worth that.
The truck that I followed that day pulled off at set of scales, and I couldn’t help but think that it was comical that I had been leisurely following him at a distance while he tailgated some poor motorist, and here we were, at the same place, at the same time.  It wasn’t really comical, though.  The motorist he was following probably had experienced actual fear.  What gave that driver the right to do that?  Anyone who exhibits that type of behavior should simply have their driving privileges revoked. 
The really scary part is we don’t know why he drove that way, just like we don’t know why the driver who hit my daughter kept going.  Was it blatant disregard for the safety of others?  Was it gross incompetence?  Was it an altered state?  That type of judgment certainly seems to indicate impairment.
If you are a surgeon, or even an anesthesiologist, the life of your patient is in your hands.  That’s one reason why you train for so long, and work under the supervision of others with more experience for so long.  Mistakes are very costly.  You also know that you bear personal responsibility for your actions.  Would we tolerate a surgeon aggressively rushing through a procedure to make more money, or because he or she had something else to do, or simply because he or she is a jerk, or because he or she was impaired?  No, we would not.  If you are in a motor vehicle, the lives of others are in your hands.  We should drive as if we were cradling an easily-detonated explosive in our hands, with extreme focus, humility, and great care.  We should not tolerate dangerous behavior from other motorists.  What can we do?  We can report them.  We can snap a photo of their license plate number (at the next traffic stop), and post it on Facebook with a description of the car and the driver.  If it’s a commercial vehicle, we can report them to their employer and start a social media campaign against the company pending their action on the issue.  Be creative.
Have a safe and profitable week.
Nick Kemper

Heard from an old friend last weekend.  You can probably imagine the circumstance.  One of my blog entries made its way around Facebook a couple weeks ago – a link to the Tow Times site.  My old friend read it, and apparently he hadn’t known that I worked in the towing industry, but it stuck in his head long enough that when he ran his SUV off the road over the weekend, he connected it all:  SUV – ditch – tow truck – Nick.  So he got my number and called me and asked for some help.  Who can blame him?  It wasn’t necessarily a referral that he was looking for so much as the “friend” discount.  So I made a call and helped him out, and I was happy to do it.

What is that, the propensity for people to exploit personal friendship for a discount?  We definitely have that in this industry.  I can barely count all of the vehicles of friends and family 

members that I towed personally for free or discounted significantly.  It almost seems like it’s common knowledge, assumed.  Your brother drives tow truck – ergo, you get free towing.  Have we cultivated that, as an industry?  Is it because our industry is more family-oriented, or informal? 
I think part of it is that the public has an awareness that towing has a multi-tiered pricing structure.  At the top, there’s the insurance company gouging level, where tow companies get back at the insurance industry for overcharging for premiums and non-renewing companies for 3-1/2 claims in a 12-month period.  Then there’s the full-blown commercial level, for BMW owners and individuals who may have a concussion from their accident and are too foggy to argue about the tow charges.  Then there’s the 20% discount for shops, who then invoice the insurance company for the full tow bill (a scam that we enable because we need their business), and for people who don’t have insurance that will cover their towing.  Then there’s the 50% discount for friends, favors between businesses, come-back tows for shops, and hardship cases.  And finally, there’s the free tow for family and very close friends.  Somehow, the public has awareness of this system, so they are able to take advantage of it, if they so choose.
Let’s picture this type of system in another industry.  Say my brother is a surgeon.  Let’s say I need some minor work done.  Why don’t I just call him up and ask for the family discount – say, 50% off retail?  Or better yet, free?  What about the guy who owns the local food market?  What does he say when some old buddy of his calls and says, “Hey, listen, I ran out of money unexpectedly.  How ‘bout you give me a break on this weeks’ groceries?”  He doesn’t have to say anything, because it doesn’t get asked (I’m guessing).
All of these cars I towed for free over the years – it wasn’t even my tow truck.  I’ve never owned a tow company or a tow truck.  So my employer knowingly (or sometimes, unknowingly) loaned the use of their commercial vehicle, which is not only a sacrifice of revenue, but a sacrifice of potential revenue that the truck could be earning if it weren’t in use.  Where I worked, we were supposed to collect a few bucks to pay for the fuel being burnt during the free tow, but most of the time we didn’t do even that, and it wasn’t enforced.  And, of all the times I towed a car for free, do you know how many times the vehicle owner handed me a $5 or a $10 and said, “Hey, use this to put some gas back in the truck.”  Never.  Maybe I told them up front not to worry about it, but I wouldn’t say it was an arm-twisting experience.
I think it works like this because we let it happen.  And you know what?  If we’re all good with it, then so be it.  It has to be okay, however, if a business owner opts out.  If you call your buddy who works at a towing company, and ask him for a favor, and he says, “Sorry, my boss won’t let me do it,” that has to be okay.  I really think that our compliance feeds into the Entitlement Culture.  This friend of mine who called me last weekend – from our conversation, I gathered that he talked his way out of a ticket, or worse.  Single-car accident, county sheriff let him go ticketless and unarrested, let him leave his SUV teetering on the edge of a ditch for a couple of days – what message does that send?  Sure, we all want to be cut some slack when it’s us on the wrong end of the stick.  Let’s at least agree to not expect it, and maybe even to not push it when we’ve been graced by someone’s kindness.  Or pay it forward it some other way. 
Have a safe and profitable week.
Nick Kemper
I visited my previous workplace last night, to drop off some dollie tires, and it reminded me of how happy I was to stop working there, by the time I left.  There is something about managing a tow company that can just beat you down like a bent nail over time.  It wasn’t anything specific to that company or those drivers or the layer of brake dust from the nearby freeway that coated everything in that facility.  My time there had simply expired.  I needed to move on.
Moving into the world of products and order fulfillment presented new challenges, and I learned many things about supply-chain economics that I did not know.  Today’s customer service environment has influenced companies to change their standard practices, mostly for the good.  For instance – our customers expect to know what is going on with their order.  So when we receive the order, we send out an order confirmation, telling them where the order is shipping from and when they should expect it.  After it ships, we send them a tracking number.  I like this practice, as labor-intensive as it is, because it is proactive, and it also forces us to gather data, so that when the customer calls because they didn’t read the email we sent them with the tracking number, we have the tracking number available.  This is much better than not having the tracking number, in which case you look like you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.
So here is the part of the process that most customers don’t know about:  most manufacturers and wholesale suppliers have not entered this world of proactive customer service.  They are lingering in reactionary practices, and they are resisting the lure of current customer service best practices.  Some of them are resisting aggressively.  Some of them are actually data black holes, sucking in information from nearby businesses where it will never be seen again.  Maybe that’s why they are selling via wholesale, rather than retail.  Let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
We have a procedure we follow here when we place an order, whether it is a large stock order, or a small drop-ship order.  I constructed this procedure after placing orders with suppliers many times and not doing the steps I’m about to describe, and then having it bite me in the ass too many times.  First, we send a Purchase Order with all of the necessary information – item numbers, costs, quantities, destination.  On the PO are 2 sentences:
Please confirm receipt of PO with tracking number or estimated ship date.
Please forward tracking number after order ships.
Why would you have to include these 2 sentences, you ask?  Wouldn’t they just proactively provide this information, as we do to our customers?  Well, I’m not going to say it doesn’t happen.  We have a few suppliers who follow these instructions consistently, and may they be blessed with eternal happiness and perfect health.  I love them.  Without them, I would be utterly hopeless that it could happen at all.  Most suppliers will confirm receipt of a PO, usually within a few hours of receiving it.  If we do not receive a confirmation within 24 hours, we send the PO a second time asking if it was received, and we continue to do that, although at a certain point we start calling until we get an answer or consider getting on a plane to visit the warehouse in-person to verify that our order has been received.
Once we have a confirmation, we start asking for a projected ship date.  Some suppliers will include this in the confirmation, as requested, and many have learned to do so, because they got tired of me asking after they confirmed with no projected ship date.  If the ship dates comes and goes, and we have not received a tracking number, we start asking for that.  And again, we continue to hound until we have the prey in our grasp. 
So you can see this is an arduous process sometimes.  I call it “babysitting the vendor.”  It’s a reality of our business.  You can’t afford to relax, because the customer deserves the best service you can provide and accurate information.  I’ve said this before:  accurate and timely information is one of the most important commodities we provide.  If you walk into a store and buy something, you know what you paid, and you have it with you when you leave.  If you order something over the phone or via the web, you need to know what you’re paying, and when you’ll get it.  Similarly, we need to know the same thing from our supplier.  Unfortunately, there are limited sources for items (and these sources apparently know that), so if we don’t get it, we’re stuck.  If you order something from us, and we fall short in our customer service, you might be able to buy the same thing somewhere else.  We don’t always have that luxury, so we are hostage to the level of service provided by the supplier.  It used to frustrate me that I had to go through so many steps to get information that a supplier should have been offering to me before I asked for it, but after multiple therapy sessions and a few brushes with death, I’ve accepted it for what it is.  I’ve kind of taken it upon myself to help to draw these operations into the 21st century by relentlessly hounding them for the information I require to be competitive in our market, and I have everlasting hope that I will groom individuals at these various companies to learn how to provide quality customer service proactively before they leave for greener pastures and I have to train their replacements. 
It keeps me busy, and I like being busy.
Have a safe and profitable week.
Nick Kemper



For the first several years I was in a tow truck, I did not train any new employees.  We had veteran drivers with more experience, and I worked swing shift – for some reason it seemed like they wanted training to take place in the daylight, and under management scrutiny.  I was not interested in training others.  For one thing, they weren’t hiring any attractive college girls to run impounds.  And then there was the extra work involved, and sharing a truck cab with another human being.  Not for me.

I was a relatively social kid the first couple of years I was in a tow truck, and then someone flipped a big switch called commission. 

.  I went from earning $8 an hour to earning 25% of all the money I brought in.  The first month, my production doubled.  From that point forward, anything that deterred or distracted me from making money was the bane of my existence.  I was so focused that no one even broached the subject of training new drivers, even though my level of productivity was certainly something you would have wanted to duplicate throughout your company.

Oh, I think it was mentioned a few times, but the “bonus” paid to trainers was $25 per day, and I could make that in 15 minutes with one extra tow, so I could barely afford to even laugh at that.  My feeling was, and still is, that you get what you pay for.  If you were to ask most tow company owners if they wanted their new hires to get $25 per day worth of training, they would object, but that’s what the owners of the company I worked for were getting.  I’m not saying they weren’t learning the mechanics of the job well – how to work the equipment, where the fuel dock was, whether the macaroni salad or the potato salad at Lovejoy Deli was better.  And I’m not saying the trainers weren’t qualified.  It’s just a fundamental law of business – you get what you pay for.

At one point a manager from one of our sister companies decided he didn’t want to manage anymore, and he transferred to our company as a driver.  He was assigned to a swing or graveyard shift, and he didn’t really need any training, because he’d been doing the work for several years.  However, my boss knew that I knew “the ropes” better, so he begged me to spend one or two work shifts sharing all of my secrets.  I told him I would – for a $100 per shift bonus.  He declined.

My feeling at the time was that I had learned the most efficient ways to make money in that job primarily through trial-and-error.  Therefore, it was my intellectual property, and it was worth a heck of a lot more than $100 per shift for one or two work shifts.  If a new driver was only 5% more effective as a result of learning my ways (which I could have accomplished with a simple casual suggestion, in most cases), we’re talking something like $7500 more in revenue annually for the company, probably about 80% of which would be profit, considering that it wouldn’t result in additional expense.  And it would likely have decreased turnover as well.  $100 per shift, for TWO shifts – oh, the Humanity.

Now I’m out of the truck and way less militant, so let’s spell out some of the ways that I was able to be more productive as a commission driver.

1. Be prepared when you get to work.  Have your equipment ready.  Travel light.  I had my work gloves, my invoice books, and my lockout kit.  I kept it all in a locker or in my personal vehicle.  Our trucks were equipped with everything else we would need. If I got to work and a call was holding, I could be in the truck and gone in 30 seconds.

​2. As soon as you are ready to work, let the dispatcher know you are ready, and ask them if they are holding anything.  I can’t even think of how many times I asked this and was given a juicy high-dollar impound that had been holding for 10 minutes because the dispatcher was overworked and harried and remembered they were holding the call when I asked.

​3. Have a plan.  If there are ways for you to generate revenue without running dispatched calls – impound lots to patrol, low-priority “anytime” calls pending, etc. – figure out how you’re going to work that in.  Pay attention to what times of your shift are busiest and where the call activity seems to be centered during those times, and then center yourself there.

​4. Have a goal.  We had a monthly guaranteed salary (which I always exceeded).  I broke that down into a 20-day month (even though most months have 22 work days), and aimed to exceed that daily goal every day. 

​5. Exceed the goal.  If I had a great shift and hit my goal within a few hours, I rode the wave as far as it would take me.  In fact, if I was having a great shift, I always pushed harder, because those huge commission days make up for a lot of slow days.  If I could triple or quadruple my daily goal, not only did I feel great at the end of my shift, I usually felt tired and the shift went quickly, and if you’re going to be tired, having a lot of money to show for it always makes it a good kind of tired.

​6. Don’t get sucked into doing things that don’t generate revenue.  Don’t make food runs for office personnel.  Don’t do “freebie” tows.  Don’t shuffle trucks around for the fleet maintenance department.  You might be asked or even forced to do these things, but if you are, resist.  Complain.  Make it a bigger pain for your boss to force you to do it than it’s worth for him.

​7. Develop efficient routines.  Find the most efficient way to hook up a vehicle, unhook a vehicle, do your paperwork, etc., and do it efficiently every time, even if it seems like a slow work day.  When you arrive at a tow destination, tell the dispatcher you’re unhooking, and then tell them when you’re clear.

8. Don’t let people you work with waste your time.  If you work with some long-winded talkers, be rude and alienate them early in your tenure there, so that they avoid you and tell everyone what a jerk you are.  Then they’re too busy wasting someone else’s time to waste yours, and if you’re competing with others for calls, you’re taking two people out of the mix simultaneously.  Seriously, work is for work.  Invite them over on your off-day to chat, if you feel like being friendly.

There’s a lot more to it than this, of course, but these ideas might help you or your drivers. 
Have a safe and profitable week.
Nick Kemper


Fire Design Contemporary Fire Extinguishers Chrome
I got some spam the other day from a training materials firm that I once bought something from, and I glanced at the email without reading it closely.  The subject read, “5 Dumb Ways to Kill Employee Morale – and 5 Great Ways to Improve it.”  I read only the first part, and I thought it read, “5 Ways to Kill Dumb Employees.”  Maybe my brain read it that way because I’m dysfunctional – who knows?  My first thought was:  Only 5?  Just kidding.  I love employees.  If I had any, they’d back me up on that.  I really enjoy other people’s employees.  It really is so much fun to hang around the periphery of a deteriorating supervisor-employee relationship, doling out unsolicited advice to both parties.  Mostly, I try to wait till the advice is solicited.  It is so much easier to have a positive perspective on employee issues when you are not immersed directly in the issue, when it’s someone else’s issue.  This is why we need peer relationships with coworkers or friends with a corporate stature similar to our own.  Let’s not confine it to professional relationships, either.  Husbands talk to other husbands, and wives talk to other wives, about the challenges of marriage.  Parents to other parents, and kids talk to other kids, about the challenges of intergenerational relationships.  We’re wired to sometimes see things more clearly at a distance.

I like being a grown up.  I don’t always act like one, but I like being one.  I like the privileges, the freedoms, the responsibilities, the challenges.  One of my brothers is going through a divorce, and the circumstances of the separation and his activities immediately following required some painfully honest discourse between members of the family.  One of the feelings he expressed to me was that he didn’t want to be judged.  I heard the same thing from one of my other siblings – we shouldn’t judge others.  People who are religious sometimes suggest that only a higher power can judge humans.

This got me to thinking.  I’m very fond of pragmatic activity.  What if we really tried to not judge others?  How could this possibly be a good idea?  Think about it.  You start teaching your kids at an early age to be wary of strangers, a stark and subjective judgment that has no basis in fact.  Why?  For their protection.  It’s not about the person being judged.  It’s about your kid being safe.  Volumes have been written about how important it is to make a good first impression.  Malcolm Gladwell wrote a whole book about how right we usually are when we form that first impression.  News flash:  first impression = snap judgment.  In the business world, when we interview a job applicant without any more information than the resume, references, a look at their Facebook page, and the content of the interview, we are judging based on very limited information, something many of us later rue when the dysfunctions start multiplying.  Judging others is pragmatic, and necessary. 

And think about a courtroom judge.  Should they go a little easier on the guilty?  Maybe we should change their title to “Advisor.” 
I think most of us would qualify my brother’s statement to say that we don’t want to be unfairly judged.  But what most of us really mean by that is that we don’t want to hear the unfair judgments of others.  The reality is, we all judge others constantly, and often unfairly.  I say, let’s bring the judgments out into the open, where they can be judged themselves.  We were just discussing in a staff meeting the other day how it wasn’t really fair for a recently-hired employee to be surprised about being let go before his or her training period was up.  I agree.  I see it in business all the time, treating everything as if it is a pop quiz.  Listen, if you are testing your employees, you want it to be an open-book test.  You want them to have all of the necessary information at their disposal all the time.  You want training to be an ongoing process, and you want it to be an endless loop:  demonstrate, drill, provide feedback, rinse, repeat (the lather-rinse-repeat instruction, by the way, has got to be one of the most brilliant marketing ploys ever devised).  That’s teamwork, that’s leadership.  If an employee sits through a performance review and is legitimately shocked about how poorly you assess their performance, you haven’t done your job as a supervisor.  You should scrub clean the record and start over with that employee.

It really is an egocentric fault to demand that others not judge you.  That sentence reminds me of another reason why people don’t want to be judged – the inability to separate self from actions.  Anyone who has read good parenting guidelines knows that you criticize and correct a child’s actions, not the child himself.  You affirm your love for the child, then explain why you disapprove of his actions, and give an example of what action you would have preferred.  Life is messy, and linguistics are doubly messy, so when we hear someone tell us that they are unhappy with us, we need to hear it as, “I love/like you, but not what you did.”  Why interpret a judgment in the most personally threatening way?  And remember, also, that the Judge, in this case, is another person just like you, trying to get through the day with limited data, subject to the same misconceptions and insecurities.  Like Crash tells Nuke in “Bull Durham,” when Nuke is nervous because his father is at the game:  “He’s just your dad, he’s as full of crap as the next guy.”  Guess what?  We’re all as full of crap as the next guy.  If I make a judgment about your tobacco addiction, or your taste in “music,” or your inane ramblings, I don’t expect you to engrave it in gold and make it your mantra. 

And, finally, let’s not forget the nature of judgments:  they don’t have to be bad.  What about the good judgments?  What about when I tell you you’re smart, pretty, funny, trustworthy, inspirational, and you smell good?  What about when I tell you that I like you, that I love you?  We want to get rid of that?  Hell, no, we don’t.  We all have the power to tip the scales, to make 60%, 70%, 80% of our judgments positive judgments, to look for the good in others and celebrate it.  So let’s tip.
I love you guys.  Thanks for reading.
Nick Kemper

​At Jerry Bullock’s memorial service a few years back, I ran into Marty Oppenlander of Hillsboro Towing. Marty gave my brother-in- law a job back in the mid-70s, and then my older brother went to work for him about a year later. My dad was looking for a way to transition from working for someone else to owning his own business, and it corresponded with this time period, so he got the idea that owning a tow company was the way to accomplish this.

Of course, the transition ended up very different. He had trained personnel to start with, which was a
plus. He purchased an existing operation with equipment, which was sort of a plus, and with a facility, which was a plus. 
There were a lot of unforeseen minuses, unfortunately. Within six months, he had  laid off my sister, who was running the office, and reduced my brother-in- law to part-time, and shortly thereafter, he started covering weekend and evening shifts himself (mostly so that my brother could have a few hours off here and there). Within a few years, he gave the company and his house to the bank to get out from under the debt. Through it all he kept working his regular job.

I distinctly remember the day we went to my sister’s house to give everyone the news that we were purchasing the company and embarking on the new business venture. They knew something was in the works, but it was still up in the air. My brother-in- law and my brother were both doing well working for Marty. My sister was pregnant, I believe. She was obviously anxious about the idea of packing up and moving, as well as changing jobs. I’m sure my brother-in- law, my brother, and his girlfriend, were anxious as well. My sister, however, was the only one to voice the concern, as I remember it.

I remember it vividly, because my brother-in- law was lying on the floor resting on a couch pillow in their living room. He seemed to do that a lot, and I didn’t really understand it as a 12-year- old, but now I see that he did it to give up a chair or a seat on the couch to someone else. I don’t think he found the floor that comfortable. When my sister balked at the idea of them going to work for the family business, he took the pillow and threw it at her, and told her to be quiet. It was a tense moment. I don’t think my dad expected anything but excitement.

My mom might have been a little more skeptical, but I might be basing that on my memory of her opinion of the venture after it started to go sour.

My brother-in- law had great respect for my dad, and I think he felt that he had a solemn responsibility to embrace the opportunity, that he was being entrusted to run a business that was an admittedly risky venture. He probably was more worried than anyone, knowing more about what it takes to run a successful towing company than anyone else present in that living room, but he displayed only optimism, even after things starting going south. He later managed two successful tow companies profitably, and he did what he could to help my dad with his business, but it was probably more than any of them could have reasonably overcome.

Family businesses are such a sensitive subject. My youngest son used to watch “Man, Woman, Wild,”on Netflix, where a husband and wife are placed out in nature with little resources and survive by their wits. It wouldn’t be such an interesting show without the dynamic of the husband and wife team, which presents all kinds of mini-dramas. If you’ve ever worked with a family member in a business, you know how all of the baggage from the past can be drug in and spilled all over the present. Looking back at that day in my sister’s living room, I applaud my sister for speaking up and voicing her concerns, I applaud my brother-in- law for being loyal to my dad, and I applaud my dad for taking a risk and trying to better everyone’s situation. I’m not saying no one’s blameworthy for the failure of the business. I just think that, even more so than a non-family business, a family business presents a best-case scenario that involves sacrifice from almost all involved parties.

I said to Marty at the service that he was basically responsible for me putting 30 years into this industry, to which he responded, “You’re welcome.” He added, “Not such a bad life.” He’s right, of course. I suspect he wasn’t talking about just my life, but also about his own, as well as that of anyone else who has made a career in this industry. God knows what he and his wife have had to deal with, employing
their kids, siblings, a son-in- law, spouse teams, relatives of other employees. Whatever his formula is, it’s working. I suspect it’s not completely scientific. If you know Marty, you know one of his distinctive features is his laugh, which I think lends credence to the philosophy that you don’t get very far in this business (or other businesses) without a sense of humor.

So thank you, Marty, for giving my brother-in- law that job, and for knocking over that first domino in the line that I’m still following.

Have a safe and profitable week.
Nick Kemper
I was reminiscing last night with some of the other parents on my son’s baseball team about how risky and carefree our childhoods were compared to how careful we have to be with our kids today.  We can’t let them go over to a friend’s house without running a background check on all of the occupants of the residence, and maybe a few of the neighbors.  We can’t transport them anywhere without a 6-point harness. 

I wrote recently about hiking through town to my brother’s baseball game with my two younger brothers (we were 6, 5, and 4 years old, respectively), and then thumbing a ride home when we discovered the game wasn’t a home game. 

 I don’t think I even wore a seat belt until I started driving.  Two of my first three cars didn’t even have working seat belts.
Even within the industry, safety practices were more of a recommendation than a requirement.  I used to tag along with my brother-in-law when he first started driving tow truck, when I was a teenager, and more than once I hopped out and rode on the back of the truck to make room for customers, when there were more than two people in the vehicle we were towing.  A few times it was raining.  A few years later, when he was my supervisor, we impounded a small boat on a trailer with no ball hitch.  It was light, so we lifted the hitch up onto the boom and put the trailer wheels in the wheellift.  Because it was so light, he was worried it might bounce up and down on the boom and cause some carnage, so I rode on the bed and held it down.

Many, many times we walked alongside, rode in, or hovered near vehicles we were recovering, to make sure it tracked straight, or to keep branches from hanging up on it, or just to keep an eye on the load and the cable connection.  Probably we were in harm’s way, but when you’re young, you’re invincible, right?  I can remember being in a stolen truck (a stolen truck found by the police, not a truck I stole) with no engine, transmission, steering, or brakes, being pulled up an incline so steep you could hardly walk up it, holding onto the steering column bolt with a pair of vice grips, trying to keep it tracking straight.  If the winch cable had broken (and we were trying, believe me), I’d now be part of the landscape under the power lines up off Skyline Road.

I won’t even begin to go into some of the insanity that took place on an almost daily basis during deer season.  Multiply the danger by 4 and toss in loaded rifles.  My daughter, now 18, can’t stand hearing stories about what we were doing at her age out in the woods “hunting,” because she knows it’s a different world now, and she’ll never have the opportunity to live like that.  I’m fine with it.  She’s not.
I wonder, with all of our precautions and protective impulses if we are depriving our children of the opportunity to get themselves out of a pickle, or to make a snap decision, or be the voice of reason within a group of unruly hooligans. 

I can honestly say that I have the confidence in myself to get out of a seriously dangerous situation that I did not anticipate.  I am wise enough now to avoid those situations, but if I stumbled into one, I believe in my improvisational skills.  That’s because I’ve had to do it.  When I say “had to,” I don’t mean what got me into the pickle in the first place wasn’t within my control.  I mean that once I got myself there, it was pretty much up to me, and maybe an accomplice, to get myself out.  I understand why we protect out kids.  It is a different world out there, and the result of a bad decision seems like it can be so much worse now than it used to be.

Maybe it’s all a figment of my imagination.  Maybe it’s a cyclical thing – the kids who took risks become parents who play it safe, and vice versa.  In which case I might get to swap stories with my grandkids someday.  I think what happens is that because communication has drawn us all together so closely now, the solution to a problem becomes a blanket solution, and it’s held in place like ratchet.  Situations are no longer handled on a case-by-case basis.  Someone figured out that small children were getting hurt in car wrecks, and the data was shared, so authority groups mandated the use of childseats, and they clicked that regulation into place like a ratchet, and it held.  When the data on child victimization was shared widely, authority groups mandated background checks for adults who work closely with kids, and it was clicked into place, and it held.  I guess the big question is, will all of the accumulated prevention and protection strategies ever have a beneficial effect on the behaviors and circumstances that make them necessary? 

I survived my youth, so I cherish some of the memories of risks I took.  Not all of them, but some of them I do, especially the ones that I know I learned something from. 
Have a safe and profitable week.
Nick Kemper

St. Patrick's Day is right around the corner.  May the luck o' the Irish be with you.  This year we have the 38th running of the Shamrock Run here in Portland, which is a distance run.  A few years back, my wife got up early Sunday morning, without telling anyone in the household, drove downtown, and ran the 5K!  Talk about going to great lengths to get away from the kids (and the husband)!

I used to do street-clearing for all of the runs and races back in the day, and the Shamrock Run was always the first run of the year.
  The organization who put on the run had permission from city officials to clear certain downtown blocks of cars, so they contracted with our company to do the vehicle moves.  There was a pattern to the street-clearing for a run:
1.            Arrive early, 6:30 a.m.
2              Spend 30 minutes trying to track down your contact with the race officials, whom you don't know, you don't know what he/she looks like, they're not looking for you, and they're way too busy to deal with you.
3.            Find out which streets need to be cleared, and there are going to be about two blocks where they "forgot" to put up the "No Parking" signs the day before, so they are packed with cars.
4.            The two blocks are right at the start, but some bleeding heart wants to make announcements to the crowd and give people a chance to move their cars, so 20 minutes before race time, you're "cleared" to move the 12 cars on the block to the nearest legal parking space.  Remember, there are 10,000 people there to run or watch the race.  There are no open legal parking spaces within a mile.
5.            Full throttle moving cars for 20 minutes.
6.            Get two free t-shirts:  one for you, and one for the boss who’s asleep at home.
7.            2 hours on the phone with the Records Dept. telling them which cars you moved, from where, and to where.
Parade moves are slightly different.  We would also move cars for the Starlight Parade and the Rose Parade, events that take place in late May/early June.  In this case, sometimes you get to drive right down the parade route, moments before the parade starts, overheads on, moving some poor schmuck’s car two miles from where he parked it, doing the parade wave to all the citizens.  At least there’s some fame and glory involved with the parade moves.  The only times I ever received more public adulation while doing a tow was the few times I towed a police car.  A lot of people find that amusing, for some reason, and will cheer and yell with a raised fist from their own car.  Which is a little strange when the officer is in the tow truck with you, muttering obscenities under his breath.
Have a safe and profitable week.
Nick Kemper

I have a long commute to my work office – approximately 45 miles.  With that distance, and with traffic, sometimes I run into a problem that requires finding a rest stop of some kind.  I’ve written before about the challenges of eating on the road, but a related, and equally vexing challenge is relieving oneself on the road.  Not literally on the road.  Unless you’re in the remote backwoods. 
I hear giggling in the back row.  We’re all adults here, right?  RIGHT?  Okay, thank you.
One of the things I try to do with this forum is to pass on my learned wisdom, including trade secrets and my own intellectual property.  I try to impart practical, useful advice.  During the many years I was in the truck, motoring willy-nilly all over town, I often found myself looking for a temporary place of refuge.  Of course, there is the obvious:  gas stations and fast-food joints.  Many of these locales have locked their restroom doors, however, to all but paying customers.  And who can blame them?  I’m not a big fan of these options.  You’ve noticed the condition of these facilities, right?  Every once in awhile you’ll enter a restroom in a fast-food establishment somewhere, and it will be clean and have an air freshener.  This is certainly the exception, not the rule.  Most of the time, it’s just not pretty.
I have two general solutions:  one, a quick no-frills option; and two, the deluxe Primadonna option.
Option 1 is the plastic port-a-potty, known by many names:  the Schulzie, the Honey Wagon, the Kool-Aid Box, etc.  These facilities are literally all over town, notably at or near construction sites.  If you just envision what one of these looks like, and open your eyes to your surroundings, you’ll find one.  The neat thing about this option is you’ll find them in residential areas, as well as business areas.  Yes, sometimes they are padlocked shut, but I bet I’ve run across that in maybe 5% of my efforts.  You can find them at sports fields, outdoor events, and on farms with agricultural workers.
It is option two that I really prefer, however:  the non-public public restroom in an office building.  Most office buildings nowadays are home to multiple businesses which lease space.  Many of them have vacant space most of the time.  I’m not talking about a high-rise downtown full of legal offices – those are usually monitored by doormen and security personnel, and the restrooms are usually not accessible from the lobby.  I’m talking about medium-sized buildings, maybe four stories, where you walk into the lobby and there are elevators and a few hallways, and you could pitch a tent in the lobby and roast a few hot dogs before you see another human being stroll by.  If you find a building like this, especially if it’s new, you walk into the restroom and it’s like you’re the first one who’s ever used it.  I presume that the people working in the building are using the restroom closest to their office, so the one closest to the lobby just doesn’t get much traffic.  And the building owner probably has a cleaning service come through once a week to polish and shine, regardless of how much use the restrooms get.
Now there’s always the possibility you’ll be discovered and cornered by some patriot who thinks he’s protecting the building from undesirables.  If anyone stops you and inquires about your quest, just tell them, “Job interview, third floor.”  That explains why they’ve never seen you there.  If you’re wearing an orange safety vest and work attire, they’ll probably just think you are very strange for dressing like that for a job interview, and they’ll separate and disperse. 
Oh, there are other venues, such as public libraries, colleges, hospitals, police stations, City Halls – but if you identify a network of pristine, new office buildings, you’ll occupy a whole different strata of society.  You’ll get used to the odor of disinfectant, and you’ll never use a gas station restroom again.