I was at a Parent Meeting at my daughter's high school recently, and the instructor for the AP US History course was explaining his course, that it covered the time period between Columbus' discovery and 9/11.  A parent asked him why he didn't cover up to the present day, and he explained that, in the academic community, usually a couple of decades have to pass for history to "settle."  What he meant is that the "facts" sometimes aren't known or apparent until many years later.

Thinking about 9/11, I was reminded of the impact that event had on our industry.  The economic impact now seems like it was a rehearsal for the current recession.  The day of the attack, our local major metropolitan airport called the company I was managing and asked us to station a truck there 24 hours a day.  We were there for the next 3 months, while they put the job up for bid, and then one of our competitors under-bid us and got the contract.  The driver would sit at the split between arrivals and departures, and every 15 minutes he or she would cycle through both.  If one of the airport personnel had an unattended vehicle, we would take it to a holding lot.  We moved very few vehicles.  We were there to threaten, mostly, to keep people from leaving their vehicles unattended.  Drivers worked 4- or 8-hour shifts.  I worked a few shifts myself.  The 10 pm-2 am shift was very boring.  The most interesting thing I saw was a coyote run down the street into departures shortly after midnight one night.  Apparently he was taking the red-eye somewhere.

Another thing we did, along with most of the other towing companies in our municipality, was station trucks at certain times of the day near the major bridges in town, presumably to tow away any vehicles with bombs off the bridge before they blew up, if a terrorist was so inclined to attack the bridge, which apparently was a concern for awhile after 9/11.

I sometimes wondered what role we would play if there actually was a terrorist vehicle left unattended, or if a vehicle left unattended actually turned out to be a terrorist vehicle, perhaps with a bomb inside.  This is the tow truck driver's job, to transport vehicles with bombs inside?  Talk about pressure!  And where do you tow it to?  It made me think of a tow I had done several years before that, right after the Oklahoma City bombing.

I was driving swing shift, and I got off at midnight.  Around 11, I got a call to impound a vehicle from a no-parking zone downtown in the large city where I worked.  When I got there, it was the only vehicle on the street.  It was a VW Bus, circa 1975.  What was odd was that it was parked in the Police Vehicle Zone.  Who in the world would leave their VW Bus overnight in a Police Vehicle Zone?  The police had ticketed it, called in the tow, and left.  It was a weeknight, and the streets and sidewalks were deserted.  I hooked up to the vehicle and checked all the doors--locked.  I didn't want to dollie the vehicle, so I worked to unlock it.  The police contract gave us authorization to unlock vehicles we were impounding for them.  VW Buses can be tricky to unlock.  I tried the doors and wing windows and was walking around behind the vehicle to go to the other side, when I grabbed the rear flip-up door and it was open.

This VW Bus was the cleanest, most immaculate VW Bus I have ever seen.  I had to crawl through the rear door to open one of the main doors.  When I climbed in, there were no rear seats in the van.  I thought that was odd.  In fact, other than the driver and passenger seats, there was NOTHING in the van--it was empty and spotless--EXCEPT... there was a double-size briefcase sitting upright right in the middle of the van.


It was at that point that I realized that this Police Vehicle Zone took up the whole block right in front of the rear entrance to the FEDERAL BUILDING.  Yes, I am not kidding you.  This was about 3 months after the Oklahoma City bombing.

What did I do?  I was a commission driver in the last 30 minutes of his shift.  I completed the tow.

When I got to the impound lot, I told the graveyard shift driver about it, and he called the police.  They came down with the bomb squad to check out it out, after I went home (I was off-duty at midnight, and I didn't see the point of waiting around to see if the briefcase would explode).  Turned out to be clean.  I never did find out why the owner parked it there, or what was in the briefcase, and my wife really didn't appreciate the fact that I continued on with the tow after I understood the similarities.  But I got my commission, and I finished my shift on-time.  That was the important thing.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper

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