Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Repo Man - First Blood

Fresh out of college with a Biology degree, I was eager to put my “science” to practical experience. However, pickings were slim and I soon reached the acceptance that ANY employer willing to pay me would be greatly appreciated. I accepted employment for a large Pacific Northwest Bank. As it turns out, as a scientist, I was in good company; virtually none of my fellow bank employees had degrees in finance or business – mostly Liberal Arts majors; there was even a guy in the commercial lending department who graduated from seminary. But I digress…

This bank wanted its future loan officers to understand implicitly what a “bad” loan was. Therefore budding young loan officers began their tenure collecting bad debts in “the field”. My entry level position was, therefore, as a “Repo Man”.

This was going to prove to be a tough gig for a shy, 5’ – 6” 145 pound middle class white boy. I was already fairly shy; so much so that I would avoid calling the movie theater to check show times unless I was fairly SURE I would get a recording. My first trial was making it through the interview, which I thought I had blown as the old codger interviewing me never gave me the opportunity to say anything. Miraculously I was hired and soon found myself in “training”. My training constituted riding along for two weeks with another experienced “Outside Collectors”. Once fully trained, I was issued my own vehicle, credit card, assorted Portland road maps and a briefcase full of delinquent accounts.

Here was the game: If the bank (me) could get the collateral back to the car dealership before the delinquency passed the 90-day mark, the car dealer would have to make the delinquent loan good for the Bank. We usually were assigned cases at the point where they were about 60 delays delinquent; previous collection efforts having failed to this point.

So here I am someplace in rural Oregon out on my own my first week on my own. I pull up to the delinquent customer’s house (referred to in repo jargon as “the Flake”). Step one; position your car (door unlocked) facing toward the street in the event one should need to make a hasty escape. There on the front lawn I positively identify “The Collateral”; a bright red Toyota Land Cruiser. Of course this house happens to be situated by itself in the middle of a field, visible for miles in any direction. My reconnaissance reveals that this location is NOT going to be an easy target to sneak up on should I have to return later in the dead of night. Noted.

I knock on the door; a HUGE man steps out the screen door and onto the porch. He’s wearing torn red and black plaid shirt and bib overalls. The stereotype generator in my mind suggests his name might be either “Tiny” or “Bubba”. I am dressed in a sky blue leisure suit.

I launch into my spiel – “…you are two months delinquent on your account, blah blah…ignored notices, blah blah blah.” Then I wrap it all up with my demand “… and if you do not bring this account current, I will be required to take yon vehicle into my possession.”

At the close of my speech – total silence… except for the annoying dog at our feet barking incessantly throughout my entire dialog. Bubba, not wanting his response depreciated by the interrupting dog, draws his leg back then punts the dog into the air and clean off the porch. While the dog is still in flight, he then turns to me and says: “So a little guy like you is going to drive my car away?” Summoning Herculean effort in retaining my composure, I respond: “Yes, sir… I’ll just move the seat forward and drive it off.”

I think the disparity in our body builds mutually suggested that physical combat, at this point, was not warranted. To my relief, he agreed to arrangements whereby he would come into the local branch office the following day and pay up his arrears. I believe I have pulled off a coup.

However, a few days later the branch informs me that Bubba never showed and his account is still delinquent; the guy just blew me off.

By now it’s a Friday afternoon. Having the “key code”, a local locksmith has cut a key for the Toyota. I am at “the Flake’s” place of employment, a manufacturer of railroad freight cars where he is a welder. I cruise up and down the employee parking lot until… there it is, the red Toyota Land Cruiser. I gain access to the vehicle; It is full of fishing gear. He apparently has a big weekend planned.

The engine fires and I slowly drive this guy’s car out of the employee parking lot. Damn, he’s going to be pissed when he gets off work and finds his car gone! I’ve just repossessed my first car. Oddly, my right foot is trembling... it will tremble like that with every car I repo over the next two years.


Rachel said...

Any man who kicks his dog like that deserves to have his car and fishing gear taken away. Ha!

DJan said...

No wonder it was so easy to get that job: nobody must have wanted it much. That was so well told, however, that I was able to put myself in your place and got quite an adrenaline hit! :-)

Making documentaries must have seemed quite tame after that.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE it! I think this is the only job that I can think of that makes stealing legal and thrilling. Wish I could join the Operation Repo that is shown on TruTV!!
PS I can't get it to post my i'm anonymous

The Mother said...

You have to feel bad for the guys who are currently turning people out of their houses, huh?

Repo man is a perfectly respectable profession. Biologist? Not so much. At least not in the current religious climate.

PeterDeMan said...

Very cool story, Robert. That's the reason I keep coming back. I never repo'd autos or anything like that but I did try selling cemetery plots.Never sold a one. And I sure agree with Rachel about due justice to anyone who will drop kick a dog.

Anonymous said...

I've been hearing about the huge increase in repos now with the economy bad. I imagine they are hiring.
A friend's husband did this job for several months untile someone shot at him-with a gun, for real. He quit. Not necessarily a good job for a family man/woman.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rachel There was a sense of vengeance that I must admit felt kind of good.

DJan Actually it was a pretty cool job; I look back on it as a defining moment of my life, one of many.

Anonymous When people asked me what I did for a living, I must admit that I said "stealing cars" as my response. Didn't know there was a TV show about it. It was pretty exciting, I must admit.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dr. Mom I didn't have the grades to go into academia which was the only venue for a Biology degree. The business community was just interested in college degrees, they didn't care what it was in.

Peter I would think it tough to sell cemetery plots, wouldn't most of your customers be dead?

BackRow I never had anyone shoot at me, though one of my buddies did have his rear window shot out. More stories in the pipe, by the way.

Gorilla Bananas said...

That must have been a real character-building experience. You went from a guy who couldn't speak to a stranger on the phone, to a guy who could tell a brute that you were going to take his car away. And you made good on your promise! Your next job should have been town sheriff.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Bananas I might have been too trigger-happy to be a sheriff. But indeed, my short career being the angel of financial vengeance was quite the morale builder.

GutsyWriter said...

My son is taking Biology at UCSB (Santa Barbara.)I hope he gets a job other than repo man. So glad the guy didn't spot you in the parking lot and chase you.

Murr Brewster said...

Hoo boy. Not a job for me. Thank you, however, for the image of you in a blue leisure suit. When are they coming back? That soon, huh?

I DID get a biology job right after graduating with my now-vestigial biology degree. And oh joy, I got to drop mice in a blender for two years.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Gusty THAT guy didn't spot me... another time, not so lucky. Stay tuned.

Murr Yes, the Leisure Suit was one of those things we try to forget about the 70's along with Jimmy Carter, hyper-inflation and the gas crisis (first one). I had two leisure suits, actually, a gray and, of course, the sky blue. That outfit alone likely did more than anything else to stymie my upward ascendancy at the bank.

Mary Witzl said...

What a great story, especially "... the disparity in our body builds mutually suggested that physical combat, at this point, was not warranted..." which gave me my first belly laugh of the day. Loved the blue leisure suit too.

But I got a little thrill just picturing you getting in that car and driving away. What happened to all the fishing gear? Did you get to fence it?

Some people we know just down the street had their house repossessed after they failed to make good on their second mortgage, due to many unforeseen misfortunes. I felt like yelling at the guy who boarded up their windows and changed all their locks, but I know he was just doing his job -- and he looked utterly miserable.

secret agent woman said...

I laughed out loud at the idea of someone doing repo work in a blue leisure suit. I've had a few patients who have done this and/or loan collecting - all women. They couldn't depend on physical strength or size either.

TechnoBabe said...

I am surprised you were sent on these repo jobs alone and not in pairs. You were a bright one man for sure. I would have blown the whole deal and yelled at the brute for kicking the dog.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Mary All the personal property from a repo is inventoried and stored, the debtor has the opportunity to pick up their stuff. However, often they abandoned their stuff so we got to pick through the stuff we wanted and take the rest to GoodWill. I got some good tools out of that job.

Regarding foreclosures: Many of them (and repos) happen because the debtor just sits there and does nothing; often banks will work with you to make arrangements for payment. But if you clam-up, the alternatives are slim.

ScerteAgent Really, a calm demeanor and an empathetic tone gets the job done most of the time. If it becomes agitated we just walked away... and their car then later "disappeared".

TechnoBabe We usually paired up at night when the mission was to simply repo the car with no contact.

Madame DeFarge said...

Did you get more for the fishing equipment? A blue leisure suit seems an ideal uniform for such a job. Especially if you wore it with shiny shoes.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Great story and a fine telling. I, too, wondered about not being sent out paired with cleared that up. Sort of like working with explosives for the adrenalin it must have produced. Light blue leisure suit...I know many "Flakes" must have underestimated you. Looking forward to the continued adventures.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Madame My experience was that people who didn't maintain their car payments also did not maintain their cars, or anything else, for that matter. The cars were usually pretty beat up even over short periods of time. They weren't worth much by the time we got our hands on them.

Marylinn One thing for sure, I certainly did not appear "threatening" to any of my potential customers/victims.

Nance said...

You bring a unique set of experiences to the whole muddle of the American economy--and an excellent story, too!

The moment before I logged on to read your story, I was tabbing back and forth between a NYT article, "The Fed's Next Move" (Op-Ed today) and an even scarier article, "Japan Goes From Dynamite To Disheartened."

BTW, I had a very tough uncle who made his career in the repo business. Although he was small, he was famous for his willingness to fight anyone, anytime...a sort of Marten Man.

My little Jon Stewart-inflated bubble didn't last 24 hours.

Entre Nous said...

While sitting on our little front, three season porch minding my own business, oh, and everyone else's as well, a plain red tow truck pulled up next door. It had all shiny, bumpy silver metal on the back, and a bitty tow thing. It dropped the bitty tow thingy, that appeared to have two scoops on the end of it, backed into a VW Jetta, the scooper thingys separated like claws, clamped onto the Jetta's front wheels and the whole deal lifted the car up, while a guy in the passenger side of the truck hopped out, opened the door to the Jetta, threw it in neutral,
hopped back into the truck, and off they went. Whole thing took five minutes.
Apparently they don't have to have any company name on the truck. Which would be the first indication it's the REPO-MAN. I remember when I was at work, before these fancy trucks came along, people would go after the REPO-Men with baseball bats, guns even.
But still, those guys were a lot better off than I was when I was a dog warden in a small town. One guy kindly offered to shoot me if I so much as looked at his dog....

Oh the things we do for the almighty dollar.... *sigh*