Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tow-Truck Operator Endures Bad Ink - and Bad Blood

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tow-Truck Operator Endures Bad Ink - and Bad Blood

Article excerpt

PEOPLE THROW EGGS and shoot at him.

They chase him down the street, screaming obscenities.

They set his truck on fire.

They sic their dogs and lawyers on him.

They threaten to kill him.

Welcome to the life of Charlie Michels, tow truck driver.

Michels owns American Towing & Salvage at 3901 North Broadway. He got some bad ink recently when he towed 21 cars from a parking lot used by MetroLink riders. The car owners had to pay $140 each to get their cars back. Understandably, they weren't happy. They complained to MetroLink officials, who pointed the finger at the DeBaliviere Community Center - the parking lot owner - which passed the buck to Michels. MetroLink asked Michels to give the car owners their money back.

Not likely.

"I was the fall guy," Michels said. "But I don't care. I got paid."

Sure he's in it for the money. What businessman isn't? But lest we think Michels is not a generous guy, he invited us to ride around in his truck.

"You wouldn't believe what we have to put up with," Michels said.

His bread and butter is derelict cars. Thousands of them are rusting to death on the city streets. Sometimes they vanish before his truck gets there. Other times, like Tuesday, there is a confrontation. (Just in case, Michels carries a gun. A big gun.)

Michels oozed his flatbed trailer into a narrow slice of back yard in the 3700 block of Hebert Avenue. Employees Jay Whobrey and George Lampley yanked down a chain link fence. Swiftly, they surrounded their quarry: a black and yellow cab with a clobbered front end, and a black and white cab full of cats and pigeon feathers. A neighbor said one of the cars had been there for six years.

"We don't need any permission to go on private property" or to take it, Michels said. "We need to get in and get out quickly."

No sooner had the winch dragged the black and yellow onto the flatbed than Clarence Pollard, the cars' owner, appeared in his undershirt and slippers.

"I didn't know anything about this," Pollard protested. "Nobody told me you were coming. You are taking my livelihood away. I was going to fix that cab up and put it back on the street. …

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