Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov
MY CAR GOT TOWED LAST WEEKEND. I HADN'T BEEN TOWED IN SIX years, so I'd forgotten about the five stages you go through, like death: disbelief, outrage, storming around the parking lot looking for the sign that gives you the phone number to find your car, resignation, calculation of available cash.
There are, in fact, many similarities between towing and death. Hearing that someone else got towed always makes you feel better about your own problems, but it also scares you because you know it could happen to you at any time. Telling people about a towing often inspires them to share their own towing experiences, many of which are still open wounds.
Towing also crosses cultural lines; whether you've been towed in Los Angeles, London or Mexico City, you know that 1) your car is far away and you will get lost getting there, 2) some secret extra fee will be added at the last minute to the already breathtaking towing price, and 3) you and the person who's got your car will come to despise each other.
Of course, you usually start out on bad terms. The person behind the desk (or, more likely, thick Plexiglas or bars) is sullen from years of being cursed at. And there's no incentive for him to be nicer or to move faster. Nor is there a penalty for his becoming even more surly or slowing down even more. He charges what he wants and you will pay it, no matter what. His hours aren't convenient. Why should they be? He charges by the day, so if you'd prefer to scream at him on the phone today rather than pick up your car, be his guest. Passive aggressiveness reaches its zenith at the towing office.
And what about you, the towee? You are so full of righteous anger at the evilness of the process that you cannot face the simple fact that you screwed up. You got towed because you parked in the wrong place. You gambled, and you lost. But instead of losing gracefully, you become an asshole. I am here to tell you that this will happen even if you vow that it won't.
I showed up in East Los Angeles to pick up my car with my boyfriend, Adam, knowing that I would have to be the reasonable one because he was already deep in towing rage. We approached a tiny storefront; inside were two teenage boys playing a computer game and two massive dogs sitting behind a heavy iron gate.
Things went sour immediately. The boys told us that the tow-truck driver wasn't there, and that he was the only one who could get our car out, so we'd have to wait. "How long?" Adam asked. They shrugged. "Why didn't you tell us this when we called 15 minutes ago and asked if you were open?" Adam yelled. One of them deadpanned, "We're open, he's just not here."
Looking back, I'm pretty sure that's the moment I started to unravel, even though at the time I felt in control and on the outside I seemed calm. I paid the $165 ($40 of which was an "after-hours charge" because it was Saturday and their hours are 10 to 4, Monday through Friday) and settled patiently against the wall to wait.
It started small. After 10 minutes of standing around watching the boys play the computer game, I called a friend on my cell phone and began talking loudly about how we'd been towed from "some stupid fucking deli." I was hoping, I think, that the boys would be embarrassed that their family's company was towing people from such stupid fucking places. The call had no visible effect. I got madder. I started crank calling the deli from whose lot we'd been towed. I called and hung up 30 times. This made me feel better, and I thought I was basically done being mad.
After another 15 minutes, Adam asked the boys if they could please call the towing guy again and ask him where he was and how long it would take to get here. Reluctantly one of them made the call, which we couldn't hear, hung up and said, "He's on the 101."
"Where on the 101?" Adam asked. "How far away?"
"He's on his way. He's on the 101."
"The 101 is a long highway, can you tell me where he is, approximately?"
"He's on his way."
I looked into this boy's impassive face and vowed to spend every minute until the towing guy got here tormenting him and his friend. I started grinding a moving part of the metal gate against itself, making an unholy squealing sound. I pretended to be mindlessly fidgeting, looking off into space as I was doing it, as though I couldn't even hear the sound. When the dogs started whining and growling at the shrieks (which I got better and better at drawing out), I cooed at them as though they were Pomeranians.
"You're cute," I told the pit bull. "What a good dog." The sick part is that I knew the boys would be reluctant to confront me because I'd seemed calm so far, and I was a grownup, and a woman, and white. These boys weren't going out of their way to help us, but fundamentally they seemed decent kids who were shy around adults, and I used their decency against them. I made the gate scream for 25 minutes.
The tow-truck guy came five minutes after one of the boys finally asked me to stop. I was exhilarated. I believed that my gate-torture had driven the boys to contact the driver and make him come faster. I never saw that happen, but I felt it must have, somehow. I had done the impossible and made a towing company move faster than it had wanted to, and I had also managed to make two people at a towing office feel as trapped, miserable and enraged as I had been feeling waiting for my car.
My joy dissipated over the ride home, and by the time we walked in the door, I was ashamed. I am 34 years old and I've been trying for some time now to limit the number of times in a week that I am gratuitously an asshole, and this seemed like a real setback. I felt as though I'd eaten an entire tray of sheet cake. Each bite tasted good, but really I just made myself sick.
Hockey Dads: The Not Ready for Prime Ice Players
IT'S TUESDAY NIGHT, AND THE HOCKEY youth clinics are in full swing at El Segundo's HealthSouth Training Center. The L.A. Kings work out here, but at the moment the facility's three rinks -- two ice, one roller -- are crowded with younger dreams of Olympic gold and Stanley cups. Mothers lace up their daughters' white figure skates while boys and girls in full hockey gear waddle like ETs to practice. The bustling broods, the cool, regulated air and the rinks' impression of frozen lakes lend the whole facility the precious feel of a family preserve. Taking in the scene, Steve Cannella, a defenseman for the Not So Killer Bees, waits at the sidelines of the roller rink for the grownups' turn to play.
Cannella first got involved with hockey in 1998 as a coach for his son Adam's Hermosa Beach roller team. He was, he admits, a leader of few words. "All we did â was yell, 'Skate, skate, skate,'" says Cannella, who, like the other dads on his coaching staff, Mark Robelotto and Cliff Edson, had never actually played the game before. "That's all we knew to tell them."
Then Cannella, Robelotto and Edson, along with a handful of other hockey dads, decided to learn the game from the inside out. They discovered the HealthSouth Adult Roller Hockey League, formed the Killer Bees and hit the rink. Of course, while their kids began playing at the ages of 4 and 5, most of the dads on the Killer Bees didn't pick up the stick until 45. "We should probably be called the Wooden Soldiers," says Robelotto, the Bees' current coach. "We're all so stiff." Even so, they've turned the father-son dynamics of youth sports upside-down. For Robelotto, it's been a humbling experience. "The first time that I played, I felt I'd done terrible," he says. "When I came off the rink, my son came up to me, patted me on the back and said, 'Good game, Dad.' Then he stuck the knife in: 'Keep your stick down.'
"There's the humility in the realization that it's not nearly as easy as these kids make it look."
While soccer moms achieved national prominence during the Clinton years as a savvy swing demographic, hockey dads became the country's raging brutes earlier this year during the manslaughter trial of Thomas Junta, who beat his son's coach to death.
"There are a lot of goons out there, a lot of problems with parents living through their kids," says Robelotto, whose son, James, plays for the champion El Segundo Regents. "Since we started playing, we've come to the conclusion that it's their game. Let them play." And every Tuesday night, after their kids are finished with practice, the fathers have a game of their own.
Just before 7 p.m., a dozen Killer Bees are all biceps and bellies as they put on the last of their gear at the edge of the open-air roller rink. (They aren't quite ready for the ice yet, says Cannella.) They're a tanned Southern California blend of construction workers, film- and service-industry professionals, software engineers and recreation directors. Some pull helmets and face masks over graying beards, while others actually seem slimmer after pulling jerseys over their hip pads and softened middle-aged physiques.
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A handful of kids -- Zach, James, Beau, Max and Adam -- fresh out of their own hockey gear (except for Cannella's son, Adam, who recently switched to soccer), watch from the walkway overlooking the rink as their dads roll out to warm up. Moms keep watchful eyes on sons and husbands from the stands.
Tonight, the Bees, in last place (1-3) of the league's Copper Division, square off against the Tsunami-C's. Like most of the teams in this co-ed league, the Waves appear stacked with players decades younger than the Bees. Still, Cannella promises a good game. "We really killed this team in the pre-season," he says. "We're going to eat them up."
At first, the Bees battle wildly for the puck with a tenacious, ass-over-elbows fervor and fend off repeated Waves power plays. Still, up in the peanut gallery, Robelotto's 11-year-old, James, can't resist the chance to throw brickbats. "It's so embarrassing," he says, giggling. "We come and watch them play when we need a good laugh." Even that, however, isn't enough to hold the boy's interest as his father's team huffs and puffs its way to a 4-1 loss. By the end of the second period, James and several of his teammates are off playing tag.