Bob Fecik is absolutely right when he says he doesn't `D conform to your image of a Repo Man. You don't imagine a Repo Man reading the Wall Street Journal or taking in the New York theater or saying things like "There's nothing more humbling than playing golf in the wind."
On the other hand, there is Mr. Fecik's bloodless post mortem on snatching a woman's car while she was visiting her small children and ex-husband on Christmas morning. The kids' presents lay in the car as he towed it away.
"That lady made two mistakes," Mr. Fecik says as he steers his tow truck toward another possible quarry. "She parked her car in the same place every time, and she succumbed to her motherly instinct of wanting to see her kids on Christmas."
During punishing economic times like these, you might get support from your spouse, consoling words from your parish priest and sympathy from your friends. But from the Repo Man, expect one thing only -- an empty space where your car used to be.
"I've had an emotional feeling now and then," Mr. Fecik says. "But you can't let your emotions interfere with business."
Especially now. The recession is slicing deeply into the volume of requests for repossessions. Pity the poor Repo Man. He works on commission.
Although the Repo Man usually thrives on the economic misfortune of others, the battered economy has decimated car sales and compelled finance companies, desperate to make good on their loans, to show more patience with defaulting customers.
"They're much more lenient than they used to be," grumbled Mr. Fecik, who at 52 has been doing repossessions for nearly three decades. "In years past, when that second payment came due, that person was walking."
It's true, the ranks of the newly laid-off are providing some business, said Laurie Porter, co-owner of Porter's Towing Company in Baltimore County, and Mr. Fecik's boss. Faltering small contractors are also frequent targets.
But on the whole, repossessions are way off, some Maryland companies reported last week. "These are the worst of times," lamented Leslie Reeder, owner of Southern Maryland Auto Recovery. Business, she said, is off by half.
To make a decent living, Mr. Fecik and other Repo Men (there are few, if any, Repo Women) work 16-to-20-hour days, seven days a week, grabbing sleep in two-hour increments. He puts more than 4,000 miles a week on his truck -- the equivalent of driving from Baltimore to Ontario every day. He bags between 10 and 15 cars each week, getting $45 each. He's not getting rich, he says, but he has made enough to buy a home in Bel Air and put three kids through college.
This morning, he is on the prowl around a woman's apartment complex in Baltimore County, looking for her Daytona. The woman is more than two months behind on her $342-a-month payments.
Mr. Fecik begins his search outside the woman's apartment, driving in an ever-widening circle. People worried about the Repo Man will often park their cars far away from their houses or at the homes of friends or relatives. They will change door and ignition locks, install alarm systems and place locking devices on their steering wheels. Forget it, Mr. Fecik says.
"I have the best key in the world," he explains. "The tow truck."
But even the truck is useless when the targeted car is surrounded by other cars, which the Repo Man is not allowed to touch. The next best protection from the Repo Man is to sleep in the car, as one woman was doing recently as Mr. Fecik drove her car away. She woke up and smacked his head with a shoe. He had to get out or risk a kidnapping charge.
After ten minutes of searching, Mr. Fecik can't find the Daytona. He heads off to Hunt Valley Mall, where the finance company said the woman works. Repo Men are hungry for information about their prey. They want to know where their relatives live, who their friends are. Some Repo Men quiz neighbors. Some pose as friends of the car owner.
Every Repo Man develops his own tricks. John Behn, 28, a co-worker of Mr. Fecik, buys raw meat when he's on his way to a repossession job on a farm. The meat occupies the dogs.
Mr. Fecik has favorite times for repo jobs. "Sunday mornings," he says. "People going to church, they get reckless." He is a student of people's habits -- where they shop, where they worship, where they visit. "Sooner or later, everyone makes a mistake, and that's when I get them."
He has had a lot of practice. The one-time Marine sergeant and Loyola College graduate hot-wired his first car during a repo job nearly 30 years ago when he worked for a small finance company. It was thrilling. He ditched the idea of a desk job.
By now, he has taken hundreds of cars, trucks, motorcycles and a handful of boats. Once, he sailed off from Bowleys Quarters in a 44-foot yacht.
"I like the challenge of it," he says of his job. "When you know someone's avoiding you, it gets to be a game. With the really bad ones, it gets to be a matter of pride and aggravation, so you really work 'em."