Saint Patty's Day is one of those rare times every year when a large part of the population can take a few hours to relax, kick back a few intoxicating beverages with friends, and try to forget the stresses of life. It's a time for decent human beings to smile and have a good time.
That's not how Eddie Leb likes to celebrate the holiday, though. Leb spent yesterday evening in the parking lot outside the CVS at Federal and Broward in Fort Lauderdale, delighting in ruining the day of one person after another. Leb is what the tow industry calls a "spotter." He can't wait for you to step away from your car so he can have it towed.
In the span of about two hours last night (from 5:30 to 7:30), Leb, with a face of gray scruff, wearing jeans, a blue T-shirt, and a denim shirt, had at least half a dozen cars or trucks towed.
"I tow everyone," he told me with pride. "I towed the mayor. I tow the FBI. I don't care."
One man parked his truck at CVS, went in, bought a bottle of water, then walked across the street for a happy-hour drink with friends at Morton's steak house. When he looked up 25 minutes later, his truck was gone.
He walked back to the lot, confused. He called a friend to say he thought his car may have been towed. He approached Leb, who was slinking around the parking lot with a cell phone at his ear, watching the cars and exiting passengers like a child pretending to be a cop.
"Did you have my truck towed?" the man asked Leb.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Leb said.
"You're not the guy watching the parking lot, calling in tow trucks?" the man said, somewhat amused at Leb's audacious feigned ignorance. "Could you at least tell me what company towed my car?"
"I don't know the company; why don't you check the sign?" Leb said.
Of course, Leb does know what company tows the vehicles there. It's Westway Towing, and Leb has a contract with them, according to Westway employees. At one point, Leb had two different Westway trucks in the lot at the same time, towing two different cars. As the tow trucks begin moving the vehicles, Leb slaps a bright-orange sticker on the driver's side window that reads: VIOLATION. (The sticker is a serious bitch to remove.)
"There are signs all over the parking lot," Leb told me. "It's the only free lot in the neighborhood, so they hire me to watch over it and call in anyone who leaves their car here."
Not long after the truck, a BMW owned by a woman named Madeline Castro was towed. Castro had left the lot for a moment to meet her daughter across the street. Her purse was in the car when it was towed. A stranger had to drive Castro to the Westway tow lot, ten minutes away (and also to an ATM), while her daughter waited alone in the parking lot.
"This is just plain theft," Castro said loudly. She told two Fort Lauderdale police officers what happened. They told her that because the lot is private property, there's nothing they can do. Leb -- a man both officers knew -- is within the boundaries of the law, they said.
After each of Leb's victims learns he or she has been towed, the process of recovery begins. First there's the call to Westway Towing, in which someone explains that the car is "probably" at the Fort Lauderdale location, on Northwest Seventh Avenue between Sistrunk and Sunrise, and it will cost at least $100 to get it back. Cash only.
Vernon Jacobs, the man working the tow lot last night, is direct. He takes the money, photocopies the registrations and licenses, and opens the gate. He's generally somewhat apologetic. Jacobs isn't a fan of Leb. "He's a horrible person," Jacobs told me. "One of the worst people I've ever met. He towed a grandmother who went to get her glasses cleaned. He once towed the flower guy when he was delivering flowers. I can't stand that son of a bitch."
"I've told him dozens of times he's going to hell," another employee said.
According to several Westway employees, Leb is paid by the tow company, though he insists he doesn't get paid per car. "I don't count how many cars I've towed," he told me. "I work for the property." Leb's business, the Parking Professional Inc., provides a complimentary service to properties, according his website. He also has a link to Westway Towing. One Westway employee described Leb as a "subcontractor."
After the BMW and a maroon minivan and a silver Nissan -- and a few others in rapid succession -- was a Toyota, owned by a woman named Michelle (she did not provide a last name). She parked at the edge of the lot (in the middle of four empty spaces) so she could walk down Federal and pick up her 10-year-old daughter. By the time she realized her car had been towed (and not stolen, as she originally thought), Leb was gone.
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Someone in the lot just happened to have Leb's cell phone number, though, and gave it to Michelle. She called him. When he answered, the mother -- still wearing green for the holiday -- let out a shriek of deep frustration.
She asked, "Did you have my car towed?"
Happy Saint Patrick's Day, Eddie Leb.