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Urban Cowboys


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Titans clash and drivers face jail time when towtruck renegades butt heads with local government

MICHAEL GATES STANDS 6-foot-2 and weighs 240 pounds. He could be an intimidating man if he wanted to be. But the former body shop owner and selfdescribed motorhead is too busy working— six 10-hour days a week—to foster an image. Quiet and dutiful, the 47- year-old Gates concentrates on his father’s health and his weekly shotgun trip to Las Vegas with his girlfriend. He has a cherry 1985 Porsche 944 that hauls ass, and he normally makes the run from North County to Vegas at 120 miles per hour. Like most Americans, Gates is irremediably in love with his car.

Americans are so in love with their cars, there are no longer enough parking spots to go around. With illegally parked vehicles, accidents and myriad other cartransport needs, tow-truck drivers are constantly busy. Their days are spent on the move, driving from one pick-up and drop-off to another; a typical shift sees eight to 12 calls. Western Towing, the company Gates drives for (one of scores in San Diego County), has more than 75 wreckers, and its drivers are on the move around the clock.

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