My entire adult life, they've been "stealing" cars across Chicago and then ransoming them back to the owners. Legally.
Or you could see it as "providing a towing service."
A few years back, they slipped into the lot behind the unemployment office as I was standing in line inside. While I waited in that endless line, they jacked up my 10-year-old Accord and slithered on back to their razor-wire compound where they waited for me to take the $25 cab ride and then pay them the $200 to get my car back.
And I was not at the unemployment office on a social call.
But there was that one time, so long ago, when my pal Eddie and I got them. It was after this sleet gray, snowy night prowling the Lincoln Avenue bars looking for any kind of warmth.
Come closing time, stumbling out into the night to Eddie's dirty yellow Datsun, parked legally because we knew where those legal spots were, we found his car was gone.
We knew Lincoln Towing had nabbed us. No one else would take that car. So off we walked to their compound which was then about a mile west on Fullerton Avenue.
Standing at the bulletproof glass window of Lincoln Towing, an assortment of firearms mounted on the wall, the really scary woman sitting at the desk inside snarled "$200 boys."
And that's when Eddie started playing dumb. Slow motion, looks of confusion, looks of total bewilderment on our faces -- I picked up on the game quick -- we started turning every pocket we each had inside out. Except the ones that had our wallets. Shrugging our shoulders, we each took off our boots, felt around inside them looking for spare change, pounded them on the steel counter. All this while the line behind us got longer and longer, eventually spilling out on to the railroad tracks that still crossed Fullerton. After what seemed like 10 minutes, we finally located our wallets, paid her, and were buzzed in to get the battered yellow Datsun.
Eddie starts the car, the razor-wire fence starts to rise in front of us, and just as we get the car under the raised fence, Eddie grins, says, "Watch this," and when we have the car in perfect position to block any access in or out, Eddie kills the engine. Scary lady up in the booth above us starts screaming and raising her arms, motioning us to get the damn car moving. But of course we can't hear her through the bulletproof glass. So we put our hands behind our ears. "What? Huh???" Shrugging our shoulders, we raise the hood. Now cars on both sides are honking. Two guys with chains in one hand and holstered very visible handguns under leather vests, approach and say, "Problem here?"
"We can't get the car started! Don't know what's wrong!"
By this time, cars and tow trucks were slowing down traffic on Fullerton.
One of the leather vest guys starts swinging his chain and says, "Why don't you boys try again. Or we can pick your car up and move it? Course it would be a shame if we slipped and dropped it on your heads."
So we tried again and this time the car started.
Lincoln Towing. Steve Goodman even wrote a song about them. "Lincoln Park Pirates." They've been around forever. And now a coalition that includes Alderman Ameya Pawar is working to control and maybe even close them down. There are Chicagoans who believe that could never happen. No one has ever done it before. Many have tried.
Will this time be different?
I'd say yes. Time for these pirates to sail.