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Friday, May 20, 2022

Locals confront tow-truck driver

While the word "hope" grips the steering wheel, a cigarette wedged in between "less" hangs outside the window of the blue Ford F-450 XLT tow truck.

His knuckles read "hopeless."

Ryan Williams, a manager of Watson's Towing, said he's had the ornately designed tattoos since he first started working in towing at age 23 or 24. Williams, now 32, said he got them when he was "young and dumb."

Williams has been towing Gainesville for seven years, and he has dealt with "too many" people that have yelled at him. On Friday night, he allowed a reporter to accompany him as he made his rounds.

The idea for the tattoo, he said, originated in an argument with a customer that resulted in him getting chewed out by his boss. Later, he got the tattoos to show customers that fighting with him would be "hopeless."

Williams said he's trying to let the tattoos fade out. He'd never show his knuckles now.

On Friday night, Williams' truck cruises into College Park Apartments, a collection of apartment buildings owned by Paradigm Properties. As he passes down the asphalt labyrinth in the area north of University Avenue, students stare.

One student in a blue shirt exits his car, eyeing the truck.

"How y'all doing?" Williams asks sarcastically inside the tinted windows of his cab.

Williams says he bets the student's car will be moved by the time he comes back.

Williams parks the truck a few feet over and drops out of the cab. He walks through the parking lot, looking for little white Paradigm decals with red lettering.

Some cars have them; a few have orange slips of paper that indicate they are guests.

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Williams stops at a burgundy Nissan Pathfinder. He checks meticulously for that magic tag before breaking out his Kodak C530 EasyShare digital camera. He snaps a quick picture before he returns to the truck.

While a picture has been taken, Williams leaves College Park without any cars in tow.

Around half an hour later, he returns to the Watson's Towing lot and meets up with a white Izusu tow truck.

Three trucks return to College Park more than a half hour after the initial inspection.

"Did you see that?" Williams asked.

The car that belonged to the wide-eyed man had moved from the tow-away spot.

Williams gets out to do another check of the vehicles. He said there were five he could have taken.

While the white Izusu claims the Pathfinder, Williams backs up to take a black Nissan XTerra. In under a minute, he uses a yellow box to maneuver the head onto the wheels of the Nissan and grip it.

The Ford F-450 reaches the stop sign before Williams gets out to put on the warning lights and strap the XTerra into place. Why didn't he do this in the parking spot?

The truck was blocking the road and he didn't want to affect traffic.

"Trying to be courteous," he said with a smile.

"That's My Car!"

Williams moves quickly to the lot with the other trucks. He fills out the invoice for the SUV as he hits red lights.

After parking the cars in the lot, Williams once again leaves to find other cars.

He hops out in another parking lot near the Courtyards, a complex owned by Trimark Properties, where he finds a gray Honda Accord. As Williams begins to back up, a man in a white shirt and shorts appears.

"Hey!" the UF student shouts.

The student arrives at his car before the tow truck has seized the car. Williams leaves the parking lot without a car attached.

He said he's not disappointed.

Later in the evening, Williams finds a yellow XTerra in College Park with no decal or guest slip. However, as he backs up to pick up the car, a drunken young woman rushes down the stairs shouting, "That's my car!"

A chorus of men at the balcony of an apartment down the street echo her, shouting, "That's her car."

The blonde pleads with Williams and tells him she is a resident. As he tells her the XTerra doesn't have a decal, she inspects the dash of the SUV.

"Oh, this isn't my car," she says.

She tells him he can tow it and shouts back to the crowd of voices that it's not her car. Before Williams can respond, she twirls around and struts her way back to the apartment down the street.

The Confrontation

Williams escapes many encounters without much confrontation, but as Friday night turns into early Saturday, he's headed for a showdown.

He walks through Stoneridge Apartments flashing pen-size flashlights on each car before a mustached man appears in a cowboy hat.

"Which one of you assholes towed my car?" the man asks, wearing glasses that resemble those of Theodore Roosevelt.

Williams tells the man he will need to talk to the office since he was not responsible for the tow.

The man, with a build slightly larger Williams', continues to demand that his car be returned.

He was just visiting someone who was not at home, the man said. He wasn't gone for more than ten minutes, he said.

Williams tells him that he will have to call the manager of the towing company on Monday. He can't give out his name, Williams said.

As the dispute reaches a point where no resolution seems possible, Williams begins to walk toward the truck.

The man follows.

Williams strides confidently and reaches the truck before him. The man knocks on the window and Williams rolls it down partially.

Again he demands his car.

Soon, the man reaches into the car and Williams darts his head out of the way. When the man is unable to grab Williams, Williams rolls up the window and the man takes his hands out of the truck.

Just Another Night

At the end of the night, Williams returns to the Courtyards to find another illegally parked car.

A small female voice strains as she yells expletives at Williams.

Williams, unfazed by the woman, strolls through a small part of Courtyards before deciding to return to the truck.

As he returns the voice again shouts "F*** you towing."

"Thank you," Williams said as he enters the truck.

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