Zeebe the Enforcer
A 40-pound German Shepherd
named Zeebe is the only check against
human nature at the Triangle Towing
When someone takes your car,
your natural instinct is to take it back.
Towing companies know that with-
out the car, they have no leverage
against you. They rely on the only
weapon they have to keep you from
simply stealing your car back: terror.
By DARCY LOCKMAN
llustration by JORDAN ATLAS
So when the Triangle Towing
Company saw fit to break into my car
lastweek and haul it to their offices-
housed in a disheveled Quonset hut
outside downtown Ann Arbor in a
place that makes Lebanon look like
the Arboretum - I toyed with the
idea of a high-speed getaway.
That is, until I saw Zeebe. Accord-
ing to one Triangle driver, the attack
dog is "a little monster," and "nobody
will come here at night" to remove
their car "because the dogs are off the
The monster, who is anything but
little, also has a bark so ferocious he
made me seriously consider aban-
doning the car, and perhaps try and
justify this as a donation to Third.
Snarling attack dogs fit within a
typical towing company overall strat-
egy - to create an environment so
threatening that customers, fearing
for their lives, will submit to extor-
To facilitate this, companies try to
come as close as possible to recreat-
ing the set of "Deliverance." Swamps,
Spanish Moss, attack dogs, rotting
human flesh, Ned Beatty posters -
these are props designed to convince
customers to yield to ridiculous de-
mands. These include $70 towing
costs, $8 "storage fees" and $15 live-
chicken-for-Butch fees. Anyone who
*objects to the prohibitive cost usually
has to explain their position to Butch.
Also thanks to the fear factor, tow-
ing companies are among the only
U.S. businesses since the Great De-
pression to accept nothing but cash.
When I inquired about this policy
before handing over $84 for my car, I
was impressed by the sound reason-
ing and thoughtfulness behind it.
"This is private property, and we
only accept cash," I was told.
This may be a smart idea. If I were
going to start a business whereby ev-
ery day Ikidnapped innocentpeople's
children, and then extorted parents
for payment, I would not accept per-
sonal checks. Should someone's
check bounce, it would be extremely
difficult to collect the standard $10
late fee. Moreover, as banks accumu-
Olated numerous checks made out to
Geoff Earle that bore the inscription
"payoff for kidnapper," the police
would be bound to take notice.
Of course this isn't much of an
issue where tow truck companies are
concerned, because the police are their
Far more legitimate is the fact that
towing company employees, whose
mothers are often their sisters, do not
always have the genetic hardware to
work well with numbers and operate
complex machinery like credit card
I am not saying all tow truck driv-
ers are backwoods hicks who eat
roadkill on their lunch breaks and live
like vultures, praying on the illegally
parked. In fact, most tow truck driv-
ers I have encountered still have a
*najority of their teeth.
They also do not restrict their
bounty hunting to the illegally parked.
To remove a car, tow truck drivers
have only one prerequisite: that some-
one-in fact, anyone on the planet-
D ennis Miller
able behind a
desk. Like a
sail-clothbutton-down, adesk fits
him. He looks good there, snide
grin on his handsome face, shoul-
ders relaxed, slyly poised for his
But desks for Miller exist only
in reruns these days. The six years
at his first pulpit (that of "Satur-
day Night Live"'s Weekend Up-
date) ended rather unceremoni-
ously in 1991. A six month stint
behind the less-than-well-re-
ceived lectern of his own talk
show came to an abrupt halt less
than a year later, leaving Miller
desk-less and unemployed.
It is a subdued comedian that
arrives from sunny Santa Barbara
to Ann Arbor this afternoon.
"My career is reasonably inert
right now," remarks Miller in that
mocking tone so familiar to the
Weekend Update fans of Genera-
tion X. But he's not behind a desk
now, and no one's laughing.
"I'm stuck," he admits, "I'm
perplexed so I'm focusing more
on my life. I guess I was a careerist
for along time and when the show
got canceled that kind of took that
away from me. So I'm having
more fun. I'm trying to get healthy.
I'm trying to be a better parent
and husband. "
At 39, Miller's timing could
not be better. His wife, model Ali
Espley, just gave birth to the
couple's second son, Marlon, last
month. Their first boy, Holden,
was born in 1990.
"I'm more focused on my kids
than ever. I'm having the time of
my life. I get up, I take my boy to
school. I read the paper, have a
little brekkie. Pick him up after
school, play with him in the after-
noon. It's great."
Miller spent his own child-
hood in the South Hills area of
Pittsburgh, where he dreamt of
being a fire truck ("Yeah, a truck.
That's sort of weird."), but gave
up on his fantasy in order to at-
tend Pittsburgh's Point Park Col-
lege. A journalism major, Miller
knew early on that reporting
would play no part in his future.
"I never really wanted to be a
journalist half way through col-
lege. I just lacked the energy to
get to the registrar's office and
change my major. I never really
'made a switch' from journalism
to comedy. It was more of aswitch
from janitoring to comedy."
Nojoke. Miller spent the years
immediately following gradua-
tionjanitoring, scooping ice cream
and driving a flower truck. "All
that with a college degree, and I
began to think that I should find
something that would interest me.
It was sort of a pragmatic deci-
sion to become a comedian."
So he took the initiative, go-
ing down to a Pittsburgh comedy
club, promising the owner that if
he could perform he would fill the
club with his friends. The owner
agreed. Miller's friends showed
up, purchased a lot of drinks and
subsequently bought a young
Mmilr annthrhance tn rfnrm
wealthy. You get visibility.
Strangers toss kudos your way.
You get credibility in the busi-
ness. All those good things.
"But then there are the mi-
nuses. I think everybody be-
comes an asshole for awhile
when they first get famous, and,
yes, I would include myself in
that everybody. I don't think
there's any book written on how
not to become a bit of an asshole
for awhile. You go through this
period where you look for fame,
and that makes you a little self-
absorbed. And then after awhile
you see that fame is such a minor
blip on your life sonar. It's noth-
ing to keep your antennae up for.
It's a freak show. It's a bit of a
lucky draw. So you become less
"I think when it first happens
you become so scared that you
begin to really monitor it all.
You watch your life instead of
living it - kind of one step re-
moved from your own life be-
cause you can't believe your
Miller's current events savvy
and biting political satire pro-
vided the only consistency, and
quite often the only humor within
the ever-changing SNL aura of
the late '80s. When the original
"I amoutta here" got out of there,
he left a lot of disappointed fans
in his wake. But Miller has no
"'Saturday Night Live' is a
little like college. You stay a
little too long and you start to
feel like a nerd.
"I look at the show now, I
watched it the other night for the
first time in a pretty long time,
and it's not even the same show
I was on. I can't really judge
Kevin Nealon (the one-liner
lover who took over Weekend
Update when Miller left) because
I don't really watch it too much.
What I saw the other night was
"I saw Kevin when he first
took over to ask him what it was
like, what he thought of follow-
ing me. He said he wasn't fol-
lowing me, he was following
Chevy Chase, so I don't think
Kevin thought much of the way
I did it."
On that opinion, Nealon
would certainly be at odds with a
majority of SNL viewers / Den-
nis Weekend Update groupies.
Nevertheless, Miller's most de-
vout fans were unable to ban
together to boost the ratings of
The Dennis Miller Show. Last-
ing for six months in that much
talked about battle ground of late
night television, Miller's stand-
up proved sardonic as ever, but
his interviews fell flat as the
comedian's sarcastic, disinter-
ested nature faced off against his
Hollywood-type guests. It
quickly became clear that there
was space for only one man at
Miller's desk. And one man does
not an interview show make.
Miller doesn't see it that way.
"I'm the wrong person to ask
about my show," he says, "I loved
it. It was fun. I thought it was the
het nf the talk shows .Bnt T'm
J 1 ,