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Brian McGrory

One man’s victory over a tow truck

There was nothing at the start of that January morning to hint at the extraordinary triumph that would come later in the day.

Bob Collins put his pants on one leg at a time, had some breakfast, and stopped by one of the state’s fine courthouses to defend a client from an undoubtedly trumped-up charge. He drove to his law office in Randolph to move a few papers around his desk. Then he did what he loves most, which was to point his Grand Marquis toward his native Dorchester to while away a pleasant afternoon in the incomparable Adams Corner.

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Those who don’t know Adams Corner don’t know what they’re missing. “God’s little acre,’’ is how mailman Herbie Berman describes it, and anyone who’s ever had a frosted shortbread cookie at Greenhills Irish Bakery or lunch at Gerard’s or a draught at the Eire Pub knows he speaks the truth.

Collins, at 75, is the unofficial mayor of the neighborhood, holding court at any number of shops or chatting on the sidewalks or playing a game of keno with friends. All of this was on his agenda for that January afternoon until a local walked into Greenhills and asked: “You know they’re towing your car?’’

Collins thundered for the door like Rob Gronkowski runs for the end zone. He was parked in the massive lot behind the bakery, the one that could hold a resort casino or a theme park. That’s another great thing about Adams Corner: There’s plenty of parking. The lot is managed by Rite Aid, but Rite Aid doesn’t get enough customers in a year to fill the spaces, so the neighborhood uses it as its own.

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Collins arrived outside to a private tow truck with its hook fastened to his car. The driver was raising it when Collins had an idea.

“I opened the door and got inside.’’

The stunned driver told him to get out. No dice. Then the driver said he was taking the car to the tow lot with Collins in it.

“I said, ‘You’re taking nothing, sonny,’ ’’ Collins recalled. “ ‘What if I steer the car and you hit something, sonny?’ You want to get someone angry, call them ‘sonny.’ ’’

This is about the time that Kevin McBride arrived. He is 6 feet 6 inches tall, probably 280 pounds, roughly the size of a small horse. He’s an Irish boxer, now a Dorchester resident, best known for beating Mike Tyson in 2005.

McBride could have intimidated the tow driver. He probably could have lifted the car off the hook. Instead, he did something else.

“I jumped in and kept Bob company,’’ McBride said. “He’s a good friend.’’

There they were, Collins and McBride in the car, the tow driver in the lot, the car by now elevated off the ground.

“He says, ‘I want the drop charge,’ ’’ Collins said. “I said there is no drop charge. I’m not paying $50 to get off the hook.’’

A worker at Greenhills delivered coffee. Locals gathered around. A pair of amused cops said there was nothing they could do.

So the standoff continued, 20 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour. “I had the time,’’ Collins said. His wife died a few years ago, and his house can feel empty.

It’s not clear how many of those people saw Andrew Ryan’s and Matt Carroll’s story in the Globe a few weeks earlier that revealed how tens of thousands of cars are hauled out of often empty private parking lots every year by predatory tow companies that get paid by the vehicle. The tow drivers always won.

In Adams Corner, there were signs declaring a two-hour limit, but there were open spaces all over the lot.

This tow driver finally blinked. He lowered the car, unhooked it, and drove away.

And in that simple act was something far more meaningful: a victory for the common man, a dose of common sense.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.
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