Monday, July 27, 2009

Everyday Tow Hero in CO

Three cheers for Mark Drummond of Mat Dog Towing & Recovery! Here's the story from the Glenwood Spring Post Independent:

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado — Aaron Heideman's cross country trip came to an abrupt halt on July 19, when the van he was traveling in broke down in the Glenwood Canyon.

“I was on my way to Denver and broke down and got stuck in this beautiful town and have been here for a couple of days now,” Heideman said.

But the help of a local tow truck operator helped him get back up and running.

Wednesday afternoon, Heideman, 29, rummaged through his orange and black van, which looked like it was packed for moving. He's not, really.

He dug through its contents and pulled out a large white scroll of some kind of weather-resistant material.

The van was marked with scribblings in several spots on its exterior. A large rack upon it's top posed a very serious question, “How has the recession affected you?”

“What's with the van?” a young man asked as he approached Heideman.

Heideman took the bait.

“I'm traveling around the country collecting people's stories of how they've been affected by the recession,” Heideman said.

The young man stood there for a brief moment, reading one of the blocks of scribble on the side of the van.

“I've got a story for you,” the young man said, but I've got to catch a bus.

“If you tell me your story, I'll take you wherever you need to go,” Heideman responded.

The guy told his story, and Heideman listened.

Heideman has traveled from Oregon, through California, Nevada, Utah and into Colorado since July 1, doing just that — Listening to people talk about how they've been affected by the recession. He's collecting the stories on the van's exterior and on a 50-yard scroll.

“I've got about 30-yards of stories already,” he said.

“I'm finding that everyone I talk to seems to have a really unique story,” he said. “I'm also finding that a lot of people have stories dealing with anguish and heaviness.”

The project is actually a traveling social art project called “The Man in a Van Project,” which Heideman is going to enter into the Artprize art contest in September, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He said that he started the project as something cool to do, but it's turned into so much more than he ever imagined.

“There is something about this project that is very emotionally real that I was not expecting,” he said.

After losing his job at a paint store in southern Oregon about six months ago, Heideman became a victim of the recession himself and decided to do something very different than just look for another job.

“I had such a perfect set up,” he said. “But I had to get out of the rut with the recession, and losing my job, and I decided to let go of everything.”

So he sold all of his stuff, including his pick-up truck, he said, and decided to live out of a van and travel around the country, documenting people's stories.

However, his trip almost ended when his van's water pump broke, stopping him in his tracks near the Bair Ranch Rest Area in the Glenwood Canyon on July 19.

“Part of the premise for what I'm doing is that I'm traveling the country with no money,” he said.

That made fixing his van a real problem. Without money, he had no way of paying the $400 amount he was told by several area auto repair shops that it would cost to replace it.

“It was kind of discouraging,” he said.

He thought that his whole trip may come to an unexpected halt.

It took two days of scouring Glenwood Springs to find someone that could help him out. He received a list of tow truck operators from the Garfield County Sheriff's Office and he called the first one on the list. That's how he met Mark Drummond of Mat Dog Towing and Recovery.

“I don't know what I would have done if it wasn't for Mark's help,” Heideman said. “I guess I would still be stuck.”

Heideman managed to scrounge up enough to get a replacement water pump. However, he admits that he had no mechanical ingenuity to accomplish the task of repairing the dead vehicle.

But Drummond offered to help, free of charge.

“I told him what I was doing and that my water pump was broken and asked if he could help me,” Heideman said.

Drummond took Heideman to his van at the Bair Ranch Rest Area and spent about four hours replacing the cracked water pump.

“It was not an easy project on that van,” Drummond said.

But he fixed it anyway. He felt it was the right thing to do.

“He's got a legitimate project he's working on,” Drummond said. “He's not in the unemployment line. He's doing something that he believes in, that is in the interest of most people in this country.”

Drummond said that he didn't mind helping, he just believes, “what comes around goes around.”

“People should always help out their fellow person,” Drummond said. “You never now when it's going to be you.”

Drummond added a small square of scribble one of the van's windows as well.

“I just spoke with him yesterday,” Drummond said Friday. “He was just leaving Loveland, and on his way to Texas.”

It's stories like that which Heideman said has changed him throughout this project.

“It's changed me to be a much better problem solver,” he said. “At the same time, it's changing me and making me more empathetic. I started with the idea that it was a really cool concept and would be a cool adventure. But once I started hearing the stories from the people it hit me that it was a very important project. That people are putting a lot of confidence in trusting me with their stories.”

Heideman will continue traveling around the nation, thanks to Drummond's help. He will end up in Michigan on September 15, where he will live in his van for a two week period as part of the art show.

For more information on the project visit,

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