That's how I met Dan. He was an old man, probably in his 50's, though he looked in his 60's after years of hard work. One of those salt of the earth kind of guys, he had a mustache on his white weathered face and some spots on the sides of his jaws - either missing teeth or gaps. I thought I'd be spending some time with a classic blue collar guy. I brought some business magazine in case I'd get bored. When he started with, "You know, I never thought I'd drive a tow truck for 15 years," I thought I'd be listening to a tale of woe of someone who has been screwed over for this reason or by that person.
It would be the little guy against the world deal. After touring the Chandon sparkling winery and eating a sumptuous meal Mustard's in Yountville, I guess I deserved some balance. Little did I know, I'd come away absolutely inspired.
Dan started in with telling me that he was a tow truck mechanic before driving trucks. He had made a lot of mistakes in his life, before he settled on this job. The tow business is 24 hours on call. The pay is not particularly great, but it's consistent. Cars always broke down for one reason or another. With the right company, work would be steady. One thing Dan always did was take advice from his father, a man who started and owned his steel fabrication business. He told Dan to never spend more than you take in. It's better to be able to pay for a car that was functional over one where you had to overextend yourself. The same thing for your house. Get a 30 year fixed loan and do not take equity out like the neighbors. Because of those decisions, Dan worked hard but could provide for his 3 kids.
So that's an easy opening. 3 kids? I have 4, so we had something to talk about. Little did I know that I'd have more fun listening to the story about his 3. So I asked, "How old?"
"3 boys - 2 that are 18 and one that's 15," said Dan.
"Oh, so you had twins."
Not really, 1 of his 2 were adopted. I asked when he adopted him. Dan told me when he was 15. Apparently, his oldest son and the boy were best friends. His father was a rapper who decided with his wife to start touring locally. They apparently got caught up in the fast life and forgot about their son. The boy called Dan's son from a hotel room where he was left all alone and asked if he could stay with Dan's family. Most might take him in for a little while, but Dan really cared for the kid. Dan decided to not only take him in, but let the boy's family know that they would have to give him custody. Dan would adopt him. He knew how important it was for a boy to have a strong father figure and didn't want this boy messed up.
It turns out that his new son loves to read, gets good grades and is looking at various colleges for scholarship opportunities. His oldest son is a top AAU basketball player and is being recruited by various colleges. Dan is pushing him to go to the best academic one. In my conversation, Dad never once differentiated the boys - they were all his sons.
So here's a guy who single-handedly raised 3 boys. They are all college bound - full of hope for the future. Later I found out he has a daughter from another marriage who has 7 grandkids. It turns out she has a good guy she's married to and Dan brings the whole group together to play basketball together.
Dan may have made some mistakes, but he's done something amazing. He not only provided for his family without taking anything but advice from his successful father, but he also took another kid in. He didn't just think about himself. He felt for others. Dan doesn't make a lot by any standard, but he not only lived within his means, he made a little extra and still brought up a whole family. He wasn't resentful. He was optimistic. Dan liked how he could work at night, so he could spend his days with the boys.
After Dan dropped me off on Alma in Palo Alto, we shook hands and he said goodbye with a smile. He offered to drive me home, but I was meeting my wife at the Medical Center because my youngest was in urgent care over a tough fever. While my car might cost a few hundred dollars, I came away thankful for the experience - the inspiration of spending a couple of hours with Dan the Tow Truck Man.