Feisty owner behind wheel of A-Girl
The towing company has survived 15 years by moving into tough territory and trading on its pink trucks and unusual name.
By MARTY CLEAR
Published January 30, 2004
If you live in Hyde Park or Carrollwood or Temple Terrace, you may have never seen the bright pink tow trucks with the crudely painted words “A-Girl Towing” on the side.
If you live in College Hill or Belmont Heights or the un-redeveloped fringes of Seminole Heights, you probably know them well.
For the past 15 years, A-Girl’s tow trucks have been common and unmistakable sights in Tampa’s poorer neighborhoods.
“Nobody wants to go to those projects, but I don’t mind,” said owner Shelia Cole. “I’ve made a niche business for myself.”
Cole never set out to own a towing company. In 1989, with some money in the bank from a lawsuit settlement, she had planned to open a used-car lot. She would buy old cars and fix them up. As sort of an eye-catching gimmick, she would put fancy rims on all the cars in her lot.
“If I’d done that, I’d probably be rich,” she said. “Rims are huge now.”
While she was waiting to get her business licenses for the car lot, she acquired an old gray tow truck from a relative. She planned to use it to bring old cars to her lot.
“I didn’t know anything,” she said. “He showed me how to use it.”
Gradually, she started getting calls from people – friends, then friends of friends, then total strangers – who needed their cars towed,
“I’d get out of the truck and they’d say, “Hey, you’re a girl!’ and finally I said “That’s it!’ ” she said.
She realized that her gender was a better gimmick than fancy wheels. And she realized that even though she didn’t have any cars to sell, she already had a tow truck and some decent word-of-mouth business. She painted her truck pink, and A-Girl Towing was born.
(a note of preface: i saw her tow truck years before the above article was published. i wrote the poem a long, long time ago. on a whim, looking for an appropriate picture to use in this entry, i searched “a-girl towing” and up popped the above article, at least a decade after i saw her on the highway while in tampa. she was beautiful inside and out, then and now.)
The tow truck is ancient — dents,
fat rounded fenders, scattered
freckles of rust — but it’s painted
a shocking bubble-gum pink,
and across the door in a lavish
curly script is written, “A-Girl
Towing Service.” The appropriately
girlish driver is ebony-skinned, young,
possessing fine strong bones.
On her closely-shorn head
sits a circular, flat-topped cap,
embroidered in bright flowers.
The cap’s tassel flips saucily
in the breeze; our eyes meet
for a moment as she passes.
Her gaze seems calm, direct, filled
with the grace of one who understands
she owes absolutely nothing to the world.
When tow trucks are pink, is the world
necessarily a better place? Yes.
And suddenly I wish I could see:
who is this woman when surrounded
by her family, her dearest friends, her lovers?
Is she easy to laugh, does she enjoy
the scent of gardenias, can she whistle
with her fingers in her mouth
like I always wanted to but never could?