Wednesday night. Northwest Washington. Lavish houses. Expensive cars.

Most people who live here are successful. Some aren’t, but try to live like they are.

When they can’t keep up, John Allen comes calling.

Allen is at the wheel of his Ford Explorer, prowling the side streets off Connecticut Avenue, looking for a black BMW.

“This guy knows we’re looking for the car. He’s not parking near his house any more.”

The guy is four payments behind on the Bimmer. The leasing company is out of patience, so Allen is looking for the car.

Allen is a “recovery specialist.”

He’s a repo man.

On a side street, six blocks from the House, Allen spots the car. The license number matches the number on his sheet.

“That’s it. Take over.” He turns the wheel of the Explorer over to Lonnie, a young assistant barely old enough to drive. He takes a set of keys from an envelop, blips the remote to turn off the alarm, unlocks the Bimmer, and starts the engine, and drive off.

Once underway, Allen uses the cellular phone in the car to call the owner of the car.

“Sir, my name is John Allen and I represent the leasing company that owns your BMW. I’m sorry sir, but we have repossessed the car.”

“You can’t do that,” the voice on the speaker phone is shrill.

“I already have, sir. In fact, I’m calling from your car. I suggest you call the leasing company tomorrow.”

The night is young and Allen will pick up three more cars (two Mercedes and a Jaguar) before ending up at the All American Diner where he and other repo men recount the night’s adventures.

“It’s easier nowadays,” Allen says as he attacks a plate of steak and eggs. “Used to be we had to break into the cars. Now the banks and leasing companies keep a set of keys to the cars they finance and we just use them.”

According to public records at court houses in Washington and surrounding communities, repossession of expensive cars have increased more than 200 percent in the last two years.

“Just expensive iron,” Allen says. “The stuff that most people can’t afford. Porsches, Mercedes, Lexus and Jags. Hell, I haven’t grabbed a Ford or Chevy in three weeks.”

Allen is busy, recovering an average of 50 cars a week. He won’t say how much he gets for each, but besides the explorer, he also owns a Lexus (which he repo’ed and then bought from the bank) and has a house in McLean.

“It’s a good living. Sometimes it gets hairy.”

Last year, a angry car owner came at him with a baseball bat. Allen spent three days in the hospital. The car owner got a fine and probation.

“Bastard should have gone to jail. It’s not my problem he can’t keep up the payments. I’m just doing my job. If he’d taken care of business I wouldn’t be grabbing his car.”

Jim Rickins, another repo man, slides into the booth and orders coffee. It hasn’t been a good night.

“Woman set her rotweiller on me tonight. Look at my shirt!” It’s torn in three places.

“What happened.”

“I went back with the cops. She was gone and so was the car. Don’t know where the hell she is now. I’m out a shirt and no recovery fee.”

Allen rolls up his sleeve and shows two long scars.

“Doberman did that to me in ’89. I took a crowbar to the mutt. Took 31 stitches to close all this up.”

Allen pays his tab and heads for the door. One more car to pick up tonight.

“This guy has an Acura NSX, but he’s out every night. Should be getting home right about now. I’ll grab this one on the way home.”

–Doug Thompson
Washington, DC