As soon as I reached the location of my current assignment, I became both angry and sad. A battered child's bike lay in the dirty scrap of a front yard. A few toys were also scattered about, mixed with empty pop bottles and other bits of trash.
The subject property was a rusty, battered old singlewide mobile home. Instead of curtains the windows were covered with blankets. The metal had been patched here and there with plywood. A tarpaulin covered part of the roof. The home sat in a rundown park filled with other mobile homes in similar condition. The reason for my visit was in plain view: a new crew cab pickup that probably cost upwards of $50,000.
Among other things, I work in the field of debt collections. It's my job to find the debtor's residence, establish whether or not they still live there, and attempt to locate any collateral. I then make contact with the debtor and hand-deliver a sealed notice from the lender. Occasionally I am asked to try to get the debtor on the phone with the lender while I am onsite.
I was at this home to make contact with whoever had purchased this truck. They had missed several payments and were not responding to phone calls or letters from the bank. Showtime! Exiting my car, I snapped several photos of the collateral and the front of the property, ensuring I captured the street number on the mailbox.
Knocking on the front screen door, I was greeted by an adorable little girl who appeared to be about 6 years old. She was gorgeous but her face was dirty. Her outfit was ragged and in need of a wash. "Hey," she said.
On her heels was a man in his late twenties, smoking a cigarette. "Can I help you?" he asked. The little girl turned around and clutched his leg, smiling shyly at me.
Time for the usual speech: "Good morning, sir, my name is Donald Zeigler. I'm trying to locate John Doe."
"That's me. Why?"
"Well, sir, I'm here in regards to the Ford pickup truck out front. Your lender, Yet Another Bank, has been unable to contact you and has asked me to deliver a letter to you. They would like to speak with you about your loan.
"I'm not here to ask for payment or to repossess the collateral. However, please be advised that although my visit is for contact and delivery purposes only, this is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.
"So, with that out of the way, please find the bank's contact information in this letter. They would like to discuss your options to get things back on track. In fact, if you would like, I can call a special number right now and put you on the phone with an agent who can assist you today."
The gentleman opened the screen door and joined me on the front stoop. He accepted the letter and said, "Yeah, well, I just talked to them last week. No reason for you to be here."
I've heard that song and dance a thousand times but I always play along. "Really? Sometimes wires get crossed. So, would you like for me to call them while I'm here, or perhaps give me your current phone number to pass along to them?"
"That's okay, I'll call them later today or tomorrow. Thanks." And with that he turned around and went back inside. His small daughter had followed him out and was now playing in the front yard.
I left, still feeling both sad and angry. That poor little girl was dirty, dressed in rags, playing with an old toy in a trashy yard in a crappy mobile home park. Her house was a battered ruin that looked barely fit for animals to live in. But Daddy had a shiny new truck, by God -- and it was obvious he wasn't able to afford it, since he was several thousand dollars behind on payments and evading the lender.
This assignment was just another one out of dozens similar to it I have completed... I'm always chasing down high-priced cars and trucks, motorcycles, boats, ATVs, utility vehicles, jet skis, motor homes, you name it. Expensive toys, parked at homes that are, to put it kindly, in need of repair or razing.
Nine times out of ten there are also one or more children present, sometimes dirty and bedraggled. And dogs, often several dogs that are usually expensive breeds. The dogs' houses and pens look better than the homes the people are living in.
I have little sympathy for debtors I encounter in these situations. It's painfully obvious where their priorities lie, and it's not on the basics such as keeping a neat home or caring for their children. It's on Mom having a Mustang and Dad having a bass boat, while their house falls in and their scroungy kids play with broken toys in the dirt.
When the fancy playthings are finally repossessed, what's left to show for the money they managed to sink into payments before realizing they simply could not afford their goodies? Not a damned thing -- Their house is still a junk heap and their children are still wearing rags.
Then there is the flip side of the coin. I often chase down cars and trucks that are not the newest and fanciest. They're a few years old and parked in front of homes that, while sometimes shabby, are generally clean and obviously cared for. Any children present might be dressed in not-so-new clothes but their faces aren't streaked with dirt and their hair is washed.
These are the debtors I have empathy for. They obviously haven't blown their money on extravagant purchases. They have just gotten behind on that used high-mileage 2012 Elantra they bought. It's evident their priorities are on the home and kids. They are good, responsible people who are struggling -- unlike Singlewide Daddy who bought a tricked-out truck worth twenty times what his trailer was worth.
These are the people who will often open up and tell me they know they are behind on payments. Dad has had some medical bills, mom was just laid off -- stories of hardship and bad luck. They are afraid to talk to the lender. They fear the bank is going to be demanding and uncaring, hence the reason for avoiding contact.
I get a great amount of satisfaction out of trying to allay their fears. You just need to reach out, I tell them. Let them know you're having problems. They will work with you. The last thing they want is to take your car. But you must communicate. Let me help.
Delinquency interviews such as these are unfortunately the exception rather than the norm for me. Too many people are more worried about their personal enjoyment and frivolities than they are about the more mundane (but infinitely more important) things that go hand in hand with being a parent and a provider.