I Love My Job: Lew Blum
Is Lew Blum the most hated man in Philadelphia? It’s possible. The 61-year-old owner of Lew Blum Towing is the public face of Philly tow-truck companies, the guy who gets the call when you park your Honda in front of a driveway you didn’t even realize was there. (Or at least you claimed you didn’t.)
Blum is a guy who likes to keep to himself, but he recently came out of the woodwork thanks to a new Philly “ticket to tow” law that he says puts the stranglehold on the towing industry. Business may not be good, but Blum says he still loves it.
I grew up in … West Philly. I went to the Drew School, and I’m not ashamed to say it. We had a big four-story house on 38th Street near Lancaster.
Nowadays, I live in … Bensalem. I like Bucks County. I’ve been here for five years. Before that I lived in Montgomery County in … on Pine Road. Wherever that is. Whatever town is Pine and Byberry, that’s where I lived.
My people come from … Poland and Greece. I have pictures of my great-great grandparents — that’s the Jewish side — in Poland in the early 1900s. Or no, it had to be the early 1800s, I don’t know. I had a Greek father — but my father had nothing to do with this, that’s a story for another time that I won’t tell you — and I got the Jew from my mom. We’re a large family. Everybody had like eight or nine kids. I have three brothers and four sisters. The whole family’s like that.
I got into the towing business … because it was all I ever knew. I’ve been in tow trucks since I was three months old. My grandpop was Lew Smith. He started at 38th and Powelton in the 1930s, and I always wanted to be with him. When he died in 1972, he gave all the business to my Uncle George, and I worked for him until 1977. And then in 1978, I had $500 and I said, “Uncle George, I’m leaving to get my own towing business.” Forty years later, I’m still doing it, and I do love it.
On a given day, I usually tow about … three or four cars. Used to be ten a day. It’s not as lucrative as people think. After 40 years in this business, I have somewhere between 3,500 and 5,000 signs posted. The city came out with its first goddamned towing bill in 2009 or 2010, and that devastated the whole industry. We’ve been on life support. And now this new goddamned thing.
My education … ended after the sixth grade. That’s as far as I went. I wanted to work. The truant officer would come to my house and tell my grandpop that I hadn’t been to school. Now, this is in the early ’60s and you couldn’t do stuff like this today, but my grandpop would pay off the truant officer. One day, the truant officer said, “I can’t cover for your grandson anymore.” This is a true story. And my grandpop pulled him aside. My grandpop wrote everything down, and he said to the truant officer, “You see these dates? Every time you came in here and I gave you money, I wrote it down.”
Those Lew Blum signs you see everywhere … are red, white and blue and always have been. So are my business cards. There’s no place like home. This is the land of Oz.
My Twitter account is … @LewisBlum. I’ve sent 2,100 goddamned tweets in the last three weeks to get the word out about what City Council is doing with this law.
Mayor Kenney … says just the other day that we’re going to stay a sanctuary city no matter what. Yeah, well, if the feds don’t give us the money, guess who he’ll get it from? The citizens of Philadelphia, with more taxes. We need to have an uproar against this mayor. The last good mayor was Bill Green.
If you want to get your car back from me, it will cost you … $205.62. Our fees are on the sign. There is no way we can overcharge you. We’re not the goddamned PPA. Our signs on commercial properties have to be three feet by three feet. That’s a big sign. How big are the PPA signs? It’s $175 for the tow and $25 for storage. And check this out: The city charges 22.5 percent tax on storage. For every $25 we collect, we give the city $5.62. Another way the goddamned city rips people off.
The thing City Council doesn’t understand … is that small business is the foundation on which America stands. Not big business. Big businesses leave cities to do their business elsewhere while small business stays. We’re born here, we work here, we die here. I just put something out on tweet that Philadelphia is becoming a taxation city. They’re doing to us with taxation the same thing that the British did before we booted them out in 1776. But I might run for City Council and things will change.
Things haven’t been good in Philly since … maybe the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, when we were able to make a few dollars. My property taxes on my building were $1,500 seven years ago. Now they are $4,500. That’s 300 percent! Sales tax is up to 8 percent, and they’re looking at 9. And yet there are tax abatements, and Comcast gets huge tax breaks. Gimme a break! What about people living in properties for 30 to 40 years — where’s their goddamned break? What about people with fixed incomes? Where’s their break?
I’ll keep doing this until … I can get this ticket-to-tow thing to go away and then sell the business. Nobody in the family wants it, because they see what I go through. My niece says to me, “Uncle Lew” — she’s 12 — “Uncle Lew, you have too many problems.”
I like to listen to … soul music. I like country and western, too. And ’40s nostalgia stuff. And jazz. Actually, I like everything but rap. I hate rap. I can’t figure it out … I love music, but I have never, ever been to a concert in my entire life. Who goes to concerts? Who does that?
One thing that just bewilders me is … the stormwater charge on your water bill. Water from the heavens comes onto the roof of your building and goes down the water spout, and now Philadelphia comes up with a stormwater charge. I went to the city and said, “Hey, it didn’t rain last month. Can I be exempt?” No, you pay every month. And the soda tax. If you want $26 million, just take it from the PPA. Where does all their money go, hmmmmm?
When we do make a mistake at Lew Blum … it’s not our mistake. It’s our customer’s mistake. We don’t tow unless our customers that we have the contract with call us and tell us to tow.
If someone asks me for advice about starting a business, I would say … do it right and follow the rules. If you sell hot dogs, sell ’em right. If you’re flipping burgers, do it right. And don’t come off like you’re some big mahoff.
When I want to relax … I go to the gym. I go to one when I’m down the shore — I can’t tell you where because people will come after me, they’ll come looking for me, even the tags on my trucks go back to my garage so nobody can find out where I live — and also to L.A. Fitness. I love to run, but not outside. I’m not a street runner.
My relationship status is … I have a girlfriend. Never been married, no kids. My girlfriend and I have been together for 20 years but on and off. It’s up to her whether we get married, but I like it the way it is.
If I run for and win a City Council seat … I will hire 1,000 police officers in four years, and if you give me another four years, another 1,000. We need police walking the beats at 2, 3 and 4 in the morning. Cops will be respected again. When I was coming up, you did what a cop said or got your ass kicked. And I want to make parents responsible for their kids. They go out and break windows, start fires or shoot somebody, let’s make the parent pay. And let’s get rid of the hobo panhandlers.
The most important book I ever read was … Wayne Dyer’s The Power of Intention and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. If you know young kids, turn them on to those books. I even read the Donald Trump biography. And Henry Ford’s was good, too.
If I could change one thing about Philadelphia, I would … limit City Council to two terms. Follow the lead of the president of the United States, Governor Wolf, the mayor. Eight years? Outta here! Instead, they get entrenched. They wanna stay. They want lifetime healthcare. They want DROP. They’re all in cahoots with one another! We need 17 new councilpeople with young, vibrant ideas that can grow this city without saying “You gotta raise taxes,” which is all this Council knows.
One good lesson I’ve learned is … that life is like a goddamned thing of strawberries in the refrigerator. Some of them go bad. You don’t throw the whole thing away. You take the bad ones out. Blueberries, the same thing. You take out the mushy ones, and the other blueberries will still be good, they’ll still last. Same thing with people. Just get rid of the bad ones around you.
The biggest bullshit we hear at the impound lot is … that we towed somebody from a perfectly good spot. They come to pick their car up and we tell them it was parked illegally. They say “Prove it!” And we say, “OK, we’ll print the pictures for you.” Boing! We always take pictures.
If I didn’t live here, I’d live in … Scottsdale, Arizona. I’ve never been there, but I’ve seen pictures. I think that the Grand Canyon would be a helluva sight to see every day. The weather is always good. And it’s just blue skies everywhere.
One thing I like about Donald Trump … is that he says to big businesses, You wanna move out of this country and transport your stuff back in, I’m gonna tax you like crazy for it. I approve of that. Make it here, grow it here, spend it here.
I get threatened … a lot. They want to blow up my building. They want to kill me, kill my family. They wait for me outside. I’ve been called all kinds of names. Cracker, M.F., and I get called the p-u-s-s-y word all the time. But when these goddamned people call me names, when they want to rant and rave, I let them do it. I take it all in. I remind them: You know, you’re calling me these names, but the bottom line is you’re gonna give me that money, and I’m going to spend it, so I thank you for parking illegally. You have to be hard-skinned. You can’t be soft.
The best stuff on TV … is on Discovery, the History Channel, and the Science Channel. Strange how man is really only 10,000 years old and you go back 250,000 years and you have the homo fabien, the hemophilia guy … what’s that other word? Neanderthal. How did this happen?
One person on City Council that I really don’t like is … Sanchez. There was just that story on Councilwoman Sanchez — I wrote about it on tweet, saying something about those who live in glass houses not throwing stones -— the article was by Stu Borgowski, I think his name is. He caught her cheating on her Homestead Tax. What’s wrong with this city?
When I look at the world these days … I think that we are lucky that an asteroid hit or we might still be patrolled by dinosaurs. Actually, I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse that we’re here. All of this turmoil. Everybody fights. It’s in us. Birds fight. Snakes fight. Rats fight. Dogs fight. You might be strong today, but someone else is stronger than you the next day, and then you die.
Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter