January 3

Maine tow truck driver a popular guy in bad weather

AAA Northern New England received calls for roadside assistance at the rate of 200 every 30 minutes.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH — Thursday was a pretty typical winter day for Matt Ivey.

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AAA tow truck driver Matt Ivey has a busy day with disabled cars like this one that had to be pulled from a snowbank on the off ramp of Exit 5B southbound on I-295 in Portland on Thursday.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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AAA tow truck driver Matt Ivey checks for his next call on his onboard tablet computer Thursday.

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As a AAA tow truck driver who responds to calls for roadside assistance, he found himself navigating slippery roads to haul cars out of snowbanks, pull cars out of icy driveways and jump batteries rendered useless by the cold.

During his eight-hour shift, he responded to more than a dozen calls in Greater Portland as snow piled up and the temperature fell.

“The big one today is cars off the side of the road,” he said as he squeezed a flatbed tow truck through narrow side streets in South Portland on his way to a typical call: a car left running with the keys locked inside.

By the time Ivey pulled the truck back into the parking lot of the fleet garage in Scarborough at 2:30 p.m., AAA had responded to 2,700 calls for service in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Those calls continued at a pace of about 200 every 30 minutes, said Pat Moody, spokesman for AAA Northern New England.

“We’ve got a triple whammy here because there’s a snowstorm, it’s really cold and it’s the day after a holiday, when some people wouldn’t have gone out (and started their cars) yesterday,” Moody said.

It was exactly what Ivey expected when he decided to pick up an extra shift on his day off.

“It’s a lot of work. It never stops,” he said. “But the cold, it’s brutal.”

Dressed in extra layers under his reflective vest, Ivey was ready for the bitter cold that hit him each time he hopped down from his truck.

Twice in the span of a half-hour, he responded to calls from drivers whose cars were stuck, their tires just spinning and spinning, on ice- and snow-covered driveways.

The first car came right out after it was hooked to the tow truck, but the second took a little more work.

Ivey, shovel in hand, cleared snow away from the tires and slid in wedges, which help tires lift up and over a slippery area. When that didn’t work, he used a hand jack and blocks of wood.

“You’re almost out of here, buddy. You’re almost out,” Ivey said as he coached the driver on how to turn his steering wheel and when to hit the gas. The car, however, remained stuck. Ivey hooked it up to a tow line to pull it free of the ice.

Minutes later, Ivey went to a car that had slid off Interstate 295 southbound at Exit 5B, the same spot where he’d seen a car that had slid off the road earlier. When he arrived, there were two cars off the highway.

Twenty minutes later, Ivey was covered with snow from lying on the ground – he does that whenever he hooks up a car for towing – and both drivers were on their way. They waved and thanked him as they drove off.

“I’m a Popsicle right now,” Ivey said as he checked the tablet computer mounted in the truck for his next call.

Ivey, who has worked for AAA for about 15 years, never imagined he’d end up a truck driver. He worked in the AAA office and call center, and at one point traveled the state to work with contractors. But being out on the road and interacting with people keeps him coming back for more.

“I do the job because I like helping people,” Ivey said. “It’s rewarding when you see the smiles on people’s faces.”

With the snow expected to pick up and the temperatures dropping, Ivey predicted that his calls Friday will sound much the same as Thursday’s calls.

“People still got to work, so they’ll still be on the highway. Unfortunately, some will go off the road,” he said. “It’s going to be busy the next couple days.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@pressherald.com

Twitter: @grahamgillian

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