If you're looking to waste some time cracking up over people getting towed in Deep Ellum, then a YouTube channel called GTOger is your place to be.
The channel has over 265K subscribers, and has posted more than 200 videos posted documenting life in a tiny parking lot next door to the Bomb Factory. "Crazy tow jobs, bad drivers, radical technique, exciting drama — it's a little parking lot with a BIG story to tell," the hilarious trailer says.
Reserved for customers of a company called Virtbiz Internet Services, the parking lot sports a dozen "no parking" signs, plus surveillance cameras and signs warning people that they may appear on YouTube.
This has not stopped unwitting motorists from parking in the lot, only to be subsequently towed.
The video footage has provided a creative goldmine for Chris Gebhardt, Virtbiz' chief engineer, who began posting videos in 2015, and generally posts a new one every Friday.
Gebhardt would not be the first or only person to post such videos; Deep Ellum denizen Allan Hayslip did a simple series called "The Pee-Cam Chronicles" while living in an apartment off Good Latimer from 2016-2017.
But Gebhardt has managed to turn his videos into hilarious, dramatic, mini-movies. Each averages about 5 minutes, with a 3-act structure, evocative soundtracks, special effects, sound effects, and droll wit.
Gebhardt began posting videos after the company moved into its offices to Deep Ellum.
"When I first started sharing these videos, it was really just to show my friends some of the goofy stuff that goes on in our environment," Gebhardt told Rust.
He began posting videos just as YouTube grew, and so did his channel (which is pronounced "Gee Tee Ogre").
Most of his videos follow the same formula: Owner parks car, car gets towed, owner returns to find car gone.
The videos have a delightful format, opening with Hollywood-style credits that cleverly mimic the signature credits of 20th Century Fox. There is always amusing, though gentle, commentary about the parties involved. "Fun facts" are inserted, be it pop culture references, car geek info, or random bits such as the history of torn jeans.
Time stamps lend a documentary feel. Pacing is sharp, with sped-up fast-motion during potentially dull moments. Sound effects are inserted such as a creaking sound when car doors are opened, or a waspy buzz when scooters pass by.
Act 1 is the parking, accompanied by an innocent, happy-go-lucky soundtrack to match the persona of the car. The car pulls in and parks, with the owner obliviously ignoring the signs before heading off for a night of fun.
In Act 2, the innocent soundtrack is brusquely interrupted by the arrival of the tow truck, signaled via a bouncy military-sounding percussive track with crisp drums and a kind of queasy, calliope undertone, with the letters "#drumbeats" superimposed.
Watching the skills, or lack of skills, of the tow truck operators is part of Gebhardt's fun. If a tow truck driver executes a cunning move, such as swinging around the entire back end of a Dodge Charger, the video goes in for a closeup. If a tow truck executes a risky move, he'll overlay arrows and editorial comments.
Act 3 is the vehicle owners' discovery that their car has vanished — almost always accompanied by sad, melancholy music. Sometimes he lets their quiet pathos prevail — the lonely individual under the spotlight, gazing up at the no parking signs, too little too late.
Other times he offers commentary.
In one video, an owner kicks a nearby chain link fence in frustration, and the words "What did that fence ever do to you?" are superimposed. When the owner kicks the fence again, her kicks are replayed in slow motion, with the words "Why? Why?" When the owner kicks the fence a third time, "Again with the fence?!"
Often, in an especially wistful touch, the video superimposes a ghostly image of the car being towed.
Gebhardt says that making the videos is a completely natural process.
"My parents are both very accomplished musicians and my two sisters were blessed with magnificent dancing gifts," he says. "I'm married to a woman who can tell a story through song better than anyone. I've always been the guy hitting the 'record' button to capture that performance."
With YouTube, he found his medium.
"I think everyone has that dream of being a great writer or musical artist or filmmaker or whatnot," he says. "What's great about publishing on YouTube is that even though my initial audience was only intended to be maybe a dozen or so friends, my videos are finding their way all around the globe. I'm getting feedback from people next door and people who live in countries I can barely pronounce, and that feedback pushes me to keep tuning in on what works and what doesn't."
He says he makes the videos in three steps, first assembling the scenes in order; then editing in music, sound effects, and graphics; and lastly what he calls the "snark track."
"That's all the little pop-ups or fun facts or maybe even a gratuitous zoom... that's the snark track and takes the longest amount of time by far," he says. "That's where the story will come together."
Most of his music and effects are drawn from YouTube's audio library of royalty-free music and sound effects.
"I get to take a lot of liberty with the sounds because I'm using CCTV cameras that don't have any sound to them — I love this," he says. "I'm a huge fan of those old radio shows where you had to visualize the story from the sounds that they would make and I'm just applying the same concept to video that has no sound of its own."
"When a car rolls up, what does the engine sound like? Just because it sounds a certain way in real life, does it have to sound like that in my video?" he says. "If someone steps out and starts adjusting their tightly-fitting clothes, doesn't that need to have some elastic stretchy sounds to go with?"
"In our little world, all car doors sound like they need a shot of WD-40, electric scooters sound like the flying cars in The Jetsons, and if you hear drumbeats, someone is about to get towed," he says.
Over the years, he's observed that towing seems to follow a cycle, almost a seasonal thing. November 2019 had nine tows — fairly high for a month. And then they went the entire month of December without a single tow.
"This always makes me wonder 'OK, have they finally figured it out? Are people reading the signs now?'" he asks. "Then came January 18 and the floodgates opened. Since then, we're seeing multiple tows per week."
The impound yard is a few blocks from their building; the towing fee is $150. Drivers get paid by the tow, but there is no financial arrangement between his employer and the tow company.
With the ongoing development in Deep Ellum, the parking situation has gotten worse in the past few years.
"Parking has always been scarce in Deep Ellum," he says. "When I was running sound for bands in the late 1990's and early 2000's and we played Deep Ellum, it was always a challenge finding a place to park the truck. I don't think anyone's built any sort of parking or given any thought to parking since then. And whoever has been in charge of regulating or managing the development in Deep Ellum lately has done the neighborhood a serious disservice by rushing in development without first handling the infrastructure."
Not so good for Deep Ellum — but great for GTOger.