Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My Stolen Car, An Essay

This actually happened

My car was stolen in the wee hours of Monday morning, 7/30/07. I woke up that morning and looked outside at 7:45 to find that my car was gone. I immediately called the police and then my insurance company. A police officer came and I filed the report. He basically said that what usually takes place in these situations is that it was a 15 year old kid who takes it for a joy ride for a few days and when it runs out of gas and he just leaves it somewhere. A few days later a neighbor will call to notify the police of an abandoned car, it gets picked up and then I might get it back.

When I talked to Geico, they told me that about 60 percent of stolen cars come back. As far as insurance goes, I was in good shape on the policy, they said they wait 20 days until filing a claim for a "total loss" so I had to wait a while to see what would happen. It was a lease, so it's not like I was getting money back; it would just be a wash after my $500 deductible and the $1500 trade in, and I'd have to start over getting a new car. Not fun. The week goes by and I hear nothing. While I'm driving around town in my wife's car I'm looking around for my stolen car, knowing that I'm not going to find it but kind of getting a kick out of thinking that I might. Did I mention my golf clubs were in the trunk? And golf shoes, a stroller, a car seat, a bunch of CDs and kids books.

Fast forward to this Saturday, 8/4. I went out to run errands with Ethan in tow. Jennifer is two weeks from giving birth at most and getting some rest at home. I was driving my neighbor Rob's car, he was nice enough to lend it to me for the last few days while he was in Vegas on a business trip. Ethan and I went to the bank and the cell phone store and get to Home Depot around 1 p.m., it was our last stop before heading home. He had been a good sport and was starting to get tired and cranky and needed a nap. I bought a hose and sprinkler and some plastic storage containers and loaded them in the car. I put him in his car seat and was walking around to the front of the car to leave when I saw it.

… and them.

At first I just notice that it's a black Mazda 6, new, just like mine.

Then I look at the tags.. that sequence looks familiar.. looks like…

but … there's no way…

It's parked in a handicap spot right at the front of Home Depot. I just stared at the car, incredulous.

I didn't have the tag sequence memorized, but it looked right. I pulled out my cell phone and walked toward the car.

A black man, skinny, small, about 25, was messing with something in the back seat. There's a woman outside the car in the front.

I had to be sure. A few months ago someone scraped my back bumper in a parking lot and left some yellow paint on the rear bumper. I got close enough and saw yellow paint. Holy @#$# A#!#. This was my car. Holy !#!@#$#@$ !#$!#@!

For a second or two I just stood there. I literally could not believe it.

In that instant all the options came rushing through my mind.. do I run over there and approach the guy? Attack him? Do I just call the cops? Remember I had Ethan in the car and I thought Mr. car thief was about to go into Home Depot so I figured I had him nailed. He would go in the store, I'd call the cops, and by the time he came out they would be there to nab him.

But then he got in the driver's seat. And the woman with him started walking across the parking lot… I called 911 and I am trying to stay coherent and give them the story … adrenaline is pumping like crazy… "I see him. I see the guy who stole my car. I am at the home depot at the Reisterstown road plaza… I see my car… it's a black mazda6 2007, license plates 5CL N40 … send someone to the home depot now, please!

They ask for my cell number and name, I give it to them. They ask for a description of the guy.

The woman is walking away… she makes eye contact with me… seems to know somehow that something is up, starts shaking her head side to side like, "don't mess with that guy," or "I don't know anything." In hindsight, I probably should have stayed with her and tried to find out where this guy lives or something. .. or should I have run up and punched him in the head? Should I have tried to box him in with my car? (I don't think it would have worked, he wasn't blocked in on either side). The passenger side of my car was already banged up with a new dent, red paint. This guy coulda been dangerous. I mean, I know he steal cars, what else does he do?

Now I am nervous because he's on the move and the window to run up over there and confront him just closed. I keep 911 on the phone and back up .. bang! Right into the shopping cart I was just unloading, it goes flying across the parking lot. No time to get it or care. Oh yeah, Ethan is in the back seat, tired, saying out loud, "Daddy, where are we going?" He is calm. I am freaking. The guy starts driving through the lot and I think he's headed for the main road but he weaves through the parking center lot. I am hoping/thinking he won't see me so I can just tail him somewhere and call the cops again when he parks. He gets to the light to where you leave the shopping center and stops for a second and then runs right through it. I check the traffic and run it too. I am now officially in a car chase. Blood is pumping furiously. I am yelling on the phone line to the cops now, "I AM RIGHT BEHIND MY STOLEN CAR. I AM RIGHT NEAR THE REISTERSTOWN ROAD PLAZA… they tell me that an officer is on the way. The 911 call ends.

I am not sure if the guy knows I am tailing him but he's driving like a crazy person. There's no way to know if he just runs lights and stop signs because that's how people who steal cars drive, or because he knows the guy behind him in a borrowed Acura with an inquisitive and tired 2-year-old in the back is actually the guy who owns the car he is driving.

Now I'm thinking !#$!@# ! Why didn't I approach him in the parking lot? Cut to my inner dialogue: I am a [insert P-word]. No you're not, he could have had a gun. Ethan is in the car.

Ethan is a chatterbox, he starts talking:

"Daddy, where are we going?"

"Daddy found the mean man who stole his car, we are following him so the police can help.

"I thought Swiper took your car."

I almost laugh.

"No Ethan, a mean man took daddy's car."

"Daddy, did he borrow it?

"No, he took it without asking."

I call 911 again to give them a location update. Now we're at Fallstaff and Cross Country, the part where you can make a right past the stop sign without stopping; he goes straight without stopping. I follow him and for the first time it dawns on me that this probably is not going to work out in my favor and I can't believe that either. WHERE ARE THE COPS???

String of obscenities flies from my mouth.

"Sorry Ethan, daddy was upset."

"Daddy are you angry?"

"No, Ethan, everything is OK…

I call 911 again, now we are at Greenspring and Smith Ave., the guy is weaving around here like crazy person. In my freakin car. He guns it on Smith, had to be going 70, 80, and he is gone I can't keep following.

Now I'm at Seven Mile Lane and Reisterstown Road, he officially lost me. My phone rings. It's the dispatcher. She says she's been given three locations as to where I am and I need to stay put so an officer can meet me.

I meet a cop at a dunkin donuts at Reistertown Road and fallstaff. He was calm, not in a hurry, not looking like he was looking for anything. I tell him the whole story, he just kinda nods and takes it in, says he wasn't close enough and the location kept changing.

I am furious. Angry. Frustrated. Relieved that Ethan is OK but wondering if other men might have stepped up and attacked this guy right then and there to get their car back. In my defense, I keep reminding myself that I thought he was going in the store; he could have had a gun or a knife, I remind myself. Insurance is going to pay for this anyway, I remind myself, why should I get myself killed?

Then I remember the woman, I tell the cop, 'let's go back to Home Depot and see if I can find this woman and ask her what she knows. We drive back there. It's 100 and humid outside. It's after 2 p.m. When I make him get out to the Home Depot again, Ethan is apoplectic, wants to go home. Cop follows me to Home Depot… I take Ethan out of his car seat again and as he's crying and we're walking aisle by aisle looking for the woman I caught a glimpse of … no sign of her, this whole thing isn't going to pan out for me.

Then I'm thinking, I can't believe this guy is just using my car like it's his… still has my tags on it, just driving it around, not even very far from my house in Mt. Washingoton. Nice police work Baltimore City. Is it fair to be pissed at them? I guess they can't be on every corner, but this guy is driving around in my car with my tags like a maniac and they can't stop him?


Can't get it out of my mind. Wondering if I should drive around myself looking for it… 13 more days until Geico starts the paperwork for "total loss." Can't believe I ran into the guy. Can't believe I didn't get him.



On Sunday, Jen, and Ethan and I go to the market downtown under 83. We see a cop and I stop him, tell him my whole story and ask him if I did the right thing, what could I have done different, what could the police have done different, why couldn't they, for example, have the responding officer call my cell phone in real time to get location updates as opposed to going to a specific location…

Cop says to me, "Are you standing here, in one piece, having this conversation with me?"


"You did the right thing."

Then, as an aside, he says to me… between you and me, our police department is not in good shape right now.

Gee… you think?



They found my car the following Thursday after the Saturday chase, abandoned in an apartment parking lot not far from Fallstaff and Park Heights Ave. Geico called me, not the cops. They didn't even try to get a hold of me, impounded the car at the impound lot off Pulaski Highway downtown. I went down Friday morning to pick it up and it was a mess; dented and trashed inside. I had a it towed to the dealership where I bought it. Fast forward and it took 6 weeks and about 6200 to get it back to good shape (all but $500 covered by Geico, so I do have to say they did a good job.) What a mess.