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2012 Chevrolet Impala, Summit White, 51433 mi., $16,495
Wrecked, Stripped or BurnedWhat do you do when your car is stolen? Take cold comfort in the crime statistics and brace yourself for some tough talk from The Law.
There is a ritual you must go through when you discover that your car has been stolen. Even in the earliest moments, as you approach the space where you´re certain you left your car, you already know what´s wrong. But as the realization dawns, you will still go through the motions of confusion, backtracking, reconsidering, and questioning all the realities of this particular day. An observant fellow pedestrian might notice you start to frown as you scan the parking spaces up ahead. She might then see a deepening look of consternation as you start looking further along the rows of parked cars. You´d arrive at the space where you´re sure you left it, and you´d stop, search, scratch your head, and tap your temple as you run through all the possible scenarios. However you enact the final moments of confusion, you´re already confronting the only possible answer to the mystery of your missing car: It was stolen.
The ritual continues beyond the recognition of the hard fact, and it´s important to see it to completion just so that you will be girded for what must follow. So go ahead and walk all the blocks around where you know you left your car. Go back and look where you know you didn´t park today, just to let the knowledge of the situation catch up with you. When you´ve covered all surrounding parking spaces, make the first phone call to whomever would offer the best comfort. There will be time for digesting the whole thing later, so in the moment a little humor might be useful. Call someone who can be both funny and appropriately impressed. Your plans for the evening will be on hold while you figure out what in the world to do about this outrage.
In that position, the second time, I did not complete the ritual of searching and second-guessing. I didn´t take the time to go through all the alternatives, making sure that I wasn´t forgetting that I didn´t even drive to work that day. I was in too much of a hurry so I cut the ritual short. I always have to rush from work to pick up the kids from their various stations in the city, so on this day I was already running late by the time I´d determined that my parking space was empty. But another reason I skipped the searching part of the stolen-car ritual may have been that I had gone through all this before.
The fabric of your reality was ripped when something you took for granted was made to disappear. And, with cars, this is not an uncommon experience. For the broadest swath of the urban population, a car theft might be the most common brush with major crime. Car theft isn´t limited by neighborhood to the extent that other crimes are; a glimpse at the auto theft map for different regions of your city would likely reveal activity even in places you thought were too quiet for it. So, for many of us, reporting a car theft may be the only occasion to interact on this level with the local police.
Once you´ve taken in the hard fact of your missing car, you´ll need to get in touch with the police. You don´t have to call them from the crime scene, as I thought the first time. Before you leave the spot of your missing car, however, do note the location. You will be asked for that. I hemmed and hawed when I had to tell my police officers where I had left the vehicle, and I wondered at the time whether that appeared fishy. I couldn´t for the life of me think of the name of the street near my office that I parked on every single day. Take note they will want to know.
Your phone book will include a number for your local Auto Detail. You may also call a main police number or go to the special number that allows you to "file a report over the phone" though, in my experience, you do want the assurance (such as it is) of live human contact at this time. I called a main number and whined that my car had been stolen, and two police officers were at my house within the hour to hear my tale of woe.
The only time I´ve had police in my house was when they came in to take my report. The officers were personable, but they also slipped just enough tough talk into the conversation to keep me aware of what they were about. They took my information and briefed me on what would happen if they did find the car. They warning against reclaiming my vehicle should I come across it myself. I was told that if I found the car myself, say in an overlooked parking spot near where I reported it missing, I must not simply get in and drive it off. If an officer spotted me at the wheel of a car reported stolen, they said, I would be brought out at gunpoint and made to "kiss the pavement."
The officers assured me that they frequently retrieve stolen vehicles. But I´d heard enough first-hand stories of retrieved metal husks and nastily desecrated interiors to know that I didn´t necessarily want whatever the police might "recover."
As it happened, I got the notice only one day later: California Highway Patrol had found my vehicle. The car had been towed to a lot, but, I was told, the reporting officer described the vehicle as "not wrecked, stripped or burned." That was their good news. But the description left open so many other possible violations that I was not much comforted.