A thief steals a car and also the day's beauty

March 08, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Yesterday morning, as fine a morning as ever drew a breath, I march out of my house to go to work, and find something slightly amiss. In the place where I parked my car the previous night, there is now something which can best be described as Absence of Car.

Naturally, being a resident of this city and accustomed to reading about such matters in the daily newspaper, I immediately size up the situation: I must have parked the car somewhere else, perhaps in a place such as Paris, France, and then walked home and forgot about it overnight.

The obvious is too painful to consider: It's been stolen. To admit such a thing is to admit vulnerability, which no one wants to consider. Thus, I begin inventing other places I must have parked it -- places I've never been, or don't even want to go, and wouldn't go even if I had a car to go there -- anyplace, to avoid setting into motion the infuriating and unsettling fact that I live in a place, called America, where crime is committed and my car and I have now become statistics.

I call the city police. Fifteen minutes later a uniformed officer, Dion Brooks, arrives to file a report. In those 15 minutes of waiting, though, I keep opening my front door, and walking to the street.

I look in my car's previous space, carved out of the snow, and examine it closely, as though maybe the car's playing a trick on me and hiding out.

I look up and down the street, thinking I simply misplaced it. There's a car the same color as mine, and the same make as mine. Though these factors don't make it precisely mine, I wonder if perhaps they make it close enough to claim it as mine.

"A '92 Honda Accord?" says Officer Brooks.

"Yes," I say.

"Oh, no," he says. "I just bought a '92 Accord."

"Probably mine," I mutter.

"Got an alarm on yours?" he asks.

"No."

"Gonna get one on mine," he says.

He's being genial, keeping my temperature cool.

Most of the city's stolen cars, he says, are found within a few days. Usually, it's teen-agers out for a joy ride. The cars are often abandoned when they run out of gas. Standard damage: the ignition. In lieu of a key, the thieves tend to hot-wire the car.

Brooks leaves me a Victim Assistance Form, and assurance that someone will call if the police find my car. I telephone my wife, who's between clients at her social work office, and tell her the news.

"Oh, my God," she says, and then says it, by rough count, 137 more times. Or maybe that's 137 echoes of my own "Oh, my God" I'm hearing. She says she'll pick me up and take me downtown.

I arrive at this newspaper at 11 a.m. It is 90 minutes since I first called the police to say my car has been stolen. At 11:10, my telephone rings. It's the police.

"We have your car," an officer says.

"Where is it?"

"Delaware," he says.

"Delaware," I say. "In an hour and a half, you tracked it down in Delaware?"

"No," he says. "Delaware Avenue."

Still, pretty impressive work. A Northwest District officer, Jim Higgins, working off a hot list supplied just minutes earlier, found the car.

Standing on Pimlico Road minutes later, he's holding my ignition in his hand, which the thieves ripped out.

And he says I'm not alone. There are six other stolen cars that are parked here.

"You go through this neighborhood," says Officer Bernard Holthaus, dusting my car for fingerprints, "and out of every 10 cars, one of them's stolen."

The quick impulse, besides gratitude to the police, is to consider our modern vulnerability. My wife has the Club on her car, that device which locks the steering wheel. Until now, I've tended to slough off such a defense.

In the afternoon, a tow truck comes to haul my car to a garage, where a new ignition can be installed.

"Yeah," says the truck operator, "yours is the second stolen car I've had to take in today. I had a guy with a brand new car. Brought it home, and his wife said, 'Come in the house, honey, B BTC got you a present.' He went in, she handed him the Club. He walked back out, the car was gone. Fifteen miles on it."

Good thing the police sometimes find them as quickly as they do.

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