To Keep Your Car, Get a 'Club' and Leave a Note

November 28, 1994|By RICHARD REEVES

NEW YORK — New York. -- The Manhattan neighborhood along Fifth Avenue in the 90s (that's above 90th Street) is called ''Carnegie Hill'' because Andrew Carnegie and a lot of folks like him once lived up there, overlooking the Central Park Reservoir.

The running track around the reservoir has just been renamed for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. One of the great hospitals in the world, Mount Sinai, is at 98th Street, and some of the fancier private schools in the city are along 96th. A nice place.

My wife and I lived there, at Fifth and 95th, in the early 1980s, and our neighbors included Robert Redford and William Shawn, the editor of the New Yorker. But it was too rich for our blood, and too quiet. If I wanted to overlook a lake and trees, I'd move to the country.

New York being what it is, the areas just north and east of the hill have been called ''the DMZ'' -- that's after the demilitarized zones between North and South Korea and, once, between North and South Vietnam. There is public housing on the far side, and the people who run around the reservoir do not walk among those towers, some of them built when Mrs. Onassis' first husband was president.

We were back there the other night, having dinner with friends at a neighborhood restaurant on Madison Avenue between 92nd and 93rd Streets. Walking back to Fifth along 94th, Steve Brill, famous now because of the success of his idea, Court TV, said: ''Do you know what ''The Club'' is?''

Of course. The red bar that you lock onto a steering wheel to make it that much more difficult for thieves to get your BMW or Lexus, which seemed to be the cars of choice in our friends' neighborhood.

''I'll bet you,'' Brill said, ''that half the cars along here have it.''

More than half, it turned out. With the kids running along, shouting ''Here's one!'' and ''Another one!'' we counted 23 out of 44. Besides that, more than a dozen of the cars along 94th Street had little red lights flashing inside, attached to alarm systems of some sort -- guaranteeing that every week or so, locals would go without sleep while the damned things wailed through the night.

Pathetic! More pathetic were the notes taped to the windows, most of them saying just ''No Radio.'' One said: ''No Radio. Nothing in Car.'' My favorite, on a Saab, said: ''No Radio. Nothing in Trunk. Nothing in Glove Box. Look for Yourself.''

My own experience in these things includes just two thefts -- of the same car.

When I lived on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village, my old Volkswagen was stolen one day, never to be seen again, or so I thought. I was amazed a month later when I got a call from the desk sergeant in a precinct on the Upper West Side saying the police had found the car under the West Side Highway.

I said I'd come to the station house, but he said the car was still under the highway. Police reported stolen cars and that was it. When I got uptown it was gone. Stolen again.

As law and order breaks down, government breaks up. While police are reporting a 12 percent crime reduction on the Upper East Side -- which may mean deductibles are higher and people don't bother to report theft unless they need evidence for insurance paperwork -- the largest landlord in the area is promoting a private security plan.

Douglas Elliman Co. wants the city to collect $100 to $200 a year from people who live between 59th Street and 96th, from Fifth Avenue to the East River.

Three hundred fifty to 500 private security guards would then be hired to supplement the 52 real cops assigned to that beat.

On 94th Street, they already have private guards at night, paid for by a block association. In these monied quarters, many other streets have the same protection against the night.

Nothing seems to work too well, but who knows? We'll try anything. ''The Club,'' private armies, welfare reform, more prisons, nice notes for literate thieves, leaving $20 on a table for the junkies, as we used to do in the Village. Maybe putting out cookies and milk would help. Is this a great country or what?

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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