I woke up, lumbared to the bathroom, turned on the shower, sat on the toilet, and looked at my phone. I swiped away the news notifications and was left with an email. “Vehicle Security Alarm was triggered from your White 2019 Outback at 12:34 AM MDT on 09/30/2021.” That feeling: still trying to shake off the morning haze and mentally preparing for another day of working from home slammed up against a brick wall.
I think I knew in that moment. But I went through the motions. I turned off the shower. I went back into my room. I got dressed. I went to the back window. Nothing. But I’ve only lived here three weeks–can I normally see the car out the back window? I went out the back door, through the backyard, and out the back gate. The emptiness was shocking–allowing that air of doubt when I first read the email to solidify into a brick in my stomach.
My car has been stolen.
Without any blatant evidence, I turned around and went back inside. I told myself that my primary goal was to keep it together. Back inside, I pulled out my phone and opened Subaru Starlink. No–that was the wrong one. That’s what I use in the car. I exited the app and looked for the other one. MySubaru. When it opened, I was presented with four options. Lock. Unlock. Locate Vehicle. Horn and Lights.
I pressed on the Locate Vehicle option. In a few seconds, a map came up with a location just over a mile away. I went back into my bedroom and quietly got a pen and sticky notes. I could hear my kids starting to make sounds through the baby monitor and Sofia was starting to stir. I went back to the kitchen and wrote down the crossroads. I pressed the “Locate Vehicle” option again. It hadn’t moved. I paused–preparing to call 911. With the household starting to wake, I imagined my wife walking into the kitchen while I talked to the 911 operator. What a horrible way to find out. No–it had to be me. And now.
Bringing someone into your reality is a jarring experience. I will never forget the story my dad told about the death of his oldest sister. From the first call he received from the hospital, letting him know about the crash, to the moment he arrived and heard the news, more than an hour had passed. Although that barely softens the blow, he had an hour to come to terms with the possibilities before reality solidified. When he called his father–nothing would soften the blow. Although nothing can compare to that experience, it has helped me understand how different ways of receiving information affect how we react.
I woke Sofia softly. She muttered something about getting the kids. I told her it would have to wait. I told her I needed her help. I nearly choked up when she flashed me a confused look. And….I told her. It could see it in her eyes–she was hoping I would tell her it was joke. A bad joke. I told her I needed to call the police on her phone so I could continue to track the car on my phone. She bolted up, got dressed and joined me.
I’ve called 911 a few times in my life. Once on my former brother-in-law. Once when I witnessed a nasty fight. But I never had to call them for myself. As I dialed, I prepared myself for the frustration of having to wait awhile. 911 dispatch has been strained through the pandemic–I knew that much. But they answered in seconds. Just as expected: “911: What’s your emergency?”
I told them I just woke up and that my car was stolen. Almost after the fact, I said I was tracking in. The call lasted a few minutes. I told them where it was. She said she was creating a call to go out. As the call ended, she told me to call back if the location of the call changed.
I called back three times over the next 30 minutes.
Whoever had my car was wandering around the city.
I started work as normal at 7:15–the earliest I am allowed to clock in. Almost immediately, a call came through. It was a police officer telling me that he found my car–with several people in it. I told him it was my only car and he told me he would swing by to pick me up in a few minutes. I locked my terminal and abandoned the idea of actually clocking in until things were more settled.
As Sofia went about the normal breakfast routine, I got properly dressed and updated her on what was happening. The officer arrived a few minutes later. He was pleasant. He told me that they were smoking “stimulants” in the vehicle and that a pipe and tin foil was found. Although it wasn’t confirmed, meth is my assumption with those descriptors.
He was blunt in a way that made me suspect he had lots of practice. “No one is being arrested.” No one was found in the driver’s seat. The rest of them had enough sense (or practice) to say they didn’t know that the car was stolen. Since there was no way to prove who had stolen the vehicle, there was no way to arrest anybody. Plus the paraphernalia wasn’t found on anybody.
There were three police cars and three officers at the scene. The officer asked if I wanted to stay in the car until they finished releasing the people they had detained. I said no–honestly, I knew I had to get back to work. The car looked fine aside from the flat tire that they were trying to fix when they were caught. And it was. The two real issues were the smell and what was missing.
Everything was missing. Two car seats. A double stroller. The dash cam. The portable phone charger. The cash. The masks. My COVID Vaccine Card. Even most of the baby toys and books were gone. The cops helped me change out the tire then asked me if I had any questions. I asked if there was anything else I needed to do aside from deal with insurance. They sounded like they deal with this far too often. “Welcome to Tacoma” was their parting remark.
As we parted ways, I rolled down the windows and threw some items that were not mine out of the way. I kept spotting things that were wrong. The cigarettes in the car door. The steering wheel had been lowered. The music was turned up to the max. The presets to my radio stations had been changed. That was when the distinct feeling of violation crept in.
I drove carefully home–all too aware that I no longer had any license plates (they had been removed). Unwilling to put the car right back in the spot where it was stolen, I parked the car in front of the house on the street. I locked it five times and went inside to tell Sofia the bad news. Without the stroller or the car seats, the next few days would be difficult. After I updated her, I logged into work–a full hour later than normal.
In the hours and days that passed since then, most everything is back to normal. We have car seats. The car was professionally cleaned by “sunshine cleaners.” Insurance covered nearly everything. As the event falls into my rear view mirror, I know I am lucky that this didn’t cost me a fortune or make me loss my job since I was late to work. I was lucky.
But that feeling of violation is persistent. I bought security cameras. I often check on the cars when I wake up in the middle of the night. I am far more paranoid than I ever have been. I understand why people buy guns—but I also understand enough about escalating situations to know that is a terrible idea. In the end, this whole event has just made me more acutely aware of the homelessness epidemic and addiction epidemics that have run rampant during the pandemic. I live in the right place—a place where the people and our government want to do something about it.