178 – car theft – add title-category-keywords-text

December 24, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 10, 2013

I grew up outside of New York City, the progeny of two honest-to-goodness city kids. Not only was I raised near what seemed to be one of the most dangerous places in America, it coincided with perhaps the most crime-ridden periods in the history of our nation. So when I say that I was instilled with a certain paranoia, I really mean it.

What habits did my parents teach me? In no particular order, here’s a list of things (not all of which relate to crime): Always wear your seatbelt. Always look both ways before crossing the street. Avoid showing or handling money on the street unless it’s absolutely necessary. Always read the fine print before signing. Always get, and keep, a receipt. Never ever ever leave your belongings unattended. Always keep a small emergency cash stash. Never leave anything of value — or, ideally, anything even remotely interesting — in plain sight in an unattended car.

These strictures have guided me through much of my life, although in certain cases, I’ve learned to relax them when appropriate. For example, if I’m repositioning my car — just moving it in or out of a driveway, say — I won’t always fasten my seatbelt. (I still typically feel guilty about this minor infraction, alas.) Also, I’ve become comfortable stepping away from my laptop computer if I’m at a coffee shop here in North Carolina’s Research Triangle and I need to use the bathroom or speak on the phone. (I rarely leave my smartphone unattended, however — both because it’s easier to walk away with one surreptitiously than with a laptop and because, um, uh, oh — because sometimes I need to look up stock quotes at a moment’s notice!)

Unfortunately, I paid insufficient attention to one of the rules last week, and I ended up paying a price for it.

On the day after Thanksgiving, after having breakfast with my parent in New York, I got in my 2000 Honda Civic (please form a line, ladies!) and set off for the return drive to Durham, North Carolina.

The trip is roughly nine hours — a little shorter if there’s no traffic, significantly longer if misfortune strikes. As is typical when I start out in the Empire State, I made a brief stop in New Jersey, a short distance outside of Manhattan, to fill up on gas. (Jersey has lower gasoline taxes than does New York, resulting in prices that tend to be markedly lower.)

After that, it was back on the road. I drove south through Jersey and southwest through Delaware and into rural Maryland before again turning south as the interstate approached Baltimore. I headed through the tunnel and toward the District of Columbia.

Incidentally, somewhere (on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Maryland?), I saw an SUV with a Penn State sticker and a license plate (from either Maryland or Pennsylvania, I believe) that said “409 WINS.” One presumes that “RAPED VULNERABLE CHILDREN” had already been taken by another another proud Penn State alumnus.

That’s the kind of thing that sometimes passes through my mind on these long drives.

I passed through the D.C. area without incident and made my way back onto Interstate 95 South through Northern Virginia. I detoured onto U.S. 1 to bypass some traffic, but soon I was back on 95, moving south toward and through Richmond.

Just before 85 splits off from I-95, I stopped at a gas station to fill up my tank and empty my bladder. Soon afterward, I was driving southwest again through the twilight.

I got into Durham shortly before 7 p.m. Usually when I get back to town, I’ll go straight home to unload my car. But I was tired from driving, and I feared that if I stopped by my house, I would be done for the night. Instead, I decided, I would stop off at a coffee shop for a few hours before turning. I got off a couple of exits shy of my usual interchange and headed for a place I hadn’t been to in a few weeks.

After parking my Civic on the 500 block of West Geer Street, I had a few tasks to complete. One: Get my coat (because the night was quite chilly). Two: Get my computer bag (because isn’t that de rigueur equipment for lounging in a coffee shop?). Three: Conceal my tablet (because one shouldn’t leave anything of value in plain sight in an unattended car).

It was this last task that I handled first. Now, the ideal is an empty car; an lesser but still acceptable version of this is having anything and everything that might be remotely tempting is locked in the trunk or concealed by a coat or whatnot.

But usually when I make long drives, I have lots of things in the passenger cabin, including a large duffel bag stuffed with clothing and other accoutrements, so at that point, my cabin was going to have plenty of visible items regardless of what I did.

As mentioned, I needed my coat because of the frigid temperature, so covering my iPad with it was not an option. I realized, though, that I had a calendar sitting atop my duffel bag in the back seat. I put the iPad under it. Because I’d parked on a dark spot on the street, I figured that the calendar would render the gadget all but invisible to anyone who looked in the Civic.

The coat that I had with me was a bulky winter coat, and my computer bag is heavy. So instead of wrestling with them in the car, a chore that would be awkward at best, I got out of the car and circled around it to the passenger’s side. I opened the front door, got on my coat, grabbed my bag and headed down the street for the nearby coffee shop.

About two hours later, I was walking back to my car. I pushed the unlock button on the remote as I approached; the locks jumped up and the cabin light came on — the usual routine.

But something was amiss inside the car. My toiletries case was sitting on the front seat. This baffled me, because the case had been zipped inside a compartment of the duffel bag.

(familiar to viewers of the movie Bull Durham, now used mainly by college and youth teams)

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