The patio at Lula is nice. Right on the corner there, near the circle. We ordered and were chatting when Ania said, "That lady has the same car as you." and pointed to a green Honda Civic stopped at the light. I said, "Yeah, but that's mine..." and pointed to another Civic parked nearby.
It's funny how your mind works. Your senses can grab a handful of perception, but sometimes it takes your brain a little while to sift through the muck. In this case the little bits of dirty gold left in my pan where my plate number on the moving car, the wrong hub caps on the parked car and that rattling sound that I meant to get looked at the next day as the lady drove away.
I can't remember what I said at that point. It's too bad because I bet it was priceless. In any case I verbally made it known that my car was being stolen. Ania started shouting that her passport was in the trunk and I realized I already had my phone out and was dialing 911. I ran around the corner and saw my car sitting at the stop light of Milwaukee and the circle. Somehow I managed not to get run over as I ran into the street, but before I even came close she took off heading east on Logan.
What the fuck? I mean seriously, what the fuck was going on? I tried not to sound breathless on the phone with the 911 lady. You hear recordings of people dialing 911 and they're usually freaking out or not answering the dispatcher's questions at all. So I waited for each question and answered as calmly as possible. Even still, a big part of me wished I was in an old movie and could just tap a cop a shoulder and be like, "That bitch stole my fucking car!!!!!" and they would tear ass after her.
Well that's not how it is. How it happens is, you go back and get your girlfriend, tell the nice waitress to cancel everything on account of your car being stolen. Strangely, there is little reaction from the people sitting around your table. Two cops slowly pull up in a squad car, one is tall, fat and white and the other is short, fit and Latino and amidst bad jokes, borrowed cigarettes, countless reassurances that it actually was your car and that it actually was taken, they file some sort of report, the form for which it took them 20 minutes to find. In my case you have to add consoling a very distraught Polish grad student here on a special visa which was just stolen, along with her passport. I think she never felt quite so small, in quite so big a city.
We took the train home. I joked that we saved 50 bucks on dinner and to her credit Ania laughed. I mulled over what happened but I was still in shock. Someone walked up to my car not 30 feet from where I was sitting and boosted it. Surreal. Utterly fucking surreal. Ania's hope was that someone took the wrong car. I told the cops about the other Civic parked nearby. They were actually cool about the wacky theory and ran the plate. Some lady who lived on Ridgeway owned the car and they promised to drive by the place later tonight. I didn't lend any credence to the idea though. I mean, someone randomly had a key for a Civic that worked in mine? Then didn't notice they were getting into and driving away in the wrong car? Still I had to admit, a young woman stealing a well worn 8-year-old Civic with a 100,000 miles on it, on a well lit street, in front of a dozen happy diners was just as bizarre.
Anyway, we went home, and like all good people that have bad things happen to them, we got hammered. We talked and laughed and danced and I made fun of Ania for liking some Pussy Cat Dolls song (to be fair, she said she just liked it for dancing but come on, you can't let someone go on something like that). We fell asleep on the sofa sleeper for some reason. Despite having been a victim of a crime, it was a fun night. But Saturday we faced a harsh reality. We were seriously hung-over and had to start dealing with things like insurance claims, finding the Polish consulate and whatever else. Ania told her parents and the other two Polish students (the three are known collectively as The Lovely Ladies of Polska) what happened and they worked her up into a panic all over again.
My uncle went by the site in the morning and the other Civic was still there — on an expired meter, interestingly enough. I went by with my folks in the afternoon to try my key but it was gone and when we told the cops at the nearby station our switcheroo theory they laughed at us and said it could never happen. We didn't argue, but I have a second aunt that took home the wrong Volkswagen once. She drove it all the way home and didn't realize it wasn't hers until she noticed her packages weren't in the trunk. Plus I googled "Civic key lock wrong" in the morning and found a story of a kid who could start his mom's Civic with the key for his. The cops just kept talking about jiggler keys, and how Civics are a popular car to steal and that women commit crimes too, and they finally had me convinced. More importantly, I had little hope of recovering the car. The same uncle that was helping me once reported a car stolen from his workplace to the CPD. In reality he had forgotten that he parked it a block from where he usually had every day of his life at that job. The cops hadn't spotted it there in the three weeks it took him to realize where it was. It was a block away! I started making a list of what was in the car for the insurance company and it got longer for every bit of bullshit that Ania or I had to deal with.
The next day everyone was more relaxed and started making arrangements. But then Ania realized her social security card was tucked into her passport and was inconsolable. So I wasn't exactly in a great mood when I left for the Fire game my Dad and I had tickets for. The game was OK, but on top of the clouds that eventually rained us out of Toyota Park was the cloud of what this poor girl was going to do. And something else. Something worse. Until then I had pretty much been in shock. Numb. And just like when you get up after your legs fall asleep, the feeling slowly crept back in. It hurt really fucking bad. Some bitch stole our shit. She just woke up one day and decided either she needed it more than us, or deserved it more and reached out and took it from under my nose. And I could do exactly nothing about it. That cocktail of shame, defilement and helplessness is not something I'd wish on anyone. Save maybe the bitch who stole my car. Maybe. I can't even begin to imagine what victims of violent crime or sexual assault or some such must feel. Times a thousand.
On the way home my Dad, who always amazes me with his perception, took me around some of the old neighborhoods where my family grew up, I'm sure as much to take my mind off things as to see them again for himself. He talked about Humboldt Park when it was a slice of urban paradise and Grand Avenue around Damen when it was mostly Italians. It was cool. I wanted to get back though, because a friend had called me at the game and told me an auto theft ring had been busted. What's more, that one of the three people arrested was a young white woman.
We were heading north on Milwaukee, so we passed the place where my car was stolen. Just after, I checked the traffic ahead and it looked backed up north of the circle. So as I sometimes do, I hung a right on Kedzie to go up to Belmont.
Now, I've always noticed Civics when driving around. You just tend to notice your own car when you see it. Since the theft, I was doubly aware of any green or black Civics around me and I was checking all the plates. I mean who knows? I guess when I pulled around the corner and saw a green Civic parked there I just automatically glanced at the license plate. It was the first car on the street, it was raining, I was driving my Dad's car and took the turn at about 15 or 20 I guess. But this time there was no sifting through any muck. My brain IDed my car instantly.
I said, "My car." Like that, all matter of fact. My Dad said, "What?" in Italian and looked at me. Then I shouted, "That's my car!" as I pulled to the curb in front of it. I think he said, "No!" in disbelief. I don't really remember because I was already opening the umbrella he had in there and running out the door. I still had my car key on my ring and went straight to the trunk, opened it, grabbed Ania's pack, shut the trunk and ran back to my Dad's car. He just kept saying "Oh my gosh..." and finally after we verified her papers were in there he told me to call her. I did and she was ecstatic of course. That was a fun phonecall to make. My Dad called my Mom at the same time and we were both sitting in the car shouting into our phones and laughing. I called the cops and we waited for them to document the recovery, since you can't just drive around in a car that's been reported stolen.
My Dad circled the car and noticed two things. One, the driver's seat was pushed all the way forward, to which he said, "A butana eda curta," Sicilian for "the bitch was short" (incidentally, my mom later scolded him from talking that way). Two, the doors were locked. With my car, you can't lock the driver side door unless you have a key and do it from the outside with the door closed. I guess you could shimmy out the passenger's side after hitting the auto lock, but who does that? I told this to the cops and got the same speech about jiggler keys and Civics, but if you ask me whoever took the car had a key that worked perfectly in both the door and ignition.
The cops reported the recovery and after checking the engine and undercarriage for anything unusual, I started the car and went on home. Nothing in or on the car was missing or even disturbed. Not my book of CDs, not the Proof DVD I was (and still am) supposed to return to Blockbuster. Not my Darth Maul or lucha libre figures or my baseball mitt or atlas, and not something I was especially grateful to have back, my little book of Chicago street numbers that my Dad handed down to me. He bought that thing back in '68 or something when my family first came to the city.
So what the hell happened? Who knows? One theory is some drunk and/or crazy lady got into the wrong Civic and didn't realize until the next day. She was then too scared to call the cops and just brought it back to where she had taken it. Another one is my car was stolen by pros, and when some of the gang got busted whoever had it left it near where it was taken to keep that particular boost off the rap sheet. After looking at the picture in the newspaper, Ania never could say if the woman arrested with the auto theft ring was the same one that drove away in my car. All I know is whoever took it didn't go very far and was nice enough to park it legally, lock it, not take a dump in it or anything and give it back to me Sunday night... just before I needed it to get to work on Monday.
Looking back, what I went through was really damn minor in comparison to the shit some people have to deal with. But I'll never forget that shitty feeling and hopefully am just a little more capable of empathy because of it. The city borrowed my car for the weekend. How fucking strange. The Lovely Ladies of Polska say their faith in people was restored. I don't know about that. It depends how much faith you had in the first place, and how tainted you would let it become over the actions of a few. But certainly I think happy endings are possible in this town. At least in the short term.