My car was stolen a couple of weeks ago from my block, an odd, curvy little street in a forgotten corner of Astoria, Queens. I parked it around the bend in a spot we tend to avoid. It’s ill-lit, and sometimes shady characters lurk in the shadows. But when I came home from a girls’ night out (no drinking involved, let me be clear, except for oodles of herbal tea) it was after midnight, and there were no other parking places on the street. I reluctantly left my beautiful car there, saying to myself, “this is not good,” and checked and double checked to make sure it was locked and the alarm set.
We didn’t drive anywhere the next day, and though it occurred to me to move the car to a better spot, I didn’t. Saturday morning we gaily left the house, reusable shopping bags in hand, to go to the grocery store, walked around the corner and...no car. Son of a bitch. Could it have been towed? We called the police, and they checked the system, no, it wasn’t towed. So they came and took a police report, we called good old Geico, and by Monday morning we had a rental car. All the conventional wisdom, including that of the large, African American guy at the rental car company, who I could have sworn was a famous record company executive, swore to me that we’d never see the car again. A 2008 Honda Civic, white, with leather seats, a sun roof, GPS…all the bells and whistles, was likely to be hacked up into parts and sold off. I was sad for our sweet car, the Semalu, as we called her (don’t ask, it’s a long story). Sad that I would never again hear her petulant GPS voice as she recalculated…and also sad for the things that we’d left in the car that we’d never see again: a particularly nice cloth grocery bag, a phone recharger, a large container of canned goods I’d been collecting since 9/11 in case we had to flee New York on a moment’s notice…my beach umbrella.
I asked Geico when we could collect on the policy, so sure was I that we’d never see the Semalu again, but they said we had to wait thirty days just in case. Thirty days…sure…they could dream. Then, Friday, at 3:30 in the morning, my 19 year old son bursts into our bedroom, throwing the lights on and declaring, “The car is back! And the thieves are in it!” We fly out of bed and call 911. He and his band-mates with whom he’d been returning so late at night run back down the street and observe from a safe distance. We’ve been admonished, not, under any circumstances, to get in the car if we find it but only to call the police – besides, we’d sent the keys back to Geico as requested. So as he as his friends run back and forth from the corner to our house to report, I’m on the phone with 911.
“What’s the emergency?” They asked in a bored drawl.
“What’s the address?” They don’t sound particularly interested.
I tell them.
“What are the cross streets?”
I give them.
“Is that in Queens?”
“Yes! Please hurry! The thieves are in the car!”
“Someone will be there momentarily.” They hang up.
My son runs back, “They’re leaving the car!”
I call 911 again and update them.
“What’s the address?”
Infuriated, I give all the information again and hang up.
My son runs back. “They’re getting back in the car and driving away!”
I call 911 again and update them, becoming more and more frantic. A good 7 minutes have passed…where are the cops?
“What’s the address?”
I give them the information again, telling them how close they are to missing the chance to catch the car thieves red-handed.
“Someone will be there momentarily.”
My husband jumps in the rental car with my son and they go in pursuit, but come back to tell me they lost them. A half an hour later, the police show up.
Now it’s Saturday. I’m disgusted with the NYPD. What a bunch of hopeless losers. I get in the rental car in the morning and drive around the neighborhood looking for the Semalu. Nothing. Later in the afternoon, my husband and I go out to do a quick errand. We could have done it a half an hour before, but I wanted to finish up some things around the house first.
So we get in the rental and proceed up the street, the Honda primary on my mind.
I’m muttering, “I am determined to find that car!”
My husband says, “We’re not going to find it.”
I say, “I know it’s still around here somewhere.”
I’m looking closely at every white car I see. There’s one coming towards us on the opposite side of the street. It’s a Honda.
“That could be it now,” Jon jokes.
I look at the license plate, “That’s it!” I scream.
My husband, thinking he’s Tom Selleck, pulls our car in front of the stolen vehicle, blocking their path. He and the driver lock eyes. Jon now has a positive ID on the guy. I whip out my phone and call 911, screaming at Jon, “Don’t confront him! Don’t confront him!” The guy pulls around us and turns left. Jon turns around and follows him while I’m shrieking at him to be careful and simultaneously informing 911 that we’re chasing our stolen vehicle down the street. They don’t get it.
“Which intersection are you at?” they ask lazily.
“31st and Crescent, now Broadway and Crescent…”
“You're at Broadway and Crescent? Is that in Queens?”
“Yes! Now we’re going west on Broadway…we’re turning right on 23rd,”
“You’re at the intersection of Broadway and 23rd?”
“We’re following them through a parking lot…we’re on 21st! They’re crossing onto the wrong side of the road! They’ve turned left onto 30th!”
911 tells me the police are on the way and I hang up. The thieves know we’re in pursuit and they’re hauling ass. They run stop signs…we can’t keep up; it’s too dangerous. The police call me back and ask where we are. I give them an intersection and get out so that I can wait for them as Jon takes a guess as to which way the Honda has gone, and goes off to look for it. The cops are with me in seconds. They scoop me up into the back seat and tear off down Vernon Blvd with me bouncing around trying to find a non-existent seat belt. As we turn into the Costco parking lot, thinking the car might be ditched there, I see a white Honda at the stoplight, but check the plates…it’s not it. I’m on the phone with Jon when the cops get a report on their radio that another squad car has found our vehicle. No perps inside. We travel the couple of minutes to the parking lot of the Astoria Housing Projects and there she is, the Semalu. One window broken, the radio gone, a few extra scratches, but other than that, none the worse for wear. We can’t touch her to see what else is gone from the interior because they have to dust her for prints, but we are relieved beyond words.
After a while, the cops, brilliant beyond belief, suggest that we can take the car home. We stare at them. “Well, we have no keys, and don’t think it’s a good idea to park it on our block with no window and no way to lock it.”
Oh yeah, duh.
So they tow it to a storage facility and there it sits until Geico gives us further instructions. We think the perps will be caught; there are cameras all over the Astoria Projects parking lot.
Vigilante justice and a series of bizarre coincidences save the day.