The day my car wasn't stolen

'Stealing it to use oneself was one thing. But to hack it up and sell off like pilfered organs?'

broken cars 88.298 (photo credit: )
broken cars 88.298
(photo credit: )
Usually anniversaries mark things that happened, tragic and uplifting. But this month I'm celebrating the one-year anniversary of something that did not happen: On February 7, 2005, my car was not stolen. That might seem to be a rather perfunctory observation, seeing as on February 8, 9 and 10 my car also was not stolen. But on February 7, I had my car. On February 6, I didn't. It had disappeared under mysterious circumstances three-and-a-half weeks earlier after having been left somewhat hurriedly on Rehov Graetz, right off Emek Refaim in the German Colony. When I returned to my parking space that fateful night, January 13, it was gone. There was no sign telling me not to park it where I did but also no other sign - or helpful street markings or sidewalk stripes - to suggest that it was legal. Considering the fact that my car had vanished, my first thought was that it had been towed. I had no idea how to retrieve a car from a towing lot, so when a police car happened to roll by, I flagged it down. I told the officers that my car was missing. They told me it had been stolen and they would drive me to the police station. I got in. But my second thought was also that it had been towed. Wasn't that surely the likelier explanation for a car of my sort parked on a major street in the German colony? (A car of my sort would be a beloved 12-year-old white Toyota Corolla stick-shift with a dented door and busted trunk; a vehicle too old and worthless to be able to insure against theft.) So I asked the officers whether, indeed, it might not have been towed. No, they told me. No way. They said, and I quote, "We don't tow from this street." They kindly gave me a ride to the Talpiot police station. It was approximately 11 p.m. and there were three people waiting ahead of me, though I don't remember if that included the wife beater they arrested that night and needed to process. I didn't have the registration and insurance information with me, since the papers were in the glove compartment of my car, and worried that my friend who was picking up the spare documents from my house wouldn't arrive at the station before it was my turn to file a complaint. I shouldn't have worried. I was not called in for three hours. When my friend, Ravit, arrived at the station, she gave me a hug, handed me my documents, and asked, "Couldn't your car have been towed?" She didn't direct her question to me, however. She directed it to the community police officer who had been accompanying an on-duty cop when I was picked up. Ravit happened to know her from her work. The officer was emphatic: No. So when I was taken in to file my report, Ravit had a different question for the guy behind the desk: "How long should my friend wait before buying a new car?" His answer: "I would start looking tomorrow." He explained that cars of my sort were undoubtedly stolen by Palestinians who cart them into the territories and hack them up for parts. This was the most unkindest cut of all, from my perspective, since my car is a brilliant feat of engineering that runs smoothly with minimal repairs and with the confidence and wisdom of years on the road. Stealing it to use oneself was one thing. But to hack it up and sell off like pilfered organs? That was too much to bear. In fact, I was so depressed at the thought, I couldn't bring myself to consult the want ads in search of a replacement car. I needed time to grieve. So instead, I spent a few hundred dollars fixing my friend's car so I could use it in the meantime. And that's how things remained until I got the call. They had it. My first feelings were elation and relief. But then I was worried: perhaps they'd found the car beaten up, torn limb for limb, burn out. Perhaps they wanted ransom, as they had from a co-worker whose Jeep was stolen. "Where is it?" I hesitantly asked. Where it's been for the past three-and-a-half weeks, the officer said. "In the towing lot in the center of the city." So - in an inversion of the stages of dealing with grief - anger replaced my acceptance, and denial even replaced that. "No!" I said. "That's impossible. The police told me it couldn't have been towed. They said, 'We don't tow from Rehov Graetz." And the officer replied that that was correct, the police don't tow from Rehov Graetz, just like the police don't tow from any street in Jerusalem. Only the municipality tows cars. That would have been a reasonable distinction had the police officers involved in my case been competent enough to be cognizant of the separation of powers. Had they been gruff and unhelpful and barked that I needed to call the city, then I could have found my car. All I can say in favor of the Men in Blue is that they did not make me pay for the 25 days my car had sat in the towing lot waiting to be claimed. But then, they also did not pay for the money I had spent on my friend's car or the damage to my car for sitting in the cold and rain undriven for 25 days. Or for my pain and suffering. And there was something else they didn't do. They didn't tell me I needed to cancel the complaint. Despite my frustration with the police, I was delighted to have my car back. As was my friend Ravit, who inherits my car whenever I'm out of the country. And as it happened, I was scheduled to leave for a business trip to Siberia at the end of March. Stay tuned for next week.