The day my car wasn't stolen (cont'd)

When a car reported stolen was found in one of the city's tow lots, no one was more surprised than its owner.

broken cars 88.298 (photo credit: )
broken cars 88.298
(photo credit: )
On February 7, 2005, a 12-year-old white Toyota Corolla stick-shift with a dented door and busted trunk was identified in the city towing lot. Having been told three weeks earlier that her car had been stolen, no one was more surprised than its owner. espite 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. Ravit traveled from Jerusalem to near Haifa several times that March, driving my car on Route 6 each time. Though the road, Israel's first modern highway, invites fast-lane speeders, Ravit is not one of them. When the police car pulled out behind her, she thought it was a mere coincidence. But when the sirens started to flash, she realized she should stop. She handed them her license and my car's registration for what she thought was a routine check. The officers asked whom the car belonged to. "Hilary Krieger," she answered. "What connection is she to you?" "My friend." "Where is she?" "Siberia." Then the officers went away. It was only when they didn't come back, after a very long time, that she realized the stop was more than routine. And then she realized why. They asked if there had been any "event" involving the car recently. And she explained the whole story. Since my friend is as threatening as a white puffy cloud in the Jerusalem summer sky but as insistent as a supermarket checkout clerk who won't let you, with your 12 items, use the 10 items or less express lane, the officers believed her story. That, and who would invent a trip to Siberia as a credible excuse? But even though they believed her, they told her that police regulations still required them to bring her into the nearby police station. Luckily, in her many consultations connected to my case, Ravit had spoken to her friend, a real police officer, whom she called on this occasion so that he could speak to his fellow officers and convince them not to take her in. So they didn't. There are many reasons to be distressed by this story. There's the fact that protektzia in this circumstance worked. There's the fact the police never told me to cancel the complaint. There's the fact that the first two times Ravit drove on a road with license plate scanners, nothing happened despite her driving a "stolen" car. And then there's this: For nearly two months, the Jerusalem police were supposedly hard at work looking for my car. And for all that time, I drove it in and around the city with impunity. It was only because of a stationary computerized device - on a road any real car thief would be smart enough to avoid - that my car was "caught." Since I had been able to drive my car around Jerusalem without complications, I wasn't in too much of a rush to remove the complaint. Besides, the test was about to expire on my car and I was more eager to spend three hours taking care of that than sitting in a police station to rescind a complaint I hadn't even wanted to file. As the date got closer, and I still hadn't received the registration renewal form in the mail, I realized that I hadn't given my new address to the Department of Motor Vehicles. I called the DMV to give them my new address in order to get the test form. The gracious clerk at the other line asked for my Israeli ID number to access my file. But I don't have an Israeli ID number. So she graciously told me that I would have to go to the DMV in person with my American passport to make the address change. So I went to DMV, proof of address in hand, and waited in the interminable line until it was my turn. I explained to a different gracious clerk that I needed to change my address in order to get my test certificate. She typed in my passport number and pulled up my file. But then she told me that she couldn't change my address. "Your car has been stolen," she said. "We don't change information on files of stolen vehicles." They also don't give out registration renewal forms, which is why I hadn't received one in the mail. This meant I would need to return to the police station, finally, to retract the complaint. The sliver of silver lining was that the DMV sits next door to the police station (across the street from where I parked in fact, meaning that a "stolen car" was literally parked under their noses for hours without detection). I arrived back where I started and explained that I needed to cancel a complaint on a stolen vehicle. I was told that there was one woman - let's say her name was Hadar - in the entire station that could cancel a complaint. "Why?" I asked. "Can't any officer file a complaint?" They can, but that's because entering a complaint is not nearly as fraught with difficulty as removing a complaint - because that means getting into the database and changing something in it. And that requires a person much more sophisticated than a police officer: a clerk. Or in this case, the clerk. In my case, the clerk who was out to lunch but was supposed to be back within the hour. Roughly. At this point I had - roughly - two days until my registration would expire. That could mean getting pulled over and receiving a hefty fine - and worse yet, being accused of driving a stolen vehicle. That would land me exactly back where I was now. I decided to wait outside Hadar's office. I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, a women came back. She quickly walked into her office and closed the door. A police officer entered. They had a conversation. A long one. He exited. So did she. I blocked her path. She explained that she needed to step out on business. I said that I needed to step in on business. We might have been stalemated for some time, had she not insightfully surmised that the path of least resistance was to sit down with me rather than arguing the point. To remove the complaint from the system - a complaint that had nearly caused a person the police believed to innocent to be hauled into a police station, that prevented me from registering my car, and that was so indelibly recorded that only one person in the entire station could rescind it - I needed to produce no personal identification and not one shred of evidence that my car existed and was in my possession. Perhaps because she demanded no documents of me, she felt under no obligation to supply documents of her own. Thus when I asked her for a printout or some other record of the fact that the complaint had been canceled, she refused to comply. She explained that once she pushed the delete button the complaint no longer existed; there was nothing to have a printout of. But I had a sneaky suspicion that while the wonders of cyberspace are such that I can send an email from my Jerusalem office to my friend in Shanghai in the time it takes to click a mouse, Hadar's virtual act would not have managed to traverse the 50 meters separating her office from that of the DMV in the time it took me to walk back, go through security, and wait in line. The gracious clerk would gently but firmly demand proof that my car was no longer stolen unless by some miracle her computer told her what Hadar's apparently did not. Hadar was still eager to leave her office. After a brief tussle, she agreed to provide a hand-written note confirming that the complaint had been retracted but drew the line at writing it on police stationery. And so it was that when I returned to the DMV and the gracious clerk and presented her with Hadar's handwritten note, she merely arched an eyebrow that implied, "That? You actually expect that to move me?" I didn't even try to argue the point. She said if I was lucky, the computer would have processed the request in 48 hours - putting me at the date of expiration - and I could get the necessary form then. In fact, I was lucky. I did get the form two days later, and my car even passed the test. And there was one other good bit of news to come out of this traumatic affair. Just as I hadn't received my registration renewal form, I hadn't received the Route 6 bills from Ravit's trips. I was much less bothered by the latter event than the former, but Ravit - who we've already established drives under the speed limit - was. So she called them to find out what had happened. The answer: "Your car was stolen," they told her. "We don't charge people for the Route 6 tolls that thieves rack up on your stolen vehicle." It was almost enough to wish my car was "stolen" all over again. Maybe next year.