Doni’s Cautionary Tale No. 1: Car Break-in

A couple of weeks ago, when the police officer stood near my car – the one with shattered glass where the the passenger-side window used to be – I felt like a total idiot when he asked if anything was missing from my car after the break-in.

Me: Yes. My purse.

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Officer Kimpley: Your purse? (He looks up.) Where was it?

Me: Uh … on the passenger seat. But the car was locked … and it was dark …

Officer: (Looks down and continues writing.) Uh huh.

The crime occurred while I was at the 5:45 a.m. Jazzercise class, which, as my neighbor joked, was part of the problem right there.

Behold, my first cautionary tale. I have a million of them, not so much because I’ve lived that long, but because I have experienced a lot. Many of my cautionary tales have a similar theme: Many of my troubles were preventable, or, at the very least, survivable, whether it’s having my purse stolen from my locked car, or making poached eggs in the microwave, or being blindsided by an exploding marriage, or navigating the murky waters of online dating.

Today we’re talking about my car break-in. Actually, it wasn’t so much a car break-in as a car window break-in. Note the photo, above. See the bits of remaining glass that jut from the window frame like a tooth busted off at the gum line. See the dented dashboard. Feel my anguish.

I take responsibility for my seriously flawed thinking. For starters, I thought a locked car was a secure car. Also, I must be more sheltered than I’d thought, because I’d never known anyone whose car window had been smashed with a piece of cinder block or whatever the hell the rock substance was that was lying on my front seat after class. Well, I’ve now heard from dozens of people whose vehicle windows have been shattered outside movie theaters, parks, homes, hotels, colleges – lots of places – by criminals who’ve then rummaged around and stolen stereo systems, loose change in ash trays, wallets, packages, and yes, purses left in plain sight, which, to a thief, is as good as an engraved note that says you are cordially invited to come rip me off royal because I’m a total idiot.

As an aside, suddenly, I notice many vehicles around the North State with cardboard or plastic taped over windowless openings. I know exactly what that’s about: Jerks broke the windows, but the victims lacked the money to replace them. Car insurance? Very funny. I don’t know about you, but my deductible is $500, which means that a $200 to $300 window won’t be covered. In this economy, many people are one broken window away from financial disaster.

Back to my flawed thinking. I assumed that because it was dark outside, nobody would see the purse (in my locked car – and this is the last time I’ll mention my car was locked). I now guess the thief probably had some expensive 2-jillion-candle-power flashlight that he ripped off from someone else.

The third flaw in my thinking was based upon a lifetime of a reckless habit of leaving my purse in my car when it was inconvenient to take it with me, whether to work out, or to walk the river trail. Sometimes, such as at the river trail, I’d actually get out of my car with my purse, then walk to the back of my car – doe-dee-doe – and lift the hatch to “hide” it in the back of the car (Priuses lack trunks).

According the RPD officer who wrote my report, some thieves actually lurk around places like parking lots where they can pay attention to whether women leave their cars with or without a purse.  Granted, it’s a creepy feeling to consider someone’s watching you for that reason, but it’s even more creepy to be so oblivious that you return to your vehicle to find  your window shattered and glass everywhere, even in Austin’s car seat, and in my yogurt cup with my spoon still in it and I do believe I will never get all those tiny bits of glass out of the car.

My main point is that, much like the lead-footed person who’s routinely driven fast her whole life but never received a speeding ticket, at some point bad habits will catch up with you. Eventually, luck runs out. Always.

My luck sprinted out. Some cretin smashed my window, grabbed my purse and took off with it. The window cost $202 to replace, but the very worst part of all was losing my purse, which basically contained my whole world – dangling by a leather shoulder strap. Inside my purse were personal and business check books and business and personal credit cards and debit cards, my drivers license, library card, prescription computer glasses, my first-ever prescription sunglasses, reporter notebooks, make-up (including a lip color my sister gave me that I really loved that I will never find again), personal photos of my kids that I’ve carried around for decades, and all kinds of things I am still remembering. Oh, and I lost $60 cash, which was probably all that the thief was really after.

Of course, I looked in all the dumpsters around the Cypress Square Shopping Center (a location where many of those good businesses, because of their proximity to homeless encampments and shelters and parks, suffer many break-ins). I didn’t find my purse.

Thank goodness that morning I was in such a rush that I forgot to grab my cell phone, or it would have been impossible for me to call banks and credit card companies to alert them of my disaster. By the way, the moment you make those calls, and your accounts are closed or frozen, suddenly, you have no access to your money. After that, you have no identification when you go to the bank to withdraw cash to pay for the window and other things, like Extra Strength Excedrin and red wine.

Times like these a passport comes in handy. (A husband would come in handy at these times, too. I held myself together pretty well that morning until one of my fellow Jazzercisers said, “Do you want to use my phone to call your husband?” When I said I didn’t have a husband and started crying, one of women took pity on me and offered to give me her husband. I love my Jazzersisters.)

So, here’s something else I learned. Take your wallet, empty it of all your credit cards, membership cards (Oh crap! My Costco card!), even your drivers license. Photocopy the fronts and backs and put those copies in a file. Why? Well, for one thing, once your credit card is stolen, you don’t even know the numbers because account numbers and credit card numbers aren’t necessarily the same, and most financial and credit institutions aren’t keen about disclosing that information over the phone. Also, if your wallet is stolen, and you’re struck with sudden-onset Alzeheimer’s when the officer asks you to recite your wallet contents, you’ll have access to that information. Don’t just read this and nod. Go photocopy your wallet contents right now. I’ll wait.

The final lesson I learned is pretty embarrassing: If your car has an alarm … Arm It Every Time You Park. Let me pause here and admit that in the five years I’ve owned my car, I didn’t know it had an alarm, until my son asked if my car alarm had sounded when the jerk broke my car window.

Cue crickets. Behold dazed expression.

This car alarm part is important. See, even the most stupid thief is smart enough not to victimize a vehicle that has a little red alarm light flashing on the dashboard.  I’ve learned that by pressing the button on my key fob three times, my car alarm is activated. All this time I’ve just pressed it once to lock the car.

I’ve learned so much from this experience, and now, I’m passing it onto you. You’re welcome. Happy to help.

In return, I have a favor to ask of you: If you find a big tan purse with a long dark brown strap and a short handle strap, could you please get it to me? With any luck it will still have my glasses, photos and lipstick inside. And maybe a couple of Excedrin.


Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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