Stealing VW’s “It’s gone, not here,” I said, wondering whether I was looking for my car, a tattered and very old VW Beetle, in the wrong place. Because there weren’t many cars on the street, I quickly scanned all of them. Minutes before, I had left the only movie theater in St. Thomas, V.I. During the two hours I had watched the feature, a thief, in broad daylight, had stolen my rattletrap.
But for a story I just read about a similar incident in Boulder, CO, my missing car saga would have remained buried history. In my case, my car was eventually found. So, too, was the car in Boulder, a black Jetta.
Mystery surrounds both cases. But the one in Colorado resulted in an interesting revelation. According to Dylan Stableford of Yahoo! News (Woman finds stolen car when its new driver stops at crosswalk where she's walking), the thief was well known to football fans in Boulder:
Payne, a former University of Colorado running back, was dismissed by the team earlier this year. According to the Daily Camera, he was suspended from the team in March for violating team rules, and in June was ruled academically ineligible to play.
Which “rules” Payne violated wasn’t mentioned; it was reported that he was caught because he stopped to let the owner of the car cross in front of him. Not long after that, the police caught up with the man and arrested him.
In addition to wondering whether the police would have eventually spotted the Jetta thief before the car was delivered to a chop shop, I wondered whether that was the only car Payne had stolen. All that I do know from the story is that the car was returned and no one was killed.
I am pleased to report the same about my old VW. However, although no one was harmed my car was found, the story had a much different ending.
Police in St. Thomas never found my car, one I had bought from a friend for $200 (I paid him $100, owed him $100). Nor did I.
At the time, I was teaching at Wayne Aspinall, a public middle school in St. Thomas. Our librarian, a man from Eastern Europe (Slovakia?) had become a friend; when his brother immigrated, I volunteered to help his brother learn English. Ours was an interesting friendship with a very limited vocabulary.
After school one day, about a week after my car was stolen, I was walking home when he spotted me. Waving frantically, he got my attention. As I approached him, he tried to say a word that didn’t sound like any I’d taught him. Frustrated because he was so unclear, he pointed toward the end of the island where the movie theater was.
“My car?” I guessed. “You. Saw. My. CAR?” I said slowly and carefully.
He nodded; we waved at a policeman driving a roomy police car. When he approached, I explained what had happened.
“Get in!” he insisted. “We’ll find it.”
And we did. The car’s engine had been hotwired; it was parked in plain view. To my surprise, it looked even worse than when I’d been driving it. That seemed impossible, but there it was, a real heap.
Just as I started to ask the officer about apprehending the thief, he stopped me.
“No,” he said, “You will be given a ticket for improper parking! Otherwise, it will be towed away.”
Fortunately, I knew that justice in St. Thomas worked that way. Laws that applied to transients like me weren’t the same as those that governed native Islanders. I knew not to argue, knew that, if I wanted a ride back to the other end of the island, I’d better be nice to the policeman.
No charges were filed; I never saw the car again. But there was some good news. When I told my story to my friend who’d sold me the car, he was generous.
“Don’t worry about the hundred bucks,” he said, “you’ve been through enough.”
After reading the Yahoo! story, I had to believe the Jetta’s owner might have said the very same thing.