Thursday, September 6, 2007

Gut-Twisting Trauma, or How I Learned to Love Having My Car Looted

So back in March our car got broken into, right there in the driveway about ten feet from our bedroom window! The audacious thief got away with about $9,000 worth of seat belts, air bags, and miscellaneous electronics. The only reason he didn't get the wheels is the dog woofed me out of somnolence and I saw him through the window. (I document the sordid misadventure here.)

Monday night the guy—or his doppelganger—returned, but this time I heard him in action before he could do much more than get started on gaining entry. I handled the situation slightly less hysterically this time and the evildoer fled with nary a lugnut. Woot fer moi!

Now, I'm not sure how most people deal with such things. Property crimes, particularly crimes against automobiles, are only too common, so I know I am far from unique in my experience. Heck, I have a friend whose car got stripped six times in two years. And getting your car ripped off is hardly a gut-twisting trauma, annoying though it may be. I'm probably doing some of the usual stuff: checking into more sophisticated car security, such as this bad boy; adding lighting outside the house; trimming bushes and hedges to improve sight lines and reduce hiding places.

I also wake up during the night at any sound. Cat meow? I'm checking the doors and gazing through the window up the cul-de-sac. Neighbor returning home from a night out? Duly noted. Leaf drops off the dogwood out front? Locked-and-loaded! (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

And after these melodramatic vigilance attacks what do I do? Well, I get back into bed, heart-thudding, and think about how I can use the experience. I mean, hot damn, this is good material. I got your basic paranoia, and anxiety, and mistrust, and sometimes even a little fear. Who'd a thunk it? From a car break-in? I mean, sure, on the one hand I've become a fretful old lady (Hi, Mom!), but on the other, I've struck a rich, emotional vein that I can exploit in my beloved avocation!

Net result? My current novel-in-progress features a character with the ability to strip all the security components from a luxury car in less than five minutes. And I've recently written a short story in which a character's reaction to a crime is a (slightly) exaggerated version of my own. And beyond that, there are all these details that could show up in my writing down the line, such the as the fact that right now in the Portland area, Acuras and BMWs are the favored targets of thieves looking for air bags and seat belt assemblies.

So, you know, pretty cool. Which leads to my two questions. First, how about you? How has an unpleasant life experience unexpectedly born fruit in your writing? And second, anyone have any suggestions about how to protect my damn car?


Deb Baker said...

Here in the nort woods, they steal the whole car. But nothing stops them in their tracks like the sweet sound of a shotgun shell being chambered. It wouldn't hurt to shoot a round of buckshot as long as you miss the car and keep the lights off, so the neighbors can't pinpoint your position. Want some help?

Mark Terry said...

True story. A friend of mine's brother is a copy, a detective, and in the city he's in, he's also a bit of a CSI person, especially fingerprints.

One day some fool tried to steal his car out of his driveway. When Bill went out to check things out, the car thief had managed to break in and tear open the steering wheel compartment, which is apparently covered with a white grease.

Right there on the window was a beautiful, full handprint--in nice high contrast white.

Bill, whistling along, went back inside, got his fingerprint kit, took the palm print, went into work, ran it and paid the idiot a visit at home.

Bill Cameron said...

Deb, that gives me a great idea. Not really a shot gun type myself, but the SOUND of a shotgun being racked is the key, right? So a visit to Radio Shack -- a speaker, some wire -- and a sound file could give me exactly what I need.

Mark, is that so delicious! :D

John McF said...

My car has been broken into three times (well, three different cars, actually, in two cities), I've had two apartments broken into and I've been mugged (head wounds make for a lot of blood, but not much damage if you're thick-headed like me). In all, I probably lost a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff and was always left wondering, "What idiot breaks into a Pontiac Firefly?" Who'd rob a crappy one room apartment?"

I remember a line from Homicide, Andre Braugher shrugging and saying, "Maybe crime makes you stupid."

But I think you're on the right track Bill, use that heart-pounding emotion stuff. And keep your sense of humour, that helps a lot.

Mark Combes said...

Bill! You need to get yourself a trunk monkey!

I had my house burglarized - while I was in the house! That will make you sleep with one eye open for a few years....

Nina Wright said...

Love Trunk Monkey, especially the chaperone video.

As for the question "Do real-life traumas ever end up in your books?"

Often...although the real people involved bear little resemblance to the ones who appear on the page. Favorite recent real-life hassle that I worked into a book: whole-house flea infestation. Hey, I write about rogue dogs and cats....

Bill Cameron said...

Nina, ha ha. ;)

Mark2, Oh. My. Gawd. That's all I have ta say about that.

Joe Moore said...

Hey, Bill. In South Florida, when your car is stolen, it's in a sealed cargo container on a ship to Columbia before you realize the only thing left is an oil stain on your driveway.

Bill Cameron said...

Ha ha, Joe! :D

I actually think if it had been stolen it would have been much easier. I'd get a check that didn't quite cover the loan balance and go get another car payment. Easy!

Mark Terry said...

Ya know, Mark2, your reference to Trunk Monkey threw me a bit. I'm reading RJ Hillhouse's "Outsourced" and just today came across a reference to a military trunk monkey, which is essentially a, well, let me just quote from the book:

"What he wouldn't have given for a stray rifle or even a different vehicle, one outfitted for a trunk monkey--a machine gunner with a mounted weapon designed to punch out the back window with the first round and surprise the road hazard with the following ones."

Yeah, Bill, that'd solve your problem. All you need is a marine with a trunk monkey to live 24/7 in your car. No more problems.

Kathryn Lilley said...

I have a southern family member who has an antique Austrian Howitzer cannon in the bay window of the dining room. One time, when a police officer stopped by on a routine visit and stared, wide-eyed, at the cannon, my relative said, "Well, son, if the day ever comes, we'll help you hold the hill."

Pity anyone who tried to vandalize his car.

Mary Marvella said...

I just keep my car so junky inside I figure no one would expect to find anything of value in it. I travel with everything I might need, just in case.

Mary Marvella
I also am a member of a group blog.