This last Sunday Alf and I had a Bay to Breakers experience of our own.
We drove into the city where Alf dropped me off at work while he went to the beach to wait until I was finished. It was the Bay to Breakers marathon run with the city streets swollen with more cars and traffic and he was anxious about parking. But he got lucky and was able to find a spot a block away from the ocean, in a good neighborhood, on that sunny morning with a cool breeze.
An hour and a half later, he called.
“The car’s been stolen,” he said out of breath. “I’ve looked everywhere.”
He did. They told him every officer in the city was on duty for the run and nobody was available to come and take a report. Would he please go to the nearest police station?
That police station was more than two miles away.
Alf walked there while I finished my work and then a colleague dropped me off.
The station was in a relic of a building, well preserved, but institutional and cold inside. By the time I arrived Alf was finishing up with the report.
“We’ll call you if we find your car,” the police officer said with pity in her eyes.
Not likely. It’s probably on its way to Tijuana.
I made a quick mental inventory of the things left in the car and concluded I could live without them. Alf, on the other hand, was going to miss his cool dark glasses, his jacket, and the Fastrak tag. With that alone the thief could crisscross every bridge in California on our dime.
We called our insurance company, they sprung for a car rental, and we drove home.
An hour later Alf got the call.
“We found your car. You have 20 minutes to come get it otherwise we take it to the impound lot. Make sure you get a release form from the police station where you filed the report.” Click.
So off we went back into the city, back to the police station to get the form. By now it was 9 o’clock at night.
From there we drove to the impound lot, or tried to. It was impossible to find for the first hour. Then we spotted it. It was tucked under the freeway in a darkened lot. We walked in. Another woman in the waiting area was talking loudly on her cell phone.
“My car was stolen and I’m waiting for the police to get here so I can get it back,” she said.
We wondered how many other cars were stolen that day. It must have been good pickings with all the runners and tourists in town.
We showed the release form to the clerk at the counter. She examined it, then went to her computer screen, then frowned.
“You need a stamp on this,” she said.
“A what?” I said. This reminded me of life in Mexico. Did we need to slip her some money?
“Without the stamp we can’t release your car,” she said.
It was now 10:30 at night. I wanted to come around to her side and strangle her.
“Where do we get this stamp?” Alf said holding me back with his arm.
“A police station,” she said.
“There’s a perfectly good one right across the street,” I said.
“That won’t work, you’ll have to go to this one,” she said as she slipped a piece of paper across the counter to us. “Not all police stations have the stamp.”
Now I was convinced we were in another country.
The piece of paper gave us directions for walking, driving or taking public transportation there.
We climbed into the rental and followed the driving directions. What looked like a quick trip across town on paper turned into a nightmare of going in circles of barricaded and one-way streets. It took us another hour to spot the station. I stayed in the car and locked myself in. It felt like I was in a war zone. Alf went in and came back with the famous stamp on the release paper.
We returned to the impound lot, handed over the release paper, and got processed quickly. We walked through an outside fenced-in corridor that looked like it belonged in a high-security prison and stopped at a closed gate. A security guard appeared, we handed him the release paper, and he unlocked the gate and escorted us to our car.
We stood there amazed.
Nothing was missing inside. Not a scratch on the outside either.
The guard shook his head.
“That doesn’t happen,” he said. “Usually it’s just a shell.”
It was midnight now. I climbed back into the rental to return it to the airport, the only office still open. Alf followed me in our car.
We drove home in silence with a ton of questions and no answers in both our heads.