I was awakened at 5:30 am on a recent weekday morning by some very insistent pounding on my front door. Seth was out of town on business, so it was just me and the dog, and the dog is small and without opposable digits, so when it became clear that I couldn't send someone else to answer it, and the pounding on the door wasn't going away, and was scaring the hell out of me, I had no choice but to fumble for my glasses, stagger downstairs and open the damn door. I peered through the peep-hole first, but with my Coke-bottle glasses, it wasn't much help. The guy looked kinda familiar anyhow, and it wasn't a cop or Mike-the-ergonomic-snow-shovel-thief, so I opened the door, hoping that in the event of Something Bad, Rufus might do something more than just lick the skin off the person's hands. It was my next-door neighbor, Dan. In his bathrobe. "Someone's in your car out back," he gasped. "What? My car? Damn it! Thanks," is what I think I said. Rufus continued to bark his head off, and I realized Dan's two dogs were out in their backyard, and also barking like crazy.
I'd parked my 1998 black Jeep Cherokee in the parking space off the alley behind my house. Like a lot of neighborhoods in DC, there is an alley running behind all of the houses. I turned on the back porch light to see if I could see anything behind the house. I could see my car, but couldn't see anyone around it. I'd think with all the canine noise and lights going on in the house, whoever was out there would have fled. I went upstairs to throw on some windpants and a sweatshirt over my PJs. I peered off the upstairs deck, and didn't see anyone out back, so I put the (vicious, man-eating!) poodle on a leash and went out to assess the damage before calling the police.
My poor Jeep has a long, sordid history of being broken into on Capitol Hill. I've had a window smashed in at least three other times. Door locks pried out with a screwdriver about three times. And had the ignition damaged by attempted hot-wiring about three times. And yup, they'd done it again. Smashed in the small vent window on the back door, passenger side. Goddammit. They'd rifled through the storage console between the front seats, and of course, nothing was missing because I keep nothing in there. Unless you count some pennies, a nail clipper, a hair rubber band, a ball point pen, a rubber Ganesh finger puppet (long story - and FYI, it is incredible how many interesting non-porn links pop up when you Google "Ganesh finger puppet") and some fast food napkins. Which punk-ass vandalizing thieves apparently don't count, because they never steal any of those things, and those are all I keep in the car.
I can't figure out why my Jeep is so very appealing. (Seth's 1991 Honda Civic has somehow never been broken into. Yes, I did say "1991." Yes it is the same car that he's had since college. Somehow.) After the first time a theft attempt was made (they ripped out the ignition, and I found it dangling by a lot of wires. Dumb-asses had done their hot-wire attempt all wrong and ended up knocking out all the electrical systems in the car. Not exactly "Gone In 60 Seconds" pros we're talking about here.) I started using a Club on the steering wheel, the kind that loops over the clutch and up to the steering wheel. I recently upgraded to a new Club, the kind that locks over only the steering wheel, because I thought the other one wasn't visible enough, because my car STILL got broken into with the Club on. And yes, the Club was on my car at this most recent window-smash. (Actually, it seems that they pry out the door lock with a screwdriver when they intend to steal the car, and smash the window when they just intend to rifle through my ball point pens and paper napkins. Shoot, maybe I should write a paper - "A Survey and Analysis of the Various Methods and Intents of Automobile Theft and Vandalism on Capitol Hill.")
No, I haven't installed an alarm. I've done a lot of research on the standard annoying noisy car alarm that goes off whenever someone walks too heavily anywhere in the vicinity of the car, and the data shows that those don't really work - they primarily annoy everyone within a 10-block radius, and aren't that great of a deterrent, because they go off all the time. I got a quote on a kill switch system not too long ago, and when I poured out my woes of vandalism to the sales guy, he suggested that I put a "No Valuables In Car" sticker on my car, and leave the doors unlocked so they wouldn't smash my windows. Now, I used to do that when I lived in New Orleans and drove my old 1989 Toyota 4x4 pickup. No one even tried to steal that thing. But I feel oogy about leaving my Jeep unlocked. Because I really think there's a good possibility someone would sleep in it. Yeah, maybe no smashed window (if they are smart enough to try the door first), but ewww.
Unfortunately, several of the car break-ins have happened when my Jeep is parked in our parking space behind the house. You'd think it's safer back there, but no. I've concluded that it's dark and isolated and perfect for nefarious activities, and that my car is a lot safer parked on the busy street in front of our house (where I just hope it won't get clipped by the D6 bus). I'd quit parking my car back there, and Seth normally parks the aforementioned aged Honda back there, but he was away, and there was no good street parking, so like a dumb-ass I used our very own parking space. For one damn night. And this happened the morning after I was telling a friend at dinner about how safe I feel on Capitol Hill (she and her sweetie are looking to buy something; he loves the Hill, she's not sure). Which is true. I've always personally felt safe walking around the Hill. I mean, I try not to walk alone late at night, and be aware of who & what is around me, but I do that everywhere (except maybe rural Vermont). And I still feel safe, just....violated.
So, the car is in the shop. (Washington Auto Body has a regular dossier on the ol' Jeep by now. I don't know exactly what it means when you're on a first name basis with the folks at the auto body shop and they recognize you when you walk in.) I've ordered solar-powered security lights for the parking space and backyard. I am never, ever, ever parking my Jeep in that space again. Ever. And I'm trying to figure out what to do to prevent my car from being broken into again. There are Jeeps all over my neighborhood. Many of the same year, same make, same model as mine. They all have Clubs on the steering wheel (by my informal neighborhood walkabout survey). Why mine? Do the other Jeeps get broken into all the time? Should I get an annoying alarm? Leave the doors unlocked? Rottweiler? Spring guns? Argh!
Most of the time, I love where I live. I love my 100+ year old rowhouse, with its creaking original wood floors and big windows and cast-iron stoop. I love that I live less than 2 miles from work, that I can walk there, and everywhere else I need to go. I love walking to Eastern Market and having the butcher at Union Meat cut my steak exactly the way I want it, and give me recipes. I love the tastes of cheese from Bowers Fancy Dairy Products while you are making up your mind between Parrano and Sage Derby. I love having the little girl whose family is selling fruit at Eastern Market pick out each strawberry for me. I love the iron fences, and flower gardens, and brick fronts, and tiny details of each rowhouse. I love that I almost never have to drive on 495. I love being walking distance from two Metro lines. I love that I can walk to almost all of the Smithsonians on a sunny Sunday. I love that I can run on the Mall and past the Capitol and the Library of Congress whenever I want.
But when my car gets broken into, when Seth's bicycle is stolen off of our enclosed back porch, when the garbage doesn't get picked up for two weeks, when the garbage can disappears and it takes forever to get a new one, when you're tortured by the DC DMV (at the downtown location - you know the folks I mean), when I read the awful, true stories about some of DC's public schools in the Washington Post, and when my car gets broken into again, it makes me wonder if I shouldn't buy a used Ford Taurus and move to the 'burbs. I could have a 6,000 square foot McMansion house that I only use 1200 square feet of, and a gift wrapping room, and a backyard big enough for a soccer tournament, in a neighborhood blissfully free of sidewalks and walking, all the chain restaurants I want within a 10-minute drive (without traffic - try 30 at all other times, which is all other times), and a commute on 66 that would make me want to slit my wrists.
I avoid telling some of my far-'burb dwelling colleagues about things like my car, because the last time I did, some of them reacted with such horror, and I know they're thinking that I live in the dangerous inner city or something, with bullets just whizzing past, and vandals and felons everywhere, and they're thinking smugly how safe they are in their cul-de-sac in [insert name of DC suburb here]. One of them proceeded to tell me a story about the "bad neighborhood" he got turned around in the last time he drove to a Nats game at RFK. I asked where he was, what cross streets. He couldn't tell me. "You know I live near there, on Capitol Hill." "Oh well, this was a bad neighborhood. Right by RFK."
So, really, I guess the short-term anger and expense of one broken car window I can tolerate far better than an automobile-based suburban lifestyle that would suck the life out of me every day. Because I only drive the car a couple of times a week, and the gas price hike? What gas price hike? You don't notice much when you only fill up your car once a month.
But damn, can someone tell me how to keep these punk-asses from breaking into my car?