Stolen Car found. Not so fast, car owner. Welcome to the Stolen Car Economy
Where to recover your stolen car if found by Oakland P.D. People who tell me their stolen car stories in the Bay Area all remember this building, exclaiming as if haunted, "That's the place!"
We got the call at 3 a.m. The Oakland P.D. calling this early morning of Saturday, September 17, four days after it was stolen, jolting us awake and delivering the matters of fact: The car had been recovered and we need to get a release form from Piedmont P.D. then bring it to O.P.D. What? Why are they calling at this hour of the night? What follows will be an indoctrination into a not-so-hidden culture of indifference in a system that embraces the crime and fines the victims.
Around 9 a.m. I called Oakland P.D. to confirm that the car was recovered. "Just show up with your driver's license and we'll sign the car release to you." I double checked with Piedmont P.D. to make sure that they had to sign a release as well. Yup, they did. So, my son and I got two releases from two police departments.
The car had been towed to a car lot east of the Oakland airport. We drove out toward the airport and turned left to, well...parts of Oakland you'd not go unless you've had a car stolen and need to reclaim it--there to find "A & B Auto."
The wire fences, barbed at the tops, shows you that this building was designed when it had a different neighborhood than what it now has. Once inside the unlikely stone deco facade I paid $126 for towing and the one night the car spent in this car lot. "They'll drive the car out to you." I wait outside this Mad Max-like scenario and peered through the wire gate. There were six other people ahead of me. One lady discloses to another, "Mine was stolen last weekend." The other chimed, "I had mine stolen just a few days ago, " like it was a Mall trip and they had defective shoes in common. Another gentleman was off on a tirade about the whole system of car jacking and recovery. I tried not to listen. A ricketty car rolls out from within and the passengers walk out with stuff, presumably from their respective stolen vehicles. None look at all happy. The gentleman who drove them approaches us and I show him my paper work but he stops me, "We'll bring your car out to you." I already spent the better part of the morning on this quest and it's already one thirty.
Peer down to where the lines of perspective converge, right around that corner is where the cars are, just out of view.
Now this was also the Joe Ranft life celebration back at work and the story artists have an offering in the program we've rehearsed--that means that I've got to be there before the ceremonies begin at 3 p.m. I'm running out of time. Another car with a different guy rides out and while still in the car he asks me, "'You the Honda?" I said, yes. "I can't drive it out. They stole the battery." Great. He tells me that I should bring him a battery and I can drive the car out. I don't have one on me, obviously. I look at him wondering if he's expecting that I do. If I leave the car there another day I'll get charged for the day's stay. Where can I get a battery? "Pick and Pull, right around the corner."
The "Pick and Pull" is a car lot as well but their commerce is about selling what you find useful in the grand array of derelicts they have. You find it, pull it out of the car and a guy pokes his head through a window to look at your harvest and prices it, guestimate style. I asked for batteries. "Over there, " the guy taking admission ($2 per head) points to nearby wall with a makeshift shelf that held all manner of batteries. No guarantees any of them work. You can return them for store credit if they don't. I didn't even know what size battery I should get. I tried to get some advice from the locals but none of them were in an advising mood. I picked one and brought it back to A&B.
Once back (you have to go inside the offices again so they can radio in for someone to drive out to get you) I was finally driven inside. It was quite a sight. Huge covered car lots, with cars in all manner of disrepair and abuse, from all years and decades it seems. I asked how many cars they have in there. "Around four thousand maybe." I wonder if anyone's counting.
The contents of the glove box are all over the floor. The parking lights smashed in. Just for kicks apparently.
"There's your car." The Accord seemed to be in good shape from the outside. I peer in and I see that they tore out the wires under the steering column and dug out the ignition, like the hot wire jobs one sees in movies. We attached the battery and the electrical system kicked in. The car still won't turn over. "You're not going to be able to fix that here." Great. Now I'm almost out of time. I have to run out of here without the car.
"I have a friend who can help," this man informs me. I take this option and have the car towed to this guy's friend's place. $40 to move the car and $250 to fix the ignition and broken park lights--make it run. Made a decision under stress about matters I know little about. More stress. I had to leave.
While at the ceremony I start to worry if I didn't just open myself up yet to another scam. Likely, eh? But I caught a break. This man who said he'd take care of it seems to actually be doing the right thing. Next time I see him I ask about the cars inside those lots where my car was, were they all stolen cars? "Most of them."
"I see around fifty cars towed in there daily. Some days more. Some cars are found torn apart. Some burned. Some are found with gas cans in the trunk. They got scared off before they torched it." I was feeling strangely lucky about my car's fate. "If they want your car there's nothing you can do to stop them."
Just one of the covered lots full of stolen cars. These seem to be in much better shape than the others out in the open. Figure $31/day and do the math.
Oakland seems to deal with the results of this crime as a matter of course. The whole stolen car industry surrounding A&B Auto is a testament to how steady this feeding cycle is. With that kind of commerce you can surmise that, at least around this area, no one wants this interdependency to decline soon.
My advice? Don't own an early 90's model Honda Accord. They are likely easy to steal and very attractive to people who do. There might be a factor in just how many of these Hondas are out there, depreciated but still running. Affordable in their older age and reliable. The mechanic says that in the short morning he's had the car sitting in his secure driveway before my first visit he's had offers to buy it from him.
Now, I'm thinking maybe I should keep the darned thing.