Recently (March 2018) I decided to visit Taiwan, which involved going through San Francisco. As it happens, my parents live in San Francisco and being the dutiful child I am, I decided to leave town a little early so I could have a short visit with them. The plan was for me to drive down to San Francisco, meet with my parents for dinner the day my flight left, and then leave my car in long term parking.
The first part of the plan went off without issue. We (me, my significant other, and two of our friends) arrived in San Francisco around late afternoon. Now, my parents live in a rather nice condo right off the Bay Bridge, on The Embarcadero, really pleasant, seemingly upscale neighborhood. Which is great for my parents, and terrible for trying to find parking. After hunting down and failing to actually find a spot in four different public parking structures, we eventually found metered parking right on The Embarcadero. Not ideal, but we were getting tired and frustrated (San Francisco drivers are highly aggressive, and territorial…and pretty freaking spiteful). So we took the spot, paid for about five hours of parking (by now it was around 4pm), and proceeded to meet my parents for dinner and a rather pleasant after dinner chat, followed immediately by finding out our car had been broken into.
I don’t know how it is with other people, but there’s always a kind of numb feeling I get when I’m faced with these types of crises. It’s like my emotions run so high my brain becomes completely incapable of handling it and just refused to acknowledge anything. So, when I realized that my car’s back windshield had been shattered (I drive a hatchback) and three out of our four suitcases were missing (the robbers left our largest check-in bag untouched) all I felt was a brief instant of panic and then nothing. I like to think the “become emotionless” trait would make me a great crisis responder…if I didn’t also lose the ability to think coherently…or at all. As it was, it took the four of us (plus my parents acting as support) nearly three hours to sort everything out to the point where we could get some rest for the night.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about the robbery, but not in the “horrified replaying it over and over in my head” way that media likes to dramatize so much. Honestly, we got off fairly easy for being victims of a crime. We’d kept all of our passports, credit cards, and laptops up in my parents’ condo, so the most valuable thing any of us lost were some mementoes. While technically irreplaceable, keepsakes and mementoes can’t be used to further harm you (like a passport) and aren’t required for daily functioning (like your laptop if you’re a freelance writer). Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks, it’s just not as terrible as it could have been. Instead, I’ve mostly been thinking about the circumstances of our robbers. It’s really easy to be angry at what essentially amounts to faceless vandals, and for the first day or so I was legitimately angry at them. They’d cost me a decent chunk money in terms of damages and replacing my stolen items (even with insurance’s help), off set my vacation by several days, and caused minor emotional breakdowns in several of my close friends. But, the more I thought about the robbers themselves the harder it was for me to be angry at them. If it were an act of pure, malicious vandalism or unadulterated greed I’d have no problem continuing to be angry at them. Hell, I’d probably even enjoy it; there’s nothing I like more than an angry rant about the injustice of life.
But I just don’t think it was a malicious act. For example, other than the broken windshield, my car was completely undamaged, no scratches on the doors, no slashed tires, none of the other windows broken. I can’t help but think that a proper “watch the world burn” vandal would have done worse damage, and probably wouldn’t have stolen anything, just strewn my clothes all over The Embarcadero. They also only took what fit through the broken windshield. Which means they didn’t go through my large suitcase, or my glove compartment, hell even the spare change in the cupholders was untouched. For me that rules out pure greed; someone going for cash would have gone through the front of the car and checked for various forms of ID (you know, actually valuable stuff). The only other thing I can think of is an act of forced desperation. Someone was so hard up in life that stealing suitcases out of a car gave them a pretty good chance of getting ahead. True, they probably wouldn’t have gotten caught, but on the opposing end, what do you expect to find in a suitcase? What you’ll probably find is a lot of clothes that don’t fit you, some used toiletries (go ahead, take my toothbrush, I’m sure you’ll get a lot of use out of it), possibly a couple of books, and if you’re REALLY lucky: an e-reader and some prescription meds. I’m going to guess that’s, at best, a couple hundred dollars between all three suitcases.
Realizing that marked the turning point of me being able to stay angry at our robbers. It’s hard to be really pissed at someone if all you can do is imagine them being cold, tired, and desperate. Maybe they got lucky and my underwear fits them so they don’t have to buy underwear this year. Maybe there’s a big black market for roller suitcases I wasn’t aware of and they can pay rent this month. Hell, maybe our clean clothes let them get an interview so they could turn their lives around, I dunno. The point is, there are bad people around, there are rapists, liars, and cheaters. But, I find it hard to believe that anyone truly terrible said to themselves, “You know what sounds great? Being so poor that I’d be willing to steal suitcases full of things I probably can’t use on the off chance that they have something that makes my shitty life better.”
I’m not going to lie, it sucks getting robbed. You feel vulnerable because something you thought was safe suddenly wasn’t, and paranoid because you realize any random person could have done it, and there is a sense of sadness as you’re filling out the police report and you realize that you’re probably never going to see those items again. But, and here’s the thing, as much as it sucks for me and my friends, I think overall life probably sucks a lot worse for the robber. I think, they’re probably stuck living in a city they can’t afford, trying to get by in a society that’s all but discarded them. So, whoever you are, I hope you can use our stuff, I hope my underwear fits you, and the books are interesting, and the poncho liner is warm when the San Francisco rains come in. And I hope the people reading this feel, at least a little bit, the urge to try to make a society where people don’t feel the need to rob cars.