Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On (almost) being carjacked

Friday afternoon, I stopped at the Shell station at the corner of Weslayan and US 59 to gas up my car. Right as I got out of the car and began to insert my credit card into the pump, a beat-up SUV with paper plates pulled up alongside me. Inside were two young men; the driver was smoking a cigarette and his passenger was looking at me with a disturbing grin on his face.

“Sir, I noticed that dent in the front of your car. I have a plunger that can pull it out in no time. I can fix that dent for you right now for just a couple of bucks!” The driver pointed to the right front of my car.

I’ve had my car for a couple of years now, and so it’s gotten a few small dings and scratches. But a dent on the front of my car big enough for a guy driving down the street to notice and want to fix? I began to walk around the back of my car and tried to peer over to the front to where the guy was pointing, but by this time alarm bells were going off in my head: there just wasn’t something right about this situation. I stopped halfway, told the guy, “no, I’m in a hurry right now, so I’ll just take care of it later” (which was true – I had to go to my office, Kirby's mother's house and my parents’ house before going to the airport and flying out here to Dubai), and walked back to the pump to continue fueling my car.

“You sure? I can fix it real quick!”

I shook my head. “Nah, no thank you.”

The driver shook his head, put his cigarette back in his mouth and peeled off, out of the station and onto the northbound frontage road of 59. After they had left and while I was waiting for the gas to finish pumping, I walked over to the right front of my car. There was no dent. That’s when I realized what had almost happened.

Those guys were trying to steal my car.

They knew my Nissan Altima had a keyless ignition system. As long as I was standing anywhere near the car with the fob in my pocket, it would be easy to start. All they had to do was to get me away from the driver’s side of the car long enough to get in, hit the start button, and drive away. Hence, the driver's attempt to lure me out from the relatively safe area between the pump and left side of the car and to the right side of the car, where the “dent” was. Once I had walked over there, his accomplice was going to jump out, run over to the driver’s side, start my car's engine and drive it away.

But without the key fob, wouldn’t he have been unable to restart the car later? Yes, but that’s okay; he was only planning to drive it once, to the chop shop.

But why a Nissan Altima, as opposed to a fancier or more expensive car? Altimas are targeted for the same reason Toyotas and Hondas are targeted: they’re popular cars and so there’s always a need for parts. My car would have been suffered the same fate as thousands of others: it would have been stripped, and the parts would have been re-sold on the black market.

What really would have sucked for me, had the abortive car thieves been successful, is that my work laptop and my suitcase were both in the car at the time. I would not have been able to make my trip to Dubai, I would be effectively idle at work while I waited the several days for my company’s IT department to replace my computer, and I would have lost a lot personal belongings including my camera, my clothes, my toiletries and my writing journal.

I did not have time to contact the police or file a report at the time – like I said, I had a flight to catch – but I may report the attempted car theft after I get back to Houston. I’m not sure it would do any good, however; I could only provide a generic description of the suspects or their vehicle and I didn’t get a look at their license plate (which was paper and probably fake anyway). They’ll keep doing what they’re doing until they get caught and sent to prison; I can only hope that nobody gets hurt or killed in the meantime.

The point to be taken away from this near-miss is this: thieves are always on the lookout for unsuspecting people, even at a busy gas station during daylight hours. Never let your guard down; if a situation seems to be suspicious, trust your instinct. I’m glad I trusted my gut and decided not to walk away from the driver’s side of my car. Had I actually done so, I probably would be having a very bad week right now.

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