Call it a gut feeling. I’m the sort of person who has always had those little premonitions. Thinking about a certain person a minute before they call you. Having a peculiar sense that something bad was about to happen on the day you’d hear that your best friend died.
It’s not that I’m such a woo-woo or New Age person, but I do live an awful lot of my life in my head. As a result, I think I’m a bit more attuned to my so-called sixth sense.
In some ways, anyway.
Lately, I’d been feeling a strange sort of uneasiness. It started at the end of April when I bought my first real car. I’m thirty-seven years old, but I only received my first driver’s license six months ago.
I could say a lot about the ways a lack of transportation has shaped my life. For so long, I felt as if I had no autonomy, no true say. As if life just happened to me. It wasn’t a healthy way to live but I’m grateful to finally be in a better place.
It’s just a little bit ironic. Now that I do have my own transportation, the coronavirus has made it so I have no place to go.
But the new car. I bought it for my peace of mind. The first car I drove was an old Volkswagen Touareg with chronic issues. I figured I might as well get the car I’ve always wanted and finally build the credit I’ve never had.
So, I made a hefty down-payment on a 2020 Kia Soul and, here we are. Car ownership — better late than never. Aside from dental work, I’ve never spent so much money at one time on any one thing. It’s been strange to deal with all of the emotions that pop up from owning a brand new car after spending nearly 40 years without one. Part of me has felt guilty, as if I wasted money I don’t deserve, or as if it isn’t real.
When it occurred to me that I was having some sense of foreboding after buying the car, I assumed it was my “newness” to it all. Plus all my “survivor’s guilt“ after living in poverty.
My daughter and I live in a townhouse and along one windowless wall is our parking spot. It’s been a bit annoying that I can’t see the car from inside our home. There were some odd times when I went outside to check the car because I had a bad feeling or heard a strange noise.
After a while, I told myself to quit being so silly and accept the risks that every new car owner faces. Besides, we live in a quiet neighborhood. It’s been about four years at this same address and we’ve never had a bit of trouble. Aside from the one time our toilet flooded the floor because some neighbor boys shoved a bunch of rocks into our outdoor sewage pump. That was awful. Talk about an event I wish to never repeat again.
Then there was the time my friend and I sat in her car one evening after seeing a movie and a neighbor called the cops on us to report a “suspicious” parked car. That one perhaps lulled me into a false sense of security by thinking I could rely upon my overzealous neighbors.
After convincing myself to chill out about my apprehension, another wave of uneasiness swept over me last week. This time, I thought it was more about the unrest in our nation. I found myself triple-checking locked doors and figured I must be apprehensive from seeing the updates about the Twin Cities (my original home) and not being able to be there to help.
Again, I chalked it all up to my obvious emotions and slowly quit checking on the car so frequently. And then, I needed to take out the trash yesterday afternoon.
I had my six-year-old come with me so she could help by carrying in a box. As we walked past our car and over to the dumpster maybe 10 feet away, something on the ground caught my eye. It was the license plate frame. What?
While I knew what I was looking at, I didn’t actually understand it. My license plate was gone.
Just gone. I couldn’t believe it. I only put it on two weeks ago when it arrived through the mail. I looked around my car to check for anything else weird. Like damage, or some further theft.
The good news is that “they” only took the plate and screws. The bad news is that we only have rear plates in Tennessee. I still have my temporary plate at home, but the tag expired on May 25.
I called my local police department to file a report, and then I called the courthouse. But I felt like such an idiot the whole time because both conversations highlighted how green I am to driving or car ownership. I’m not a particularly ditzy person, yet I found myself saying some ridiculous things.
The police officer I spoke with took my personal information and asked for my plate number.
“Yes, sure, it’s — ”
Halfway through reading my temporary plate number, I realized I didn’t actually know my own license plate number. Oh, crap.
I apologized — a lot — and explained I’m new to driving. “I will get the plate number right now.” My mind scrambled around for the information I needed. Hadn’t I taken a picture of the plate so I couldn’t lose the number? Of course! But the awkward phone pressure of knowing somebody was on the other line, waiting, made me stumble. I must have opened and closed my phone gallery five times before I realized my brain wasn’t working well enough to help me find the photo.
I must have had the paperwork… somewhere.
The officer was fumbling around too, trying to find it according to my information. But it sounded like he was having no luck either. I felt slightly better about that before he said something about adding the information later. Crap.
I’m so sorry, I repeated. “Just… one… more… moment — there!” I realized I was finally looking at my registration, which, for whatever reason was on my couch instead of inside my car. My mind raced frantically as I tried to figure out which number was the plate number. Upon finally finding it, I realized I didn’t even recognize my own number slightly.
“Um, I’m not sure if this is an ‘O’ or a zero,” I told him sheepishly. Sorry. I read the rest of the plate number. My name came up and I breathed a silent sigh of relief. He confirmed the make and model of my car.
According to the officer, they’ll be on the lookout for a car using my plate. If whoever stole my license plate happens to commit another crime and gets called in, it could be recovered. I’d have to wait a few days for the official report he explained.
I still might want to call the county’s vehicle registration office, he said. Just to let them know what happened. “Of course,” I answered. Like I wasn’t already lost because the dealership had taken care of everything the first time around.
After a few minutes of moping when I got off of the phone with the police, I called the courthouse for vehicle registration. They told me I’d need my registration, identification, and the name and badge of the officer who filed the police report. So, I guess I’ll be calling back the police next week too.
The person in registration also told me that security only allows so many people in at one time due to the coronavirus restrictions, and that on Monday, they’ll stop letting folks in by 4PM.
“Sounds good,” I said. “Thank you.”
“What did they say?” My six-year-old was there with me when I realized that my license plate had been stolen, so she knew that something had happened but didn’t understand exactly what or why it mattered.
“We’ll wait a few days to see if it turns up,” I told her. “But we can get it replaced next week.” She nodded and went back to playing. I didn’t tell her just how upset I was in that moment, or how it felt like one more thing too many to handle. I didn’t tell her how nervous I was (and still am) at the idea of driving across town without a plate, just to get the new plate.
Not to mention how frustrating it is to have to drag her to the courthouse when the coronavirus is still happening.
As much as I aim to be honest with my daughter, I know that I’ve got to get a handle on my emotions too. I’m upset because it’s an extra hassle to my life when I’m already feeling stretched past my limit. My physical and mental health is already suffering in 2020, so every little thing feels like a big thing.
And frankly, it feels strangely violating to know a stranger lifted my brand new license plate just mere feet away from our door. I feel deeply vulnerable knowing that somebody else had their hands on this enormous investment, or that they felt justified to take something so personal to me. My history as a person without a vehicle has made it that much bigger for me.
Though again, that’s a “me” thing.
Bad things happen and I know it doesn’t serve me well to get too bent out of shape over one unnerving event. So, I went online and ordered some anti-theft screws and decided to take it one day at a time. I know they’re not foolproof attachments, but those screws should be a deterrent. Apparently, skipping the frame is another good deterrent since thieves can use the frame with a crowbar to get to your plate.
We’ve got too much going on at home on Monday to deal with the courthouse, so we’ll make it over there on Tuesday. Who knows? Maybe my stolen plate will pop up after all.
In the meantime, I know my inconvenience is nothing compared to the injustices happening in our country every day. My grievances could always be worse, and honestly, I’m fortunate this was an easily replaceable theft. It could have been a helluva lot worse and given my history of no car and no autonomy, I certainly prefer having a car at all.