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The Thief and The Healer

I was on Skype conducting a stakeholder interview with a client in London when my boyfriend returned to the apartment. He had just left for an appointment 5 minutes earlier.

“So sorry to bother you, honey,” he whispered, “but your car was broken into.” I went deaf for a moment as my client continued answering the question I had just asked him.

I quickly got off the call and ran outside. There, parked right on the cozy Park Slope block where I live, someone had busted in the curb-side vent window of my Jeep. The 2000 Cherokee, in perfect condition when I bought it used from a dealership in Ohio just 6 weeks ago, now had broken glass all inside and around it.

Stolen from the inside were two brand new (though not expensive) fishing rods and a small tackle box with lures that my boyfriend and I had bought just this past weekend on our epic Labor Day vacation in Maine. Also gone was the walkie-talkie he had surprised me with when we caravanned to the Upper Delaware Valley earlier this summer, its twin in his car to keep in touch as we cruised along mountain roads.

These are all just things. They can easily be replaced. And despite the sentimentality, no one can rob me of the memories.

But as I rounded the car to the passenger side, I noticed that my glovebox was open. All of the vehicle paperwork I keep inside was strewn about the seat and floor. My name and address, phone number, social security number, drivers license number printed on them. In that moment of shock, I wasn’t sure which of any papers were gone. I collapsed on the asphalt, I felt so violated and scared.

After I regained my composure, I called 911 non-emergency to file a police report while my boyfriend called around to auto glass repair shops in Brooklyn pricing out a replacement for a factory-new vent window with high tint to match. While we waited for the cops to arrive, a woman who lives inside the brownstone right where I had parked heard me ranting and came outside. She was amazed that she hadn’t heard the break-in that night or morning and offered her sympathies.

“I can’t believe this keeps happening,” she exasperated. She told us that in the last two weeks, several cars along our street have been broken into, as well as robberies of several homes. Her family’s bikes had been swiped, locked behind TWO doors into her building. Last week I had seen a Jeep similar to mine with its same window missing, but foolishly assumed that its owner had busted it herself, perhaps having gotten locked out. My realtor when I moved here a year ago had grown up on this block, just across the street from me, his grandma and aunt still there. He’d assured me it was the safest street in Brooklyn and I’d believed him.

The cops came much sooner than I had expected or even felt was appropriate given that this is NYC and they certainly have bigger fish to fry. I told them what had happened, filled out a form with an itemized list of what had been stolen, and shared what I’d heard about the other thefts. The lead officer took photos of my license and registration with his iPhone and provided me with a case number. They encouraged me to contact my insurance company to better understand my coverage and potentially make a claim for the repairs and stolen goods.

Meanwhile my boyfriend had found an auto glass place nearby with 26 five-star reviews on Yelp and liked the guy’s voice when he called. They could get the replacement glass and have it fixed in a couple hours. As soon as the cops left, we emptied the car of its remaining items and convoyed to the shop.

On the drive over, I could barely see straight. My eyes were blurry from crying and my mind was wandering. This Jeep, my first true tangible asset and a representation of the next phase of my life, had been robbed of its purity. I was still in a daze when we arrived.

Palais Glass Co on Atlantic Avenue is a no-frills garage, a small storefront with just one counter and no chairs. High on the wall are shelves holding a collection of antique toys, mostly cars. The owner, named Sal, was outside inspecting a car while clutching the phone to his ear, answering calls, giving estimates, taking down phone numbers, ordering parts and returning phone calls all at the same time. A master multitasker. You could see right away that he is a Brooklyn old-timer, a relic in a neighborhood taken over by hipsters, young families fleeing Manhattan, and illegal day laborers.

He noticed us quickly and without asking, recognized us as the ones who’d called about the window. Though it had been less than 30 minutes, I was sure he’d already fielded a dozen calls since then. He had me pull in the Jeep, tested the movement of the main window next to the broken vent window to ensure there was no mechanical damage, and took the keys. He said he’d have it done in two hours. $110 would cover the cost of the glass, installation, and a full vacuum inside to remove all the broken shards.

“I’ll tell the guys you have babies so they get it extra clean.”

Sal told me that I was the 15th person he’d seen today alone in the same situation, and that break-ins were running rampant. Good for business maybe, but bad for Brooklyn. His parting “We’ll get this fixed” felt like he meant more than just the car.

Less than two hours later, Fredrick got the call that the Jeep was ready and in between the day’s stakeholder interviews (a welcome distraction), we hurried back to pick it up. Sal brought us out to his lot next door and showed us the car, looking as good as new. A small dent in the window frame, where the thief had inserted a screwdriver to pop out the window, remained because trying to fix it would cause more damage. It will be a battle scar that only I will see. The window itself is indistinguishable from its predecessor, the tint a perfect match. The inside of the car was cleaner than I had left it the day before. All my stress melted away.

We were able to catch Sal in a rare moment of downtime. We told him about the fishing rods and our trip to Maine, he told us about his adventures there as a young adult and his daughter’s move there and back after suffering the cold. He grew up in Bensonhurst and I told him that despite growing up on the Upper East Side, I’m the product of a Marine Park boy and Hollis girl — which he understood. I asked him how long he’d been in business, and he shared the woes of a man who’d devoted his life to his job, sacrificing time with his family.

Running the shop himself for more than thirty years, he’s the fourth generation to do so, and lamented that his son isn’t interested in taking over the business.

“He’s going to college. I ask my wife, ‘What is he going to be?’ [shrugging] She tells me to be quiet.”

“You know what he’ll be?” I said as I shook his hand goodbye. “Happy.”

“I never did happy. My generation, we do satisfied.”

“Well then what’s what you’ve worked so hard for,” I nodded.

“I like you,” he smiled. I like him, too.

Brooklyn gave me a rite of passage I never wanted, and my sense of security was robbed. But it also gave me Sal, and better than new, and a reminder that compassion heals all wounds.

Need auto glass repair in Brooklyn?

Palais Glass Co
929 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
(between Underhill and Grand Aves in Prospect Heights)
718.622.3484

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  • http://www.parttimevagabond.com Chris Cavallari

    I had my Jeep broken into when I lived in NJ. I was inside at work and the thief did his work to mine and several of my co-workers car in the very public parking lot outside. I know exactly how you feel (right down to the window they broke). They happened to steal my radio and some change. On the bright side, I was able to get a newer, better radio out of the deal.

    In the end, as you stated, what’s more important is that you have great memories from your summer and a slightly bruised sense of security. I felt that way every time I walked in NYC. In Maine, I don’t feel that way at all. I hope you guys choose Maine for a while.

  • http://enemygatedown.com/ Ana Hevesi

    Whit, your move to BK and you being drawn into the fabric of an authentic community show through in your writing, and it’s beautiful. I’ve gotten to experience these joys in my corner of the borough, not far from Park Slope, and it makes life richer every day. This is the stuff that makes us human. Thank you for sharing it.