My car was stolen...or was it?? Read the story to find out!!

Friday, 1/19/01 - A little background. I'm a computer operator at RSL in Pittsburgh...well, really in Forest Hills, Pennsylvania. I work Swing shift (3:30pm until Midnight), although I'm allowed to leave once my work is done. I can go home, but I still have to dial in from home and watch the system until the night guy gets there. RSL has Service Master come in every night to clean. On this particular Friday, I parked in the lot over by the hedges, on the right side of the lot. I was done my work around 11:15 and headed upstairs (the computer room is in the basement), past the guard, and out the front door. It was snowing and I walked to where I parked my Mercury Tracer. It wasn't there. Silly me, I thought. I musta parked in the middle of the lot. I walk over there, no car. I mean, there's only like ten cars in the entire could I miss it?? I walk back to the front door and tell the guard my car is's not there. He calls the police. While he's calling them, I walk back outside to check again and to call Laurie on my cell phone and ask her to pick me up. While I'm outside, I see a Ford Escort that's parked near where I parked that day. For those who don't know, the Escort and the Tracer are the same car, just different name plates. This Escort looks a lot like my Tracer, especially in the dimly lit parking lot with snow all over. So I'm thinking (hoping) that maybe someone got into my car by mistake and the keys (because they're the same car) just happen to fit.

The two policemen come and one guy starts taking down my information. I mention to them about the Escort, and about the Tracer/Escort/key thing. They laugh. The one takes more information. I mention the Escort again. Finally, the other officer says he'll go out and run the tags of the Escort. He does and it comes back as a stolen car. It was stolen from Penn Hills, which is about ten minutes from work. The other officer thought that someone, probably kids, stole this Escort from Penn Hills, came over to Forest Hills, did what they wanted to do, ditched the Escort and took my Tracer. Sooo, they'll probably find my car in Penn Hills. It was probably, according to the police, someone who has a knowledge of Escorts/Tracers since the two cars are alike. That's that...go home...we'll call you if anything turns up.

Weekend of 1/20/01 to 1/21/01 - Ok, so I'm not in the best of moods over the weekend. I don't have a car. And worse, someone else is driving MY car. It's not a good feeling to walk into a parking lot and not see your car there. And it's a weird feeling thinking about someone else driving your car. What radio stations are they listening to...are they smoking...what are they they let it warm up first (it likes that)?? And little things like the fact that I left my little belt clip thingy for my cell phone in the center console and my roller blades in the trunk. I was upset because I'm saving for a house, but won't be able to if I have a car payment every month. And I wasn't covered for thief under my car insurance, so I would have to come up with all the money for a down payment, etc.

Monday, 1/22/01 - The phone rang at 7:30am. Since I don't go into work until 3:30, I usually don't get up until after 10am. The machine gets it and I hear someone leave a message. I decide it's best to go check the machine. It's the Forest Hills police. They found my car!!! Where??? In Penn Hills!!! Son of a gun...the policeman musta been right. I wrote down the number for the Penn Hills police and go back to bed (hey, I was tired!!). I woke up around 11 and called the Penn Hills police. I had to go to the Penn Hills police department, prove it's my car (bring the title), and they would issue a release for my car. Then I had to go to where they tow cars to pick up my car. I asked if there was any damage to the car. The woman I talked to didn't know for sure, but she thought there was some damage to the steering column. That's what I thought would happen. I wake Laurie and we drive to Penn Hills police. I get my release for my car and we head to the repair shop that tows cars for Penn Hills. I show the guy my release and he shows me where my car is. MY CAR!!! My cute little green car. It had a ton of snow on it (it had snowed about 6 inches between Friday night and Saturday night). I open the driver side door and expect to see wires hanging from the steering column. I see no damage. I sit in the car and expect to see the ignition ripped from the column. I see no damage. There's no damage!! I put the key in and turn it. It starts!! I cleared the snow off and went back inside to see what I had to do to get my car. This next thing gets me a little pissed. I tell the guy there's no damage, what do I have to do to get my car back. He tells me I have to pay $85!!! HUH??? My car was stolen...why am I paying?? $70 for the tow, $15 for a day of storage. HUH??? IT WAS STOLEN...NOT MY FAULT. Doesn't matter. Oh, and they don't take credit cards or personal or bank check only. Well, me and Laurie don't have $85 burning a hole in our pockets, so I have to go down the street to a gas station and use my ATM card to get some money. While I'm paying the guy, I mention that I don't think it's fair that I pay to get my car back when it was stolen. He doesn't really say anything back. I then mention that I REALLY don't like paying for storgage. I was called that morning and I'm there that afternoon. He tells me it's based on 24 hours and even if it was there only 10 minutes, it would still be $15. Whatever. I pay the guy and I'm outa there.

Driving home, I'm checking everything out. We checked for my roller blades back at the repair place and they were there. My little belt clippy thing for my cell phone was there. Nothing was taken from the glove a matter of fact it doesn't look like anything was even moved in the glove compartment. Ugh...there were ashes in the ash tray. Somebody smoked in my car!! Argh. I make my way to work and tell everyone the good news that they found my car and there was no damage. How lucky was I?? Mad that someone took it, but at least there was no damage and all I was out was $85. At least I got my car back.

That evening, the cleaning guy that cleans our floor comes running down the steps. He runs into the computer room and asks if I'm Mike Phillips. I say yes. He says he's the owner of the Escort that the police found here at work Friday night!! He left work after cleaning, went to a bar in Penn Hills, drank a beer or two, came out and his car was gone!! He called the police and reported it stolen. I found it. Well, I tell him...they found my car at a bar in Penn Hills!!! What are the odds?? They musta stole his car from the bar, did what they needed to do, ditched his car and took mine, and ended up back at the bar. That's pretty wild. And his car had no damage either. Well, I'm just happy I got my car back. Pretty upset it cost me $85, until he told me it cost him $100. We laugh.

Later that night, I start thinking. What are the odds that someone took his car from a bar, drove it to where he works, dropped it off and took my car AND took it back to the same bar?? And both cars had no damage at all. He said he had some change in his car and they didn't take it. Ok, I understand that if you're out joyriding, maybe you're not gonna go through the whole car...but if there's change right there, you're gonna take it. There was a ton of snow on my car, which means that it stayed at the bar Friday night and all weekend. It just doesn't add up., couldn't be. Well, I have heard it happening before. Maybe his key fit my car??? Maybe he took my car by mistake?? No...I could understand opening someone's car, but once you sit down, you would know it's not your car, wouldn't you?? Sure you would. Then again, I have heard that this guy spends a lot of time at the bar across the street from work. Could he have been so drunk that he didn't even know he took the wrong car?? Ron, who works in the office next to me, Larry, who works upstairs, and the guard who was on duty that night all came to that very same conclusion by themselves. Well, if it's true, I have to get the cleaning guy to go outside with me and try his keys in my car. The other guys think that the cleaning guy knows he took the wrong car and wanted to see if I figured it out. I don't think the cleaning guy is that smart. I want my $85 back since my car was never stolen. If he would have got in the RIGHT car Friday night, I wouldn't be out $85.

Tuesday, 1/23/01 - Ok, so I'm pretty nervous that night. I don't know how I'm gonna bring this whole thing up and I don't know how he's gonna react. I jokingly say to Ron that if he hears a fight break out, come help me. He says he's got my back. Cool. The cleaning guy comes down and I start to talk. I mention something about things not adding up. I mention the possibility that maybe he took my car by mistake. Nooooo, he says. I couldn't do that, he says. Anyway, he points out, our keys would have to work in each other's car. So I'm thinking of a way to get him to try our keys and he ends up asking if I want to try our keys. Sure....let's go. We go outside and he tries his key in my door. Son of a gun, it fit and unlocked my door. He can't believe it. Ok, so now I have to ask for my $85 back. He still doesn't think he did it, but he says if he did, he's sorry. Well, fine, but I'm out $85 (hint hint). Yeah, he counters, but he's out $100. Right, but if you GOT IN THE RIGHT CAR, this wouldn't have happened!!!! I didn't say it like that, but he got the hint. He says he'll reimburse me, but he still doesn't think he did it. So, if you REALLY thought you didn't do it, why are you so quick to offer me $85??? Anyway, I don't care whether you think it happened like that or not. Because I think it did and so does everybody else. Just for fun, we try my keys in his car and it unlocked the door. He said he would pay me around the first of the month when he gets paid. Ok, we'll see.

Since Then - I have to mention that my place of work offered to reimburse me for the towing expense when they thought the car was stolen from the lot. And, they were gonna throw in an American Express gift check. I thought that was nice. Believe me, cars aren't stolen from our lot never. So on Monday, the place was abuzz about what happened Friday night. Of course, I turned down the offer from work. I know, I know. Many people have told me I should have taken the money and the gift check from work, AND the $85 from the cleaning guy. But what can I say?? Mom raised me right. I told work what I thought happened and turned down the offer. Work said that if the cleaning guy doesn't pay me back, let them know and they'll pay me back. Cool. After the cleaning guy offered the $85, I emailed the head of HR (who made the offer from work) and told her what had happened. I said it was up to them if they wanted to pursue the matter anymore with the cleaning company, but as long as I get my money back, I really don't care what happens to the cleaning guy. Well, it's February 12th and he's still here. Oh, and he did pay me back on the first. And he now thinks that he did take my car by mistake since he remembers getting in and the radio was on FM. He never listens to FM. And I tell him that when I got in my car after they found it, it was on the sports talk station, which is on AM. That's the station he said he listens to.

So, what have I learned?? Well, if I would have insisted that the police check the Escort in the lot from the very beginning, and tried my key in the Escort with the police there, this whole mess could have been resolved that night by Midnight. But I didn't. I got intimidated when the police kinda laughed when I mentioned the possibility that someone took my car by mistake. I thought I was right, I felt it, I should have stuck to my guns. Instead, I stopped talking. I let the police determine the way I felt and it made me doubt myself. Don't get me wrong...I'm not blaming the police for what happened (it was the cleaning guy's fault!). But if they would have opened themselves up to the possibility that it could have happened, we all would have been better off that night. Don't doubt yourself. Stick to your guns. If you think you are right, fight for it until you're proven wrong. I was right that night and didn't do anything. Leave yourself open to possibilities. And since the cleaning guy still works here and always parks on the right side of the parking lot, you better believe I park as far to the left as I can. I thought about getting a big sign to put on the steering wheel that says


A quick update. Unfortunately, the cleaning guy passed away a few months after all this happened. The head cleaning guy told me. He wasn't sure how he died, but he knew it wasn't like a car accident or something. Talking to Ron (who works in the office over from me), we both think he basically drank himself to death. A lot of people told me that he drank a lot. I feel bad.

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