As you may recall, my Honda Civic was stolen last May at the Fort Worth Bridal Expo. Yesterday, I got it back.

Yes, really.

The Fort Worth police department called me to tell me that my car was towed to an impound lot in Arlington yesterday morning. We had to get a new key made for it (I finally threw away my original key about a month and a half ago - figures.) We just went with the VIN down to the local Honda dealership and they cut us a key for about $20. Then we drove out to Arlington (aka "Car Hell") to see the car. We had no idea if it would even start. We didn't even know if we'd need the key at all - maybe somebody busted out the ignition lock and had been starting it with a screwdriver. Maybe it'd been wrecked, or rattle-canned blue with a shopping cart handle "spoiler" bolted to the top of the trunk. Maybe someone had been letting their Doberman live in it for a year. I was nervous.

We decided that if my Honda wasn't in reasonable condition, we'd just leave it there. No sense in claiming a car we no longer need that would just become a headache. After a long wait in a tiny, un-air conditioned lobby, the impounders let us go onto the lot to look at the car. I recognized it immediately and went right over to it. Amazingly, it looked almost exactly the same as I'd left it! Someone had stolen the CD player and my CDs. Also, my flying frog and my bobble-head alligator were gone. But aside from that, the car was exactly the same! There was even a sewing pattern for a blanket/backpack that I'd made for Ellie still in the back seat! I was dumbfounded. It's like it had just been sitting (in the sun, by the looks of it) for a year.

Initially, we were told we couldn't try to start it. Obviously, the impound lot doesn't make a policy of letting people look at a car, start it up, and then make a break for it without paying. Also, if you parked your car illegally and it got towed, chances are good you know whether or not it will start. However, mine were special circumstances, and I eventually convinced the completely unflappable lady to make an exception and let us try to get the engine to turn over. Of course, the battery was flat after all that time of not being driven, but at least we knew the key still worked!

The fee to get the car out of impound was $244.10, cash only, exact change. Yes, even though the car was STOLEN, and they KNEW it was stolen, I, the rightful owner, had to shell out $245 to get it back, no exceptions. We took a gamble based on the condition of the car and paid up.

Unfortunately, the impound lot ALSO has a policy of not letting people jump cars on their property - my Honda would have to be towed out into the customer parking lot before we could try to get it up and running. Naturally, there weren't any tow-truck drivers on the lot at the time, and she promised to try to get one out to us as soon as possible. She suggested we go get a drink or something and come back in about an hour. We drove around Arlington and finally navigated our way out of the ghetto and around to the restaurants and stuff near Six Flags and the ballpark. We loitered nervously in Half-Price Books, and then went and ate dinner at Bennigan's.

About 2 hours after we'd left the impound lot, I called back to see if she'd found a driver to tow the car the 50 feet to the parking lot. She hadn't. She told us we could come back and jump the car ourselves. Of course, we were still grappling with the possibility that it might not start despite our efforts, and we'd have to have it towed home anyway. Who knows what had happened to it?

We went back to the impound lot and jumped it. It turned over but wouldn't start. After some prodding, Max deduced that there was air in the fuel line, so we had to bleed that out a bit. Finally, it started! It was running really rough on the dregs of year-old gasoline that hadn't been siphoned off by anonymous miscreants, but it saved us having to purge the tank ourselves. We limped it over to a gas station and filled it up with a tank of fresh gas. We also put air in the tires (they were all REALLY low, like 10psi), and had to put about 2 quarts of oil in it, too. Then, I just drove it home! It smoothed out a bit after it had been running for a while. It sounds like I've got a loose belt in there, it idles high, and the alignment is WAY off - whoever stole it must have jumped a curb coming out of the parking lot or something. But, after sitting abandoned for over a year in questionable conditions with absolutely no maintenance, my 1989 Honda Civic started up and drove 40 miles home without incident or complaint. The a/c still works so well I actually had to turn it off on the drive home - it was freezing me out! With a little TLC, this car will be just as good as the day I lost it. Better, maybe.

I slept fitfully last night and had lots of bad dreams. I guess I hadn't realized how traumatic getting my car stolen had really been for me, since it had happened in the midst of about 4 other Really Important Things. Getting it back, while certainly a positive thing, seems to have brought to the surface all my feelings of loss and helplessness, just like when it was stolen. I guess it's just reminding me of how I felt then, and bringing back that sense of vulnerability. It's so strange. Right after I lost my car, I would sometimes forget that it was gone, and think to myself, "I'll just
run down to the store...". Then I'd go outside and of course my car wouldn't be there, and it felt very strange and empty and disappointing. Now, I walk outside and see the Honda, and it seems so incongruous. It's conspicuous. It sticks in my brain. Where before, the image of an empty parking spot was burned in my memory, now it's that Honda, parked there nice-as-you-please next to the Jeep, like nothing happened at all. It's all very strange.

Perhaps because it's so strange, I couldn't leave well enough alone. I wanted to know what's been happening to my car all this time. On the receipt from the impound lot, it has the address and phone number of the apartment complex my car was towed from. I called. When I started asking questions about that car, the lady was initially suspicious. After I explained who I was and what had happened, she told me her side of the story. As it turns out, my Honda has been parked at the Harris Gardens apartment complex AT LEAST since last June! That car had been a thorn in her side, with her residents constantly complaining about it taking up a parking space. No one has ever moved it, as far as she knew. She'd put notices on it several times, hoping the owner (whom she assumed lived in the complex) would either move it or get a parking sticker for it. Curiously, she was told the car had been there for MONTHS when she initially stuck a notice on it back in June of 2007. Of course, that's impossible, since it was my car and I was definitely driving it (and not in Fort Worth) until late May 2007. Even more curiously, she told me that someone kept coming by and removing the notice-stickers. That's why it took her so long to have it towed, even though it was never moved, SOMEONE was taking those stickers off, usually within a day of them being placed on the car. She didn't want to tow a resident's car, so she just kept stickering it until yesterday when she finally broke down and called the tow service.

You know where the Harris Gardens apartment complex is? About 3.2 miles from Bass Performance Hall, where my car was stolen.

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Even stranger, according to the leasing agent I spoke to, several Fort Worth police officers live in the Harris Gardens apartment complex, including a sheriff for the Ft. Worth PD, who complained about the car's presence regularly. If any of those officers had bothered to run the plates, they would have immediately known the car was stolen.

And for my final crazy twist on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, here is a picture of me the day my car was stolen, taken mere minutes before the excrement hit the oscillator:

And here is a picture taken yesterday evening after I got it back.

Yes, I was wearing that shirt all day.

No, I didn't plan it.

Yes, perhaps this is a sign that I need some new clothes.