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Glass Dismissed: Small events sometimes lead to shattering conclusions... and we're not talking metaphorically.


Auto Politics

By Traci Vogel

I AM NOT my car. It's always been a principle of mine--that a car should be a thing of convenience only, not a mark of success or failure. In college, I pompously drove the requisite liberal arts major's '70s-era Volvo sedan--a car that is to self-effacement what Madonna is to bad movies.

More recently, I bought a Hyundai Elantra. It's nondescript, reliable, gets good gas mileage, and most importantly, it was cheap. Of course, I refuse to think of any of these attributes as emblematic of my identity. Least of all the reliable part.

Of course, the very fact that I drive a Hyundai instead of a Mini Cooper does tell you something about me, and probably not something I should be so self-righteous about. Fortunately, nothing deflates one's self-righteousness like a good break-in.

It was a Monday night, and I had driven into San Francisco to hear a fiction-writing friend read at the Jon Sims Center for the Arts. This fine-arts dive is located near Van Ness Avenue and Mission Street, in a neighborhood most kindly described as Mad Max meets psychedelic drug culture.

I parked in an alley--my first mistake. But it was a well-lit alley, and my parking spot happened to be smack-dab in front of a martial arts studio. How bad could it be? And it probably wouldn't have been all that bad had it not been for my second mistake: I left my CD Walkman sitting out. I don't know what I was thinking. Probably about how environmentally conscious it was of me not to have washed my car in several weeks. That, or my latest solution to world hunger. Something like that.

Anyway, Walkman sprawling in full view, I tripped off happily to my friend's reading, sat happily and listened, after which I bumbled happily back to my car, only to notice that something seemed different. The driver's-side window seemed ... less shiny. And there were little blue sparkly snowflakes all over the street. No ... wait ... those weren't snowflakes! Those were pieces of glass! And my window wasn't less shiny--it was ...

Well, you get the idea. After the 815 or so painfully slow neural firings it took for me to realize that my car had been broken into, me and my brilliant mind sat down on the sidewalk. We were shaking. We felt violated. Someone had confused us.

Suddenly, an apartment window flew open right overhead, and a head popped out. "Hey," the head asked. "Is that your car?"

Car? My brain warbled. "Um, yes."

"Well, I saw the whole thing. They caught the guy," the head said.

I noticed the head belonged to a kind-looking man, so I stood up and dusted myself off. "Really? Who did? The police?"

"No," window guy said. "The martial arts class."

It turns out that there had been a martial arts class in session at the very moment the Walkman thief had been practicing his smash-and-grab. As my window was being turned into snowflakes, six or seven class members had "detained," in a kung fu sense, the perp. After which they had called the police.

It was then that I noticed a note stuck into my steering wheel. "SFPD has suspect in custody," it said. "Please call Southern station."

"The whole thing was better than television," window guy grinned, before retreating. I smiled and started brushing out glass shards with an old Metro (which, strangely, the thief had not attempted to steal). Suddenly, I didn't care so much about my car. Maybe my car did represent something--but the broken window represented something more.

P.S. I did eventually get the Walkman back.

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From the January 9-15, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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