Stranded! Betrayed!

Tuesday, September 23 2003

Yesterday I had a meeting in downtown Portland, which went well. What didn’t go so well was the fact that someone took my truck while I was in the meeting. At first I thought maybe I’d misplaced it. I’d parked at a meter, maxed out the time on it, and had expected to find it as I’d left it. I thought that maybe I’d walked up the wrong street, so I backtracked to my meeting point, and tried again. Same results. I did this a few times until I accepted the fact that it was either stolen or towed. I went to the spot I was pretty sure it was parked, found no glass or evidence of thievery, and decided that it must have been towed.

I found a phone number for monthly parking passes, called it with my mobile, and got the number for Portland Auto Records. PAR told me that I needed to know the VIN number. In no way would they allow me to describe the vehicle, the VIN number was the key, and no sweet talking would get them to budge without it.

I called home ten times. No answer all ten times. I called an eleventh time for good measure. No answer. It occurred to me that because we’d been in California up until midnight the night before, that our cordless phone was probably out of juice, which would mean it wouldn’t ring. We usually also turn off the base’s ringer because of it’s bone grinding intensity.

I called the DMV. They told me to call Sacremento where my car is still registered. I’d been on hold for thirty minutes to get that advice. They suggested I might be on hold for an hour with Sacremento. I called my apartment complex, who I thought had my VIN on file from my rental application. They didn’t have it. I called my insurance company. They had it. They gave it to me. It took an awkward five minutes to jot down the number in my phone, as the girl read off two digits at a time, waiting for my confirmation each time. Then we did that again, to double check the digits.

I called PAR again, told them I had the VIN, looked down at my phone to begin reading it off when the battery died. It died, right when I was almost there. I was stranded in a bustling city, in fancy-for-me clothing, with nothing but an ATM card. No real shelter, no communications, no pen, no paper, nothing. It became very clear how much I rely on my phone. My phone became a huge single point of failure. Total failure. It was true to me for the two hours it took to gather the single most important piece of information I needed, then failed at the most crucial point.

I had a slice of pizza, and sat to think.

I found a T-Mobile store and convinced them to charge my phone. They also suggested I exchange the phone, just in case the battery in my Sidekick was wonky. The whole time my phone charged I pulled phone numbers and the VIN off it onto a piece of paper. Once that was done, I went to a payphone, called PAR and read them off my VIN number.

“That sounds like way too many digits, what’s the make and model?”

The second time I called, all it took for me to find out where my truck was was to say “Toyota Tacoma, four door, California plates” and they told me exactly where it was. No arguments. The first person I’d called was just being an ass, and deserves a job at the DMV where people can scowl at her in person, not just over the phone.

I called for a taxi, and spent $10.00 going about ten blocks. I spent $105 getting my truck out of the tow yard. I spent twenty minutes being puzzled over the citation that the city put on my car, the reason it was towed. It said “Parked about 20” from the curve". No fine specified, no spelling skills, no truth. I think I was singled out for having a bigger vehicle on a crowded street with California plates. My meeting was at 11:00am, and I didn’t get home until 4:30.

Having had this happen, I’m completely amped on coming up with a way to have all my most important information on a piece of paper in my wallet, without compromising my security. I can’t rely on a cell phone to do it for me, or my own memory that’s for sure. I need a better way, and I’ve yet to find it. I’m thinking a simple encryption that I could do in my head would work well. Letter shifting or something, something that wouldn’t require a calculator to figure out, but something that required you know a key to unlock the code.