This One Time I Almost Caught Someone Driving My Stolen CarS

Jason Torchinsky, I have felt your pain. I mean that literally. When I saw the empty spot where I had parked my car a few hours before, it physically hurt. The nausea wasn’t far behind. Somehow I think the fact that there was no trace of the break-in, no broken glass, paint chips or the marks of a spectacular burnout, made it even worse. I had nothing but a parking space to stare at.

Some fucking whistledick stole my car. And in that moment, I knew that my beloved Milano Red 1994 Acura Integra coupe was gone forever.

It was May 16, 2008 and I had been back in the suburbs of North Dallas for three weeks after graduating from college. I wanted to stay in Austin for a number of reasons, but unfortunately for me and my Integra, the job market in Austin was virtually non-existent at the time. I had a low-paying job opportunity in Dallas and little choice but to take it.

I was hanging out with my best friend the night some booger-eating dickweed stole my car. My friend had just bought a new Passat VR6 with everything but 4-Motion, and understandably wanted to drive everywhere. I met him at his apartment and rode with him to shoot some pool, even though I rarely went anywhere without my own car. It didn’t seem to make sense for both of us to drive, and the pool hall we were going to was in a much seedier area than his apartment anyway.

We got back to his place at around 1 a.m. And immediately, as we turned the corner in his apartment complex parking lot, I saw that my car was not where I’d left it. To this day I wish I’d chosen my words better, but that the first thing I said was, “Uh, dude, where’s my car?” Then the gut-punch of grief.

I called the police and began the process familiar to anyone who’s been through this, but I wasn’t even close to ready to really accept what happened. The next three weeks are kind of foggy. I remember sleeping a lot, dealing with the insurance company, and the indignity of having to bum rides until my insurance finally ponied up for a rental. And I remember that awful sick feeling in my stomach that I couldn’t shake off. I’d compare it to a bad break-up, but that doesn’t even come close. Maybe quitting heroin feels as bad. Maybe.

The days piled up and became weeks, with no news at all about my Integra. I was pretty sure the car would be recovered in a state that can only be described as a total loss, but not knowing what happened to it was driving me crazy. Part of me clung to the hope that I’d get it back missing its seats and a few other parts I could replace, which only made things worse. Then three weeks to the day after the theft, I saw somebody driving my car.

I heard it first. You know how your pet can tell you’ve just come home by the sound of your car, even if half of your neighbors drive the same thing you do? I’d like to think it was something like that. I heard the sound first and my head automatically snapped in that direction just in time to see my car hauling ass going the other way on Frankford Road near the intersection with Furneaux. As it passed I saw the distinguishing characteristics, such as the shaved Acura emblem over the left taillamp. I couldn’t believe my eyes, yet I knew it was my car.

Still in drivable condition!

The rush of emotion was overwhelming, and that little kernel of hope I’d been both nourishing and trying to extinguish swelled to enormous proportions. I was stuck at a light, behind an F-150, going the wrong direction on a divided road, in a rented Sentra with a CVT, but I was going to do my damnedest to flip a bitch and catch up with my car. I planned on shoving my entire rented Sentra up the ass of whomever I caught in my Integra.

When that light finally turned green, I pinned it and whipped the wheel around, nicking the curb with a rear tire in the process. I did not care. This was Red Mist Time, and beating on a poor rental car was the last of my concerns. The douchelump in my car had a decent head start, but I caught up just enough to see him make a left on Kelly Road before I got stopped at another traffic light. At that point, if it hadn’t been for the traffic already going through the intersection, I probably would have blown the light. It just wasn’t possible.

The bastard got away.

I pulled into a parking lot and called the local police, who were epically useless. They wouldn’t connect me to any kind of emergency dispatch or anything like that. No, their idea of helping in this situation was to put me through to the auto-theft detective’s voice mail. The detective had already punched out for the day.

I spent the next few minutes driving around the apartment complexes in the area hoping to get lucky, but it didn’t happen. My car was gone again. I don’t know if I felt better or worse. Yes, I’d now lost my car twice, but I also knew that the car was still basically intact. I may have been a wreck, but my car was not. Yet.

The next night I received a phone call from the police. They had recovered my car. The officer on the phone said the car had been involved in a collision during a police chase, but that it looked fixable to him. I just wanted to know when I could see it. He said I could go to the impound lot in the morning, and gave me the address. I didn’t get much sleep that night.

In the morning I got up and went to the impound lot wondering how bad the damage was. I’m glad I skipped breakfast, because it would not have stayed down when I saw my car. The thieves ran head-on into a guardrail at high speed. Everything forward of the firewall was skewed about few degrees to the left, and the trailing edges of the front fenders were crammed into the leading edges of the doors. The right front wheel was a good two inches farther back than it should have been.

The car was absolutely fucked. Remember that part in Christine when Arnie gets to Darnell’s and sees what Buddy Repperton and his dogshit friends did to his car? It may have flashed through the back of my mind at the time.

In addition to the collision damage, they put an oxidized carbon fiber hood on it. They replaced the front seats with ratty leather seats from another Integra of the same generation. The floor mats were missing, there was a different stereo deck in it, they’d swapped my hammers for some spray-painted steelies, a cheesy GReddy shift sat partially threaded on the shifter, and the Tanabe G-Power muffler was gone with nothing in its place. The airbags had popped and been taped over with gaffer tape, meaning that it happened before the collision. (Good. I hope that crash hurt, motherfuckers). The whole interior was littered with fast-food wrappers, beer bottles, cigarette butts and other garbage. They’d scraped the registration sticker off the windscreen, and there was an almost illegible temporary dealer tag hanging from the back bumper. The inspection sticker had expired during the car’s stay with the thieves.

Looking at the odometer, I saw that they had put roughly 2,100 miles on it. Three weeks and 2,100 miles, and at least some of that time in an unregistered car with expired paper tags, no inspection and no goddamned muffler, while drinking and doing who knows what else behind the wheel. I’d like to think it takes less than that to get pulled over in this country.

Despite the 2,100 miles they’d racked up, the wreck that ended my car’s life happened two miles away from where it was stolen. It was a street I knew well. My parents’ business had an office on that street for 14 years, and the guardrail they rammed was right across the street from where I’d had the car serviced in the past.

I thought about fixing it. I wanted more than anything to have my car back. It had been mine for almost 12 years, and figured in most of the best times of my life. It was more than my car, it was my friend. Ultimately it wasn’t the money that kept me from trying to have it repaired. It was the thought that the only thing sadder than losing it completely would be to have it fixed but never feel right again. It broke my heart to say goodbye to that car.

Dealing with the insurance company was almost the worst part of the whole experience. They refused to look at anything but the year and the mileage, saying, “Condition doesn’t matter.” I didn’t expect to get anything for all the aftermarket parts that were on the car, but the condition at the time of the theft had been excellent.

The year before, I’d had all of the dings taken out and the entire car got a proper, glass-out respray. I’d replaced the suspension bushings and installed a Bilstein Sport/Ground Control setup on it. I even replaced all of the smaller worn-out items, like the struts that hold up the hatchback and the power radio antenna. It was practically a new car. Everything worked flawlessly, and cosmetically it was at least 9/10.

The settlement ended up being less than what I’d spent on the paint job, and by the time they cut the check it was August 2008. That was when gas prices spiked to $4/gallon for the first time, and anything used with a 4-cylinder shot up significantly in price practically overnight. I couldn’t even find a clapped-out 3rd-gen Integra for what I’d gotten, and I’d had to fight my ass off just to get as much as I did.

So now I drive an NA6 Miata instead. Not only could I not afford another Honda product (at least not one I wanted), I was worried about my next car being stolen as well. Most Miata parts are Miata-specific, and when I bought mine almost five years ago it seemed like a safe choice. Besides, I’d always wanted one. But now I’m hearing more and more stories of Miata theft, and it makes me nervous. I don’t like going anywhere without my car these days.

The experience of my Integra’s demise has left a permanent mark. Even a souped-up Miata can’t erase it.