By Lynn Ashby 29 Feb. 2016
THE PARKING LOT – I just witnessed a crime, so pay attention, because my words of wisdom could save you or your significant other a lot of trouble. I came to the grocery store to make my weekly haul – two six-packs, cheese and crackers — and returned to my car in this huge shopping center’s parking lot. I noticed that a gray SUV, parked facing my car nose-to-nose, had its front passenger door open. As I was putting a grocery bag in the back seat of my car, that SUV’s door slammed shut. Odd. I opened my door to get in, (am I going too fast for you?) when a small red car pulled up behind the SUV, the red car’s passenger’s door opened, shut, and the car sped off.
Just then a woman came up to the SUV. Because what I had just seen appeared strange, I inquired if she had had someone in her car. No. Here’s the killer: like 99 percent of women who had just finished grocery shopping, she had placed her bags AND HER PURSE in her car, then had walked maybe 20 feet away to put her shopping cart in the return space. No woman takes her purse with her to dump a shopping cart. The thieves had no doubt patrolled the parking lot looking for a lone female pushing a cart. They followed her to her car, waited until she left it unattended to put up the cart, and pounced. Then they sped off. The theft took maybe 10 seconds, and I didn’t get a look at anybody. I suggested she tell the grocery store manager, and maybe he and the other merchants in the shopping center would pressure the landlord to hire a cop.
Men don’t have purses, for the most part, so we are not victims of this particular crime. On the other hand, my wallet was stolen as I was walking to my seat at a Houston Texan game. I didn’t realize it till later, and when I got home I called MasterCard which promptly cancelled the card, then told me that, minutes after the pick, the thief had charged items in the stadium, filled up two cars just across the street and later had tried to buy items at stores around town, but were turned down because of the card’s cancellation.
It could have been worse; I could have had Texan season tickets. Then it did get worse. The next day the pickpocket went to a branch of my bank, and took out $2,000 from my checking account and $8,000 more from my savings account (a payment as adviser to the Rick Perry Presidential campaign; it’s a long story). The thief used my driver’s license with his picture. The bank’s video showed a nattily dressed black guy in a snappy vest. And he made those withdrawals without using my secret code (1234) or anything else. So much for security. The bank quietly replaced the stolen funds, and gave me no more information. I think they were embarrassed by the entire story, especially the part about the vest.
But it took literally months for me to contact stores, utility companies, my bail bondsman and others who used an automatic charge on my stolen and cancelled credit card. Just last week I got a testy letter from my burglar alarm company, Smash & Grab, Inc., saying they couldn’t make their annual charge to a cancelled card. I thought maybe they should be responsible for my wallet theft, but it didn’t fly. A week or so later, a local TV reporter did a story on my theft, complete with a shot of the pickpocket’s picture. Two guards at the Brazos County Jail were watching the show and one guard said to the other, “Isn’t that the same guy we’ve got in Cell 7?” It was. He was apparently arrested on a different charge, but I never heard any more about it.
Back to the car purse snatcher. Ladies and spouses, what should you do to prevent you from being victims? Obviously, don’t leave your purse in the car when putting up your grocery cart, but that is hard to do. You might take the cart home with you and bring it back on your next trip. I thought maybe women should start carrying wallets instead of a purse, but you see how much good that did me. Place a sign in your car window: “Look up and smile at the drone.” Get a personalized license plate reading: “ISIS-1.”
All of these ideas are simply to shoo away would-be thieves who, in this case, are probably not members of AARP, but a bunch of teenaged males riding around mall parking lots looking for easy prey. It doesn’t take much to make them move on to the next lot. A brief example: One of my brothers was an international banker in Madrid during a spat of kidnappings of western businessmen by terrorists who wanted money. A security expert came from the home office in New York City to lecture my brother and his colleagues on playing it safe. The guy said, “The kidnappers don’t want you personally, they just want somebody like you. Make it harder on them by taking a different route to and from work at a different time. That sort of thing. The kidnapers want the easiest target available.” So as the little red getaway car prowled the parking, its occupants no doubt passed by cars with a bumper sticker reading: “My Child Is An Honor Hit Man” or maybe, “Zombies Make Better Lovers.” I like: “Ask Me About My Purse Bombs.”
I am back at the grocery store the next day, I ran out of cheese, and I notice that the shopping center landlord has, indeed, hired security to patrol the massive parking lot. It’s one elderly guy riding a golf cart. But it does have a tail-gunner.
Ashby is parked at email@example.com