I woke up crankier than usual one morning last week after a car alarm had woken me around 1:30 a.m. for the second night in a row. Earlier that evening, a cop had visited our street to follow up on complaints received from neighbors who reported the alarm had been going off all day and all night. The cop let us know that the owner of the vehicle lived nearby and he was on his way to speak with him. He also mentioned that leaving threatening notes on the vehicle was ill-advised. Noted.
So when the alarm sounded again that evening, I knew I wasn’t the only one on my block who was fantasizing about blowing the offending vehicle up. Soon after, I heard a loud crashing sound and peered out my window to see two hooded figures surrounding the car. Then, the beautiful sound of silence.
Admittedly, I was grateful to the people responsible for making it stop, until I came across the car the next morning and found it destroyed. Someone had not only smashed in the side window, but also etched a threatening message on the windshield and damaged the hood of the car in an attempt to disable the alarm. I shook my head and proceeded to take my step-daughter to school. When I came back, a solemn-looking man was halfway inside the car, clearly trying to make sense of the mess.
I mustered up the courage to go and speak to him and said, “I’m really sorry about your car”, because, I was. He looked gutted. He replied, “I’m sorry (for keeping the neighborhood up), but this is really just going too far.” I had to agree. After a minute of silence he said, “It is what it is.”
We got to talking and he introduced himself as Christopher and revealed a few things which are important to the story. Christopher moved to Seattle about a year ago from Philadelphia and works from home – an apartment building around the corner that is not within earshot of the vehicle (he typically parks closer to his building when possible). He only uses his car about once a week to go exploring outside of the city. When the cop visited his apartment the night before, Christopher was surprised to hear that the alarm was going off, although he mentioned that for the 11 years that he has owned this vehicle, the only problem he had ever had with it was electrical issues. In fact, the alarm had caused some problems in the past, but he thought the problem had been resolved the last time he had work done on it. Because the cop visited him late in the evening before, he didn’t have much choice but to wait until the next morning to take it in.
I asked Christopher if I could interview him for the blog, and he agreed. I fetched him a cup of coffee and brought out several brooms, a shop vac, work gloves and garbage bags and we began to clean and chat. What was very clear was Christopher’s remorse for the incident. He wanted to convey to the neighborhood that he was genuinely very sorry for causing so much disruption, and had already arranged for the car to be brought into the shop later that morning.
When we were finished with the cleanup, I asked Christopher how discovering his car like this made him feel. “To be honest, at first I was really PO’d. I thought, (expletive) this city, (expletive) these people, but you’ve helped restore my faith in humanity.”
I was touched, although I honestly had no goals of being a martyr. I simply saw a neighbor in need and had the helpful clarity of the morning sun to see the full story. I am genuinely happy that I was able to be there at the right time to help Christopher see that his neighbors did not, in fact, think he was a bad person or that he was unwelcome in the neighborhood. It was obvious to me that the incident was not due to some kind of gross negligence or vindictiveness.
I can’t say I was left feeling quite as generous about my neighbors, who in their rage and sleeplessness, took matters into their own hands. I’m sure they have their own side of the story too—it’s easy to feel helpless when being kept awake all night by matters outside of your control. Like I said, I benefited from the fact that someone seemed to locate the wires that finally made the noise stop. But the violent, threatening notes, the extent of the damage to the vehicle, and the seeming intent to teach Christopher a lesson is where I think the question of who is the real victim in this story comes into question.