Case of the stolen car, part 2: identities lost and found

Part 2 of the story I started here. I have to give credit to my husband Matt and his memory for lots of this story.

On our way moving to Portland in 2006 during a stopover in San Francisco our car was stolen.

First thing we did was call the cops. They told us that stolen cars always turn up. Usually within three days.

Next call went to our insurance company, Unitrin Direct. That first call was wonderful. ‘Wow, they’re really worried about us. They’re really helping us out,’ we thought. That wonderful feeling didn’t last very long. As each day passed, they got more and more frustrating. They questioned whether or not we’d left the keys in the car. They implied it was an ‘inside job,’ that we had stolen our own car. (Later we got notice in the mail that we eligible to participate as part of a class action lawsuit against Unitrin for their shady practices. Tsk, tsk.)

While we waited for new of our car, we were holed up at our friends’ place cataloging as much as we could remember about what was in our trunk. It was shockingly much more than we realized, about $8,000 worth of stuff including a laptop, new camping gear and luggage (which we had gotten as wedding presents).

Plus, because at that moment we were without a permanent home,  all our most important paperwork was with us in our car instead of in the POD storage unit we had packed with the bulk of our belongings. The irony. Passports, birth certificates, social security cards, financial info. So, yes, those waiting days in the beautiful, fun city of San Francisco were also filled with many traumatic phone calls canceling credit cards, stopping checks, etc. We were losing our identities.

Oh, one bizarre episode in the ordeal was a phone call from someone who found a pile of some of our paperwork on their street. Literally, on their street. Matt went to find our stuff on the street in a nearby neighborhood. He recalls that it looked like they had picked through our files and then hucked them out of the car. But when we looked through the paperwork, there wasn’t really any of our important stuff in there. Just a sad, creepy pile of stuff that had been rifled through.

Two days passed. Three days passed. Four, five … finally after seven days with no car we got fed up. We were in limbo and just wanted desperately to start planting some roots in Portland. Before our car was nabbed, we had been on the road and couch surfing for about two months. The charm of nomadic living had worn off. We wanted to find ourselves a new home.

In reading the not-so-fine print of our car insurance we realized we were eligible for a rental car. Unitrin begrudgingly approved it.

Willamette Highway

We took what belongings we had and packed them up into that rental. We headed straight for Portland, bypassing our originally planned stops at Blue Lake (where Matt’s old hippie theater school Dell’arte is) and Crater Lake (we no longer had any gear to camp with).

We landed in Portland and our kind, wonderful friends took us in. We immediately set to looking for a place to live. Like I wrote, we were so done with living in other people’s spaces. We wanted a place of our own. (It wasn’t so easy and ended up taking a few more weeks to find an apartment.)

After another day of no word about our car, our friends whisked us away in their cherry red VW bus (welcome to Portlandia, before there was Portlandia) and off to the awesomely hippy Bagby Hot Springs.  Some welcome relaxation.

As we drove back to Portland and got back into cell phone range, there was a message on my phone. Finally, after 10 days, our car was found.

Matt hopped on a plane, flew to San Francisco to retrieve it. At the impound lot, he found the car. It was beat up pretty bad. They’d jacked ignition, ripped out dash. But it was driveable. And the thieves missed one valuable thing in the car: the stereo speakers. Ha! Matt immediately turned around and headed towards Portland with no stereo and no stopping.

Ah, if only it was that simple! On the way out of San Francisco, during morning rush hour, Matt got rear-ended by a giant truck. The truck driver was apologetic, terrified about potentially losing his job over the accident. Weary from the entire ordeal – especially dealing with the a–hole insurance company, who at this point in the mess was not returning any calls – Matt just told the guy to forget about it. To his glazed over eyes, the damage seemed minimal, if any. The panicked truck driver hugged him and went on his merry way. Only later did Matt realize, not only that he had whip lash and an achy hip, there was more damage on the car than he first thought. Oy.

With all this trauma and loss, though, came some really formative moments in our relationship. On that 10 hour drive in the rental car from San Francisco to Portland, Matt and I made some big decisions.

We were in the middle of an identity crisis. We’d lost nearly all our identifying documents, were recently married and undecided on what to call ourselves. Ten hours in a car together gives you a lot of time to talk some shit out. And talk some shit out we did. We talked about starting new, starting fresh. We talked about the type of family we wanted to be. We talked about what we would do if they never found our car, or if they found our car on fire.

On that trip we decided what our family name was going to be. Matt had wanted me to keep my name. Matt was even okay with our future kid having my name, too. That seemed weird and not right. I wanted to keep my name, yet I wanted to have a family name. We toyed with the idea of blending our names Tabora and Roberts. (‘Robora’ was the front-runner, ‘Taboberts’ was considered, for the comedy.) But after a lot of chatter with family and between us, we decided that just wouldn’t work.

On that long drive from the place we’d met to the place that was to be our home, we decided to both change our names to our new, hyphenated last name: Tabora-Roberts. That’s the name we used on our replacement social security cards, passports, credit cards. When we got to Portland that’s who we became, the Tabora-Roberts family. And thus began the Tabora-Roberts adventure.

The case of the move, a stolen car and a lake

Crater Lake

Panoramic winter view of Crater Lake in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, from Rim Village. Credit: WolfmanSF via Wikimedia Commons.

When I saw Wikimedia Commons’ ‘Picture of the day’ earlier this week of Crater Lake, it reminded me of our journey to the town we now call home, Portland.

It was 2006. Matt and I were living in Davis where Matt was finishing up grad school. We had recently married in August 2005. After considering some other West Coast cities — including Seattle, Ashland and San Fran (we can call it that, because – though we once were – we’re no longer locals)  — we’d settled on Portland as the right place for us to try and make some roots.

School ended in June. Our rental lease ended in July. But we managed to fill a couple of months with gigs and travel so we didn’t plan to land in Portland until October. Instead of trying to move anywhere temporarily, we would live rent free and make do with gig housing, house sitting, couch surfing and camping. It would save us precious post-grad dollars and be a fun escapade.

So, we packed 90 percent of our belongings into a ‘POD’ and the remaining, carefully selected items would be part of our mobile living space. Items like clothing, a cooler, camp gear, books, laptops, important paperwork to help us with necessary paperwork when we arrived in our new city.

Originating point: Davis. Destination: Portland. In between, we intended to hit Berkeley, San Francisco, Blue Lake, Crater Lake, Ashland.

The adventure was a lot of fun. We stayed with a whole bunch of different friends and at different places. By the time we got to San Francisco we were starting to tire from living out of our car. But we were having a wonderful time staying with our good friends in the Glen Park neighborhood. They have a lovely house that happens to be on a busy thoroughfare, but we were able to park right in front (where they park their cars every single day). We did unload the main part of the car, but left a bunch of stuff — including all our camping gear and our most important paperwork like social security cards, passports, etc. — in the trunk. (You can probably see where this is headed.)

We met a bunch of friends at the bar for one last farewell, and the next morning, up at a reasonable hour, we showered and got ready to tackle the next leg. ‘Hmm. Our car was parked right out front, wasn’t it?’ A few moments of denial were quickly followed by a feeling of dread and slight sense of panic. I stared blankly at the space formerly known as our car’s parking spot. Matt walked up and down the street looking for our car, knowing full-well that he was not going to find our car. Yep. Stolen. Our tried and true Corolla was no longer in our possession.

To be continued …