Jun

21

 Summer car theft is rife in Slab City when occupants leave their camps to vacation in cooler climes. Expecting to find their vehicles on return in the fall, they are surprised but should not be. This is the number one town in the nation per capita for auto theft.

The five cities with the highest car theft rate, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, lay along the Pacific where the fine weather keeps them looking fresh: Albuquerque (7000 thefts per 100,000 people), Modesto, San Francisco, Bakersfield, and Stockton. But none has the frequency nor the style of Slab City with the highest criminal genius population in America.

Anyone who lives here has signed in blood an unwritten contract that anything he owns may be taken unless he protects it. The old cartoonist Dogpatch, who lives near the Pet Cemetery, should have known better when he left by public transportation two weeks ago to sell art in Los Angeles. There are a dearth of cars among the summer residents that made his cherry red Corvette a target.

With so few running vehicles an enterprising young man stole a truck in order to steal the car. He spotted the blue pickup stuck in the sand up to its hubs on the southern fringe and tried to unearth it. The miss driver lost patience in the heat and walked away for help. He got the vehicle out and hotwired it.

Driving to the lady’s camp to return her truck, and collect an anticipated reward, he hooked onto the red Corvette in broad daylight and towed it to her camp. It so happened she owned a dented yellow Corvette with balding tires of the same make and model sitting in the back yard.

It’s as common as roadrunners in this town to maintain duplicate vehicles: a beat-up one that one pays minimal insurance on, and a purloined lookalike that is then painted the same color to make them twins. The driver’s door is then switched to install the old VIN to the newer car, which passes inspection in the sheriff’s eyes, at the old insurance rate, and the old car is parted out as needed for the new.

The double carjack would collect two fees.

The day after the double theft on my mobile library route, I zipped from camp to camp to gather pieces of the puzzle for the big picture. With an overview and the pieces, any mystery may be solved. Books are icebreakers and bribes for clues. I talked to a witness who watched the thief hotwire the pickup, to another who saw him hook it up to the Corvette, and drove to the stuck lady’s camp on the east side. On her doorstep I asked her to turn in the Slab shoplifter, but she wheeled and, a few seconds later might return with a pistol, when I was gone.

I needed counsel, and swung into Camp Eden in south Slabs run by a Mama, as is often the case with huge craniums and foliage on the chin, overseeing a neighborhood of some dozen like-minded citizens collected from all parts of the country in the name of freedom and anarchy. Their shanties hem in a circus tent patchwork of tarps, blankets and shower curtains, inflated by a green cloud of marijuana smoke. A group of eight Slabbers perched on cross-section log seats around a spool table chewing the cud and passing the pipe.

They are criminally intelligent, notwithstanding soiled and ragged costumes from hard lives on the slabs, with unblinking eyes and white heads, not with the frosts of age but from the effects of exposure and the sun. One has a pet mouse named Jonah swimming in his dreadlocks, looking out as I spoke.

After describing the double theft, a Chinese hippy stood on his log and proclaimed, ‘May a smile crease the face of any outlaw here would stoop to it!’

Everyone smiled broadly except one sullen young man with a bushy beard that seemed to have no mouth.

‘He should go to jail!’ I emphasized.

‘Throw away the key!’ shouted Mama.

‘How long do the sheriffs look for such skunks,’ demanded the Chinaman looking down at the young man.

‘Three days, I replied, ‘and then they give up.’

A smile like a wave on a sand dune swept his face. Our glorious unwritten constitution with expanded rights had protected us, and he would never steal again.

They were laughing until they wept, as I left to continue the book trade smelling like a joint.


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1 Comment so far

  1. Pete M on June 22, 2018 3:05 am

    Thanks Bo, great yarn

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