Saturday, April 30, 2016

Harold Lloyd in Wilton (N.H.) on Sunday, May 1; plus, all about my recent car break-in in Boston

Mildred Davis and Harold Lloyd in 'A Sailor Made Man' (1921), which I'm accompanying at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, May 1.

It's been an interesting week, with much of it spent dealing with the aftermath of a car break-in while I was down in Boston last Saturday.

But now performances beckon. First up: I'm doing music for a Harold Lloyd program on Sunday, May 1 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre. Hope to see you there!

After that, I welcome British silent film expert Amran Vance to the Manchester (N.H.) City Library on Tuesday, May 3. I'm accompanying a double bill that evening of 'The Cheat' (1915), an early Cecil B. Demille melodrama, and 'Shattered Dreams' (1918), a bizarre anti-Bolshevist propaganda film.

And then I head out to San Francisco, where I'm guest accompanist at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum on Saturday, May 7. On the program: 'The Square Deal Man' (1917), a Western starring William S. Hart as professional gambler Jack O'Diamonds. Not expecting much subtlety in this one, pardner.

But before all of this, here's an update on what happened in Boston on Saturday, April 23. Looking back, I kinda wish William S. Hart had been on hand for it.

Where's William S. Hart when you need him?

That day I drove to Boston for some non-silent-film business in the Kenmore Square area. It was such a beautiful early spring day, so I decided in advance that I would go for a run along the Charles River.

One reason for this: I'm pursuing a long-term project to run a minimum of 10K (or 6.2 miles) in all 50 states. I've been getting at least one each month since last December. So to keep the streak alive, I decided to tackle nearby Massachusetts this month, as I didn't expect to be going out-of-state otherwise.

And one more option: that night was the final concert of the 2015-16 season of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. So if I didn't feel like the run, another option was heading over to Symphony Hall and snagging a rush ticket to this gala affair. Maybe. We'll see.

So I ran my errand in Kenmore Square, then I returned to my car, which was parked on Bay State Road, a busy street right off Commonwealth Avenue. It was too nice not to go for a run. So I fed the meter through to 6 p.m.

And off I went, noting the dashboard clock time of 4:05 p.m., and taking only my keys and the moisture-wicking shirt on my back. (Yes, shorts and shoes too.) A knapsack in which I had my wallet, cellphone, and other things was stowed down under the front passenger seat. I also put my black satchel (a.k.a. my "man purse") in the same place.

I should mention that my Subaru Forester was crammed with all my musical gear: a full-size digital workstation and keyboard, a crate filled with cabling, two speakers, and other equipment. A big performance was coming up the next night, so I'd already loaded what I needed.

I made my way to the Mass. Ave. bridge and then down onto the Esplanade, a narrow park that runs along the south bank of the Charles, which at this point functions like a spectacular urban lake separating Boston and Cambridge.

And it was one of those days that everything about Boston looked and felt just perfect: bright sun, blue sky, sailboats crowding the Charles, the paths filled with people holding hands, pushing strollers, walking dogs, walking with walkers: the whole circle of life!

What the Esplanade looks like in spring. Photo by Ingfbruno.

The classy brick townhhouses of Back Bay rose just beyond the trees, which were just beginning to flower and bud. Further beyond rose the city's glass towers, lending a multi-layered feel to the dense urban landscape.

"You know," I thought, plodding downriver towards the Museum of Science. "You can go all around the globe and see the world's great cities. But on a day like this, Boston stands up to any of them!"

I actually laughed out loud. I felt giddy. How fortunate to be here on this beautiful day! I felt young, although I was easily at least twice the age of everyone around me.

This state of mild ecstasy kept me going for 8 miles—turning around at the Museum of Science, then all the way up to Harvard and doubling back.

Returning to where I started, I hauled myself over the Mass. Ave. bridge, eager to reach the oasis of my car. For one thing, I had stowed an egg bagel with olive and pimento spread in the glove compartment, and felt I really needed it. Plus some water. Plus my feet hurt.

I reached Bay State Road maybe about 5:30 p.m.—I'd know for sure when I checked the dashboard clock for my official "end" time. Ahead of me stretched the curving row of parked cars, al hugging the street. Striding forward, I pressed 'Unlock' on my key fob, expecting to hear the beep of my car's response.

Where I parked the car. Click to enlarge.

Nothing. Funny—but it's a busy city street. So I walk a but further, try again. Still no beep.

Hmm, I think—I must have parked further up than I thought. Sometimes a long run will do that to you.

Only when I reached the end of the block did I first get a sinking sense that my car might not actually be where I left it. And that it might not be there at all.

Almost by reflex, I rejected this absurd notion. I crossed the street, thinking I must have somehow gotten turned around and that the car was on the other side.

But it wasn't there either. From here, I scanned the area across the street where I now definitely remembered parking. The car just wasn't there.

It was gone!

And everything in it—my wallet, my phone, my credit cards, my camera, my driver's license, and so much else. And all the music equipment, with a performance scheduled for the very next day.

And me standing there, sweating and in running clothes, with just a set of keys, like some ape who just blundered into civilization.

I don't know who may read this. But whoever you are, I hope you don't ever have to experience the short but memorable sense of helpless panic that washed over me at that point. I really almost fainted right there on the street.

But again reflex took over: even as I marched back across Bay State Road, I somehow switched to "get 'er done" mode, perhaps as a defense mechanism to keep my mind off the huge questions of what had happened, where my stuff was, and if I'd ever see it again.

Okay, no car. Two young guys were standing on the sidewalk, chatting not far from where I thought my car was.

I apologized for butting in, but did they see anything unusual on this street in the past hour or so? Was there any action, like...well, I don't know, but my car is gone.

After what seemed to me like a very loooooong moment (but which probably wasn't), one said the magic word: YES.

Yes, a police cruiser was here for awhile, and they towed a car from right over there, he said, pointing to pieces of glass scattered along the curb.

Glass? I didn't have time to imagine how that came to be, as the other guy knew which police precinct covered the area and was already calling.

Within a minute I was on his phone with a Boston police dispatcher who confirmed that, yes, my car had indeed been towed.

Why? I fed the meter, I thought, still not able to put it all together.

Someone had smashed the passenger side front window, I was told. Also, a witness had left a note saying the guy had taken two bags from the car and fled the scene on a bicycle.

She even took this picture, which I got later on but will paste in now:

The thief from behind, right after the break-in. (Not the guy on the left walking towards the camera.

And my music equipment? The dispatcher said he'd check, then came back on the line to say he didn't know, but the car was driveable, though missing a window.

So I'd have to come down to the station to retrieve the car.

While on hold, I found myself thinking that I was fortunate to have connected with exactly the right police precinct so quickly.

With no ID, and no money, and ready to keel over after a long run, I might have quickly descended into lunacy at all the uncertainty.

The guy with the phone then let me call my wife back home in New Hampshire, who said she'd just gotten off the phone regarding a fraud alert on one of our credit cards.

About an hour earlier, she said, someone had charged about $610 at the Macy's store in downtown Boston, and then tried to pay for a $47 cab fare, which was declined and triggered the alert.

Could I explain what was going on?

I sure could. Somewhat.

There were other credit cards, but in my name only and all paperwork was at my office. So we'd just have to wait to find out if they'd been used.

For me, the first task was to get to the police station, which turned out to be in South Boston, rather far away: 650 Harrington Ave., a street I'd never heard of.

The phone guy showed me on a map: about 2 miles. There was some talk of buying me an MBTA pass, but I said I'd just walk it.

I got the directions fixed in my head, thanked them, and then marched off towards Mass. Ave.—me and my sweaty running clothes and keys.

A lot remained uncertain, but adrenaline was kicking in. There was a good chance my music stuff hadn't been taken, which was great. A guy on a bike can't easily carry a 70-lb. synthesizer.

On the other hand, I began to realize what was lost if my bags were indeed stolen. Besides the valuables, he got a journal with a year's worth of personal writing, a checkbook with five blank checks in it, the textbook of a college class I teach, some student papers, a day book in which I plan my life six months out, and a lot of other stuff.

On foot, it took seemingly forever to reach the Boston Police Department District 4 station. By the time I arrived, the sun was going down and a chill was in the air.

The officer who responded to the scene happened to be there (another lucky break), and she told me my musical stuff was still in the car.

Well, thank God!

In fact, that's why they had it towed. Sporting a broken window, they didn't want to leave it unattended and risk further larceny.

The bad news, however, was that the car wasn't at the police station. It was actually at a tow lot way out in Brighton, Mass.

So I'd need to get out there. Didn't I have a ride? No, I said—I had nothing.

But then another minor miracle—the officer asked me to go outside and meet her out back, and I'd get to the tow lot.

My escort to the tow lot.

So I did, and there she was, pulling up in a cruiser. I had to get in the back, which turned out to have plastic seats with a small amount of liquid sloshing around in them!

"It's just rain water," she said, seeing me hesitate. "The windows were left open when it rained."

So I lowered myself into an unnatural position, trying to keep my running shorts from coming into contact with the "water."

It didn't work. Every time the cruiser slowed for a stop, the water (which was cold) soaked into my shorts. Oh well, I thought. This too shall pass.

By now it was past 7:30 p.m. We were heading up Huntington Avenue when I realized we would go right by Symphony Hall—and there it was, on the left!

The view from a police cruiser.

Crowds of well-dressed people were arriving for the evening's gala concert, the finale of the 2015-16 season.

And I was present as well—passing Symphony Hall in the back of a police cruiser, exhausted and cold, and sitting in a puddle of cold water.

Nice! I thought back to high school, when I pondered being a creator of music. If you had told me then that at age 52 I would pass Symphony Hall in a police cruiser with a wet butt, I would have laughed. Ha ha!

And so I laughed now. The officer asked what was funny. "Nothing," I replied.

The tow yard was quite a ways out in Brighton on Soldiers Field Road. It was on a dismal street with the amazing name of "Goodenough Road." It was dark by the time we got there, but I was never so relieved as to see my vehicle, sporting a smashed window but otherwise looking okay.

Then more bad news: A woman barricaded in a trailer said it would cost $129 to get the car released. Cash only. No checks or credit cards.

So I was stuck. She did me call home to New Hampshire, and I told my wife she'd have to come down after all.

I looked over the car. The front seat was covered with shards of broken glass, which made sense because he smashed in the window.

Also, there was a handwritten note from Jenny, a BU student who witnessed what happened.

I began picking up what I could, depositing it carefully into a nearby dumpster but still getting one nasty glass splinter. Ouch!

And then I waited. With it getting cold, I started the car and turned on the heat. With cool air coming in through the open window, it kind of felt like camping out.

The wait was made bearable by two things: the discovery that the bagel was still in my glove compartment, and also the Boston Symphony concert being broadcast live on WCRB-FM.

So I settled in, listening to the BSO while sitting in a tow yard in a seat with glass still on it. But I didn't care.

My wife arrived about 9:30 p.m., bailed me out, and then we hit the road to New Hampshire. On Route 3, the roar of cold air blasting competed with the BSO playing Ravel's 'La Valse.'

That night, I went right to my office and stopped all the other cards. Fortunately, none had been used.

The next day I spoke with Jenny, and she sent me the photo. What surprised her, she said, was that people were walking right past, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening!

I thanked her for her willingness to get involved.

In the days that followed, I worked my way through the hassle of replacing my credit cards, getting a new driver's license, and so on.

I even put up notices online in the unlikely event the thief might be interested in the idiot he robbed, or if someone found my stuff in a ditch somewhere. So far, no takers.

I also talked with Boston police detectives, who told me "it's like a field day" for car break-ins around Kenmore Square.

But because of the photo, they've taken an interest in the case and are working with Macy's to try to get a better image.

We'll see. But it's unlikely that I'll ever see any of my stuff again.

I was actually hoping to go down the next day and cruise the area, looking to see if he'd dumped the bags somewhere, but wasn't able to.

Altogether, I'm out about $1,000, plus the time and hassle of dealing with this. As for insurance: the car window doesn't exceed the deductible on my auto policy, and the value of the stolen items doesn't exceed the deductible on my homeowner's policy. Oh well.

But on balance, I find myself still so thankful that the car itself wasn't stolen, and that everything in it (besides the bags) was untouched.

I'm also glad there are people like the gal who witnessed the break-in and called police. Thank you! And two guys willing to let a sweaty stranger use their phone—thank you.

Thanks also to the outpouring of support from so many people.

And I have to say, dealing with the Boston Police really exceeded my expectations.

When I first realized my car was actually gone, I had no idea what it would be like to deal with the police department of a big city. I was steeling myself for—well, something less than Sheriff Andy Taylor of the Mayberry P.D.

But everyone—from the guy who first answered the phone at District 4 to the detectives still working the case—has been great to deal with.

On balance, I would have preferred to skip the whole experience. But all these people I encountered made it a lot easier to take than it might have been.

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