I probably shouldn’t have been going to my car. It was 12:30am. Happy hour had begun at 6:15, and the drinks had continued through dinner and into the early hours of tomorrow. My bride was texting every hour or so to make sure I knew I could rely on her to pick me up–because she didn’t want me to drive–but still…I didn’t want to leave my car in valet with my drycleaning in the back seat, and my briefcase containing the MacBook I use to run my firm in the back floorboard. So, I asked my friend Sarah to give me a ride the few blocks from the bar to the restaurant where I’d left my car, as it was cold outside.
My car sat with one other, but there was no sign of the valet. Again, it was 12:30am. Shadows passed behind us and headed toward the street. I got out of her Volvo SUV and called out to four young men who seemed to have come from behind the restaurant , because weren’t the valet guys young black men? I couldn’t recall for sure, but I wanted my keys and to go home to my wife. So I called out to the group of young men in puffy winter coats honoring sports teams (except for the one in a woodlands camouflage exactly like the one issued to me in the Air National Guard in 2005 or so).
They stopped. I apologized for stopping them, but didn’t they just come from the restaurant? And where do they put the keys after the valet stand closes? They turned around; I saw a couple of their faces. They were young–looked like some of our eldest’s friends, in fact–guys who’d normally be in shoulder pads or letterman jackets. One said if I walk inside the front door, keys are hung just inside the door. I nodded. They stared.
I felt uncomfortable. I was a good 40 yards from Sarah’s SUV, and there was no one else in sight. It was cold. These guys didn’t seem like nice kids (young men?). I turned around and galloped back toward the restaurant; I tried the door. It opened. I looked at the host’s stand and saw no keys. I slid the little wooden panel to the side to reveal the lectern’s contents–no keys.
“Hello?” I yelled to emptiness.
I walked further into the restaurant. Chairs were on top of tables. All was quiet. I went into the kitchen and saw a man dressed in plastic spraying something to clean the cooking equipment. He said there’s an office in back and that the manager is in there but I should step back, so I didn’t get what he was spraying onto my clothes. I wound my way into the back and found a man on a computer; I told him I needed my key; he produced it and asked my name and for a description of my car. Satisfied, he handed me the key.
We walked back to the front door, and he told me I’d scared him…the door should have been locked; I shouldn’t have been able to get in.
Then we saw Sarah. She was shaking. Standing just inside the restaurant. Tears in her eyes. “I just got car jacked.”
It didn’t register at first. I looked out at the parking lot, wondering why she wasn’t still sitting in her SUV waiting to make sure I was able to get to my car.
“I thought it was you opening my passenger side door. I was looking at my phone for a few minutes while I waited to make sure you were able to get your key. It was those guys–the ones you were just talking to–they must have turned around and come behind my car…I heard the door open and a voice said to get out of the car..I looked up and he was pointing a black handgun at my face. I couldn’t move…I was frozen to my seat. He grabbed my purse from my lap and again said to get out of the car while shoving the gun at me. I opened the door and ran to the side before realizing there was nowhere to go that direction, so I circled back toward the restaurant to go inside as they drove around the parking lot after me. He yelled at me to give him my phone, but I didn’t…they drove away in my car.”
The manager and I immediately made calls to security, the police, amex, suntrust banking, etc. The security guard who’d asked my wife and me to leave her store’s parking lot just 24 hours before (after the Bon Jovi concert) showed up. Several minutes later, the police came, and Sarah had to relive the event again and again to each police officer who came and each customer service representative we reached to cancel her cards or alert her car insurer.
The cops and security guard eventually left. The manager repeatedly apologized, even though the restaurant had been closed for over 2 hours by the time we showed up. He asked Sarah to please bring her family one night for dinner on him. We got into my car.
I dropped her off about 2:30am. She relieved her sitter and waited on her brother to come stay at her house, as she was concerned about the robbers’ having her house key and address now, and her husband was traveling this week.
I got home just shy of 3am. I told my bride I couldn’t believe I was alive.
Why didn’t they rob me when they had the chance? What if the restaurant door had been locked like it should have been? Why didn’t I just take a cab home or let my bride come get me, instead of putting Sarah and me in harm’s way?
My wife’s store is a few hundred yards from the restaurant parking lot where we’d just been. She regularly closes at 10 or 11 at night to go out to her car by herself. A few hours ago, however, she announced that she’s closing it after more than 3 years in business and dozens of accolades (for reasons independent of this event, of course). Frankly, I couldn’t be happier.