Summer 2002: our first summer of full-time living in our new motor home on the Oregon Coast! My husband Bob and I had been moving gradually up the coast in our slow, snail-like fashion, and were camped just south of Florence. We’d been experiencing either smoky or cloudy weather. Although clouds and mist are typical on the Oregon Coast, the smoke came from the lightning-caused Biscuit-Complex Fire that burned half a million acres that summer. We’d often see huge fire cumulus clouds in the east. Sometimes ashes would fall like rain throughout the day.
A perfect day: This Saturday dawned clear and sunny, with a few billowy natural cumulus clouds – a wonderful day to explore! So off we went in our tow car, a Hyundai Elantra, stopping here and there along the coast, taking short walks, and enjoying the scenery. I’d taken my leather backpack-purse, but didn’t really need it at the stops we were making. So I took out my camera and put the purse in the trunk, looking around to make sure no potential thieves were lurking. We walked to an ocean overlook, then back to the car and took off up the coast.
Our next stop was Heceta Beach, by Driftwood Shores Resort. On this beautiful sunny day, there were only a few parking spaces left on the state beach parking lot. We took one on the end of a row of cars, so there’d be less of a chance of someone banging their car door into our shiny gray new car. We walked down to the beach, where people were strolling and dogs were gamboling. It was midday and getting a bit hazy, with mist from the breakers moistening the air. Almost intoxicated by the warm sea breeze, we walked at leisure, approaching Heceta Lighthouse in the distance. An hour later, we turned to head back to the car.
A startling discovery: As Bob unlocked the front doors with the remote key, I stepped on shattered glass next to the passenger side, and couldn’t believe what I saw. The passenger window was gone, more glass tinkling down inside the door as I exclaimed and opened it. The glove box was hanging open. We quickly discovered that Bob’s camera, lying covered on the floor of the back seat, and our $2000 "brake buddy" in its plastic container on the back seat, were still there. As Bob popped the trunk and I looked inside, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach; my purse was gone.
Our immediate hope was that maybe the thieves had found the cash (about $25) and thrown the purse out nearby, with credit and debit cards, gift cards, checkbooks, driver’s license, RN license, ALL our camping membership ID cards, and address book still in it. Fat chance. We walked around looking under bushes and in trash containers, to no avail. As we drove back to Florence, I kept looking by the side of the road, vainly hoping to spot my purse, which had been a gift from my mother, my favorite and only purse. We followed the "Police" sign to a side street in Florence. The police station was locked and looked closed. It was before 5 pm, and we’d seen that the library down the street appeared to be open. The librarian, sympathetic to our tale of woe, made some phone calls. She found out that since our car had been broken into outside of city limits, we’d need to go see the state police, whose office was north of town, where we’d come from. She spoke to an officer there, who told her to have us come on over. As we drove up, he appeared just about to take off in his patrol car, but when we gesticulated wildly to him, he got out of his car and invited us in his office. He shared with us that "car clouts" are very common on the Oregon coast, and even more so with the slashed state budget, decimating the ranks of state patrol officers. Druggies looking for quick cash make a coastal run, breaking into one car per community and taking what they can get. Another car had been broken into earlier that afternoon beachside a little further north. He told us they move fast, trying to avoid confrontations. I filled out the police report, but he was skeptical. I gave him our cell phone number anyway just in case my purse would turn up.
The two tasks that remained to us which would take up the next three days were (#1) phoning all our cards, banks, etc. so that they could be stopped and accounts changed, and (#2) getting the car window fixed. No body shops on the coast; the nearest were in Eugene, so we drove there Monday, called around from the Visitor Center checking prices, and got our window replaced.
Lessons learned: We were lucky; it could have been so much worse. We stopped leaving valuable items in the back seats. I learned never to leave my purse in the trunk. I learned to slim down and take only essentials with me when touring in the car. Bob disabled the lever that pops the trunk open from beside the driver’s seat. That’s how they’d gotten in. Alarms didn’t ring because only the car doors were alarmed, not the windows, not the trunk. We also reconsidered parking at the end of rows of cars. Scratches and dents on the side of a car are not as bad as shattered windows and stolen valuables.
A happy post script to the story: One of the things that made me the saddest about the theft of my purse was the loss of over $100 left on a Copeland Sports gift card, a going-away gift from co-workers. I’d been told gift cards are like cash; when they’re lost they’re gone. At the Eugene Copeland’s a few weeks later, an exceptional employee went out of his way to see what he could do to re-issue the card. Apparently they’re tracked, and since I knew who and where the card was bought, he found the balance had NOT been cashed in, cancelled it, and promptly issued me a new one.