Sometimes, actual events can be stranger that anything the mind can reasonably conjure. And sometimes, those real happenings can shed light on far larger issues and trends.
So please indulge me a personal story. I promise it will surprise you and be worth your read. In this case, my micro experience points the way to the macro problems confronting all of us.
It all begins innocently enough on an early February evening. My wife and I were driving home after a delicious dinner we had brought and shared with an elderly friend. That friend was a former first lady of Colorado. Which is entirely beside the point.
On this icy night, we were stopped at an east Denver intersection, waiting for the light to turn. Though I never saw the car coming from behind and only heard the crash, the other car had been moving much too fast for the conditions. With bald tires, to boot.
The important news is that neither Tracy nor I were injured. Neither was the young driver of the other car who was at fault.
Of course, we exchanged driver’s license and insurance information. All standard procedure. I was gingerly able to drive our car home, the other car was more badly damaged and needed a tow.
Now things got interesting and deviated from the usual. A couple of days later, in talking with the other driver’s insurance company, I learned that her coverage had lapsed for non-payment of premiums. She had been driving uninsured.
Our insurance company stepped up and provided coverage through our uninsured motorists clause.
I took my car, a 2019 Hybrid RAV4, to a body shop near Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. The damage estimate was in the ballpark of $4,000, not all that much. My expectation was that it would be there a week and all would be fixed.
Au contraire. It seems there is this little issue called the supply chain. The estimate for getting two new panels for my car was two to three months. That estimate later changed to somewhere between mid-summer and never.
In the meantime, I went in search of a rental car, to be covered by my insurance company. But there is another little issue in that there are virtually no cars available. I was offered a 16-passenger van which I politely declined. Three weeks later, I finally secured a Jeep Wrangler that I have been driving since, even if I don’t exactly fit that demographic.
Hang on. We are just warming up. Now a difficult story gets plain bizarre.
Given the endless delay in obtaining parts, the owner of the auto body shop gained insurance company approval to install used parts. The repair was almost complete and I was getting ready to pick up my vehicle two weeks ago.
When a couple of days before doing so, my car was stolen out of the shop in the wee morning hours. It was quite the operation and anything but an amateur job.
Security footage shows three men inside the shop, calmly, routinely going about their business. All were heavily armed, one sporting an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
Meanwhile, others in the crew patrolled the perimeter of the building and were there to drive off the stolen booty. In the end, they absconded with four cars, including mine, along with much of the shop’s equipment and keys to dozens of other vehicles.
That same night, another shop a mile or two away in Northfield was similarly hit. In the week since, there have been nearly identical reports out of Arvada and other locales.
Even if I had grown ready to move on from this RAV4, it was located within a couple of days. Turns out that mine was the only one of this batch of stolen vehicles with GPS tracking capability. The low-life robbers, clearly professionals, realized that, too, and abandoned it. Lucky me.
The Aurora police staked it out for nearly 24 hours before taking it into custody for the full CSI treatment. Now, two weeks later, I am getting ready to retrieve it. To add insult to injury, I will be charged nearly $200 as a towing fee.
That is the saga. Let me suggest that it has meaning beyond just the massive headache and recent sense of personal violation.
Let’s count all that it reveals.
First, there is the very real problem of far too many people driving without insurance. Shame on them.
Next, the supply chain mess is all too real. In my case, a rather simple, basic, relatively low-cost repair became an extended adventure over multiple months.
Whether it is a function of high-tech chips or broader issues, those supply chain hiccups also result in virtually no inventory of cars to rent or to buy. Good luck to anyone in need of either a rental car or new wheels.
Then, with utter predictability, that limited supply has led to very substantial inflation. The rental car you used to be able to get for maybe $40 per day is now several times that. The car market is upside down. Used cars of rather recent vintage now cost almost as much as new cars.
During the months while my RAV4 sat at the body shop and a police imposed lot, it actually gained a few thousand dollars of value, per Kelley Blue Book.
Finally, we come to the issue of escalating crime and that feeling shared by far too many of worrisome insecurity and something badly amiss. Colorado now leads the nation in auto theft, a dubious honor, for sure.
Mohamed Mouaddine, the Moroccan immigrant and quality human who runs Amina Auto Repair, reports that his office manager no longer feels safe showing up in the early morning and that at least one of his staff is now carrying a gun for self-defense. In recent days, Mouaddine has made the sad decision to close his Aurora shop at the end of May due to repeated criminal incidents across the area.
Life grows more coarse; businesses close; all of us suffer the decline of community welfare and simple decency. A prominent Denver television reporter remarked to me in a private text, “Feels like the thin blue line has dissolved in so many ways.”
Welcome to Colorado and the US of A., circa 2022.
Eric Sondermann is a Colorado-based independent political commentator. He writes regularly for Colorado Politics and the Gazette newspapers. Reach him at EWS@EricSondermann.com; follow him at @EricSondermann.