It was a cold Friday afternoon when two co-workers and I exited the Weston Centre and made our customary two-block walk to the parking lot on the corner of Pecan and Flores Streets.
This would be their first ride in my awesome ’96 GMC pickup, so we made it an adventure: Three carefree females bundled in the front seat of my beat-up truck with the heater on, jamming to some country music on the way to Taco Taco.
Some readers might wonder why a hand-me-down ’96 GMC pickup truck is worth a story, but I come from a hard-working Victoria family where cars and trucks are passed down from family member to family member and appreciated for what they are: reliable transportation at low cost. Not everyone can afford a fancy imported sedan, and not everyone wants one.
My first ride was a white ’00 Mercury Mountaineer that was later given to my second brother, who passed it down to his daughter/my niece.
I then inherited the family’s ’99 Ford Explorer. It was green and we called it The Exploder. It had been driven by my second brother and my Dad, and it was mine for less than a year before it was consigned to a shop and I was given the green ’96 GMC pickup truck.
The GMC pickup was a well-worn pass along, although the truck and I bonded over my many unforgettable experiences behind the wheel. Over the years it was driven by three of my brothers and my Dad, but it was always known in the family as “Morgan’s bad luck truck.”
I was handed my first speeding ticket in it. A girl backed into the driver’s door while I was sitting in it. I backed into a decorative boulder at a friend’s apartment complex. My first college roommate threw up in it. I rear-ended someone on the highway once. I actually kept a stick in the truck bed to fish out my keys whenever I locked them inside the truck.
That was the beloved truck I showed off to my girlfriends at Friday lunch. After a productive work lunch at Taco Taco we made our way to Kate’s Frosting for some Gingerbread and Red Velvet cupcakes, because we know how to treat ourselves. We returned to the parking lot around 1:30 p.m., what would prove to be the last time I would ever drive the Green Beast.
I left the office with my boss and a co-worker around 5:15 p.m., feeling the work week fall away behind me, a weekend vibe enveloping me as we strolled two blocks to the dreaded Laz Parking lot. An “oh shit” feeling hit me as I surveyed the nearly empty parking lot and realized my trusty, green eyesore was nowhere to be seen.
I immediately called the towing company, knowing even before anyone answered that the news would be bad. With a validated parking sticker in hand and a bad feeling deep in my gut, I knew my truck hadn’t been mistakenly towed. My mind slowly processed reality and the understanding that there is a first time for everything. I dialed SAPD to report a stolen vehicle.
SAPD Officer Felix Fraga drove up and my five foot self waved him down in the dark, abandoned parking lot. He wasn’t as happy to see me. I guess filing a standard report on a stolen vehicle wouldn’t be the highlight of his night – until he plugged in the VIN number on my pickup.
“Your plate has already been run this evening, only 15 minutes ago,” the perplexed officer said. He contacted SAPD Officer Alexander Johnson, who had run my plate. After a few minutes, Fraga came back to me and said, “I have good news and bad news. Which one do you want first?”
He delivered the bad news first: “Your vehicle has been chopped, but we caught the knuckleheads who stole it.”
Apparently, around 5:45 p.m. Johnson, a very wise and observant police officer, noticed two guys towing a chopped truck out of downtown and pulled them over out of suspicion. The handsomely competent officer couldn’t be fooled by the explanation, “we’re taking the truck to the shop to get fixed.” Johnson noticed that both of the guys were wearing layers of gloves, so he ran a background check on them and found pending arrest warrants. He correctly assumed that the actual owner would shortly report a stolen vehicle, confirming his suspicions. I wish I could give that man a firm handshake.
I asked Fraga, my reporting officer, “So does this happen often?” to which he quickly replied, “Not at all.” I’m not sure if his answer was very comforting.
Three and a half hours later, after signing papers and pressing charges, I made my way to P.F. Changs at Quarry Market to unwind and salvage a bad Friday night. I made small talk with the waitress while ordering a drink and some lettuce wraps. Another server came by and asked how our night was going.
“Well, she just got her car stolen,” my boyfriend light-heartedly replied. She looked at me for confirmation and I raised my drink in the air as if to say, “Cheers.”
A few minutes later Noelle, our main waitress came to our table and said she got wind about my car getting stolen. I told her the story and essentially laughed it off.
When it came time to pay the check, Noelle informed us she had asked her manager to comp the entire dinner bill. “I felt the need to do something for you. This was the least I could do in light of your current situation and lovely attitude.”
I still believe that the Weston Centre is “Downtown’s Best Address.” San Antonio has its fair share of crime, theft and moral turpitude, just like any other city, but it’s fundamentally a city of good people: the diligent officer who determined my truck was stolen even before I had reported it stolen, and who nailed the two thieves right in the act, and the good waitress, whose act of kindness for a stranger in a tough situation reminded me that putting people before business actually makes for good business. I wrote the best reviews for P.F. Changs and am definitely a loyal customer. Thank you, Noelle.
A few days later I made my way to the impounding lot, this time in a vehicle lent to me by my uncle. My truck was unrecognizable. I opened the door to assess the damage and that’s when the reality of what happened finally hit me, and with it came a flood of good memories I had in that old truck. A ’96 GMC might not get too many people excited, but it was mine, handed down from my Dad and then wrongfully stripped from me and my family, and I mean stripped: tailgate, transmission, A/C compressor, and everything inside the cab.
My Dad came up from Victoria and sold the leftover parts to a lot for $400. It’s not the fate we had in mind for our trusty family pickup. Yet good things did come out of the experience. We are grateful I wasn’t around the vehicle when it was stolen and stripped. We are fortunate to have friends, family and caring strangers to support us when life takes an unexpected turn for the worse.
One week later my Dad found his dream truck for sale in San Antonio. He would have never bought a newer vehicle (new to him is 10 years old), but I told him to invest in something that he wants, doesn’t require constant maintenance, and that he has surely deserved. Our story has a happy ending. He bought the truck and I am happily driving the green 99’ Ford Explorer until it breaks down…again.
And yes, my heart sometimes drops when I approach the parking lot two blocks from my building, followed by a sense of security and comfort when I see my vehicle sitting where I parked it, and knowing that I work in the heart of downtown San Antonio. Yes, we are fortunate.