Published On: Sun, Feb 2nd, 2014

Lost in Yucatan

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It was only a three-day sight-seeing trip, but its effects would be felt for months.  Before Mrs. dePlume and I took off to Havana, we parked her beat-up Plymouth Voyager around the corner from our office in the Centro and found someone to care for our cats.  Worry-free, we boarded the aging jet to Cuba, where we would visit art museums and galleries and eat great Chinese food in what is probably the tiniest Chinatown in the world.

On the Monday after our return, as we approached the office, I noticed something missing.

“Where’s your car?” I asked Mrs. dePlume.  “Didn’t we leave it right there?”  Sure enough, what was once a poor excuse for a minivan was now a newer pickup truck.  Either the minivan had transformed itself into a Chevy pickup, or someone had stolen it — options, it seemed to me, that were equally implausible.  Who would want to steal that thing when there was much more attractive booty all around?  Seriously, if I were going to steal a car, I wouldn’t choose one that appeared to be on its last legs.  Imagine the thing breaking down while you were in the middle of a joyride, if joyride was indeed the appropriate term.

Nevertheless, theft being marginally more plausible than spontaneous transformation, we decided that our next step would be to report the missing van to the police.  If it were in fact stolen and taken to a chop shop for the removal and recycling its vital organs, at least we could file an insurance claim and eventually replace the van with something more roadworthy.

Now, filing a police report in Merida (and presumably other parts of Mexico as well) can be an all-day affair, and is not for the impatient.  In fact, I suggest you bring lunch and refreshments, because you will be shunted from one office to another, with lots of waiting time in between.  The ordeal is further complicated if your Spanish is challenged, because in that case you will have to relate your story in English, wait while it is being translated, then wait some more for it to be notarized.

Needless to say, Mrs. dePlume returned from her ordeal emotionally drained, but at least the police report had been filed, and in a few short weeks we would be able to file an insurance claim.  Already we were considering replacement vehicles.

But alas, that was not to be.  A week after filing the police report we were walking to a restaurant two blocks from the office, when I noticed a familiar sight parked on a side street.

“Isn’t that your car?” I asked.

“How can that be?  That’s impossible.  We didn’t park it here.  Or did we?”

“Try your key,” I suggest, and behold, the key doth unlock the door.

“How can this be?  Who would steal a car, drive it two blocks, then park it and lock it?”

There was no evidence the car had been hot-wired, and nothing was missing from the car’s interior.  If this was a theft, it was the strangest theft in the annals of crime.  I was starting to suspect something more nefarious, something to do with our weird neighbor whose house we had parked in front of, but I put that aside for the moment and suggested to Mrs. dePlume that she will need to report the car unstolen.

“Geez, I just spent all day reporting it stolen.”

“Well, you’d better do it soon, otherwise you’ll be driving around in a ‘stolen’ car,” I nagged.

“Yeah, yeah, all right.”  Mrs. dePlume does not respond well to nagging, so I let it drop for the time being.  Over the next few weeks I reminded her again about the need to report the car unstolen, but her response was the same each time.  I finally let it drop for good, figuring it wasn’t my problem anyway.

About a month after the “theft,” during one of Mrs. dePlume’s trips out of town, she received a call from her good friend Ruby, an expat living part-time in Merida.  It seems that Ruby’s car was in the shop, and she wondered if she could borrow Mrs. dePlume’s van while she was out of town.

“Sure, why not? ”  What could possibly go wrong?  So Ruby swings by the office, picks up the car keys, and drives off in a cloud of smoke.

Two days later, Mrs. dePlume receives another call from Ruby.

“Your car’s been stolen.”


“I parked it down the street from my house last night, and this morning it was gone.”

It shook the very foundations of credibility that the van had been stolen in the first place, but twice?  That was even beyond plausible.

There followed a month of inquiries and sleuthing as we searched for the van at all the impound yards, but it was the police who contacted us first.  They called to tell us that our stolen van had been found, parked on the street (on Ruby’s street, of course), and that we could come and pick it up at our convenience.

When Mrs. dePlume went to collect the car (only a half-day affair this time), the investigating officer mentioned that it was very unusual for a stolen car to be left legally parked and locked.  Usually they are simply abandoned at the whim of the thief, wherever they happen to be at the time.

“Yes, that is strange, isn’t it?” Mrs. dePlume managed to mutter.


We never did find out for sure who had been responsible for the original “theft,” but my suspicion remains with the fussy neighbor around the corner from the office.  He had often complained to me about people parking in front of his house, and had even warned me that I should be careful where I park my car, since someone in the neighborhood has been known to “key” vehicles parked in this area. (Gee, thanks for the heads up).  I suspect he had grown tired of the van parked by his curb, and had simply called a tow company and had it towed to the nearest available parking space, exactly where we had found it.


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