This nightmare-inducing scene happened to me. Here’s what to do if it happens to you.
Are you a gigging musician with an instrument or rig that requires a car to transport? If you’re reading this now, I want you to stop reading, go make sure your car is parked where you left it, and if so, do the following: remove any and all instruments, music stands, music folders (lest $500 worth of hand-copied music end up in a Jack-in-the-Box dumpster somewhere), and anything else of remote value – spare car insurance cards, parking receipts you need to save for tax-deductions, etc. Get in the habit of this – never leave any gear in the car at any time NO EXCEPTIONS! About 3 months ago, I had the good sense to implement this policy and it made getting my car stolen a pretty major nuisance, but not a huge devastation.
Here’s the thing that I didn’t realize: no matter how crappy my car looks, no matter how much of it is held together with duct-tape, no matter how many gigs I do that I’m mortified to be seen with it – to some people, it looks like a convenient, luxurious carriage fit for a king to shoot up in or hit up the local am-pm. Fun fact: according to the po-po, cars made before 1999 are waaaaay easier to break into. Since the majority of working musicians I know drive cars old enough to be attending college, I figure this is helpful information to know.
So hypothetical scenario: let’s say you’re loading up your gear for a gig that starts in about an hour. You get outside and go to where you last parked and your car’s not there. Here’s what you do:
- If there are other places you usually park, make a brief check there. But if you’re 100% sure of where you parked last, you can’t waste time searching the neighborhood in denial.
- Speaking of that, you don’t have time for denial (“This can’t be happening!”), bargaining (“Maybe my boyfriend moved it as a prank” – he didn’t), shutting down (“I’m just going to go inside and crawl into fetal position”), or any other stage of grief. Ovary-up and move onto the next step.
- Call your bandleader ASAP and let him or her know what happened. If public transportation or Uber are not feasible options (which they aren’t for me), you’re going to need to get a lift from someone. In my case, it was a duo gig with a (totally amazing) pianist who lived nearby and rushed over in her own college-aged Subaru station wagon to pick me up. I’ve always been good about getting the phone number of at least one other musician on a gig, but this is going to get me to start asking for folks’ numbers (particularly those who live nearby) like the most brazen of male bar patrons. It also doesn’t hurt to have the venue’s telephone number saved in your phone – although my bandmate was the one to call in to tell them we were going to be a little late.
- Don’t worry about reporting the theft to the police just yet. I tried to report mine while I was waiting for my bandmate to pick me up. They need to send out an officer at the time of the report and you don’t have time for that right now. I also discovered that there’s no real time limit for reporting a car theft – being as it’s a car and not a small child.
- If you want to do something while you wait, write down what time you last saw the car and what time you realized the car was missing – both the police and insurance will ask you for that information. Also, if you don’t have your license plate number memorized, you’ll have to go through your files or inbox to find it. I ended up using my receipt from my license tabs to get the number. If you’re not immediately finding it (i.e. if you’re not anal-retentive about organization like me), just wait till after the gig.
- If you have a partner, family member, or friend with a copy of the car key, you’ll need to call them to make sure they didn’t do anything with it. I’m also assuming that if you’re close enough to someone to give them a copy of your car key, he or she would be the first person you’d want to tell about the theft. The police will ask you if anyone else has access to the car, so you’ll need to let them know you’ve checked in with the other parties. In my case, my boyfriend gave me a confounded, “Why would I move your car without telling you?” even though I made it clear I was asking as a formality, not because I suspected him of it. It did prove a little bit helpful because he’d dropped by that morning on the way to meet some friends and found it odd that my car wasn’t parked in its usual spot. Because of that, I was able to give the police a 12-hour window for when the car could’ve been taken.
- Go do your gig. If no gear was taken, nobody was hurt, and you have car insurance, you’ll be fine. Put it out of your mind as best possible. When you get home and unload your gear, take some kind of pm medicine to help you get to sleep. You’re going to need to get up early.
- First thing in the morning, call your local, non-emergency number to report the theft. Be sure you have your license plate number, year/make of the car, and timeframe. You’ll have to go through a gratuitously long options menu and wait 10 minutes to get an operator, just deal. Once they take your information, they’ll send an officer out to take a report.
- The police report should take even less time than the phone report and will cover the same information. They may kindly suggest you get a Club™. If you have overprotective parents, they will kindly offer to pay for a monthly parking spot in a secure garage.
- The final step is to file a claim with your car insurance company. I may or may not have taken a 2-hour nap in between filing the police report and calling the insurance company because the latter was way less pressing than the former… The insurance will have an even more gratuitously long options menu and take even longer to get through. You’ll need all the information you gave to the police, plus your case number from the police report.
- Now you wait. The police told me to expect to wait around 4 days to get the car back, but that it could take up to a month. I don’t have high-roller insurance, so I can’t get a rental car. Once I decompress a little bit more, I’ll begin the arduous task of arranging rides to and from gigs and rehearsals. I know that I have enough wonderful, generous people (with large cars) in my life that this shouldn’t be any kind of problem.
- Now it’s time for reflection. If you’ve taken the precautionary steps mentioned above (no gear in the car, have bandmates digits, and have information about the car/insurance), you should be fine. Obviously, this is a huge pain in the ass, but it’s fixable. I think for a lot of musicians, getting their car stolen before a gig is a terror-inducing, nightmare scenario. In a strange way, it’s empowering to experience worst-case scenarios and realize that they’re not actually that bad. This is going to force me to be more vigilant and to finally get insurance for my instruments (which I’ll probably end up writing a how-to blog post about as well). By preparing for and dealing with real risks, I’ll be more likely to take artistic and professional “risks” where the only possible negative outcome is a bruised ego.