Chris Orange said he wanted me to write an article for him, and, as usually, I happily obliged. 20% of the time he comes up with something really good. It’s one of the benefits of being the manager for Buckley Homestead County Park.
“This is messed up,” Chris Orange said, popping the DVD in the player and switching the TV to blue.
“That you’re using equipment from 2004?” I asked.
He brushed me off with a half-snicker, half-grunt, and then fiddled with the remote. Blue changed to a grainy view of his parking lot. The recent flood of snow had turned the entire park and his yard into a flat whiteout.
All I could see of any color was his blue work truck, a Ford F-150 with no steps, identical to the one I drove. Great truck, but crap for comfort. To save wear and tear on your knees, you had to half-lunge, half-topple into these behemoths, straightening yourself with help from the steering wheel.
“Time stamp says 4:30,” Chris said. “They came at 11-ish. Give or take.”
He skipped ahead on the DVD. The white snow turned grainy and gray. And at 11:07, I saw another truck pull slowly into the camera’s view. Its lights were off and it moved as slow as a glacier. It circled wide around the barn’s parking lot. The lot camera had switched to its black and white night camera. I couldn’t make out the color. “It’s a Ford,” I said. “I think.”
“Another F-150,” Chris said, “2009. I already checked. No idea of the color. They popped off their license plate before pulling in.”
The truck did a slow loop. If the tape had audio, I would have heard the tires crunch on the ground. It slowed and then stopped just beyond the Chris’s work truck.
As soon as it stopped, a figure hopped down from the passenger side. Jeans, dark jacket, and a one of those motorcycle style balaclavas with the single slit open for the eyes. He had it rolled up to just above his mouth. A stubby penlight jutted out of his mouth.
The figure suddenly head jerked his head up and looked directly at the camera.
“Creepy when he does that,” Chris said. “Especially for me. It means he’s been watching my comings and goings.”
“Yikes,” I said. “Twilight Zone creepy.”
Chris said, “Now watch him work. I’m half-pissed and half-impressed.”
The man dropped a long tool bag into the snow, then fell next to it, rolling neatly until he disappeared under the truck.
“Oh, s–t,” I said. “Your convertor?”
The damn catalytic convertors. A month ago, someone had plucked off the catalytic convertor from my work truck, slicing it off the exhaust pipe with a battery powered reciprocating saw, easy as warm butter. When I started the truck in the morning, the muffler rumbled like Jabba the Hut with a megaphone. I peaked under and saw only two blackened circles of metal where the convertor had once been. The three-mile drive to the shop had been excruciating. The F-150’s heavy-duty engine rumbled so loudly that it shook my fillings.
On the camera, under his truck, I saw the snow glow from the cutting sparks.
“It’s the sixth truck for the parks,” he said. “Yours was five. This is six. But it’s not just us.”
Without taking his eyes off the camera he grabbed a newspaper folded on top of the TV and handed it to me. The New York Times. An article with neatly blocked out in black ink. “Thieves Nationwide Are Slithering Under Cars, Swiping Catalytic Converters.“
“It’s not just me and you, or us and the parks, or even all across Indiana. It’s the entire world. From here to— Look at that. Less than 90 seconds,” he said and stabbed a finger at the television. “Here. China. Russia. Everywhere.”
The thief had rolled out from under the car again. He carried the powered saw in one hand and the familiar, foot-long catalytic convertor in the other. He tossed everything into the back of the truck, then hopped back in. Chris paused it just before his head disappeared into the truck.
“That dude knows what he’s doing,” Chris said. He snatched the newspaper out of my hand and stuck it back on the TV. “I’m not waiting for you to read the whole thing. I’ll give you a condensed version. The New York Times uses bigger words than you’re used to.”
I responded with something unprintable.
“Three metals. Platinum. Palladium. Rhodium—that’s pronounced row-dee-um—are in catalytic convertors. All rare metals. That’s why people take convertors in the first place. But right now, they’re not just valuable. They’re ultra-super valuable,” he said.
“Is that an economic term I don’t know,” I asked.
Chris ignored me. “Last year, palladium sold for $550 an ounce. It’s now worth almost twenty-five hundred. Rhodium was a little over $600 last year. Now, get this s—t, it’s worth over twenty grand. Twenty. Thousand. Dollars. An ounce. Gold is at $1800 an ounce right now.”
Once again, I said something I can’t print.
“Exactly,” Chris said. “But making money means doing it in bulk. One catalytic convertor has about 5 grams of each metal, if it’s a car or motorcycle. Larger vehicles—SUVs and trucks like ours— can have two or three times as much. And they’re a hell of a lot easier to get under. That dude…” Chris pointed at the paused screen. “Rolled under like he was going into a bouncy house.”
I typed into my phone. “28 grams to an ounce, so they’d have to get ten convertors—”
“Six CAR convertors,” he corrected me.
“To have an ounce of each.”
“Don’t hurt your brain with the math. About eight grand per convertor,” Chris said.
“If they go after trucks, maybe just five. This guy got mine in under 90 seconds. Pretty decent money for 90 seconds of work. Too decent. This isn’t going away anytime soon.”
I shrugged. “What the hell do we do? We can park our trucks inside the barns, but what does everyone who doesn’t have a garage do? Toss some shards of glass under the truck.”
Chris laughed. “That would be a little funny, but no. You can’t. Judges aren’t happy when citizens booby trap things. You’ve got to get creative. My cousin went around his shop yard, to each of the customers’ vehicles, and let out the air in their tires. Put them on their rims. Pretty hard to jack up a car sitting on its rims,” Chris said. “But we can’t all do that. The easiest solution is putting on a catalytic convertor guard. They’re on Amazon.”
“Between one hundred and two hundred. Pretty salty, I know, but it’s a lot cheaper than the one or two thousand dollars it will cost to replace the convertor,” Chris said. “Why don’t you put some pictures of them in your article? Or some links? However you do that stuff.”
“Will do,” I said.
“What else can you do?” I asked.
“The guard is the best bet, although anyone good at welding could probably weld the convertor to the car frame. Just a beading it a couple inches would be enough to piss off a thief. Park inside if you can. If not, at least park where its brightly lit. You could etch your VIN on the convertor.” He stared at the ceiling.
After a long moment, he continued. “I don’t know. A car alarm. Those still work. I can’t give you a creative, DIY solution. But don’t booby trap them, for God’s sake. You’ll get arrested too. Complain about rights all you want, it’s illegal to lay booby traps. That Kevin kid from Home Alone would still be rotting in jail in real life.”
I laughed. “All right,” I said. “I’ll put it out tomorrow.”
“What are you going to call it?” he asked.
“No idea. Titles are usually the last thing I write,” I said.
“Don’t get fancified. Call it ‘Someone’s Coming for Your Catalytic Convertor.'”
I jotted that down. “Anything else?” I asked.
“Nope. I’m done. You can go now,” he said. He brushed me away. “Just remind them a couple times that SUVs and trucks are the ones thieves really want.”
SUVs and trucks are the ones the thieves really want.