Car Thieves in Italy
For a long time I’ve felt that in many ways, Naples is totally underrated. Instead of finding plazas filled with selfie-stick hauling loiterers and shops packed with magnets and high prices, Naples is rough and authentic and delightfully does little to cater to tourists. For this and other reasons (read: PIZZA) it’s awesome and as a visitor I’ve loved the opportunity to see real-Italy as I haven’t elsewhere.
This week my work trip to Naples began as any other and was completely uneventful – until Tuesday night. Around 9PM I ventured to a local pizzeria for dinner. I parked my rental car outside the restaurant on a fairly busy road, 20-30 feet from the entrance, and ducked inside. I grabbed a table on the covered terrace in front of the restaurant, not far from their brick oven, and guzzled down a liter of water as I waited for my meal. The heat wave in Italy this week was a doozy!
Since I was alone it took about 30 minutes from start to finish – a quick appetizer of melon and mozzarella followed by yummy saffron pasta with zucchini. Lingering wasn’t an option in the heat and neither wine nor tiramisu seemed appealing. I paid my bill at the register and promptly left.
Outside the restaurant the street was completely empty.
I’d heard this could happen, especially in Southern Italy. But no, I couldn’t believe it. I wiped around, ran back into the restaurant and held my keys in the air, yelling “My car is gone! My car is gone!”. Fishing in my purse I realized that I had left my cell phone in the glove box. The pizzeria suddenly roared to life as the owner, wait staff and cooks quickly congregated in the middle of the restaurant, seemingly yelling at each other in Italian. I later learned that this wasn’t the first theft or break-in outside the restaurant in the past few weeks so incidents like mine are terrible for business.
Fifteen minutes passed slowly while I recounted the color, make and model of the car to everyone in the room, each time pointing to the plastic wrapping of my bottled water as a reference for the unique bright blue paint job.
People were on the phone, an English-speaking shop owner from down the street was called in to help translate and I paced the room. Where were the police?! Another 10 minutes passed and I motioned to the guy running the brick oven, asking to use his phone. He agreed and for 5 minutes I slowly finagled together a frantic message on the Italian keyboard asking for help from my colleagues and Dan. Thankfully on the other end my contacts quickly sprang into action and I read messages between them as they reached out to our local office for assistance. Another 20 minutes passed and still the police were yet to be seen. Perhaps the pizzeria shop was in on the theft and hadn’t actually contacted anyone? Or was this incident so commonplace it didn’t justify a visit?
Finally, a liaison from my company arrived and I recounted the entire evening to him on one of the checkered tables on the terrace. Satisfied with my statements, we made our way to his car, exiting the pizzeria still full of raucous yelling. As an afterthought, I pointed to my parking space as we exited and we observed shattered glass all over the ground.
And for the most part, that was it.
The following day I recounted the event a few more times to Avis and the Carabinieri (Italian police). I learned that while I had been pointing out the right shade of blue on my plastic water bottle, an alert had been dispersed for the Naples police force to be on the lookout for the vehicle.
From what I gathered though, there was a sincere doubt that anyone would see the car again. Car thieves are truly experts in the business and likely were already stripping and selling the car while I filling my parents in over Skype that night. For a few moments Dan thought he’d solved the case when he logged into my iCloud account and choose ‘Find my iPhone’ – he could literally see the precise intersection where it was located! Talking to him via Gchat at the time, I knocked over a chair as I raced around my hotel room to find the number of the police. I returned to my laptop to find him dismayed, “Oh, that was for your Macbook, not your iPhone…” The Macbook that I was actually using to communicate with him! Ha! On airplane mode since I’d departed Germany, we realized that my iPhone was surely gone for good.
If there are any takeaways from my experience then it’d be this:
1. ALWAYS ensure you have full coverage rental car insurance – whether it be a combination of insurance with your credit card, personal auto insurance or purchased through the rental car company, just make sure you have it. Had I not purchased full insurance then I would now be responsible for paying for a new rental car out of pocket. Instead, Avis prorated my rental fees to account for not having a car for the final few days of my rental – amazing!
2. If you find yourself in trouble abroad (hopefully never!) then keep in mind that the way the incident is handled while likely be VERY different from what you’d expect in your home country. I wasted a lot of unneeded stress balancing what I expected to happen versus what was actually happening. Lesson learned.
3. Stay calm. (Yes, I know, this is the worst advice ever and so much easier said than done!) Eventually, everything will be worked out. Eventually. Remember that.
Finally, what happened to me could indeed happen anywhere. In no way am I discouraging traveling to Naples, simply advising caution when doing so! I look forward to returning one day but you can bet I’ll have car insurance when I do!
With two weeks left before repatriating back to the US, I’m now down a cell phone and using Dan’s to check Instagram. Since I don’t want to buy a new phone now (looking at you, iPhone 7!) or start a new contract to get one for free, I’m totally disconnected – and it’s kind of awesome! Cheers to you, Europe, for keeping things interesting right up until the final minute!
Note: The pizzeria pictured above is not where my car was stolen – I was far too distracted at the time to take a picture of the scene. This is just another restaurant in Naples added for improved storytelling! 😉