September 17, 2014

Little Details: Waiting for truth

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By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

To the person who vandalized my car:
I’m not sure what compelled you to zero in on my car. Was it its shiny silver color? Was it the eco-friendly hybrid designation? Was my purple Buddha bumper sticker a little too “crunchy” for your taste?
Maybe our often-used Thule bike rack taunted you from its perch on the trunk. Perhaps opportunity knocked in the form of a desolate parking lot. I’ll likely never know what compelled you to attack.
What you should know: I entered my car—unaware of its ravaged rear end—and drove 31.4 miles home. Only then did I see the damage you inflicted on my spiffy sedan.
In your quest to remove my bike-less rack, you mangled the trunk, stretching hinges and breaking the seal designed to protect innards from rain. Scratches and chipped paint added insult to injury.
The bike rack dangled by one cable. Three other stabilizers became unhinged en route due to the damage. I cringe when I think of how someone might have been injured if that rack fell off and landed in the road in front of an unsuspecting driver.
You exercised your brawn against a helpless little car whose mission in the automotive life is transporting my family safely to work, school and play.
After a long day at the office, all I really wanted to do was sit down, relax and share a quiet dinner with my husband. Instead, I sat at the kitchen table to call my insurer and file a claim. I asked if I should file a police report.
What a hassle. What unnecessary expense. What a pain.
My insurance company took the call and graciously recorded my claim. I’d be out a hundred bucks in a deductible. A claims adjuster examined the car within 36 hours, approved the repair and authorized coverage for a new Thule. Our family will be down a car for a week in August as the auto body shop replaces the entire trunk lid.
So, who are you, anyway? Are you an angry and frustrated teen or young adult? Were you trying to impress friends by displaying violent vigor—at my expense? Were you high or seeking to “steal and sell” to fund your next fix? Did someone hurt you, prompting you to intentionally damage someone else’s property?
Do you know the word for what you did? It’s called vandalism. The dictionary defines vandalism as the deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property.
Etymologists point out the historical origins of the word vandalism, prompting a short trip through Roman history. The Vandals were an ancient Germanic people who sacked Rome in the 5th century. They were held in particular scorn because they deliberately destroyed and defaced cultural items like statues and monuments. Somehow, the name stuck.
Did you know that some folks even study and track the actions and motives of present-day vandals? A 2010 survey conducted by the British insurer Direct Line revealed that four out of ten drivers experienced vandalism on their vehicles. The most common offenses were: keying (intentionally scratching a car with a key), 52 percent; broken side mirrors, 34 percent; smashed windows, 22 percent; snapped antennas, 20 percent; and snapped windshield wipers, 12 percent. I find some solace in knowing that ransacked bike racks and ravaged trunks fall somewhat lower in rankings of vehicular violence.
Do you know the estimated cost of the damage you caused? Two thousand two hundred dollars. That’s two cheap tickets to Europe, ten weeks of groceries at my house, and, possibly, someone’s mortgage payment. This cost is borne by me and anyone else who insures his or her vehicle.
Experiencing vandalism feels like an affront, a violation. Vandalism erodes quality of life as a community feels a little less trusting, a little less respected and a little less safe.
What wisdom does my Buddha bumper sticker offer? “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”
I’m waiting.
Katherine Bielawa Stamper, a Williston resident, was a 2013 finalist for the Coolidge Prize for Journalism. Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]

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