SLAM on the side of the RV
Harder this time.
It’s 4am. I leap into motion. This is not a police officer—a police officer would have announced himself before breaking a window. I was being robbed. beepbeepbeepbeep* - my gun safe door springs open and I grab my 9mm handgun from its resting place, touch the bottom to ensure the clip is inside.
As I put the gun in my left hand behind my back I use my right to draw back the curtain that prevented shattered glass from spraying all over my home. I see a hand reaching in through the broken window reaching for the lock.
“What are you doing!?”, I scream at a woman in a trench coat.
She recoils, obviously not expecting anyone to be in the vehicle. “Where’s my shit?” she yells back at me.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Where’s my shit?!” she yells again.
“I don’t have anything of yours!”
“I gave you a half pound of marijuana and I want my money or my shit back!” she exclaims.
“I don’t have any drugs. You’ve got the wrong person. Please leave.” I’m amazed at how calm and composed I am at this moment.
This goes on for what seemed like minutes but I’m sure was only a few seconds.
My heart is racing.
She makes a quarter turn away and looks back with a confused look on her face. “You sure you don’t have my shit?”
“Yes. Please leave.”
“Yes. Please leave.”
…and it continues like this for a few more iterations when she finally starts walking away. I think the confrontation is over but she takes 3 steps, turns around and keeps at it for a few more times. Apparently she really thought I had her shit.
The Call for Help
When I’m sure the perpetrator is gone I move over to where my traveling companion for the week is sitting and ask her if she’s OK. She nods at me and grabs my arm as I dial 9-1-1. I think to myself how thankful I am that nobody was hurt in the altercation and that I didn’t have to use force to protect my property and friend. The operator picks up the phone after what seems like too many rings for an emergency dispatch phone line.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”.
“I’m in downtown Columbia near Art Bar and my vehicle’s window was just smashed in by a homeless person looking for drugs.”
“Did you see the perpetrator?” the voice asks.
“Yes, I did. I was in the vehicle when it happened.”
The 9-1-1 operator then snaps out of “helpful” mode and into “judgy” mode and with a quizzical tone asks, “How did that happen?”
I reply, “I was sleeping in it. It’s a large van/RV.”
The rest of the conversation was a blur but she seemed super unhelpful, even annoyed when I didn’t know my exact location. She asked what type of vehicle I was in twice.
My heart was still pounding and this operator wasn’t making things better.
The Police Report
After turning on my blinkers at the request of the operator we emerge from the RV, stepping over the shattered glass onto the sidewalk of downtown Columbia, SC. It’s been raining and the air is dense and humid. A minute later there was a police officer making a U-turn to pull up behind the vehicle.
It was mostly standard procedure after that. He assessed the situation, asked us what happened, asked for a description of the woman, gathered my personal information—license, vehicle registration, etc.—and talked to me about insurance issues. He even got a plastic bag and helped tape up the space where the window used to be. The police officer was way nicer and more empathetic than the 9-1-1 operator.
When we told him we were in town for a tech conference his response was, “Wow, I hate to see out-of-towners get this kind of impression of our city.” I thanked him and let him know I had been there numerous times before and always had a great experience.
The officer didn’t seem to care that we were sleeping in my RV on the downtown city street. He commented about how he “hadn’t seen a neat converted van like this in quite a while”. We even talked about skydiving a bit after he saw a sticker on one of the non-broken windows. He gave me a case number and asked which direction the woman had taken off to. I pointed in a general direction, but after 30+ minutes I didn’t expect he would find her. Once the officer left I found a rock on the ground on top of shattered glass that I could only assume she had used to bash in the window. A few days later I realized that she must have tried to get in the passenger side window when I found scratches and a deep gouge in that window.
Overall, my interaction with the Columbia, SC police department was an extremely positive one. A+++ would be robbed again.
Replacing The Window
Luckily my sister lives near Columbia so we drove to her place and tried to go back to sleep in her driveway… a safe place.
Have you ever tried to clean up safety glass? It’s a nightmare… it shatters into a million tiny pieces and gets everywhere. 30 minutes with the vacuum and there was still glass shards in nooks and crannies around the door and living space. I’ve never vacuumed a car that well in my life!
After calling my insurance company and discovering that windshield glass is the only glass damage that doesn’t count against your deductible, I decided to not file the claim and just replace it myself. Progressive Insurance quoted me about $350 to replace the window.
So I called around to a few auto glass places and learned that the window for my 1998 Dodge Van was no longer made. Great. One of them suggested that I try an auto salvage lot. I looked up the local pull-a-part lot and their website said they had a 1988 and a 2004 van on the lot. It was worth a try.
The auto salvage lot was an experience in and of itself. It was almost like an amusement park. You paid a $2 entrance fee to get in and then you could go and get whatever you needed and pay for it on the way out. There were people with big toolboxes and wheelbarrows walking around the muddy lot in the pouring rain.
We found the 1988 van—no dice—the windows were a part of the door. I needed a vented window with a hinge at the top. Five cars down was the 2004 van. As it came into my field of view I saw the windows on the side door. They were the exact ones as mine! As we removed the window from the van carcass I prayed it was the same size as the one from my vehicle.
After getting back to the main pull-a-part office I laid the window on the counter and the clerk typed into his computer. $16.50. That was too good to be true. I was hedging my bets that this will fit on the van and at this price I was more than willing to try. A few minutes later it was confirmed that the new window was an exact fit! I was ecstatic!
My home had been made whole… all for less than the cost of a t-shirt.
This was the first time in my life that I’ve had, as the police report called it, “malicious injury to property” committed against me. In fact, this was the first time I can ever remember a crime being committed directly against me.
Was it scary? You’d better believe it! I was terrified during the incident. I had no clue what was going to happen. I was also extremely worried about the safety of my guest… I had joked about introducing her to “van life” but this wasn’t part of the plan, or the normal occurrence!
Do I think less of Columbia, SC after this incident? No. I think this was a “wrong place wrong time” incident. The dispatcher left lots to be desired but the police officer who responded was amazing. I probably just picked the wrong street to sleep on that night. Had I been a few streets north or south it still could have happened. Who knows?
Am I going to stop living in/sleeping in my van? Not a chance. This happened almost 8 months to the day of me making the leap to live a nomadic lifestyle. I’m not letting an incident like this scare me away from living the life I want to live. However, because of the recency of the event, the fact that we had planned to stay at an established campground the next night made me feel safer because of the security that a campground offers.
Do I blame this woman for what she did? Yes and no. Why someone would bash in a van window is beyond my reasoning. But desperate people do desperate things. She apparently was in a desperate situation or high out of her mind. Ultimately she shoulders the responsibility of her actions but I’m not angry at her for doing what drug addicts do. I truly hope she can get some help to overcome her addiction.
If you or a family member are facing mental health and/or substance use disorders PLEASE call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to get help.