Finding the Car by
(318 Stories)

Prompted By Senior Moments

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

BMW 540i

December, 2003, my first time volunteering for the huge “December Sale” at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. My friend Barbara Cole Lee chaired this sale which ran over several days during the first week of December. She is a force of nature, brought in significant buyers from the art world and beyond and I wanted to do well.

That day, my shift was to begin at noon. I came from my quarterly neurologist appointment. I was still recovering from months of being indisposed with diarrhea and mild depression. I was rail-thin and had been taken off a medication that helped tamp down the migraines because diarrhea was a possible side-effect (I’d been on this medication without that side-effect for years, but never mind). I had my Filofax in the car, samples of a new drug and a new prescription for it. I was running a bit late. I hate to be late.

I got to the MFA with moments to spare before my volunteer shift began. There was a Rembrandt exhibit at the museum. I turned onto the street to the parking garage. The line of cars didn’t move; the lot was full. It took me ten minutes just to get past the line. I turned the corner and turned the corner. I’d park on the street and risk a ticket. I didn’t care, I had to park the car and get in, quickly! I found a space and ran. Snow was in the air. I grabbed my red apron, name tag and away I went.

With Jill Armstrong (a volunteer who became a friend) in front of a Brian Burkhardt jacket, many years later

This was the first public day after private, evening parties and it was busy. At the end of the day, I had a huge sale, but was late getting out. Now the snow was really swirling around and Jeffrey was due home from his Sudbury school on the van. He had a psychiatrist appointment later in the afternoon. I walked the long block around the museum to where I was certain I’d parked my car. It was nowhere to be seen. I checked up and down the block. No where. I had no time to spare. I tried to call Dan. He had gone to a movie and was not yet home. I went back into the sale. No one offered me the use of a phone. I still had an old Motorola flip phone. One of the staff people told me there was a direct line to call a cab just inside the museum. I ran over there and called a cab which materialized in 10 minutes.

I pulled up to our house just as Jeffrey’s van pulled into the driveway. He was in a snit and wouldn’t think of going to therapy. Dan arrived a few minutes later. We had a quick huddle and took the appointment without Jeffrey. One could only push him so far.

I called the authorities to search for my missing car. I assumed it had been towed, since I was parked in a Resident parking zone. It turns out, there are three different authorities that cover that area of the Fenway; the regular Boston Police, the traffic police (meter maids) as this was Resident Only parking and Metropolitan Police (I don’t know what they do). I called Boston Police to see where my car had been towed. (Dan asked me VERY carefully if I was SURE I knew where I’d parked. I pulled out a map and pinpointed the spot. I was CERTAIN.) The police told me to call back later, as they didn’t have any reports, but they might not be the ones who towed it.

I finally called close to dinner time. The policeman said, “Come to a police station and make a report lady. Your car’s been stolen”. I was stunned, but found a station a few miles away and made the report. Then the next day, I began the process of what’s entailed in dealing with a stolen car. This was a very nice, two year-old BMW 540i 6 speed. I had totaled its predecessor (which looked just like it) in a serious accident on the Mass Pike about two years earlier and replaced it with the same car. When I called our insurance agent the next day, he mentioned that. “Yeah, same car. I replaced it with the same make and model.”

I had to send my key (and Dan’s) with a copy of the police report and get a signed and notarized affidavit, affirming that all I’d said was true and send it to the insurance company. We received a check for the replacement value quickly. We took a quick trip to Martha’s Vineyard to get our third car so I had something to drive until the new car I ordered came in.

It snowed heavily the next few days, but we were shoveled out and the  Museum School sale was a huge success. Six weeks later, I got an overdue parking notice on my car. WHAT? Could this be true? The ticket had an address (not the place where I was SURE I’d left my car). I went to check it out. And there was the car, buried under snow. The plow had taken off the passenger side-view mirror, but the rest was intact. I realized that I still had the little plastic valet key in my wallet. I unlocked the car and got out my Filofax and every other personal item. I called Dan. “Should I move the car?” “We don’t own it”, was his reply. “The insurance company does. You have to call them.”

I was beside myself. I DO NOT LIE. I was very careful when I called. I didn’t want to be accused of fraud. I said, “The car has been located.” He was so nice. He said, “You’d be surprised how often this happens. Someday you’ll laugh about this.” I cried.

I’m still not laughing.

Dan tells me they were happy to get the car, since now they could auction it and get some money towards their claim. A moment later, the police called. “We found your car.” No shit.

There were $900 worth of tickets on the car (after a certain amount of time, there were fees on top of the original tickets and the meter maids kept ticketing). I didn’t have to pay, since I’d reported it stolen, but I did have to go to the Parking Bureau in Boston City Hall to get it all squared away. I probably paid $25 just to park downtown.

I volunteered for many more years at that sale. I always began my shift when the doors opened, so I would NEVER have trouble parking again.

Was this truly a “senior moment”, as the prompt implies? I never thought so (I’m writing because my friend John, in a comment on my other story, reminded me of this story, which I haven’t written about). It was a stressful day, at a stressful time in my life. Stress, while rushing around, can bring forgetfulness. And this is a good story, even if I still can’t laugh about it.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. I’m not laughing either Betsy, what an ordeal!

    I inevitably forget where I park but once with Danny at Yankee Stadium, neither of us could remember and it took us what seemed like hours to find the car.

    And once in Little Italy in the Bronx, Danny dropped me off at a restaurant for a faculty reunion luncheon, went to find parking – very hard in that neighborhood -and then joined me at the reunion.

    Hours later he went to get the car, leaving me in the restaurant chattering and bidding my old colleagues good-bye. He couldn’t find it, called the police, and they drove him around in their police car until they spotted it, just a block or two from the restaurant, of course!

  2. Suzy says:

    Good story, very well told. Thanks to JZ for suggesting you write it. Since you were over 50, there are those who would classify it as a senior moment – just ask AARP. Would the same thing have happened when you were 30? Who knows?

    I think my favorite part of the story is the fact that you didn’t have to pay the $900 worth of tickets because the car had been reported stolen. So cool!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      We had joined AARP that year, as we took the kids traveling through the most famous National Parks (Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Yellow Stone, Yosemite, and more) that summer and got a discount entering them through that organization, so, as you point out, we were “technically” senior citizens. I just never thought of this as a “senior” moment. I always chalked it up to being super-rushed and worried – by my health, being late and by Jeffrey.

      Since I know you like to look at Google Maps (which didn’t exist in 2003), I thought I’d parked on Forsythe Street, along the far side of the MFA. I had actually parked on Hemenway St. near the Boston Conservatory and Northeastern, which was much further away. I just wasn’t paying attention, as I was in such a tizzy, trying to find parking and get into to SMFA. So when I came out, I really had no idea where the car was and I had to get home before Jeffrey did – more time constraints.

      Everyone continues to love this story…except me, I guess.

  3. Marian says:

    Wow, Betsy, you get a “bye” with a car covered in snow! Small wonder you couldn’t see it. Not really a senior moment, as you say, but I second your thoughts about stress. One time I did have to have security take me around the parking garage at San Francisco airport because I couldn’t find my car. They were blase about it–happens all the time. These days, though, I’m careful to write down the section numbers whenever I park in a parking garage.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    What a tale! You remember so many details, it’s hard to believe you forgot where the car was—you just “misremembered” it. That can be even more disorienting. Sounds like all ended up okay, but not something you would ever want to go through again.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      This remains a favorite story for everyone except me, Khati. I run into all sorts of people who will say, “I love that story”, and I have to stop and think, “which story…oh THAT one”. It still rankles me, but others find it SO amusing. I pride myself for being in control. I was out of control that day, so it never felt OK to me. The car was blocks away from where I thought I’d parked it, which told me that I had just blindly put it ANYWHERE, but I was so late and had to get to the sale. I clearly paid no attention to where I parked it and paid dearly for that lack of attention. As I mentioned in other comments, I use all sorts of other methods now to ensure it never happens again.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Fascinating story, Betsy, though certainly not one to laugh over at any point. Though glad it had a fairly happy ending.

    And definitely you were too young for it to be a “senior moment.” We all know that AARP counts our age in dog years just to grow its ranks quickly.

    incidentally, besides apps to find our cars, if we ever get truly self-driving cars, this will no longer be an issue, memory or otherwise. Our cars will simply drop us off where we want to go and then park in some remote area until we summon them — from wherever they are — to come to where we are. I, for one, can’t wait!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      You’d be surprised how many people find this story amusing, John. It just doesn’t tickle me, for obvious reasons. And for me it was all about being distracted as opposed to having a “senior moment”.

      Given what we’ve read about about Tesla’s self-driving cars lately, I am in no rush for that experience!

  6. John Shutkin says:

    I would be surprised, Betsy, especially knowing all you were going through as well as the damn car. Talk about difficult distractions!

    And I, too, have been reading about Tesla’s self-driving “mishaps” (as in fatalities) of late, and I am also in no rush. I suspect Musk’s arrogance is at least a bit at play here and we still have a long way to go. Still, it sure would be cool to summon one’s own car from afar. Like valet parking — but without the tip.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    That’s quite a story, Betsy! I think it could have happened to anyone under those circumstances and, in retrospect, $900 in tickets in a bit absurd. My father’s car was stolen from right in front of our house once. There is a feeling of total disbelief as to how something as big as a car could disappear.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I’ve learned that it HAS happened to others (at least at the airport). One girlfriend reported it happened to her husband in an unfamiliar neighborhood in Philly just last week. He finally called the police, who drove him around until he found the car. I never thought my car was stolen. The police jumped to that conclusion. Amazing that your father had his car stolen right in front of your house. It does give one pause.

  8. Wow, you found an ancient artifact of your own life, buried in snow, kind of like those mummified guys they find under glaciers from neolithic times. Or what if climate change or a meteor brought on an instantaneous ice age that buried your car and it was found millennia later when they were excavating the Museum of Fine Arts. The broken mirror just elaborates on the image.

    Sounds more like stress than senior. Great story, especially with all the bureaucracy so sardonically described.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      At that point, it was an artifact from my life, since I had moved on from it, bought a new Filofax, ordered a new car, etc. Six weeks had passed. I assumed this puppy was gone, but funny how you liken it to something brought forth from an ice age.

      I agree, stress, not a senior moment brought on this event, but we always thought it was a good story which is why JZ thought I should share it now. I never understand why the police and meter maids didn’t compare notes. The car would have been located in a matter of minutes and they could have stopped all those ridiculous tickets! Didn’t they find it just a little suspicious that such a nice car was abandoned for six weeks? I guess logic wasn’t their strong suit.

  9. John Zussman says:

    Beautifully told; you had me in suspense even though I knew how it turned out! I would generally call any episode like this over 50 a “senior moment” but I didn’t remember how much stress you were under at the time. No doubt that contributed.

    Anyway, thanks for accommodating my request.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Happy to oblige, John. As Suzy points out, technically, at almost 51, I was a senior according to AARP, but I always considered this a moment of distraction. I clearly whiffed on where I put the car. I never thought it was stolen. It was the policeman who put that thought in my head. I assumed it was towed. But, at you say, it IS a good story!

Leave a Reply