So I went yesterday to get these winter wheels for the BMW. And while nothing happened too out of the ordinary, I don't think I could recommend securing a deal like this from Craigslist again!
I drive the 3 and-a-half hours up to some tiny Wisconsin town just north of Fox Lake, and to the address on the email, only to find a very empty collection of long steel buildings with doors, windows and porches running along the front, like an old-time motor lodges looks. I was supposed to meet the guy at 9, and it's 8:45.
I spot a cafe across the street, which is painted to look like a dairy cow but that's a story for another time, and decide that it might be safer, if not more comfortable to wait in there for my 'dealer'.
Inside the cafe, I sit at the bar and order biscuits and gravy, figuring that I have at least 15 minutes but not wanting to delay this transaction once he arrives. I'd like to get back home around lunch time if possible. I'm reading about the local high school football scene in the paper when I get a text from Seller-man saying he will be there at 9:30. I'm only annoyed that I didn't order a bigger breakfast. I finish my coffee and drive back across the street to his building, door number 8.
9:30 comes and goes and he finally comes rolling in at about 9:40. During my wait, I saw many cars drive in and out of the driveway that connects all these buildings, with the last being a windowless dark van that didn't even slow down where the driveway meets the road, throwing gravel and dust into the air just like a van making a fast getaway. "That doesn't seem strange at all," I kid to myself. But at least I'm meeting this guy on a pretty busy road, across from a now-bustling cafe (painted to look like a cow). That's when the Mercedes with the blacked-out windows comes creeping into the lot, and parks right next to me. Every episode of 'Dateline' starts playing in my head as the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. "You're just imagining this worse than it is, " I tell myself as I try to re-convince my little voice to chill out. While I'm having this conversation inside my head, some Keith Morrison narrator-type also sneaks into my head to tell me that's just what everyone who is going to be abducted, killed and chopped up into tiny pieces says inside their heads just before it happens...the smart ones run NOW!
Although it's not in my nature, I decide to ride this experience out. At the end of this day I will either have purchased some rims and tires, or signed my death certificate. And at that moment, while it seems silly now, I honestly didn't know which direction it was going to go.
The door of the Mercedes opens, and out pops an energetic kid dressed all in black with jet black hair, walks over and introduces himself as 'Nick'. I am almost just going through the motions as I shake his hand, however, because inside the passenger seat sits another wannabe gangster, dressed all in black. Two guys? Whoa. This was not in the plan. Now I just want to get this deal done, get out of here and never see Ebony and Ebony again.
Nick is a pleasant guy. My receptors may be skewed since I'm expecting to by killed any minute, as but he starts telling me about the wheels, and apologizes for being late, I am feeling silly for doubting this Craigslist method. We're just two normal people (well, plus Abby Normal with him in the car) buying and selling. Part of the American Currency, a greater plan than just the two of us. An ideology where two strangers can help each other out, make a transaction and be done. "The wheels aren't here," Nick barks, yanking me right out of American dream-land. "You gotta follow me down the road apiece."
It was then I realized a dialect in his voice. Maybe not foriegn, but there was definitely terrorist in his voice, or affluent Chicago Italian. Follow you? And Grim Reaper in the co-pilot's seat? He could tell I was unsure as my voice tried to reamin cool, but my sentences lacked conviction. "It's no problem--it's actually on your way back to Iowa," The killer says, needing only that one line to get me into the web. Easy day for him, I guess.
Why I am following Black-on-Black to my certain death I have no idea. I came this far, so how much worse can it get? And by the time this thought completes in my mind, we are at his 'yard'--a former air-strip that is surprisingly remote for as little time as it took to get here.
In the driveway, he unlocks the chain strung between two posts, and lets it fall to the ground to be driven over. Now I'm really worried. The lock and chain are very thin, and while it spans the driveway, anyone could easily drive around them to gain access. So why have a chain across a driveway that never gets used, and one that wouldn't stop someone who really wanted to from getting in? Easy answer, I say to myself.
Either you don't want anyone accidentally pulling into this place to ask directions while a guy wrapped in plastic is cutting up a corpse (extra witnesses and labor), or you don't need high security because everyone KNOWS you just don't come in here. You just don't, understand? I'm effed in any case. I text, "I love u" to my wife and follow the Mercedes (which I now realize just has a temporary sticker in the window, no license plate) into Hell.
We park and this is the first I get to see co-pilot Lurch up close. He's about 5 inches taller than me, but a skinny kid. Looks like he just came from the club with his hangover energy drink in one hand, sunglasses even Bono might say are, "A tad too big," and messy faux-hawk peeking out from under a flat-billed Bulls hat. Black, of course. So with the flat-billed cap, I'm thinking "poseur" immediately--total yes-man to this Nick fella. But I don't know if that's good or bad. After all, it's still 2-on-1, even if one of them is stupid.
As we are walking around this graveyard of German engineering, I am doing my best to keep both of them ahead of me, neither within lunging range, and at the same time I can't help but think, "What's the point you idiot, you're here. If they want you dead you're dead." That was actually a calming thought.
We are almost at the car that he will remove the wheels from. Almost done. Then Nick goes towards the car, asks me to "C'mere" and check the size on the rims while his hatchet man disappears. I cautiously lean my back to the car, but for what? I have to check the rim size, which will require me to bend over, away from the two goons. Just as I'm about to take a look, Nick pulls two latex gloves out of his pocket and snaps them on his hands like a surgeon (or a Killer). What The f*** is this? I can't stand the tension, which is probably only in my head, and I say, "Hey the time to worry about fingerprints is when you stole this thing, not now."
I hear his buddy laugh, which is good because he is too far away to do any damage to me, and Nick chuckles as well. And in the first understandable words tall messy gangster says this whole time, "Nicks going to a wedding later and had a manicure this morning--that's why we're late!" Nick holds his hands up as if to sheepishly confirm his desire to keep his hands clean. That was the first moment in 3 plus hours I could actually relax.