Routine trip to “race against time” in 10 minutes

 photo img045Finally back home in Tokyo – and picking up the pieces. What was supposed to be an uneventful (and quick) trip to the US ended up suddenly turning into a race against time. I arrived in the US (San Francisco) on Thursday for a quick meeting and to return on Saturday on a 7:30pm flight back to Tokyo. Since I had most of Saturday open, I thought I’d do a quick trip to Napa and buy some wines. However, before that, I decided to have lunch at In-and-Out Burger (who wouldn’t). So I quickly parked the car, went inside, enjoyed my Double-Double and returned to the parking lot and my car.


When I arrived, I realized my rear passenger side window was broken. Initially, I wasn’t too worried assuming that the car next to me dinged my car and hit the window. Since “it’s a rental” and I had full coverage, I wasn’t too concerned. However, about a minute later, I realized that is where I kept my PC bag (yes, stupid me). I thought I was thinking a little by not putting it in the front passenger seat, but I guess it didn’t matter. Now yes, it was not my first time to experience theft like this. I’ve been a victim of pickpockets (all in Italy) but was always amazed (not pissed or angry per se) that I did not notice them at all. I also had my brand new watch stolen because the wrist band wasn’t set correctly and I put it in my bag, which a bellman promptly took out of the bag while checked (just felt sad because I never really got to wear the watch). This time however, I got a bit (but seriously, only a little) angry because this bag which they took contained my laptop (old so didn’t care that much), my 3rd generation iPad (again, was going to upgrade soon), my Galaxy IV cell phone (somewhat pissed because it has my eMoney and Yodobashi points), my wallet (yes, cancelling a bunch of credit cards is a pain and losing cash is not fun), etc… However, what took this into a new realm is that the bag also contained my Japanese passport to return to Japan.

This entry is not for the purposes of feeling sorry for me. I just want to share my experiences so that anyone else who is in a similar situation can navigate and get out of such an unfortunate situation.  Anyway, the first thing I did was called 911. I felt bad because it wasn’t a “real” emergency. They answered quickly and gave me the number to the local police station. Unfortunately, that number was disconnected. Next, I used Siri to find the closes police station. Unfortunately, the 1st entry was also a disconnected number, but the second number worked. After reaching the police, I gave them my basic information and what happened. Incredibly, after only 10 minutes, two police officers came and helped assess the situation. They also spent about 45 minutes (in the rain no less) reviewing CCTV footage and canvasing the area. Unfortunately, nothing (but I wasn’t expecting miracles). Initially, I also tried to use the “Find my iPhone” feature, but stupid me turned off my iPad because it would have been considered roaming for me.

Next, I called Japan Airlines and was put on hold for 30 minutes (need to do something about that) and once I got on the line, was only told that 1) they couldn’t do anything (I knew that) and I should 2) call the Japanese consulate (they gave me the right number) in San Francisco but that it was impossible to get anything done before the 7:30pm flight (at this point, it is about 2:30pm).

Next, I called the Consulate of Japan. The 1st recording you hear is that they are closed on the weekend and to come back on Monday. Selecting the emergency option, I got a switchboard in Southern California to answer. They immediately told me that I have to come back on Monday to get a temporary passport issued. I told them that was unacceptable and to at least relay the message to the local staff. In the meantime, they were kind enough to tell me what things I have to prepare in order to apply for a temporary passport. This was:

  • Police report – Thank god I already started the process, but I knew I needed it for insurance purposes too.
  • 4.5cm x 3.5cm photo (which most photo places in the US don’t have so I took two sets of pictures offset to be larger and smaller than the US standard so that the Consulate won’t have any excuses on pictures (had that happen to me before)
  • Your (old, now just stolen) passport number – This is important, thank goodness I had this in my Blackberry.
  • Something to identify you – I didn’t have anything but usually this is a copy of your old passport, a copy of your insurance card. Luckily, in my case, they were okay with my California Driver’s license.
  • $30 fee

Eventually, the local Consul staff gave me a call (now 3:30pm) and I explained my situation (plus that I HAD to be back in Japan by Monday). He was VERY understand and helpful and said he’ll see if he can get the office open for me and get back to me.

In the meantime, I realized I needed to get a full police report and all I had was a card with a case number on it. So when I called the police department, they said its too soon (it hadn’t been typed yet and needed approval) and I need to come back on Monday (what is it with weekends?). Again, I explained my situation and the officer agreed to see what he can do. In the meantime, I went across the street from the police department to get my passport pictures taken.  Spending a little extra time tweaking the dimensions of the photo and receiving the photo’s uncut (very important since the US doesn’t have exact cutting specs – better leaving the cutting to the consular office).

By 4:15pm, the officer completed his very detailed report (4 pages!) of the incident and got his Sargent to immediately approve the report (which apparently usually doesn’t happen) and even waved the $12 fee! Talk about professionalism and courteous service. This was the highlight of my trip.

So, without knowing the status of the Consulate, I now head towards their office in San Francisco. While driving up, I receive a call and am told that they were able to get a few people to help my situation out. It was actually hard to hear because a broken window is very noisy on the freeway, but I assumed that’s what they said. After arriving at 4:33pm, two consular employees were also arriving at the same time and they rushed me to the office. After filling a small mountain of paperwork in my bad Japanese, providing the picture, paying my $30 and showing the police report, they produced my temporary passport. By 5:17pm, I was out of their office and heading to the airport. Now getting ready to explain the broken window to the car rental agency (again, having the police report helped in filing the accident report) all the while calling all my credit card companies to cancel my cards.

Luckily, I made my flight with about 10 minutes to spare. However, it was very weird to board a plane completely empty handed except for a police report and your temporary passport.

Moral of the story:

  1. If you have something that valuable, lock it in the trunk. I admit, I became too complacent with security and didn’t assume this kind of scenario. Literally, someone targeting the back of a car in a very busy parking lot, breaking the window (which doesn’t set off the car alarm) and grabbing you bag.
  2. Luckily, I had two wallets. My Japanese wallet (which was stolen with the bag) which has my Japanese credit cards, drivers license (uggghhh), health insurance hard (bigger ugghh), money, etc… My other wallet was my “US” wallet that had dollars and credit cards to use in the US.
  3. I lost my Japanese phone with the bag, but I had my iPhone on me. Thank god I also kept it fully charged because after all this, the battery died right as I boarded the plane.
  4. Most importantly, I think people genuinely want to help. Its also important not to panic, get hysterical and start blaming other people. If you calmly explain the situation and also understand their perspective and “negotiate” a solution, I realized anything is possible. This is a far cry from the initial Japan Airlines person saying it will be “impossible to leave today”.
  5. Miscellaneous: Thank goodness I had all my credit card numbers and their contact info (due to prior incitements). Made calling them to cancel the card easier. Should have noted the serial number for my PC and iPad but I don’t expect to recover them so no big deal.

Things I need to do because of this incident (probably the most pain in the ass part of all this):

  1. Pick-up car from the airport. My bag also had my car keys so I need to find the spare at home and get back to the airport later today
  2. Get new phone (and do all the requisite setup that we all do with new phones. Damn…)
  3. Double check that all my credit cards have been accounted for
  4. Go to the DMV and get a new license
  5. Since my ATM card was also taken, personally need to the bank to cancel and reissue
  6. Apply for a new Japanese passport
  7. Get a new insurance card
  8. Cancel my iPad account (how do I do that….)
  9. Buy a new bag, wallet and business card holder

In the end, it is amazing how just 10 minutes will turn your life upside down. However, I realize I’m totally exaggerating as I realize how lucky I was at the same time. Of course, not having this happen to you is always best. But in the real world, things like this happen. In a different scenario, I could have been approached gunpoint or, if I finished my burger a few minutes earlier, I may have accidentally confronted them and done something stupid as well. All in all, this experience was really a wakeup moment for me to remind me that perhaps I was getting a little too lax. Nonetheless, it was also an interesting learning moment for me. Perhaps the thieves who stole my bag, made a bunch of gas station and supermarket purchases with the card in the 1st few minutes will read this and comment….

Posted by whsaito

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