The good, the bad, and the unexpected

Most recently, I tried to go to a police station to file a report, but I couldn´t find an open station in the two places I tried. Supposedly, tomorrow after 9 a.m. there will be one open in my neighborhood (the ones I need to go to are mobile), so I´m going to go tomorrow morning. The police report has zero chance of leading to a recovered computer. But I think I have the computer insured, so I´d need to file the report to possibly recoup the cost.

I was without a computer for about 50 hours. Here’s what happened between Friday and Sunday afternoons.

First, having failed to get a police report on Friday, on Saturday morning I headed back to the address I was given the day before. Here’s a reconstructed live-blog (hence not live-blog) of Saturday:

9:45 a.m.: I leave the apartment to use the internet nearby.

10:15 a.m.: I depart the internet shop for calle 57 con 13, where I had been told there would be a mobile police unit where I could file a denuncia.

10:30 a.m.: I arrive at 57 con 13. I see no mobile unit. I walk to a police station I had seen the other day at 60 con 11. I ask the officers there where I can file a denuncia. I receive the answer: There’s a mobile unit at 57 con 13. I tell them there isn’t. They are surprised and confused. I wait for them to make a phone call to another station. They give me new directions: 39 con 13. I begin walking, amused/frustrated.

11 a.m.: I arrive at a (big, very non-mobile) police station at 39 con 13. I am directed to the part of the station where you file police reports. I begin waiting.

11:45 a.m.: I reach the front of the line. The police officer comes out of her room and asks what happened to me. I say my computer was stolen yesterday. She asks me for the serial number. I say I don’t have it, but I know the brand and model number. She says she needs the serial number. But I have the important information, I say. She repeats what she said already. She makes clear I cannot file the report without the serial number. I leave, dejected/frustrated.

12 p.m.: After a quick call from Isa, I find a cabina, where I hope to make an international call to my parents, who hopefully have the serial number of the computer somewhere. I enter, attempt the call, don’t get a connection, and am told that, actually, they can’t make international calls.

12:05 p.m.: I find another cabina where the owner says yes, of course, I can make a call to the United States. I attempt the call, don’t get a connection, and am told that, actually, their internet is down and their international calls are made over the internet, so they can’t make international calls then. By Monday they should be able to.

12:10 p.m.: I find another cabina where I am told again that I can call the United States. I attempt the call, hear my mom’s voice, and get the information I need from my dad. I head back to the police station.

12:20 p.m.: For the second time, I arrive at the police station. I begin to wait again.

12:30 p.m.: The person talking to the officer (the only person ahead of me) finishes. I get up to enter the room. The police officer comes out and says, “Que pena. Es la hora de almuerzo. Tengo que ir a comer un almorcito.” Amazed, resigned, defeated, I say, Ok, so, what? Come back at 2, she tells me. Amazed, resigned, defeated, I leave. I head to meet one of my bosses (now ex-boss, a story I’ll tell another day) to get paid.

12:30-2:15 p.m.: I take two buses and walk half an hour to get my money. I head back to the police station.

2:15 p.m.: For the third time, I arrive at the station. I begin to wait. I wait a long time.

3:15 p.m.: The person ahead of me now finished, I enter the officer’s room, this time getting lucky enough to sit down. I tell her I now have the serial number. “Cedula, por favor,” she requests, referring to the citizen ID card that all Colombians have. “No tengo Cedula. Soy turista,” I say. “Pasaporte?” she asks. “Tengo el número y una copia,” I say, and show her the copy of my passport. “No. Necesita el original,” she says. Once more, I’m stunned. I protest, to no avail. I need the original to do anything, she tells me. I beg. Sorry, she says. Where is your passport? she asks. In my apartment, I say. Where do you live? she asks. In Chapinero, I say. That’s close, she says. And with that, it is clear I am to go home, get my passport, and come back if I want to file this damn denuncia. It is 3:18. I leave.

3:20 p.m.: I buy an oblea and feel better because of its four delicious, sweet flavors. I get on TransMilenio to go home.

3:45 p.m.: I arrive home. I get my passport. I head out to get the bus back to the police station.

4:10 p.m.: For the fourth time, I arrive at the police station. I begin to wait. By the mercy of God, I only wait a short time.

4:15 p.m.: I enter the police officer’s room again, this time with serial number (I checked and re-checked that I still had it) and original passport and as much visible humility as exists in my body. Over the next fifty minutes, I answer all the officer’s questions, tell the story of what happened the previous day, keep answering questions, speak when spoken to, give documents when requested, and lie about the necessary facts: no, I don’t work here, I’m just a tourist, yes, I’m a student, no, not officially a student, I’m just learning “con amigos y en la calle,” no, I don’t have any money to go to Cartagena, etc.

5:05 p.m.: The officer prints out her official report about the theft and hands it to me. Make three copies, she tells me. Go out to the right, find the copy shop on the block, and come back with the copies, she instructs. I leave. I see the copy shop to the right. It is closed. (This is Saturday, remember, now after 5 p.m.) I head up carrera 7, looking for other shops. I see two more. They are both closed. I turn onto calle 40. I see a block full of copy shops, maybe seven or eight in total. One is open. I enter, and the guy tells me, “No hay servicio.” All the others are closed.

5:15 p.m.: I have nightmare visions. My computer was stolen the previous day. I spent a couple hours then trying to find a police station where I could file a police report, but I couldn’t. I’ve been trying again the next day, and the effort has already taken over six hours. It is now after the apparent end of business hours on Saturday. If I return to the police station without copies, I fear, the officer will take the copy I have and tell me to come back the next day–or, horror upon horrors, on Monday, since the next day would be Sunday–to make copies then. I contemplate not returning to the police station. I don’t really need the police involved in this (I know I won’t get my computer back), except just enough to give me a police report, which they have now done. That report is in my hands. I could just leave.

5:16 p.m.: I decide to return to the police station. I will be devastated if I have to come back to finish this process another day. But I may be in jail if I don’t go back at all.

5:20 p.m.: I get back to the station and, wearing the longest face I have, tell the officer I couldn’t get copies because I saw about a dozen copy shops and all are closed because it’s now after 5 on Saturday. Ok, she says, I’ll print out three more copies for you.

5:21 p.m.: Really?

5:23 p.m.: I leave. Done. Going home. I call Isa to ask when she wants to get together. Do I have time to head to the store she had recommended I go to for a new computer? Yes, I do, even though I had stupidly left my credit at home the last time I was there, so I have to stop off at the apartment first.

5:45 p.m.: I get home. I use the bathroom. I take an ibuprofen pill because I have a headache. I head back out. Soon I feel a little better.

6:15 p.m.: I arrive at the Jimenez TransMilenio stop and quickly realize something is weird. I’m in Candelaria, where I’m supposed to be–but the non-touristy, not-so-safe, very-low-end-commercial part of Candelaria. This is really where the store is? I’m looking for an Alkosto, a huge box store with locations around the city, which Isa recommended to me since she had bought her Macbook there a month ago (and for only the equivalent of about $900). Any big box store would be very out of place in this neighborhood of hole-in-the-wall shops and street vendors. I walk to calle 10 con 13, where Isa told me the store was. (She had found the address on the store’s website.) Unsurprisingly, given the other stores around, it’s not there. Instead there are lots of people hawking lots of things and me carrying a backpack and my credit card and not feeling safe–not after the day before. I hustle out of the neighborhood, back to TransMilenio. I call Isa and make plans to meet her in her neighborhood as soon as I can get there.

7 p.m. and beyond: We have dinner at one of her friends’ boyfriends’ places and hang out with her friends until, being the rockstar boyfriend that I am, a few minutes after 10 I begin to fall like a rocket out of the sky and by 10:20 know I won’t be able to stay awake much longer. Isa is nice to me and agrees to leave soon. We go home and I fall asleep shortly.

That was Saturday, and the saga of the police report.

Part II, Sunday’s story, in which I acquire a new computer, is much shorter and happier–and with greater, if not as many, surprises as the day before. Here’s that one, without timestamps.

After checking out an open apartment in my neighborhood (Isa and her sister are looking to move somewhere together), Isa and I headed to Alkosto. The one we went to–far from the city center but a straight shot on the bus from my apartment–was probably the biggest box store I’ve ever been inside. I think I’ve been in a Wal-Mart or two, so maybe those were bigger, but this store was unlike anything in New York, a true American-style megastore with everything you could possibly want in your home, at your office, or for your car.

I browsed the fine selection of netbooks, flirted with the idea of also buying a Mac for about $1,000, opted for just the one cheap computer (after all, I had had one stolen two days before), and headed to the check-out with my purchase-to-be. While we waited on line, I heard ringing a ways away and saw a flashing light going off above another register. Thinking that might be an alarm for an attempted theft, I asked Isa what had happened. She explained that at Alkosto every 50th customer gets 50 percent off her purchase, all the time. Pretty neat, I thought. That ringing and flashing meant someone had just won.

We got to the front of our line, I showed the cashier the computer I had selected and handed her my credit card. “Cedula, por favor,” she asked me. “No tengo Cedula,” I said. “Soy turista.” I remembered this, unfortunately. I took out the copy of my passport and showed it to her. Usually, when you buy things with credit cards in Colombia, stores ask for Cedulas for the reason American stores ask to see I.D. with credit card purchases: to verify that you are the rightful cardholder. Usually, the copy of my passport serves that function just fine, as it shows me to be Peter F Martin. Not today, apparently. Not at Alkosto. The cashier told me she couldn’t accept a copy of my passport, that she needed the original. Seriously? I thought. Seriously? I asked. Let me go ask my boss, she said. While she disappeared, I dreaded the possibility that again I would be rejected for not having my actual passport on me, and that again I’d have to go home to get it, losing an hour or more when I was almost done with what I hoped and thought would be a simple, quick task. When she returned, I was seriously pissed–at myself as much as at her or the world–because she said no, I needed my actual passport to use my credit card. Momentarily fuming, I quickly thought of something I prayed would work. Luckily, Isa was with me. Luckily, I was comfortable asking her to charge several hundred dollars to her credit card, for which I would obviously pay her back very soon. She agreed, and, since she has a Cedula to match her credit card, we had no problem making the purchase with her card. Relieved, I was ready to be done with this whole computer fiasco and back to my life.

Toca el botón,” the cashier said to Isa, pointing to a button next to the register. Confused or having missed the command, Isa didn’t press it. I noticed the sign above the button saying “50” and figured I knew what it was. I figured we had to press it, just to have a shot, right? “Toca el botón,” the cashier repeated. Isa got it, or didn’t, but either way pressed the button.

Ringing started. A light went off. I realized it right away; Isa didn’t: We had won. Defining nochalant, the cashier told us we had won, printed out another receipt with the details of the prize, and asked for the next customer. I looked at the receipt and Isa explained it to me: We had just won 50 percent of the value of our purchase, or 300,000 pesos (about $165), of credit at Alkosto. At Alkosto, 300,000 pesos goes a long way.

Well, a very happy end to a long and frustrating weekend. I came home with my new computer–which, in a day of use, seems to be the match of my old one. I’m back to my routine, set back but not thrown off course.

And because the stolen computer was, in fact, insured, the day at the police station was worthwhile. I’ll end up losing the tax I paid on the old computer and its case, but hopefully/probably nothing more. My credit card should reimburse me for the cost of the stolen computer, a full $320 or so. My new one cost almost exactly the same. And with the $165 of credit at Alkosto, in the end I’m going to make some money (in the form of store credit at a huge box store) out of this whole ordeal.

So, the weekend, in numbers:

Total losses:

  • A number of files, unreplaceable. Most are work files, so a bitch to lose but not that big a deal. Some were personal files I’ll miss more. None were older than two months, so I didn’t lose anything super sentimental.
  • Two to three days. Friday was killed by the loss of the computer, Saturday by the Colombian national police, and the first half of Sunday by the purchase of the computer. Of course, I was also set back by the loss of previous work, but, whatever. I’ll make that up.

Total gains:

  • Somewhere in the range of $100 to $150–again, in credit at Alkosto.
  • Valuable life lessons about vulnerability, protecting my belongings and my files, and life in Bogotá.

If I could go back to Friday afternoon and re-do this weekend, I obviously would. But, having gotten through it, and not too roughed up, I’m kind of glad for what came out of it. At least I don’t really regret the whole thing.

4 thoughts on “The good, the bad, and the unexpected

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