by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City Paper 8/2006

And you thought you knew me.

Bob Gillis, the writer guy from the Reporter. Active in the community. Always eager to help. Always smiling, always cheerful. Devoted husband, beloved family guy. Humanitarian. Humble. Bob, the nice guy.

Law abiding citizen.

And now …

Fugitive from Justice. Grand Theft Auto.

How could such an idealistic life and career be brought down faster than Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch?

It all started with a car inspection.

As a LAW ABIDING citizen I obey the law and bring my car in for its annual inspection. Now, the inspection place was local but I don’t want to disparage the business so let’s just call it the Ozzies.

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning and my car has failed its inspection. The brakes apparently did not pass muster. I’m a little confused, as when I step on the brake pedal the car does indeed stop. If Brakes=Stop then car=good, right? Apparently not.

Not a problem, the tech tells me that if I will bring the car back Monday, he will be happy to drive me to work and make the necessary repairs. How nice! I agree, and he gives me back my registration and leaves. The manager who was behind the counter has vanished.

“Hello?” I call out. Nothing. “Hello?”

My car is out front, so I assume that I simply pay when I return on Monday.

As Julia Roberts once said: “BIG MISTAKE. HUGE.”

“Ok, I’ll see you on Monday, then,” I say to no one as I get into my car and drive the short distance back home, my car brandishing its very first scarlet letter “R” for all to see. (The sticker was actually blue, but the literary allusion would make no sense unless I say Scarlet.)

So anyway, my bride and I decide to spend this lovely Saturday out and about, and after an entirely pleasant day, I returned home to find a printout in my mailbox from the police: “Query/Stolen Vehicle” it says, listing all my information, and a note from one of our police, which said that apparently I’d forgotten to pay Ozzies; and could I please go up and pay them.

I was a wanted man, I thought to myself. I’d stolen a car, apparently. My own, ten year old, 172,000 mile car, but a stolen vehicle nonetheless. Grand Theft Auto!

So after stewing about this for the rest of the weekend and enjoying my last day of freedom, first thing Monday morning, I returned to Ozzies. Their customer service was still top notch, as I waited inside the empty building for ten minutes while the manager talked on his cell phone outside. He finally entered the building and stepped behind the counter and looked at me as a way of greeting.

“Hi,” I chirped. “I need to pay this $29 for the inspection that I couldn’t pay Saturday because no one was around.”

“Oh, yes,” he said, a small smile on his face. The humor of the situation eluded me. He took out a copy of the report that read, “No pay.” Succinct. Nice.

I placed the $29 cash on the counter. “I’ll need two copies of the receipt,” I explained, “I need to bring a copy to the Foxboro Police Department because you apparently reported my vehicle was stolen.” I enunciated the Police department part clearly. Nothing.

“Uh-huh,” he said. I clearly was not making a connection here. He added, “I don’t have a copy of the receipt.”

“No problem at all,” I said pleasantly, handing him a copy of the receipt I had made. “I need you to sign this one as paid as well, for the Foxboro Police Department.” I figured if I kept mentioning the Police, he might notice, but he didn’t. He dutifully signed both receipts as paid.

I noticed that the inspection station was still unmanned, so I guessed that the offer of the ride to work and repair had expired when I fled the scene in my stolen car.

And that was it, I was apparently dismissed. Given Ozzie’s incredible professionalism and competence I’d witnessed at so far, I wasn’t confident that they would tell the police the matter was settled, and I really didn’t want to worry that I still might be a fugitive from justice.

I headed to our police station and spoke with one of the officers there. As always, the Foxboro Police were professional and helpful, and I know they’re just doing their jobs to drop off the note from Ozzies. They told me not to worry, that there was never a report of a stolen vehicle, that the printout was simply a query into the status of my vehicle. Just a routine thing. I gave the officer a copy of the receipt anyway, and will keep the other copy in my glove compartment to prove my innocence. But I was — as always — grateful for how terrific (and understanding) the Foxboro Police are.

But I suppose what puzzles me most is the people at Ozzies. They asked me to come back Monday. Hell, they offered to drive me to work. There was no one around to pay (perhaps the manager had taken the cell phone call in the back?). Sure, I stupidly thought I was supposed to pay Monday (having never failed an inspection before) but to call the police over $29, when they had a copy of my registration and told me to come back Monday? It all seems pretty aggressive. It seems pretty extreme. Hell, even I know that anything below $1500 is a small claims matter. To involve the police for $29 over a simple mistake from a repeat customer, Ozzie’s has lost a customer for life.

I worry that in a worst cast scenario I might have been pulled over and informed I was driving a stolen car. Far fetched? Maybe. Maybe not.

Anyway, my life of crime has changed me dramatically. The brakes have been fixed, my car now proudly displays an appropriate sticker, and I will be sure never to darken the door of Ozzies again.  And once again, I can hold my head up proudly, knowing that I have turned my life around and back on the path of truth, justice, and valid inspection stickers!


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