If you work on loading docks long enough, you develop an eye for the rhythms of a parking lot. You learn whose car is there daily, of course, but you also learn who's living in their car, and how to spot a dumped stolen ride. After 15 or so years as the receiving manager at the Alabama Bookstop and now at the Westheimer & Voss Barnes and Noble, today the local musician and misanthrope John Cramer's eye can spot something odd in a parking lot the same way a veteran sea pilot knows how to avoid shoals and sandbars at low tide.
But little did Cramer know that this expertise would one day help put a life back together.
The other day at Barnes and Noble, Cramer fixed on a green Buick Century. At first he thought it was another of the people who, for whatever reason, nap behind the bookstore. "We get these people -- I don't know if it's something to do with their job or they just want to get out of their house -- but they will come over here and they will sleep in their car," Cramer says.
And so it went for a few days. The Buick never moved in all that time. Cramer decided to take a closer look. "I saw there was a basket of laundry in it and it had out of state plates," he recalls. "Something was just weird about it."
He decided to call it in to the police. "They sent out a police officer and he just said the plates were clear and everything was fine," Cramer says.
And still the Buick just sat there. Cramer was growing more and more puzzled by the day. He wrote down the license plate number and snooped around online and found little of interest. "But I just knew somebody owned that car," he says. "You don't just leave a car full of belongings sitting in a parking lot of a retail business. And nothing had moved. The car was dusty, and all the stuff in it was exactly where it was before. If a person was driving it, they were not touching anything in it."
Tuesday or Wednesday night after work, Cramer happened to catch the TV news. He saw a report about a woman who had showed up in a local hospital, battered and bruised, and with a case of amnesia so complete she had forgotten who she was. Of note to Cramer was the date on which she showed up at the hospital. It seemed to roughly correspond to the length of time the mysterious Buick had been in the parking lot, and the Barnes and Noble wasn't far from where the woman was found.
"There were just too many coincidences," he said. And yet he was still reluctant to try the police again. As he put it on his blog, "I felt sort of silly calling the police last night, thinking of myself as one of those people who call whenever something like this happens just so they can be a part of something that has nothing whatsoever to do with them."
It was a good thing he did. Around lunchtime the next day, the detectives on the case had opened up the Buick. One of them was holding a bank card with a picture of the amnesiac woman on it. "When I walked up the guy was all smiles and he shook my hand and said 'Congratulations, sir. You're a hero.' It was so bizarre. I was just like, 'No, there's been a car parked out here for a long time and I put two and two together...'"
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Oddly, the police have yet to release this discovery to media. Hair Balls only got wind of it because we are Facebook buddies with Cramer. Cramer doesn't know why there hasn't yet been a release from the police. "The only thing I can figure out is that they might not want the public to know yet, which is weird because they didn't tell me not to say anything," he says. "Maybe they haven't found her family yet, but he was standing there holding her bank card with her face on it. She had documents and stuff in her car. They were ecstatic that they had figured out it was her."
When he's not taking in or shipping out books or magazines, Cramer (a rare contributor to the Press) blows off steam by playing Black Sabbath-influenced psychedelic rock or penning bilious diatribes about music, huge swaths of which he regards with supreme scorn. To call Cramer a misanthrope would not be too far off the mark. Hair Balls asked him if this wonderful little incident had dented his disdain for the human race.
He laughed. "I was telling my girlfiend that people must literally think that I actually hate everything," he says. "But if anybody ever actually cared to really find out the truth, they would discover that I don't actually hate everything. I'm just incredibly down on humanity in general. But I do reserve hope. It's not like I mope around all the time, but I am incredibly cynical and sarcastic. I think I've adopted and exploited that in my writing style, but I'm comfortable with that. I know it turns a lot of people off, but that's okay. I enjoy it.
"But has this dented it? No," he laughs, "I think it's still going strong."