Found but not lost; a hotel days reminiscence

“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

It was certainly one of the more memorable lines of greeting from my years as a hotel bellman – also one of the more puzzling. It was a typical weekday morning in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Metrodome; my partner in crime Franklin and I had weathered the 1993whitefordmorning rush of getting all of our business travelers off to their day’s work, our university clientele to their classes, seminars or hospital visits and were enjoying a cup of coffee and conversation. That was when one of the aforementioned business guys, whom we both recognized, pulled up in front of us with a Starsky-and-Hutch like jolt, jumped from the car and got into the lobby before either Franklin or I could get to the door, looks at us and with more than a touch of panic in his voice, uttered his problem succinctly.

“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

It was uncommon in our big-city hotel experience for someone to think their vehicle had been stolen (especially on a groggy Saturday or Sunday morning… but that’s another story).

This guy obviously had something different going on. He breathlessly related his tale.

After arriving at the hotel the previous night, he met some clients for dinner, came back to the hotel, parked his rental car in the ramp, came in and went to bed. That morning he got up, hit the gym, had breakfast. Then he went to the ramp, threw his briefcase in the backseat, hopped in his rental car, drove to his meeting.

Only then did he notice that he had thrown his briefcase in next to not his one box of files, but two smaller boxes labeled ‘product samples’ and a large, blue mailing tube which appeared to contain blueprints. None of it (save the briefcase) were his. Thus, his hightailing it back to the hotel in the hopes that his favorite, stalwart bellmen could help him out of his presumed grand-theft predicament.

Hmparkingramp“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

Some quick sleuthing and deducing on the part of Franklin and I solved the not-a-crime. Seems when exiting the parking ramp elevator that morning, our intrepid traveler had gotten off on level two, not three, and had simply walked to what he presumed to be his rented white Ford, turned the key in the lock, got in and drove off.

With someone else’s rental car….from a different rental car company.

Franklin and I were able to quickly piece together the puzzle with any number of clues: the license number on his rental agreement wasn’t even the same state as the car he drove off in. The sticker in the corner of the windshield of the Ford he was driving said Hertz, the logo on the keys he had in his possession said National.


We were quickly able to locate his National Car rental white Ford in the ramp, right where he had parked it the night before, on level three right by the elevator.

While our guest was relieved there was no APB out on him and his pilfered ride, before we let him get back to his meeting, we needed to get his not-his-car back into the ramp, so that the person who had rightfully rented it could find it and not go into panic mode thinking their rental car (and blueprints, and whatever else) had been absconded with. We had only one set of keys to move two cars nationalkeyand the ramp was very busy, so jockeying them around was not a great option; for the sake of expedience we decided to return the phantom, accidentally stolen car to the nearest spot to where it had been taken from, and would try to catch up with the confused driver and explain at some point.

Unfortunately, the business day was in full swing, and the ramp was nearly full. The only open spot we could find was on level four, and nowhere near the elevator. But it was what we had, so we parked the car, brought the keys and the proper car to their rightful rentee and sent him merrily on his way without need of a brown paper bag or CPR.

And never heard a peep from the person whose car mysteriously moved.

As Franklin and I were in-and-out of the lobby making van runs and performing other duties, we instructed the front desk to call one of us on our radios if a guest showed up wither confused or in a panic because their rental Ford had disappeared, so we could explain the situation first-hand.

We heard nothing.

Our accidental-thief had checked out, departing town immediately after his meeting – a pre-arranged getaway. Franklin and I checked the ramp and within a couple of hours of returning the car to the ramp it was gone. Later that day, I took a luggage cart up to the ramp to assist some newly arrived guests, and there was the white Ford again, just a few spots down from its original locale on level three.

We chalked the lack of urgency up to a morning-after induced ‘hmmmm-I-don’t-remember-being-all-the-way-up-on-level-four’ shrugoff – a far more common occurrence to us than “You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

Things get taken from hotels all the time – inadvertently and otherwise; towels, toiletires, Gideon Bibles, lamps, phones. In ten years in the hotel business, this was the first and only instance of an accidental car theft, and one of my all-time, top-five favorite guest lines.

“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!” is right up there with “Noooo…I think I’d remember if I had left an upright piano in my room.”

yellowpianoIf you ever need a good lost-yellow-piano story, just let me know.


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