THE LIFE OF BRYAN, ACT XLV: STORAGE WARS
Part One: Let Go Of Everything
It felt like the tour bus was moving faster than it usually did. Turns were sudden and jerky, throwing me off balance every other step. I was trying to carry a large and awkward box from the back of the bus to the front and the driving wasn't helping. When I reached the middle compartment, it seemed to get more narrow as I moved forward, and I got stuck. I couldn't get the box through. So I peeked around it and looked ahead. I could see clear through to the driver's compartment. There was nobody in there.
I tried to push the box aside but it was heavy, and still blocking me. I somehow clambered past it and through the tiny doorway, into the front lounge seating area, with windows all around. We were on a bridge, far above water. There was a curve in the road ahead. I sprinted forward but it was too late - the bus crashed through the barrier. I felt a brief flying sensation, then a freefall, then an impact that should have shattered me, but didn't. I heard a huge splash. Water quickly rose above the window level. The bus fell, and fell, and fell, and then landed on the riverbed with a groaning thud. I saw water start to pour in from the windows, and I felt the fear of someone who thought they were going to die.
It was only an hour after I'd gone to sleep on Tuesday night, December 27, when I woke rattled from the kind of dream I usually never have, let alone remember. Twelve hours later, I was standing in front of my storage space, watching a locksmith use a grinder to cut off a circular lock that wasn't mine. I'd already bought and returned a pair of heavy duty bolt cutters, which didn't work. Now I just had to wait.
I didn't know what I would see when he got the lock off, but I'd been thinking about it for over an hour. Maybe nothing. Maybe a few things. Maybe everything, I allowed myself to hope. I knew I had more valuable instruments and personally sentimental items in there than usual, a leftover result from a months-ago forest fire near my house. I'd been moving too quickly in between tour legs to fix it.
The lock finally gave way and I threw open the door. It was still mostly full. I looked to the right, where I kept the instruments. Those were gone, all seven of them. I looked to the top left for my rare SWR Mo' Bass Amplifier. That was gone. Speaker cabinets, various other amps, CD inventory, and other personal boxes were still there, though not all in place. It seemed they knew what was worth taking.
I thought of my red Mike Lull Modern 5-string, my #1 instrument...
...and silently exploded. It was the second time in 22 years my #1 had been stolen.
Then I thought of my dear friend Wes Wehmiller's P-Bass, and my heart sank.
His parents had entrusted it to me. I slumped against the wall, weak and ill.
From there it was nuts and bolts. I notified the storage space - Public Storage on Via Princessa in Canyon Country [I've already publicized this, so that cat's out of the bag] - and filed a police report with the officers who eventually arrived. They told me to leave the crime scene unaltered as it would need to be dusted for fingerprints, and wanted to know when I'd last been in the storage space. It was November 9, the day after the Mike Keneally Baked Potato gig on election night. From November 9 to December 28, I hadn't touched it. The reality hit me: The thieves had up to a seven week head start.
After calling the folks at Mike Lull, and Wes' parents and close friends (so none of them would hear about this from anyone other than me), I went home and compiled as much information as quickly as I could, and turned to the most powerful tool I knew for amplifying a message: Social Media. My initial Facebook post about the incident went up at 9:42pm Pacific Time. My gratitude for the response - now over 2 million people reached, and shared over 13,000 times - remains deeply heartfelt.
The next day - Thursday 12/29 - was mostly tedium. After taking an early morning motorcycle ride I'd promised myself, I set to the tasks of police reports, insurance claims, calling pawn shops, contacting Guitar Centers and Sam Ashes (some of whom reached out to me proactively with offers to help - thank you!), dealing with additional issues at Public Storage, trying (in vain) to get a fingerprint technician to come to my storage space so they could dust it for prints and then I could take everything else out of there…and most of all, monitoring the intense response on Facebook and Twitter to the initial post. Hundreds of messages and comments were coming in from around the world, all with great intentions, but no hard leads. My case didn't have a detective assigned yet due to the holiday week. I even called a Private Investigator, but without any leads, he couldn't offer me anything. I slept very little the night before and had a nasty headache. Other than that, even though I was putting on the bravest face I could, I felt numb.
* * * * * * * *
On the morning of Friday, December 30, I dropped my car off to have four new tires put on, because mine had dry-rotted from months of inactivity while I was on tour. The tire place was next to my massage therapist's office, where I go every two weeks (when I'm home) to help my back and neck play nice with my other body parts. I was sore all over and really needed it. I put my face in the cradle, and my mind wandered.
I thought of the loss of those instruments, and those sounds. Then I thought of other losses I'd incurred along the journey of the past eighteen wild months on tour…and then months became years, as I thought about moving back to California into the mountains, and the success that followed, along with other things that followed…and then further back to my decision to quit my job and become a musician again after Wes died……and suddenly I felt overwhelmed and I broke down.
On the other side of that, I had a moment. A few times in my life, I have felt as if I've been sent a message from somewhere. The language this time was clear:
Sometimes, if you want something badly enough,
you have to be willing to let go
I'd long thought that the true test of any spiritual practice was not to classify any circumstance or event as imperfect. It wasn't always easy, to say the least, and it also led to complex paradoxes about morality and free will and predetermination. But it was something that worked, sometimes, for me.
I rose from the table at the end of the massage with a greater calmness of being. I'd moved through something, and was now prepared to both do what I needed to do to get the instruments back, and also to accept that I might never see them again, and that the outcome would be ok, no matter what.
I walked over to the tire place to get my car. They rang up my bill. And then I checked my phone, and said
"HOLE LEE SHIT"
out loud to no one in particular. I fast-walked out of the room, feeling the stares of strangers as I swung the door.
Part Two: Bonnie And Clyde
I work at the Sam Ash in Canoga Park. I believe that someone sold some of your stolen gear to my store, in particular, your SWR Mo Bass and maybe a full pedal board. I was wondering if you filed a police report so that I can contact them and hopefully aid in getting the rest of your gear returned to you.
Chris Breedlove was the name that came up in my Facebook Pages Message App. I called the store right away. He'd seen a post by a Reddit user named "porkypiny" about my missing gear, and connected the dots. They had the SWR Mo' Bass. The serial number matched - 0002, the second ever made. I wasn't sure what he meant by "pedalboard" but figured the thieves had stolen it from someone else.
20 minutes later, I was there. I saw my Mo' Bass head. Then they brought out a soft pedalboard bag and unzipped it, and my mouth fell open. It was Guthrie Govan's analog pedalboard!
He'd switched over to a Fractal unit lately, and I'd forgotten that he left his old board with me, and that I put it in the storage space along with many other valuable things when the forest fires struck. I was going to have to add that to the police report, I thought, slightly embarrassed that I'd spaced about it. Then I snapped back.
"Tell me everything!" I said. A white man and woman in their late 20's brought in the Mo' Bass, Guthrie's pedalboard, and two basses, one red and one black. My heart skipped. They had my Red #1, along with a new prototype Mike had built me, and wanted to sell those as well. But when Sam Ash said they needed to check with their vintage expert in New York before quoting a price, they ultimately decided to go elsewhere. My fists clenched.
"When," I asked, thinking of the seven week head start, "were they here?" Monday, December 26, he said.
"Four days ago!" I could barely stand still. "Got a name?"
They did better than a name - they showed me the pawn slip, required by California law, which listed the name of the woman (who I will call "Bonnie"), her address, and her driver's license number. I took a picture of it, thanked Chris profusely, and headed straight back up to the Santa Clarita Sheriff's Department. I'd been there the day before submitting my initial report to a couple of deputies who were pretty skeptical about my chances for recovering the stolen items.
On the way there, I spoke to a woman I'll call "Angela" from Public Storage in Canyon Country. This poor girl was now tasked with reviewing seven weeks of surveillance footage, and dealing with all kinds of separate issues with the police. I called to tell her that Bonnie had been trying to pawn off some of the gear as recently as four days ago, and maybe she could narrow her video review to more recent dates. She told me, purposefully vaguely but in a way that was still informative, that "additional issues and situations" had arisen from the footage they'd already reviewed, and that they were tearing through it as fast as they could for the police while still doing their regular workaday things. I gave her the name I had. It didn't come up in their system, so we agreed to stay in touch. I was already wondering what they found before I even got off the phone.
* * * * * * * *
The front desk of a police station is a tough place. People coming in and out, no one particularly happy to be there, all sorts of crazy problems. I wanted patiently for an hour to present my lead. The desk officer was kind and appreciative, and explained that while a detective still hadn't been assigned to my case because of the holidays, and that it could take a bit before that name was processed to see if the info on the pawn slip checked out, that "good information" goes to the top of the pile. I thanked him and left for a late lunch at Whole Foods, which was around the corner. I'd still been fighting that headache all day. Maybe food would help.
I was able to let it go for about ten minutes, and then I couldn't take it, headache or no headache. I called the Private Investigator and told him about the lead I found. That's great, he said, but he was out of town until Monday for the holidays. He said to keep him posted if anything else came up.
I sat at Whole Foods, picking through my salad bar assortment, and stewed. I looked at the name on the pawn slip again. Maybe she's on Facebook. Nope.
Pawn slip. Name, address. How about I Google that to see if it's real?
The address came up. A nice suburb in Santa Clarita, not far from where I was. Not the wrong side of the tracks at all. The second result was a background check service. "Get detailed background information on [Bonnie]," it said. Hmmm. Click.
"For $30 you can have all public information on [Bonnie]" - police records, phone numbers, known associates, etc. I thought, I have $30. Click. Click. ClickClickClick. Purchase.
Boom. Criminal records. Multiple felonies and misdemeanors. Phone number. E-mail address. I put the e-mail address into the Facebook search field, and: BOOM. She came up under a different last name. Pictures, posts, a whole life's story. The woman and the address were real. And it was all only three miles from where I was. I finished my salad and jumped in the car.
I was there in ten minutes. The neighborhood was completely nondescript, a dry suburb with rows of townhouses in a vaguely Spanish exterior aesthetic. The house itself had the lights turned off. No criminal enterprise to be seen here, at least at the moment.
My brain was whirring now. I went back to her Facebook profile and looked again. There was a man (who I will call "Clyde") in a picture with her. They looked intimate. His name was tagged. All I had to do was click.
What I saw next was the page of a criminal. I know that because he had posted selfies of him in his orange California Department of Corrections jumpsuit. Who does that?! Everything I saw on that page was consistent with a guy who wouldn't think twice about stealing a bunch of instruments from a storage space and selling them for money to live on, buy drugs with, or god knows what else. Once I purchased a background check on "Clyde", every suspicion I had was confirmed three times over. I could feel my heart…racing.
I shot back over to the Sheriff's Station again. Now the front desk area was empty. No line. A different officer was on duty. I said, "I know I was just here giving more detail on my case, but something else came up…" and I showed him the picture of Clyde. His eyes widened.
"Holy shit, that's the guy we were chasing through the streets last night!" We looked at each other, now with four wide eyes.
"Wait right here," he said. He came back out seconds later holding a BOLO sheet with Clyde's name on it. "This guy, right?" Right.
I asked if he got away. "He did." The desk officer glared angrily as he spit out the words.
Minutes later, a Detective came out, the only one on duty. He thanked me, saying, "nice work". I asked him if he knew Bonnie and Clyde. "Oh yeah," he sighed, "I know them well." Longtime troublemakers in the Santa Clarita Valley. He doubted the addresses I had were where they actually slept, said that they moved around a lot, and that "Clyde" was wanted for several other things. He said it was an active case for him, that they were looking for both of them, and it was good to know he could tie them to what I had already reported. He'd let me know if he came up with anything.
With that, I left, tired but fairly satisfied with how the day had gone, considering how it had started. Even though my head was still pounding, once I got home I updated my notes on everything and wrote new lists for the following day because that's what I do, and then I took the rest of the night off, alternating between thoughts about where Bonnie and Clyde might be, and how I'd feel when I woke the next morning.
Part Three: The Showdown At The Canyon Country Corral
I jumped out of bed with a start at 8:00am on New Year's Eve Day 2016, the day this crazy year would finally meet its end. Made coffee and oatmeal just like always. Head felt a little better. Looked at my list of stuff to do. Regular stuff, not burglary stuff. It didn't work. I was obsessing.
There must be something else I can do, I thought. Over and over and over.
I went back to Bonnie's Facebook page. There was a picture I'd skipped past. She was selling two household items for measly money. It was sad, and not in the Donald Trump snarky way. It was actually, truly sad.
But it was the background of the shot that intrigued me. The items were sitting on a gravel parking lot. Then I looked closer: There were storage spaces. It wasn't Public Storage. It was somewhere else.
I clicked it. It took me to a website version of a phone app I'd never heard of, where apparently you can sell used items just by posting a picture. The name of the app?
The picture was geotagged to a Canyon Country location. Another nice suburb. Nothing like the place in that picture. That was more "Breaking Bad southwestern industrial" than "nice suburb". How many storage places could there be in Canyon Country other than Public Storage? I decided to find out by Google Image searching every single one of them.
Second one…no, that's not it either.
Third one…gravel parking lot. Same color doors. Same color structure. Same everything. This was it. It was ten minutes from my house. I jumped out of my chair and pumped my fist like my team had just scored a sudden death overtime touchdown in the Super Bowl.
I called them at 9:00AM. They were open, but the guy who answered the phone was, understandably, not exactly excited to hear from someone who was telling them that they might have a criminal harboring stolen goods in their facility. He was willing to talk in person, though.
I peered at myself in the mirror. I was wearing grey and black ill-fitting sweats. I hadn't washed my hair in three days and it looked like it. Eyebags. Stubble. I looked like shit. And I tumbled out the door without a second thought about it.
When I arrived, I walked into the trailer office and showed him the pawn slip with Bonnie's name on it. His eyes rolled.
"Oh, her and that crazy boyfriend of hers, they're our worst tenants! They stay late every time after closing hours, they're rude and have no respect for authority, always causing trouble, the girl got in a fight with some other guy and he broke her lock off a few weeks back, it's always something with those two…"
I showed him Clyde's name. "Yep, that's him," he nodded. "Nothing but trouble. I wish we could get rid of them."
Then I asked him when was the last time he saw them. "They were here yesterday for over five hours, right up until closing time!"
I gasped. I was now only 16 hours behind them.
* * * * * * * *
I told him everything. He called in his manager. They called the facility owner. We talked it over for about five minutes, then I said I needed to call the police, which I did.
It was another rough morning in the Santa Clarita Sheriff's Station. 2016 was going out with a bang. They said they knew what I was giving them but couldn't send anyone over right away because of multiple situations with a runaway, a rape, and other terrible things. They asked me if I could wait for a while. I said yes, entertaining thoughts of my basses sitting in a storage unit just 100 feet from where I was sitting in my car with the heat on. It was cold and rainy outside. Miserable.
An hour passed. I called back. Same story - not enough cars, too many urgent calls, please hang tight.
Another hour passed. I called back again, and again, they apologized and referenced things I couldn't match in urgency. So again, I waited.
It must be something to live in that world all the time, I thought to myself. It's some life that police choose.
Minutes later I received a direct call from an officer, who wanted me to know something important: He was the guy who was chasing Clyde on foot two nights before. "I don't like it when they get away," he said. "I want this guy bad but I'm stuck on a stakeout waiting for relief. I should be good to go within an hour and I'll come straight to you, ok?"
The storage facility guy and me then both had the same question. "What do we do if he shows up?"
"Call 911 immediately and tell them you've got Clyde right there. They'll roll, trust me. Don't confront him."
We agreed, said thanks, hung up, and I returned to sitting in my car to keep warm.
It was at this point I realized my future in police work might not be so bright. My skill at napping, which served me so well while touring the world as a musician, boomeranged on me and I passed out in the car. The world's worst amateur stakeout detective, at your service. I am the one who sleeps.
* * * * * * * *
I jerked awake. Man, I thought, I need to get some coffee. I told the storage facility guy I'd be back in five minutes. There was a Starbucks just about a mile away. On the way there I called my Dad to tell him what was going on. He said what any father would. "Be careful."
A minute later, I got a call from an unknown number. "Hello?"
It was the storage guy. "He's here! He just pulled in."
"SHIT!" I never made it to the Starbucks. I flipped an illegal u-turn and sped back in the other direction while yelling. "Call 911!"
"I'll get the plates, you call 911!" Made sense.
I dialed 911 while driving well over the speed limit. I mean, all the cops were busy that morning, right?
"Hello, I've got wanted burglary suspect [Clyde] right now at [xxx storage facility], he just pulled in! You have a APB out for him right now!"
"Calm down, sir. What's the address?"
I spit it out too fast and botched it. Second time's the charm. "He's there now, how soon can you get there?!"
"We're on it, sending cars now. Be calm, we're on the way."
I pulled back up to the facility and parked across the street from the driveway entrance, which goes straight back. Shooting off are several right turns into additional tiny storage "lanes" just barely big enough for two cars to fit through. The third lane in was where Bonnie and Clyde's space was located, just around the corner. I called the storage guy.
"I'm here, across the street. What's going on?"
"He's here, and now she's here too, along with two other guys. Two vehicles." Both of them. Right across the street. I could feel adrenaline coursing through me.
I looked to the left and saw two police cruisers rolling up. Side by side. Slowly. One stopped before the driveway. The other moved up to the next driveway. The only other exit for cars was now blocked.
Two more black and whites rolled up. They split off, one to each driveway. Two cars per driveway. Heart pounding.
Five seconds. Five more seconds.
Then they rolled. The first car in bounced hard over rain-filled potholes and uneven gravel, skidding to a splashy stop at the third lane. Two officers bolted out of the car, guns drawn. I heard yelling. They went into the lane. I couldn't see what happened next.
Seconds later, the other cars drove in, fast. It seemed fluid. I stayed where I was, not wanting to screw this up in any way.
A minute later, the area is suddenly flooded with police cars and officers. Lights everywhere. One, two, four, six, eight cars! Ten!
The next couple of minutes were weird. It looked like something good happened, but I didn't want to approach a pile of officers in a scene like this.
Then, I saw them. One by one, the faces on the Facebook page came to life, only this time being led by police officers, with their arms behind their backs, handcuffed. Bonnie and Clyde were both arrested, right in front of me.
I am not sure I have ever experienced anything more satisfying in my entire life, and that is covering a lot of ground right there.
Little by little the officers told me what happened when they approached. Clyde threw his wallet up on the roof of the storage unit, as if that would fool the officers into not knowing who he was. They retrieved it, of course.
They also said he considered running again, like he did two nights before. One officer told me he said, "I'll shoot you, I don't care." I was visibly taken aback. "You know, I'm bluffing, property crime." He shrugged his shoulders.
Then he told me who he was: The same officer who'd called me directly, the one who'd chased Clyde on foot just 48 hours before. Somehow he got out of his stakeout and made it up to the scene just in time to be the first car in, and the arresting officer. He finally got his man.
Also, one of the suspects managed to flee on foot. And when I say "on foot", I mean he ran out of his sandals and hoofed it barefoot up into the mountains behind the facility, in the 40-degree cold and rain. The officers didn't seem concerned. They knew who he was and they'd get him soon, they said. So that's why a bunch of extra cars rolled through in a hurry immediately after the arrest.
At some point it became ok to get closer, and I was just feet from all of the action. Unexpectedly, they brought Bonnie back out for something. We locked eyes for about two seconds. She was pretty, alluring, considerably more attractive than the pictures on her Facebook page. But her eyes seemed dead, and maybe for half a second also filled with incandescent rage. God only knows what she really thought about a greasy-haired goateed musician in sweats standing in front of her, the only civilian in a sea of cops, absorbing her glowering gaze.
Once things settled, a couple of officers asked me, with no shortage of incredulity, "Exactly how did you end up here?"
I told them the whole story. I got a fist bump out of it, and some very nice words. They were genuinely grateful. In their world, I don't know how many clean wins they get. It must be very, very tough.
An officer looked at me and laughed. "You know, we can get you a badge but you'll have to cut your hair."
* * * * * * *
Soon I learned why they were so grateful. Back at Public Storage, Angela was dealing with additional victims coming forward by the hour. As of that afternoon, 28 storage spaces in total had been hit. I was just the canary in the coal mine, one who was fortunate enough to have a Facebook Page that reached a community of people willing to help…including a Reddit user named "porkypiny" and a heroic employee of Sam Ash Canoga Park named Chris Breedlove. Guys, take your bows. You helped out more folks than just me.
Meanwhile, six other cars filled with officers and I sat and waited…and waited…in the cold rain for a judge to sign a search warrant so we could open up Bonnie and Clyde's storage unit, and hopefully find my basses on the other side. It was 4:30pm. Suddenly I realized: Exactly 22 years ago, to the minute, I'd walked into my North Hollywood apartment and discovered that my 1986 pre-Gibson Tobias had been stolen, never to return. My old, long lost #1 - you're about to be avenged!
But it was not to be. At 6:20pm we finally got the warrant signed, and we opened up the storage space, and there was mostly cheap stuff and household items in there. No basses. The avenging would have to wait. Maybe that was too much to ask for all in one day.
An hour earlier I'd shot over to Public Storage because Angela said they had a flight case of mine. It was the case for my Taylor AB-4. She was really excited because she wanted to give me good news, but I knew the bass wasn't in there because I didn't keep it in there. I kept it in a gig bag, which was still missing along with the bass. The interesting part was that it was found in one of the other spaces they burglarized. So Team Bonnie and Clyde were accessing multiple spaces for various reasons. The Public Storage folks had a nightmare on their hands and plenty to sort through, but they were all extremely excited to hear about the arrests, and were very gracious about it all. Maybe I'll hear from them again, with better news.
Back at the scene of the arrests: After we checked out Bonnie and Clyde's storage space I said my goodbyes to the officers, some of whom were in hour 18+ of their shifts. We shook hands warmly. They went back to work logging evidence in the cold rainy night, under a four-pole tent they'd brought to keep the items dry.
Me? I went home and took a long, hot shower. I even shaved and washed my hair. And then I went out for a nice dinner and a drink, alone, to celebrate the things I was grateful for, and to kiss 2016 a well-deserved goodbye.
I noticed that my headache was finally gone.
* * * * * * * *
Late that night, as the last seconds of 2016 ticked away, my mind wandered again, this time back to the dream.
Did I finally make it to the front of the bus in time?
Or was the bus flying into the water just as it should have been, a kind of perfection?
If I let go of trying to save the bus, would it have steered itself through the curve? Doubtful.
But what if there wasn't a curve at all? Did I really see what I thought I saw? Feel what I thought I felt?
What do I keep, and what do I let go?
Eh. I guess I'll figure it out next year.
As for the basses, they're still out there, most likely somewhere in Southern California, and probably not too far from Santa Clarita. This wasn't exactly a sophisticated international crime ring we were dealing with here. Now that Bonnie and Clyde are taken care of, I'll put more energy towards tracking the gear.
Of course, the cops are interested in the same thing. Speaking of which, the Santa Clarita Sheriff's Department has a special message they would like to share with you:
January 1, 2017, 11:00am
There have been numerous storage unit thefts that occurred between 12/25/16-12/30/16 in the 18600 block of Via Princessa in the City of Santa Clarita. Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station Detectives are attempting to locate possible victims of those thefts as soon as possible. Possible victims are encouraged to check their storage unit to make sure it is still secure. If a theft has occurred, please notify the SCV Sheriff’s Department as soon as possible at (661) 255-1121.
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
23740 Magic Mountain Parkway
Santa Clarita, CA 91355
Twitter @SCVSheriff http://www.twitter.com/scvsheriff
SCV Station Homepage - http://www.santaclarita.lasd.org
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/SantaClaritaValleySheriffsStation
I want to thank everyone at the SCV Sheriff's Station for…everything. I don't want anything in this story to infer that they didn't take my information seriously. They did. They knew that these people were a menace to law abiding citizens, and they told the truth at every step. The better the info they got, the better the response I got. And when the moment of truth came, they rolled hard, fast and heavy, and they got their man…and woman.
Finally, I want to thank YOU. Not just for reading all the way to the end of this ridiculously long story, but for creating a massive wave of positive and intentional energy that, I believe, led to the eventual result. Famous and regular folks alike shared this news repeatedly, and it made a difference. Even people in far flung corners of the globe who shared this helped in some way. We don't always know what the reverberating effect of the action we take will be, but in the ever more connected universe in which we live, I am here to tell you that, whatever it is, it has more impact than you think.
Now, let's find those fucking basses.
Happy New Year Everyone!
Your possible questions and/or requests:
What is this "Life Of Bryan" thing anyway?
I don't care what the "Life Of Bryan" means, I just want to read more of your long form stuff.
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This is all very good and I'm now inspired to purchase a CD.