What does this mysterious activity in front of a friend's house mean?
December 10, 2013 11:05 PM   Subscribe

Some friends of mine are really concerned about something that happened outside their home two days ago. While they were out of the house, a neighbor says that two weird things happened...

A friend is concerned about some things that happened outside their home two days ago. While they were out of the house, a neighbor says that:

1. A tow truck driver stopped in front of their house, stood directly in front of their 1951 Chevrolet coupe parked on the street in front of their house, took a photo, then drove off. The car isn't in great condition but it's not a wreck either.

2. Soon after that, two joggers, male and a female, ran by the house. The male stopped, took a picture of the right-front of the house, and the female kept running. Then the male continued running. The house isn't anything special in terms of design, upkeep, etc.

I think my friends are basically concerned about potential crime or con jobs or that sort of thing. They are retirees and feel pretty insecure about the unknowns here. Does anyone have ideas as to how this might add up? Maybe it's a complete coincidence, but the neighbor is a trustworthy guy and he thought it was pretty weird too.
posted by circular to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe they want to steal the car at some point and they took the picture to see what kind of vantage point someone inside the house might have to what is going on outside? I don't know but it sounds strange and suspicious to me.
posted by Blitz at 11:17 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I could kind of see somebody taking a picture of their car simply from having a personal interest in cars. A 1951 Chevrolet coupe is a pretty eye-catching car and not a common sight. Is the house itself in any way interesting / scenic as well?
posted by phoenixy at 11:20 PM on December 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

My opinions:
  1. Does the car look like this? If so, I'd probably stop and take a picture too.
  2. There might've been something about the house he wanted to remember. The light might've been nice. It might've just tickled him for some reason. I've taken plenty of unremarkable photos of things because they amused me for some reason.
So I think it's probably coincidence. They could keep their ears and eyes open a bit more in the next few weeks. If they're really worried, they could park the vintage car somewhere differently for a while, presuming that's not their daily drive.
posted by Magnakai at 11:20 PM on December 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

The tow-truck driver taking a picture of a vintage car does not sound at all suspicious to me. They're the kind of people who are likely to see a lot of cars through their line of work, and therefore he's probably just into old cars.

The joggers - eh. Well, is it likely that the picture the male jogger took of the house would have included the car? Because again...cool car is cool.

I wouldn't be too worried if I were your friends, but I'm notoriously non-paranoid about security.
posted by Salamander at 11:31 PM on December 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

Are they sure that there wasn't another thing happening in front of their house that would prompt various people to take a photo, that had nothing to do with their car or house? (i.e. nice sunset, rainbow, a cute animal, etc) I don't think older people are aware that younger people take pictures of whatever catches their fancy just because Instagram/Facebook/just want to remember it, whatever.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:33 PM on December 10, 2013 [11 favorites]

My dad had a '52 Chevy that was driveable, but not in good shape. Definitely needed a paint job... the car did NOT look anything like the one Magnakai links to. It looked like a chalkboard. People did this All. The. Time. We'd get people asking to buy it (to fix it up = project!!) and leaving us notes and what have you. My childhood memories of this are that the guys were uniformly sweaty, dirty, big guys with zztop beards... mechanics and hobby mechanics (tow truck drivers?) and the like. Some were friendly, some were quite pushy.

I would say that the tow truck driver was interested in the car. Let's say the two truck driver's friend (the jogger) lives in your hood and TTdriver forgot your address and asked JoggingFriend which house it is that has the awesome fixer-upper car. He was out jogging, so he came by and took a pic of your address (is the number on your house?). Timing was a coincidence.

But yeah - a fixer-upper early '50s Chevy with good bones will attract a fair bit of attention. If they don't like it, they should park it in the garage (if they have one - we didn't!).
posted by jrobin276 at 11:36 PM on December 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

A '51 Chevy? People are gonna wanna take photos of that. I would take a photo of that. I have old car photos on my phone now.

I'm skeptical of the first report. Are these people ok?
posted by Ironmouth at 12:13 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is the neighbor ok? I mean to say. It sounds like the sort of thing persons with psychosis say. I have some experience from my work.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:15 AM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yeah, the neighbor kinda creeps me out more than taking a photo of a 1951 Chevy. The neighbor sounds paranoid.
posted by Justinian at 12:26 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

It does sound like questionable behavior, but I've taken photos of interesting and unique cars in the past with no wrongful intentions, so who knows.

When I lived downtown, a guy was walking down the street and stopped to take a look at my highly modified (and valuable) Jeep with no top. I went up to him and asked "can I help you with something?" thinking he was staking it out and looking for valuables to steal, but it turned out the guy recently bought a Jeep and was just oogling mine... we talked for about 20 minutes and it was clear he had researched offroading parts, tires, etc for his Jeep. I went inside and double checked my insurance.
posted by mrrisotto at 12:28 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do tow truck drivers troll for business in your area? How long can you leave a possibly derelict-looking car parked on the street?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:36 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

If someone wanted to rob the car, they would just do that then and there, methinks. (Had my own car rustled through a few times in just the two years I had it, and my ex had his car burgled twice. All during the day.)

As for the photos, yeah, I had a 1972 Chevy Nova Super Sport (cherry red, teehee) as a teenager. People were always asking to buy it off me, take photos of it, show them the engine to prove it was a 350 V8 (ha), that sort of thing, and this was in the early 1990s, when cameras were all film.

I take photos of run-down cars as well, and architecture of all sorts including places others see as uninteresting.

I vote for people who saw a neat photo. It's great they have such watchful neighbors – they could thank them and explain that young'uns photographing the lawns of others is A Thing These Days, and not to worry about it in broad daylight so long as cars/homes aren't broken into, in which case, obviously, they should feel free to call the police right away.
posted by fraula at 2:16 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think my friends are basically concerned about potential crime or con jobs or that sort of thing. They are retirees and feel pretty insecure about the unknowns here.

That's not an entirely unreasonable attitude to have. People will snatch a life insurance settlement from a poor widow's hand if you give them half a chance.

But it's probably nothing. They just need to carry on doing the usual stuff: lock their doors, park the car somewhere safer than on the street, trust no offers from strangers that they haven't run by someone like you first, etc.
posted by pracowity at 3:34 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have taken a picture of a random house I was walking by, because its retaining wall was a nice material and we were getting ready to have ours redone, so I wanted to show that one to my partner. Being a homeowner makes one suddenly super interested in other people's windows/roof/porch/whatever you're thinking of fixing at your own place.

Doesn't necessarily mean anything sketchy is going on.
posted by Stacey at 3:45 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

It is possible that the tow-truck driver or someone he knows will try to contact them to buy the car; if they are afraid of a con job they should just say they're not interested in selling. And if they are kind of interested in selling they should try to find out how much a 51 chevy fixer-upper is worth before anyone approaches them.
posted by mr vino at 4:11 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another possibility: pending foreclosure on a mortgage.
posted by yclipse at 4:17 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Re: the jogger - did he take a picture with his phone? Because I use a run-tracking app on my phone and occasionally stop to check it. That might look like taking a picture to someone who's already on high alert.

Also, they should move the car off the road if that's where it usually lives.
posted by punchtothehead at 5:03 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

IMO there is something unusual/creepy going on here, but it's not the tow truck or the jogger taking pictures. It's the neighbors, who apparently watch your friends' house so constantly and so closely that they are able to catch quite quick activities (a jogger pausing to snap a photo).
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:39 AM on December 11, 2013 [12 favorites]

How about this...have your friend actually walk across the street and talk to his/her neighbor about it. "Hey neighbor, I noticed a couple of strange things going on and I just wanted to check in and let you know. By the way....cool old car!"

If they are old, it is especially important to know them since this is probably the least concerning thing that could go on with potentially isolated retirees.
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:32 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I take a lot of photos while walking around. Probably 100-200 a day. I know people think I am odd sometimes because, for example, I'm crouching and shooting a closeup of a frozen leaf on the street or something. I do, sometimes, even sneak onto people's (outdoor, just over the border) property occasionally to get a perfect angle of whatever I'm obsessively shooting at the time.

The neighbor is inspiring unnecessary paranoia. If either of the "photographers" (and I agree that it seems like the jogger was probably doing something else with his phone; why would he take a shot only the right-front?) planned any type of thievery, neither would have been so obvious about the snaps.
posted by miss tea at 6:51 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I was about to get my house painted, I drove around the neighborhood looking for color inspiration with my husband. He'd drive, slowly, while I ogled out the window. When we saw something we liked, I'd snap a photo. I'm sure it looked creepy in a possibly-casing-the-joint way.
posted by apostrophe at 7:10 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Until a few years ago I owned a classic car which was usually kept covered in a carport but whenever it was uncovered it drew quite an audience, including drivers stopping their cars in the middle of the road in front of my driveway to gawk at it. That's fine, that's what happens when you own a classic car along with getting tailed on the road, having random people roll down their car windows to chitchat at stop lights and always coming out of stores to find either a small crowd around your car and/or notes requesting to buy it stuffed under a windshield wiper. If anything, it got more attention before I fixed it up than after because before it was fixed it, it looked more attainable as a project car. Either one enjoys that or they, like me, get fed up with the attention and sell the car. I sold the car to one of those people who stopped dead in the street in front of my driveway.

I disagree with the notion that there's anything wrong with your friend's neighbor. Having an observant neighbor is awesome, the things the neighbor is reporting are the appropriate, well-within-boundaries incidents one wants to hear about. It's a sad world when looking out for one's elderly neighbors is considered pathological.
posted by jamaro at 8:26 AM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

I recently took a picture of a house because it looks like mine and had cedar shingle siding and I need to replace my siding and wanted to show my husband how it would look. Actually it's worse, I slowly drove around it (corner house) taking several photos. And I've done this in the past for windows, paint schemes, etc. Note also that this was an otherwise unremarkable house. The point of interest for me is it was just like mine.
posted by HotToddy at 8:27 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Came to suggest what yclipse has said. While the comments above about liking something about the way that the car and house looked seem more likely to me, the mention of a tow truck driver reminded me of something that happened before my last move. A passerby helped us to secure a car to the car carrier because we were visibly frustrated with it and he had done it "hundreds of times for work." Then, after finding out who we were, he promptly served my partner's roommate with foreclosure papers.

Disregard if you know that it doesn't apply here, but perhaps one (or both) of these people was a process server?
posted by Austenite at 8:47 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I take pictures of random cars on the street when I find them interesting sometimes. As I scroll through the pictures on my phone I find a McLaren MP4-12C, a Shelby Cobra replica, a Tesla Model S on a flatbed, a VW Jetta towing a trailer, and a VW Touareg parked next to a Jeep Grand Cherokee. So far I haven't tried to steal any of them.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:51 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I sometimes take pictures of random houses that strike my fancy or that I think my boyfriend might like to see. One of our pastimes is walking around different neighbourhoods and looking at the houses- some of the features that we find interesting or charming aren't neccessarily conventionally pretty- sometimes there are just details we find neat.
posted by windykites at 9:12 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

What if the runner was taking a picture of himself? You never know which the camera is pointing on those new-fangled phones.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:54 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another possibility: pending foreclosure on a mortgage.

And / or reposession of the car, or efforts to collect a judgment. Do your friends owe anyone money?
posted by slidell at 10:18 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the tow truck driver is into cars. My friend's dad was a hot rodder and worked as a mechanic and would have stopped to take a photo. Later, the jogger might have been taking a photo of himself or something else or perhaps checking an app, applying a setting to a photo he just took, checking his GPS, looking up directions, or even Facetiming.

Your neighbour need not be paranoid. Older people were taught that they should look out for things like this. If they are retired, they probably are out in the yard or their front room a lot. Unlike the rest of us, they probably don't have their eyes on a phone/tablet the entire time. It used to be that older people kept an eye on the entire street. Your neighbour is probably just trying to be helpful. And that sort of help can be important...I know elderly neighbours who have reported burglars going in windows and over fences, loading up moving vans, vandalising cars and more. And your neighbour may also be trying to establish that friendly connection with you. Bring them some treats once in a while - like a plate of cookies. I think people used to be more neighbourly and that your neighbour is just part of that. My grandma and grandpa would have been able to tell you everyone who walked by their house that day, who had a strange car in the driveway, who had visitors and so on. She even knew who had regular appointments or visitors. It's because she would stand at her kitchen window washing dishes or my grandpa would be out in the garden. And they would have neighbours over or go for a walk and chat about these things with their stay at home parents, work from home neighbours, farmers, B&B owners and all the other people who were at home. They'd go to their community meetings and exchange info there, get info from all the people who met for coffee every morning at the coffee shop and more. It wasn't creepy. It was called community. Now my parents pretty much do the same thing, because that's what you do in a community, when you care. They had no interest in invading privacy. They wanted to keep people safe and happy and they were the first to arrange a party, casseroles, award or barbecue if they felt people needed it. And they were a safe place for people to go if they were having trouble. When my grandparents died, hundreds of people showed up at their funerals. Maybe your neighbours are part of that kind of thinking, where we're all in this together and we all have our roles.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:21 AM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

I take pictures of classic cars all the time, to email to my dad. He loves 'em. Nothing really untoward there.
posted by Cycloptichorn at 2:04 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I take pictures on the street all the time. I just finished sending off my first book of photography to the printer this weekend. Not everyone taking pictures on the street is casing the joint. YMMV, of course.
posted by limeonaire at 7:18 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I let a friend store an old car with that classic car look behind my house for a few months. At least once a week someone would come knock on the door asking about buying it, occasionally with cash (far less than it's worth, but enough to seem like a great deal to someone who didn't know what it was worth), occasionally offering slightly disturbing items to trade (afraid it's not my car sir, but that is indeed a very nice gun you have there).

It was clear that some of these people made a regular practice of making offers on cars with a body in halfway decent shape that people might think of as not being worth much, and fixing them up to sell. A tow truck driver might very well keep an eye out for such cars, either for themselves or to sell to someone else wanting to do that.

Your friends should find out if their car can be towed for not having current tags. Even if local laws don't cover that situation, they might have an HOA or landlord who has made arrangements for that directly with a towing company. A friend of mine was able to get half of their towing fees covered by their landlord after their car was dragged out of their off-street parking spot for having a registration expired by a few days -- the landlord had signed a contract to have unregistered vehicles towed away without realizing how enthusiastic the towing companies can get.

Don't let the registration expire if there's the slightest chance of that situation!
posted by yohko at 10:10 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

2 things happened here, neither of them suspicious:

The tow-truck driver stopped to take a picture of the car because it looked awesome and he wanted to take a picture.

The jogger wasn't taking a picture of the house but was in fact taking a selfie of themselves standing next to the car (because it looked awesome). It may have looked as though they were taking a picture of the house because they would have been holding the phone/camera in much the same way in either case.

The neighbour witnessed all this because he spent the morning watching at the car because it looked awesome.
posted by gonogo at 6:23 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Well, nothing's happened so far. I'm thinking it was totally benign. Thanks, everybody for the mind-expanding range of possibilities.
posted by circular at 9:36 PM on January 15, 2014

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