City Paper is not for tourists
You’d have to be foolish to contemplate a burglary in the Woodland Normanstone neighborhood. Tucked away in a valley between the Omni Shoreham, Rock Creek Park, and Massachusetts Avenue, Normanstone is few square miles of winding asphalt, obscure embassies, and pricey digs, a prosperous Land of the Lost where no one you know lives.
If you’ve ever driven through it, perhaps in an attempt to flee traffic, you know that the ‘hood is not only tough to find, it’s even more confusing to escape. And the affluent Normanstone burghers have chipped in to hire Wells Fargo to patrol their quiet streets. The community watch signs are for real.
As if all that weren’t enough of a deterrent, circling through the winding ways and over the stone bridges of Normanstone is the fabled Black Van.
The first clue about the Black Van came via fax from an anonymous kvetcher, who whined that the vehicle followed him slowly and threateningly along the neighborhood’s sidewalks. Emblazoned on the van’s side, said the fax, was a foreboding sign: SECURITY. The Woodland Normanstone community was getting uppity, the faxer suggested.
It ain’t tiny U.N. choppers mutilating cows in the name of the New World Order, but the charcoal Chevrolet Furtivo seems a worthy vehicle for conspiracy. Determined to expose the black ops behind the van, I ventured into Normanstone on a gloomy Friday night—peak crime hours, when the conspiracy van is sure to be on duty. The first sign that Normanstone is serious about crime is a sign. “Warning,” it says, “Area Patrolled by Security Guard.” The colors are Carolina blue, but there’s no Southern hospitality to read between the lines. “Woodland Normanstone Services Association,” reads the footnote credit.
Nothing like an obfuscatory misnomer to thicken the plot like so much cornmeal. I didn’t see any vans that chilly night, so I called Sanda Lambert, a Normanstone resident who heads up the association’s security operations.
“You read the papers,” she said to me, explaining why the association hired Wells Fargo to patrol the neighborhood’s streets. “The police are desperately trying to get their departments organized properly….We decided for the time being to have some sense of deterrent around while the police are getting their act together.”
Lambert described some of the havoc scumbags had been wreaking on her neighborhood: Someone broke into a garage and stole a bike, and someone stole some tools from a contractor. Then a Normanstonian was held up at gunpoint. It was time to pool cash and hire some extra muscle.
“Rather than abandon the city, we’d rather make it safe and livable,” Lambert continued. “While things are not so hot around this city, a number of neighborhoods see the need to address things as a community that the government can’t seem to address at this time.”
Sounds just like someone who’d want a Black Van to scare off the riffraff. But no.
“That is not our van,” she said. “It must be some private van. I’ve seen it too, and I don’t know.”
I took it to the streets again, wasting six nights over three weeks, driving around, huntin’ vans.
And again, nothing.
Only once did I even see what looked like a security guy, and his wheels of choice were a Chevrolet Suburban. And he was clearly more scared of me than I of him. I even got out of my car, strutting menacingly down the deserted streets, black leather jacket, tough-guy cigarette. I clearly had no business in that neighborhood.
But no one did anything.
So I contacted Wells Fargo spokesman Joe Pasmore, who did everything in his power to further conspiracy speculation.
“That is not a Wells Fargo vehicle,” said Pasmore. “I do know what it is, but I’m not at liberty to say.”
Other Wells Fargo reps were even less helpful than Pasmore.
For the time being, I’m forced to file away the Unsolved Case of the Black Van in the X-file marked “L” for Loser, for wasting so much time trying to chase down a figment of somebody’s imagination.
But my eyes are open, Black Van. And now it’s personal, Black Van. Real personal.CP
Washington City Paper is offering $25 and a free Washington City Paper shirt—black, of course—to the first reader who solves the mystery of the Black Van or offers a damn creative explanation in lieu of facts.