My First Domestic Success

I used to do surveillance in this….


I started in the business in 1994-1995 in the San Francisco Bay Area driving a 1970s Dodge Dart that I bought for $500 from a guy I used to see play guitar in a blues band at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland. I bought the car after a test drive in which I took it up and down the very steep Marin Avenue grade in Berkeley.  It climbed up. It braked down. Sold.

My first two domestics in the ride proved uneventful.  On the first I staked out a guy’s wife who lived in the San Bruno hills.  I sat across from her place, hunkering down out on a main road.  I followed her once or twice when she went mobile.  Nothing happened.  The second time I was on the case was in the tony St. Francis Wood section of San Francisco.  Uneventful except cops rolled up on me because neighbors reported me in my freak-ride.

My $500 investment took a turn for the worst.  The battery shorted.  I used to stall when driving down Gilman and turning onto the Eastshore Freeway. It had become a POS.  One summer day playing rugby I snapped my collarbone and hurt my neck and had to be taken by ambulance to Stanford Medical Center.  I later learned that my teammates drew straws to see who had to drive my ride back to my apartment.  Reports surfaced that the interior netting fell down on the unlucky bastard who drew the short straw and had to transport it.

I worked under my good friend and legendary PI John Nazarian.  I collected money from the clients and did the work.

One day I signed up a client who suspected that her brother-in-law was sleazing around on her sister. The plan was to follow him when he dropped her and her kids off at San Francisco airport. I showed up in the Golden Nugget and tailed them to the airport.  Sure enough, he bee-lined to the mistress immediately from SFO.  I followed them around town and saw them snuggling at a carwash off Van Ness Avenue. Maybe because it was San Francisco or maybe it was because they were so smitten that they did not notice the lurking Dart that stuck to them.

However, I had not obtained the money footage.  I was not using a video camera then but instead had my old Pentax with a mirror lens.  I knew where the mistress had parked and decided to wait near her car in the Financial District.  My instincts told me to go to the high ground for a vantage point.  I found an overpass near the Embarcadero above  her car and waited.

What happened next can only compare to the thrills I had from rugby.  In rugby, playing wing or in the backs is a nervy position in which your good and bad plays are on display for the world, or more likely the 100 or so spectators at the match.  When you field a high ball that hangs in the air with men racing down under it to pummel you, time stands still.  The concentration required is like nothing else.  You block out all distractions.  Seconds become minutes.  You have to field that ball and make a play. Nothing else matters if you don’t catch it.. Then you worry about self-preservation and getting up field to maybe score or dish.

His Mercedes showed right next to her convertible.  He walked her to her car and moved in for the kiss.  Click, click, click went the shutter during the smooch.  She drove away towards the Bay Bridge heading east.  I ran down from my perch.

I carried a screwdriver with me because the Dart’s engine would not start unless I connected the battery points with a metal object.  The mistress must have had a two-minute head start on me. I flung open the hood, sparked the battery and away I went. I had to find out who she was and where she lived.

I think it was a Saturday afternoon.  On the Bay Bridge I must have hit 80 or 85 mph until I caught up to her in Emeryville.  I followed her all the way to Pinole and actually saw the house and address where she parked.  I quickly learned her name, age and occupation. She was a nurse.

I had my film developed in the next day or two.  I had captured good face shots of them during the kiss. I met with the client, gave her the evidence and felt great about the job.

I learned from this case that will, effort and anticipation are the most important parts of a surveillance.  Since then, I have chased in everything from an Infiniti to a Honda Civic.  Seventeen years later I still remember the lessons from that successful surveillance.