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The Ticket Taker

Claim:   Stolen car is returned with theatre tickets inside to lure away the owners while their home is burgled.

LEGEND

Example:  [Collected on the Internet, 1998]

My cousin Carl and his wife Jean once lived in a secluded, exclusive suburb of New York City. Carl had moved 20 times in 25 years because of his job with Big Blue (IBM). Anyway, his nearby neighbors were sharing their breakfast meal when the father of the family discovered that the Mercedes (the big one) was not being used by another family member — it had been stolen from the driveway! Everyone had thought that the other family member had it in use — but with everyone sitting at the same table gazing out the window it was obvious one of the 4 cars was truly missing. One day later the car was back in the driveway (they always kept the keys in the ignitions of each car). Stuck to the windshield of the newly washed and waxed gorgeous driving machine was this note:

"Dear Neighbors,
please forgive us. We are your nearby neighbors. We had a family emergency and had to borrow your car without asking. We are so embarrassed and ashamed. We must remain anonymous, however, please accept this token of appreciation. Thank you, and kindest regards. (signed) "Saved by the Mercedes!" Included in the note of apology were four $200 box tickets to the New York City Ballet. Enter my cousins — Carl and Jean were invited to attend the Ballet and dinner the following week as the guests of their neighbors. The two couples dress-up (tuxes, furs, the works) and set out for a wonderful time in "the Big Apple".

When they returned to their home, they found another note taped to the doorknocker of the home. The note read: "Hope you enjoyed the ballet! We missed the Mercedes!"

Upon opening the door to the lovely home they found it completely empty — grand piano, oriental rugs, dining room furniture, camel back sofas, wing chairs — all gone. A home without even a toothpick. They had been HAD.The police had to be called by using the car phone. All neighbors responding to this incident reported that they just thought the neighbors were scheduled to move. No one ever discusses their comings and goings around here. We are just decent people who mind our own business. The only thing we can say is that we all watched the big white truck named "Mercedes" being loaded carefully by an attractive, professional team of movers. They took their time to cover all the antiques carefully. There must have been 9 moving personnel. They left in a separate white mini van following the driver of the 18 wheeler. The vans were parked 50 yards down the street before the couples left for dinner and the ballet. We thought they were moving. We just mind our own business.
 

Variations:
  • Tickets left to lure the owners out of the house: ballet, opera, baseball, movie, theatre, symphony, rock concert, and sold out championship hockey game.
  • Sometimes the emergency is specified by the borrowers (e.g., a job interview).
Origins:   This legend has been with us since the mid-1950s. Standard features of the legend are the theft of the car, the car's return with note and tickets, and Cartoon of the legend the subsequent burglary of the home. What sort of tickets are left depends upon what is deduced about the car owners from the vehicles they drive: Mercedes owners don't get matched up with tickets to the hockey game, neither do youthful car owners end up with ballet tickets. The thieves always have perfect taste.

The thieves always succeed in their ruse, too. Everyone who lives in the house is lured out by the tickets. There's never an inconvenient relative who happens to be staying over, neither does the wife take her girlfriend to the opera, leaving hubby home that night cleaning his guns.

Central to the legend is the premise that once we "misjudge" a person we subsequently let down our guard too much towards him. Con men use this trick to earn a mark's trust, and this legend cautions us to watch out for this ploy. In this example, we're asked to see through the relief of getting the car back and the pink haze raised by the generosity of the borrower to recognize that nice people don't steal cars.

Here's a 1949 example of the legend, but without the motif of the stolen jalopy:
A young married couple who had just settled down in their new home got a pleasant surprise in their mail one morning — a couple of tickets to one of the best shows in town. But the donor had omitted to send his name, and for the rest of the day the question was: "Wonder who it was?"

They enjoyed the show; but when they reached home, they found that all their wedding presents had been taken. A note from the burglar said: "Now you know."1
Barbara "beware of trojan horse thieves" Mikkelson

Sightings:   This legend turns up in the 1997 film Shooting Fish. It also appears in an episode of the television sitcom The Nanny ("Fran Gets Mugged," original air date 22 May 1995): Fran's mugger offers theater tickets as his way of apologizing for taking her purse; after seeing the play, Fran and Maxwell return to a burglarized house and a tied-up butler.

Last updated:   25 May 2011

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Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Choking Doberman.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1984.   0-393-30321-7   (pp. 193-194).

    Dale, Rodney.   The Tumour in the Whale.
    London: Duckworth, 1978.   ISBN 0-7156-1314-6   (p. 129).

    de Vos, Gail.   Tales, Rumors and Gossip.
    Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.   ISBN 1-56308-190-3   (pp. 174-177).

    Hershfield, Harry.   Laugh Louder Live Longer.
    New York: Gramercy Publishing Company, 1959.   (pp. 162-163).

    Scott, Bill.   Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends.
    St. Lucia, Queensland: Univ. of Queensland, 1996.   ISBN 0-7022-2774-9   (pp. 13-15, 35).

    Smith, Paul.   The Book of Nastier Legends.
    London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.   ISBN 0-7102-0573-2   (p. 57).

    1.   Fun Fare: A Treasury of Reader's Digest Wit and Humor.
    Pleasantville, NY; Reader's Digest Association Inc., 1949   (p. 192).

Also told in:

    Holt, David and Bill Mooney.   Spiders in the Hairdo.
    Little Rock: August House, 1999.   ISBN 0-87483-525-9   (p. 105).

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 145).