cedes, BMW, Ford—that came with high trading value. This kid Ryan
“the Weirdo” Turner had every set. He kept them in a giant pickle jar to
show them off: the silver-winged, the gold-crowned, the half-moons and
diamonds. We’d avoided him since the time he pulled his dad’s pistol out
and held it to his head, threatening to pull the trigger, but all of us knew
he’d trade brand names for war chromies—guns, bullets, skulls, and grenades. He was so bent on building a war collection, you could get a couple
pair from him for a single set of red-and-silver storm-trooper heads.
But we weren’t satisfied with stem caps. We started snapping hood
ornaments, too. Same logic: the shinier, the more unique and expensive,
the better. My brother Chris was the first to do it, and we followed in
step. We stole them from the vehicles parked up and down our street.
Not every vehicle had them, only nice ones, the occasional Lincoln
or Buick. “Dude,” we’d shout, cruising down some street, “some sick-ass
chromies back there.” We’d drop our bikes, sneak up, and take them
before anyone could catch us. Then later, we’d sit around my garage
comparing, trading, even exchanging them—sometimes—for money or
When we stripped all the streets, we moved to parking lots. Small
ones in front of Big Ed’s or National City. Then church lots, where there
were always nice cars, always a variety of brand names to take. We’d ride
in on sunny days and scour the lot for any blinking signal of chrome.
When we spotted them, we’d twist them free as church bells rang and
the steeple glistened in the midafternoon sunlight, because, like a trip
to the Weirdo’s, it was worth it. A few sets of caps might get a buck or
two from guys who paid cash—older guys or guys too afraid to walk up
and steal shit themselves. Here and there, someone might pay five or ten
bucks for a hood ornament—a Pontiac or Mercedes—and that was free
I used to imagine extending my reach as my collection grew, taking
the search into new neighborhoods, making bigger money in bigger cities. Just my brothers and me, “the boys.” Maybe friends we could trust.
Chris would be our leader, since he stole without fear or hesitation. We’d
become the most powerful chromie thieves in Pittsburgh, rich with every brand and design. People respected stealing because stealing was a
kind of control—and we were all seeking that wonderful, maddening
feeling of it.
I was so obsessed that one day, standing on the corner of Lincoln and
Guise, I watched hungrily as a Corvette slowed for a red light, engine