Hardest thing is not to fall asleep and let your target get away
Penis envy. I admit, grudgingly, that my job would be easier if I owned that piece of equipment. If I had a penis, I’d be able to reach underneath the front seat of my car, remove the lid from the empty jam jar and watch relief spreading yellow.
Instead, I wait. Watch. Contemplate whether a sip of water will send my bladder over the edge.
This is the reason private investigation has been a man’s game for too long. I’m sure of it. It’s not about muscle or courage or anything else. It’s about who can sit still the longest.
The first step in conducting a surveillance is to locate the nearest donut shop. Preferably Tim Hortons. It’s clean, the coffee’s good and you don’t need a key for the washrooms. The washroom is key. Any port in a storm. Port-a-potty, heavily treed areas, filthy service stations.
Try squatting in the rear of a car, squished between the front and back seat, peeing into a cup. Pray that no one walks by. If the person you are watching leaves at that very moment, stop midstream, dump the contents of the cup out the door, pull up your pants, jump into the front seat. Drip dry.
It’s not all about bodily waste. It’s about waiting. Sit still, stare straight ahead. The sun is beating down on your vehicle, turning the inside into your own little easy-bake oven. You can’t run the air conditioner while you’re sitting there.
Don’t bring any animals or small children in the car or van, but you, you must stay there for eight or 12 hours. With the windows rolled up to an inch or two from the top.
You have Howard Stern or Dr. Laura to keep you company. Or your friends and family via cell, if you don’t mind the cost, but I’ve found it’s better for your sanity to just listen to music.
Careful. Your eyes start drooping, your head starts nodding. You close your eyes for less time than a commercial on the radio takes, open them and the car you’ve been watching in the driveway for six hours is gone.
You search the area frantically and, if you lead a charmed life, may find the person at a nearby mall.
If you can’t find them, the rest of your day is unpaid and preoccupied with excuses.
Or, a few hours have gone by and you haven’t seen anyone leave. What if the person isn’t in there? Now I’m happy I don’t have a penis. People seem more willing to talk to a woman. Especially on the phone.
Suppose someone comes out. Many times you won’t have a photograph or a description of the person, so you have to determine if you’re following the right person.
Follow them without losing them through busy city streets and gridlock. Follow them without being observed on desolate country roads where there are no other vehicles in sight. They are your captive, but you are also theirs. You go where they go, do what they do, drive like they drive.
And hope they don’t realize their life is being twinned for a while.
Even if the person you’re watching doesn’t catch on, sooner or later someone on the street is going to notice this strange vehicle parked there.
Suburban areas are the worst for this. Be prepared for some paranoid person to come out of a nearby residence and give you a hard time or call the police or even attempt to assault you.
Police, when conducting surveillance, use four or more vehicles at times. We are usually alone, although on difficult subjects who are suspicious or when there are circumstances that would make it difficult for one person to follow them, we will use two investigators.
Anything can happen, or not happen. It’s one of the few jobs where luck comes into play so often — being at the right place at the right time.
There was a commercial on TV a few years ago for Kit Kat chocolate bars. A photographer sets up to film panda bears. He waits and waits for them to come out of their den. As soon as he turns his back, the bears come out and frolic.
Like that. You know that after sitting for hours, the moment you leave, the person who’s supposed to be totally disabled from a car accident will come out carrying a 50- pound bag of cement and proceed to build an addition onto his house.
Anything can happen due to your own stupidity. Don’t run down the battery on a winter day listening to the radio and find yourself immobile, waving goodbye to your subject as he drives away.
Here’s another tip: you know you’re “burnt” by a surveillance-conscious subject when he or she comes out of the house and waves to you.
There are rewards. I hear a lot of women are attracted to male PIs –so the guys tell me, after flashing the coveted pink licence at attractive females in bars.
It makes for good party talk, as long as you don’t run into someone you’ve investigated.
When people find out what I do, many, especially men, tell me they’d be good at it, that they’ve always wanted to be a private dick, they’ve done some freelance surveillance of their own, usually involving cheating girlfriends.
No trench coat. I’m an average, middle-aged woman who would never stand out in a crowd, and that’s why I can do it. You’re going to notice Pamela Anderson Lee or Tom Selleck following you. You’re also going to notice some guy who acts like a wannabe cop. Or a TV detective.
You have to drive a nondescript vehicle in a boring colour and dress similarly. Blend in.
Not that all investigators follow these rules. My bit of rebellion is my hair colour. But I wear hats.
I once met a TTC bus driver who informed me that the job of a bus driver is not as glamorous as it seems. Ditto the PI business.
You seldom find yourself sitting on the outdoor patio of a Yorkville restaurant having a leisurely expense-account lunch as you spy on a handsome millionaire.
Many of the subjects are low-income, desperate enough to scam an insurance company, compensation or their employers. Moral dilemmas arise when you find yourself in sad and desperate Metro housing projects watching poor people who’ve taken on a multimillion-dollar corporation.
It’s true that some people don’t want to work. Others want to work two or three jobs and not get caught. And, yes, some claims turn out to be legitimate.
There’s always domestic work. Better-off people can afford to have their spouses followed. Many investigation companies shun these jobs because the clients are often emotional and there’s a possibility the information you obtain for them could lead to ugly or even dangerous situations.
Small agencies often handle domestic work. The large firm I work for does mostly corporate jobs. Many investigators, after working for a larger agency for a few years, get the urge to start their own company. It’s a great fantasy.
The truth is, it’s very difficult. It’s a competitive business. Clients are difficult to attract and keep.
There is work to be done outside of a vehicle. Background work, legal work, locates. Sometimes you can find someone in five minutes with one phone call. Other times it could take months, or you might never find them.
I could tell you more, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait.