Saturday, January 5, 2019

"Meet the Safecracker of Last Resort"

When you really gotta get inside.
From The Atlantic:

Charlie Santore sees Los Angeles from the inside, by breaking into safes whose owners can no longer unlock them.
The house was gone, consumed by the November 2018 Woolsey Fire that left swaths of Los Angeles covered in ash and reduced whole neighborhoods to charcoaled ruins. Amidst the tangle of blackened debris that was once a house in the suburbs northwest of Los Angeles, only one identifiable feature stood intact. It was a high-security jewel safe, its metal case discolored by the recent flames, looming in the wreckage like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I went out to the burn zone that day to meet Charlie Santore, a 48-year-old safecracker licensed in the city of Los Angeles under the name Santore & Son. Santore, a lean and towering figure just shy of 6 foot 4, stood there in his fedora, black jeans, and a Virgin Mary T-shirt, grinning uncomfortably. He was flanked by two Ventura County sheriff’s deputies. They had been patrolling the neighborhood that day, in the wake of the still-active wildfire—its apocalyptic ash cloud hanging in the sky south of us—when they noticed this gangly man crouched in the ruins, with several drills and extension cords at the ready. Santore’s car, a 1997 Mercedes so overloaded with safecracking equipment that its trunk nearly scrapes the ground, was, from a law-enforcement point of view, not reassuring.

While the deputies confirmed his technician’s license, Santore asked one of them to act like he was under arrest. “Fight the power!” Santore joked. As he lashed out at me with his long legs, I took a picture. Even the deputy faking his arrest began to smile.

I spent more than six months shadowing Santore because I wanted to know what the city looks like through the eyes of a safecracker, a person for whom no vault is an actual barrier and no safe is truly secure. There are a lot of safecrackers, I learned, but the good ones, like Santore, live in a state of magical realism, suspended somewhere between technology and superstition. The safecracker sees what everyone else has been hiding—the stashed cash and jewels, the embarrassing photographs. He is a kind of human X-ray revealing the true, naked secrets of a city.
A good safe technician can pass through sealed bank vaults and open jammed strongboxes after just a few minutes of casual manipulation, using skills that often look more like sleight of hand. But just when I started to think that it was all art, pure finesse, I’d see feats of sheer industrial brutality, watching Santore bore through several inches of heavy metal at a time, aerosolized steel filing past his face like smoke. For the safecracker, there is always a way through.

“A lot of times I’m driving with my girlfriend or my son,” Santore told me , “and I’m like, ‘I opened a safe here, I opened a safe here, and do you remember the time we opened a safe there?’” The city is full of safes, he meant: Everyone is hiding something. The truest museum of contemporary Los Angeles, it seems, is everybody’s safes, scattered across the neighborhoods, storing the most precious objects in the city. And it is only a safecracker like Santore who gets to see what the rest of us are trying to hide.
This raises the question of temptation: Safecrackers like Santore can open any box in the city, drilling even supposedly impossible locks. Surely, I thought, that knowledge and experience could slip into criminality. Who would not be tempted to use such skills for ill? If I could crack any safe in the city, I knew I would someday try.

Santore does not shy away from these questions: He has the word temptation tattooed on his right forearm. It’s a reminder, he told me. “What do safecrackers do?” he once asked. “They crack safes. It’d be better if they do it legally, but the game is the fucking game. I’m just saying, it takes a certain mindset to want to do this stuff, to have the patience for it, and some people can channel that in a positive way and other people fucking can’t.”...MUCH MORE
The writer is author of A Burgler's Guide to the City which we visited in 2016's "A Burgler's Guide To The City--How a Criminal Sees the World" and again in last month's "There is Being a Lowlife and Then There's Stealing Books From An Ancient French Monastery"