by Janet Gilmore
Long ago, in circumstances best forgotten, I side-swiped a basketball pole and crumpled the driver’s side door of my beloved 1980 Toyota Tercel. I couldn’t open the door without a loud metallic SQUAWK, and I couldn’t lock it at all from inside or out.
Not a problem. I entered and exited on the passenger side, crawling over the bucket seat and the console, and sliding under the steering wheel to drive. My Tercel had both a sunroof, a moon roof and heat, which is more than you can say for many people; right?
“You’ll have to get rid of that Tercel,” my father said, looking at the crumpled door. “It’s not safe.”
“But, Dad (I was married by then), Hugh and I just bought a house; we don’t have money for a new car. Wanna buy one for us?”
“If I buy you a car, all fathers might have to start buying cars for all their children, and who knows where that might lead? You’re not my only kid, you know. I don’t know, Jan — doesn’t sound good.”
So I kept my sweet Tercel and got used to its new peculiarities. The abnormal became normal; get up for work, get dressed, have breakfast, kiss the family goodbye, crawl over the passenger seat and under the steering wheel to take my seat as the Queen of the Carport.
When Hugh and I moved to Chestnut Hill, we left our cars unlocked all the time. Why? Because Chestnut Hill is a safe neighborhood; right?
We threw away — I mean “recycled” — our copy of Dick Tracy’s Crime Stopper Notebook.
Things began to disappear from our cars immediately. “That can of coins that I put in my car to take to the bank isn’t there any more,” I told Hugh.
“You must have lost it somewhere.”
“How can someone lose a can of coins?” I countered.
“I don’t know, but if anyone could, it’s you,” he said.
One cold morning, he went to his car to get his winter coat, which he had left on the back seat.
“Where did you put it?” he asked.
“I didn’t touch it.”
It’s much more fun to blame your spouse than to believe that creepy thieves are taking things from your car while you’re asleep.
We looked everywhere but never found that jacket.
“Maybe you could cruise Germantown Avenue looking for a warm burglar wearing your coat,” I suggested. “Carrying a can of coins to buy coffee at Wawa.”
“Let’s start locking our cars at night,” he said.
We did. Sort of.
Locking my car meant the passenger side only. The driver’s side still didn’t lock. But being so hard to yank open meant it was as good as locked.
Or so I thought. Not long after, I told Hugh, “I think someone was in my car last night.”
“The seat is pushed all the way back.”
“Are you sure?”,” said Hugh. “You can’t open the driver’s side, and the other side was locked; right?”
“Well … yes … but ….” I replied, speaking very short words because I had to get to work; we could talk later. As usual in life, however, the subject had been forgotten by the time I got home. Life went on. Crawl across the front seat, drive to work, eat, sleep, repeat.
Over the following weeks, though, I noticed tiny overnight changes in my car. A window rolled down maybe an inch, a safety pin on the floor where I didn’t remember one, the ashtray open and the coins missing. I knew the inside of my car as well as I knew my child’s face, and I knew something was going on.
One morning, a loud “crack” woke me up. It sounded like a giant branch breaking loose from a tree or an avalanche, or THE SOUND OF A SMASHED-IN CAR DOOR BEING JERKED OPEN!
I saw nothing when I looked out the window. I dressed quickly and went outside.
The driver’s side door of my car was wide open! And the person who had opened it couldn’t be too far away!
Whoever it was had left behind a pack of matches and a stick of gum. And had opened my box of pretzels with [unbrushed] teeth, reached in with [unwashed] fingers, helped himself to my emergency snack pack and left crumbs all over the seat and floor! Yuck!
I went indoors in a hissy-tizzy-dither-fit and sputtered the story to my husband.
“That door can’t even be opened!” I exclaimed.
“By you,” he said.
“What should I do?”
“Let’s get a new door that works and lock it from now on.”
Took the wind right out of my sails. He’s a sensible man. That’s not why I married him, but he is.
Moral: There is no moral. Read the crime report. If you can’t figure out that if you leave coins, coats and pretzels in an unlocked car, someone might like them and think of your car as a motel room with a free mini-bar, you don’t deserve a moral.
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