I’m sure it cost more in gasoline to make a trip to the mall drugstore for a tiny bottle of a cholesterol-reducing drug. The doctor told me I could eliminate my pizza diet, or take a tiny miracle pill that would allow me to eat an extra slice.
The key fit perfectly into the door slot, and turned with the familiar ca-chuk sound. I dropped into the cushy seat, slung the pharmacy bag to the passenger side, and reinserted the key into the ignition. The steering wheel seemed sticky and the grip felt foreign. Before turning the key, I noticed a pile of coats in the back. My wife and daughter must have used the Maxima for their last shopping expedition and forgot to bring them back inside the house. Although the car was old, I did not appreciate my family members turning it into a traveling motel.
The key turned smoothly and the engine started with ease. One knows the sounds and squeaks of their automobiles, and the Maxima purred as I remembered. Headlights on, check. Sealtbelts clamped, check. Pull driveshaft into…. Wait a minute. The dashboard lit up brighter than normal. 155,000 miles on the odometer? I could have sworn it was no more than 90,000. Guess it was about time for a trade-in. Then again, time passes quickly, and maybe I’ve never checked it for a few years. My paranoia ceased, for it would be impossible for my keys to unlock the door and start the car if it belonged to someone else.
Pull driveshaft into reverse. Wait. Something wasn’t right. My seat seemed a little lower and farther back. I had only been taking the medicine for two weeks. Was shrinking a side effect? Also, every car has it’s own smell. I detected a woodsy aroma coming from somewhere. Probably from Carmen and Micky’s girl junk they threw in the back seat. Was this my car? The blinking drugstore light saying, ‘Santa’s Savings’ could not cut through the darkness. I decided to settle this once and for all. I stretched to open the glove compartment. The small, yellow light glowed warmly, illuminating years of important trash and wrinkled papers that nearly spilled onto the floorboard. Yep, this was indeed old Bessie.
As the vehicle pulled onto the driveway, I noticed a slight twisted, bumpy-like movement. Bad news, I thought. A flat tire.
I got out, walked around the vehicle, and inspected each tire. Other than needing a desperate wash and few dings that needed repaired, the tires appeared inflated. Carmen always told me keep the AAA membership because one of these days the Maxima would break down in the middle of the road. Maybe it was time to buy a new one, but the faithful tan car always safely transported us from Point A to Point B. I hopped back in and heard the familiar swish of air as my buttocks plopped into the bucket seat.
On the main road, I prepared my speech for my family to re-hang their coats back in the closet. That lecture could wait, for my stomach growled, and I knew Carmen threw a pepperoni and mushroom into the oven before I left. I do remember when I once accidentally got into a wrong car. The door was unlocked, and I was greeted by a large bag of strange groceries in the passenger seat. I looked both ways, and quietly got out and slid into my own car parked close. But tonight I was driving my car and it started to feel more and more like my cozy living room.
Nearing home, I peered down at the radio. It was the standard unit that came with all Maximas. However, just four months ago I installed a new radio! Was I going crazy? Did someone reinstall the old radio as a prank? I was driving a stolen vehicle. I was a thief! Was I hallucinating? I glanced around and my eyes stopped at the half-opened console. There was a little white bottle with a blue ship. I raised it into the air with a free hand and it said Old Spice cologne. Not my brand. For certain, I was now a criminal, a fugitive on the run, and driving to my own house where there would already be five or six police cars with blinking lights. What would the neighbors think? How would I explain that to Carmen? I had to return the car immediately without being noticed.
Then, out of the blue, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of freedom. I was actually driving someone’s car. That was awesome! How many times does a person have the opportunity to drive a strange vehicle without the owner’s permission? It was like having a new car. But then again, my car had 60,000 fewer miles, so it was not a fair trade.
‘Hey babe, hop in,’ I would tell Carmen when I got home. ‘How do you like my new wheels?’ I could have a lot of fun with that. But wait. Since my key fit into this car, wouldn’t another key fit into my car? Was the owner, or the entire holiday shopping family, now taking a driving spree with old Bessie? If so, they were enjoying a smoother ride while splitting their ears with my new Sonic MusicBlast.
I sniffed the cologne at the red light, and splashed two handfuls of the zesty liquid onto my neck before making a U-turn. Would there be police at the scene, waiting to shoot or arrest me once I was identified? What if the owners saw me pull their car back into the stall? I could see it in my brain. ‘Look, Dad, that man is stealing your car!’
After two revolutions I discovered my Maxima where I left it. But how could I go back and simply re-park the car? If I did, the owners would find their car like nothing happened, pile their Christmas goodies into the back and go about their daily lives. My once-in-a-lifetime adventure would not alter history.
I parked the old car four rows away from where I found it, slanted it diagonally to consume three parking places, and heaved the front tire on top of the concrete curb by the shopping carts.
Today I still wonder what the family thought when they found their car that night? Did the driver think someone tried to steal his car but had a change of heart? Did he make sure no one rummaged the pockets of the coats for money? Or, did he have the same hallucinations as myself? Did he think, ‘Maybe I did park my car crazily in three stalls next to the shopping carts?’
Written by Diamond Mike Watson
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Note to the reader: No harm was done to the owner’s car, and I made sure it did not obstruct any traffic or pedestrians. I just wish I waited to see the reaction of the owner when he returned.