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Al Batt: I stole a car that wouldn’t start

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


You picked up the phone and you hoped for the best.

That’s how it was before everything went to voicemail.

I’d returned to the big city after a daring rescue mission to free food from my parents’ pantry. I’d opened my apartment door to a ringing telephone. It was a friend who was working out of town. We played basketball together.

He said he thought he’d left the keys in his new-to-him car and asked if I’d snatch them from its ignition. I told him I probably might could. He said it was a red Ford Falcon with a mismatched front fender. The previous owner, a deranged rodeo clown, had hit a bull with it. It was a short walk to the street where the vehicle was supposedly parked, but I was unable to locate the car.

I called him back. He accused me of not being able to find my south end with both hands and radar, and suggested I take another look. This time, I organized a search party made up of a couple of guys I knew, some innocent bystanders and an inebriated fellow clutching a bottle of Thunderbird wine.

We found no car, but our legally assembled group attracted the interest of a friendly policeman, who kindly told us to beat it. I told him we were searching for a red Ford Falcon with a mismatched fender.

“Why?” he asked reasonably. He said it had snowed a couple of days earlier and a snow emergency had been declared. Any cars that stubbornly rested upon this street had been towed. The officer told me what company had towed it and where to.

I placed another call. My buddy on the other end of the line sounded frazzled or frustrated, I forget which. “You’ve got to get my car back. Those vultures charge by the minute for storage. They pick the bones of unlawfully parked cars. Write out a check for whatever it costs and I’ll reimburse you when I get back in a couple of days.”

I needed someone to ride with me to the impound lot, located so far away it might have been in a foreign country, to drive my car back to my apartment while I steered the red Ford Falcon with the mismatched fender to its rightful parking place. I convinced the only one of my ex-girlfriends still talking to me to be that person by proclaiming the grand improvement I’d made as a human being. I boasted I was nearly housebroken.

It was before a GPS voice said bossy things. We found the lot after the requisite number of wrong turns. I didn’t have a copy of the ticket, but I described the car. The guy at the lot knew the car. He referred to it fondly as a piece of crap.

He tabulated the bill. It took all his fingers, two pencil sharpenings and a notebook. He was like the federal government. He could manufacture money. I wrote out a check for the ticket, tow and storage. He told me where I’d find the Falcon and that the keys were in the ignition.

I walked to the car. It wouldn’t start. I raised the hood and looked bewilderingly at the engine before seeking help. The lot guy smoked a Camel cigarette that bounced on his lips as he said, “Let’s see what we got here.”

The battery needed a jump. He used jumper cables, the ketchup for neglected cars — it makes them better. It started. I wrote out another check.

My companion had left, obviously not that impressed with the new me. I drove the Falcon. The radio worked, the epitome of driving excellence.

“Here are your keys,” I said as I handed them to the owner upon his return.

“Those aren’t mine. There’s no lucky rabbit’s foot on that keychain.”

“They are yours. The car had a mismatched fender.”

“Which side?”

“The passenger side.”

“Mine is on the driver’s side.”

It was the wrong Falcon. I was knocked sideways. My heart rate surpassed that of a hummingbird. I’d stolen a car. Would a judge believe I’d accidentally stolen a car? We had to go back to the impound lot. Every gauge, light or meter on the filched Falcon’s dash signaled a warning, but we made it.

I was in a better mental state after the cars had been exchanged. The lot guy charged for the extra storage. That made him happy. As we left, he said, “Toodle-loo.”

I’ll bet he said that to all the car thieves.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday.