(Rodents, too. But more on them, later.)
I’m not talking standard run-out-of-gas or flat tire scenarios but bizarre acts of automotive aggression that generally end with me by the side of the road trying not to lose my shit.
Think Lucille Ball behind the wheel of Stephen King’s maniacal Plymouth Fury.
It started decades ago on an afternoon outing to a car wash with my three under-the-age-of-five offspring. I figured the excursion would be a great twofer — an uncharacteristic stab at vehicle maintenance, coupled with an activity less costly than the Children’s Museum. While my girls were underwhelmed by the operation, their brother had a near-religious experience watching the guys use an industrial vacuum to disappear melted M&M’s and amputated Barbie limbs from the floor mats.
When it was over my boy refused to leave. “I want to staaaaaayyyy!”
“It’s all done,” I explained (more or less) patiently.
“They’re doing other peoples’!” he argued, lobbying for a full day of spectatorship.
“We’ll come back again,” I said (he’s still waiting), securing him into his booster seat. He grew more persistent as I pulled out of the lot and into traffic.
“STOPPPPPPPPPPPP!!” he commanded.
And the van did. On its own. It came to a screeching halt in the middle of a busy street. And Would. Not. Budge.
My boy was smiling in the rear view mirror ala Carrie.
I got out to see if I’d hit something (like an invisible force field) and discovered a wayward seat belt lassoed around the rear tire.
(In a panicked burst of engineering genius I put the vehicle in reverse and unwrapped it.)
But that was just the first salvo.
Shortly afterwards the van sucked a bird out of the sky. One second the thing was in formation with its associates high above the highway, the next it was spread eagle on my windshield. We had eye contact before it bounced on the hood and then onto the asphalt.
The demonic possession wasn’t vehicle specific. It transferred along with the license plate.
Our Taurus wagon’s signature act was to perform flawlessly on the way someplace – then snicker into its sleeve when I wanted to go home. It got hauled to the dealership so frequently (where it would inevitably turn over like a certain president on his tanning bed) the mechanics all treated me like I had a form of Munchausen’s.
(Except for pediatricians, nobody can make women feel crazier than mechanics.) After its final clean bill of health, the steering wheel locked.
Our next van had some electrical issue resulting in the HVAC system permanently pumping heat. (A particular drag following The Case of the Missing Pork Chops which wasn’t solved until late August.) If climate and olfactory chaos wasn’t bad enough, the radio would blast at will, blaring random stations simultaneously.
(It goes without saying that volume control was impossible since the radio wasn’t technically on.)
It was a mobile torture chamber.
By far the scariest event occurred after I pitched quarters into a tollbooth and headed towards this hairpin overpass in Richmond. The Dodge began to accelerate on its own.
I was standing with both feet on the brake pedal and still the van went faster. Right before I had to choose between rear ending the Volvo in front of me or flying onto the highway below, I did a hail Mary and jerked the wheel towards the gravel shoulder and threw it in park. The van shuddered violently and died. A Good Samaritan in a tow truck stopped, opened the hood, bent in, and reemerged clutching a screw. He had no idea where the renegade bolt came from but it had lodged on top of the accelerator cable, overriding the brakes.
Clearly the car was trying to take me out.
Bringing me back to rodents and an apocalyptic convergence:
There. Was. A. Nest.
I’ve been unwittingly operating a mouse Uber.
I haven’t actually seen any yet but I’m pretty sure they’re just waiting for an opportune time to run up my leg. Like when I’m crossing the Bay Bridge.
A cleaned up version of this essay appears here in the Daily Progress: