“Where are those Showalters?” God must have asked. “They’ve had such smooth sailing lately, let’s shake things up for them.”
After a whole week of sunshine and sightseeing in Los Cabos, the Baja, Mexico, and four long flights without any delays, we were ready for the last leg of our journey home—a car ride from the Hampton Inn in Sterling, Va., where we had parked our car for flights from and to Dulles International Airport–to our new home in Harrisonburg. Normally this trip takes nearly two hours in light traffic. We looked forward to gliding into home base at a reasonable hour, given that we were coming from the Rocky Mountain time zone.
Our trip ended up taking three hours, and there were times along the way when we weren’t sure it would ever end.
As we toted our bags to the car, fresh from the airport, Stuart hit the electronic key—with no result. After opening the driver’s side door the old-fashioned way and attempting to start the car, we discovered problemo numero uno—a totally dead battery.
We immediately ran through our options—an AAA card from Michigan led to a just-expired membership. We remembered that our new car insurance offered 24-hour roadside assistance, but we had to search to find the toll-free number. The best bet was the van driver and his jumper cables. Presto bingo – we had juice!
Stuart thanked and tipped the driver, but when he opened the driver’s side door, the security alarm horn started to blare. Hitting the panic button on the key had no positive effect. So what did we do next? We just drove out of the lighted parking area into the night with all our bells and whistles sounding.
The beeping horn finally shut off. The car purred along the highway nicely. But there were two red flashing lights on the dashboard, and the GPS unit kept asking for a secret code which we could not find. According to the manuals I frantically perused, none of these lights indicated engine problems. Everything seemed to be linked to the security system. I could not unlock the passenger side door, but the windows were operational.
We were grateful to be making steady progress toward home, but we were also puzzled. What had caused the dead battery and why would the security alarm not shut off?
Our car is a recent model Honda Civic Hybrid. So we tried to take a second battery into consideration, but that was far too much engineering for my feeble brain. We reconstructed the last trip to the car—at night, a week ago. Stuart had placed the laptop in the car trunk because we didn’t want the hassle of taking it through the airport security four times and the weight of carrying it around. We were, after all, on vacation!
I made the mistake of using my iPhone to Google “lap top in car trunk.” And, wouldn’t you know, the first thing that popped up was related to “thieves”! Can they detect laptops in car trunks? Some sites even showed pictures of electronic devices said to be able to detect wireless computers even when the laptop is turned off! Oh no.
Now my late-night imagination was revving. I don’t have back-up for the laptop! I know. I know. Terrible. I promise, God, I will back it up as soon as I get home if you only will keep it safe in the trunk in the meantime.
Of course, this theft scenario didn’t make sense because there was no sign of forced entry into the trunk. No windows had been broken. Can thieves not only detect unplugged wireless but also extract laptops via teleportation? We didn’t want to stop the car to check on the trunk to see if the laptop was there. We didn’t want to risk another round of a blaring horn, this time on Interstate 81. We kept going.
Except that men of a certain age really can’t keep going when they have to go in another way. Problemo numero dos. We were about 20 miles north of a rest stop in Virginia, so that was an option. But then, what about the blasted blasts from our screwed-up security system? What about all those truckers sleeping in their cabs? We know how precious their few hours of sleep are. Would they use their Second Amendment rights to blast the source of the blast?
What to do? Ever the ingenious one, Stuart decided to take an exit in a rural location and stopped the car. Sure enough, the horn started to go off as soon as he opened the door, but we were the only trees in the forest to hear it. He took the time to open the trunk and found the laptop was where he had put it a week earlier. Yay! Thank you, God. And yes, I will back up everything on it. Soon.
During Stuart’s night-time walk outside the car, he had also discovered that the small animal he had tried to straddle a few miles before was not a possum after all. It was a skunk, and he had not avoided it. The odor coming from under the car was unmistakable.
So now we had an additional scenario to imagine. Brand-new tenants had just moved into our apartment that very day. They had a half dozen family members spending the night with them. Other nearby neighbors would also hear the blasted horn alarm go off the minute the driver’s side door was opened again. We could just see a collection of neighbors all in their robes jumping to the window or door to see about the clatter, when what to their wondering eyes should appear but a miniature car and two not-so-tiny deer with eyes like headlights and a smell like a skunk.
What could James Thurber do with a story like this one, I wondered. But then I stopped being a writer and put on my practical hat. “The windows work,” I said. “Let me slide out of an open one on my side.”
“Yes,” said Stuart. “You get out that way, and I’ll take the car to the Food Lion parking lot where it won’t matter if the horn blasts away. Furthermore, we can let the car air out in the parking lot.”
After contorting my body and getting an assist from Stuart, I made my exit from the car and grabbed the computer and suitcases from the trunk. Then Stuart headed to the parking lot, found an isolated space, and exited the car. The horn blasted again, but this time he punched the buttons on the key in a random sequence. Voila – one of these moves succeeded in shutting off the horn and restoring the security system to normal. He drove the car back to the house, but parked it on the street for further airing out. For several days.
By 3:30 a.m. we were having exhausted dreams in our own bed. God was smiling. All was right with the world.
The next day, a Google search revealed that the secret GPS code was likely in a document in the glove box. Stuart found the magic numbers inside the cover of the GPS manual. Now we’re all set for our next on-the-road adventure.
Are we the only ones with an adventure like this one? Please help us feel better by telling us yours. If this story made you want to read “The Night the Bed Fell,” in its original The New Yorker form, here is the link: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1933/07/08/1933_07_08_011_TNY_CARDS_000228579