May 202021

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (no, actually it was right here, come to think of it), automobiles came with this funny little metal thing called a key that you put into a slot on your car’s dashboard or steering wheel column. You turned it and the engine started, just like magic! Not only that, but you had a second key that locked and unlocked the doors. Can you imagine that? No bulky key fob to carry around in your pocket and lose track of. Instead, we got to lose our car keys all the time. What fun.

The problem with car keys, besides the fact that they were easy to lose, was that there are only so many combinations of keys out there. The teeth were cut into keys with a machine following a certain pattern, and those patterns were not infinite. So it wasn’t impossible for the key for one car to fit another car of the same manufacturer. In my time, I had Fords, Chevrolets, and other cars and trucks whose keys would interchange with someone else’s. Fortunately, there were enough key patterns out there that it wasn’t like you could walk up to any car and unlock it and drive away with your key, But it did happen. That’s how I came to be a car thief.

When I was running my newspaper in the White Mountains of Arizona, I had several different cars I picked up here and there, and one was a little Suzuki Samurai. It was a beater, but it was four-wheel-drive and I liked it when I wanted to go out in the backwoods someplace. One day the car I normally drove was in the shop and I was using the Suzuki. I pulled into the shopping center on White Mountain Boulevard and ran into a business to get their ad for that week’s edition of the paper, then went down a couple more doors and did the same thing at another business. With that done, I got in my black Suzuki and drove away.

Now picture this, I’m driving along listening to the radio and tapping my fingers to the music when I remembered that my Suzuki didn’t have a radio. It had disappeared long before I got the old beater, leaving a hole in the dashboard. Now, my mind works in strange and mysterious ways, so my first thought was, “Somebody put a radio in my car! Why would they do that?” Then I realized that this particular Suzuki had a hard top, and mine had a soft top. Pretty much the only thing the two vehicles had in common was that they were black.

By then I was two or three miles from the shopping center. I made a quick U-turn heading back that way and saw a police officer I knew driving by going the opposite direction. I hunkered down in the seat, hoping he wouldn’t turn around and give chase and take me to jail for auto theft. I just can’t see myself living with a big guy named Sweaty Eddie in a 10×10 foot cell for very long.

Fortunately I made it back to the shopping center and parked the Suzuki about where I had picked it up. Sure enough, four spaces down, there was my ratty old Suzuki. I looked around to be sure I wasn’t being observed and jumped in and made a hasty escape.

I wrote about that little misadventure in my Meandering Around The Mountain column of that week’s edition of the paper, and when it hit the street I had a visit from someone who I actually knew, telling me that it was her Suzuki I had stolen. She worked at one of the stores in the shopping center and said she was confused when she came out of work because she was sure it was parked in one space, and she found it two spaces over. We had a good laugh about that, though she did say I could have at least topped off the gas tank for her.

A few days after the paper came out, I also heard from an older couple who lived in our area who told me about their own misadventures as car thieves. They had gone to a large shopping mall down in Mesa, Arizona, 170 miles southwest of our town of Show Low, and driving home up the Beeline Highway, State Route 87, the woman looked at her husband and asked, “What is this awful music you have in the CD player? Whatever it is, I hate it.” He replied that it wasn’t his music, he thought it was something she had been playing. About then they both realized that there was a set of rosary beads hanging from the rearview mirror, and neither one of them was Catholic. Yes, they had stolen somebody else’s Oldsmobile and driven about 40 miles before they realized it was not their car.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been on the Beeline Highway, but there’s a whole lot of nothing between Mesa and Payson, 75 miles to the north. But somewhere through there, there was a service station. They pulled into it, not knowing what to do, so they called the sheriff’s office and reported a stolen car. Before long a highway patrolman arrived and they explained what happened, terrified they would be arrested. He called the dispatcher with the car’s license plate number, and sure enough, it had been reported stolen less than 15 minutes earlier. They thought they were going to wind up going to jail, but the cop was a good-natured fellow and said he didn’t think that a nice couple in their 70s matched the profile of most car thieves. The dispatcher contacted the registered owner of the car and explained what was happening, and it was arranged for them to drive it back to Mesa to the same shopping center and meet the owner. They did and located their own car parked a row or two away, and everybody got a laugh out of it. I miss the good old days.

It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Big Lake Scandal, the fifth book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with U.S. addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.

Thought For The Day – I’ve been hiding from exercise. I’m in the Fitness Protection Program.

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  4 Responses to “Newspaper Days – Car Thief”

  1. I never took someone’s car and drove it away, but one day while shopping, I decided to put my package in my car rather than carry it around. When I returned to my car I realized that not only was my package not there, my car was in a different location from where I thought I left it. I had left my package in someone else’s car (which was gone by then)! Thank goodness it was not an expensive item, but imagine the other car’s owner’s surprise when they discovered a present in their back seat!

  2. LOL, Nick. I think all of us who are old enough did some variation on that. I’m impressed that you made it down the street, though! I once came out of the mall and got into my Ford Escort, after some little trouble with the door key. Well, the car was eight years old. It was then that my affinity for stick shifts came to the fore, when I went to start the car and couldn’t find the clutch and realized that it had an automatic transmission…

    BTW, I just finished “Boom and Bust.” Wow, great job! IDK how you keep coming up with your books, but I hope you don’t stop. Of course, now we’re stuck waiting for the next book… oh, well. We’ll wait!

  3. Just another sketchy media guy.?

  4. When my Late Wife and I met I had a 78 Econoline Van set up as a Camper. Later as the kids grew we got an 86 Crown Victoria. While at work one day I realized I had driven the Van with our Car Keys. When I got home I drove the Car with the Van Keys.
    Next day at work I mentioned it to a Co-worker who had a 82 Econoline. Checking his keys to mine they were a match. Another Co-worker was amazed to hear of this and pulled the keys to his 74 Continental out to find it matched our’s as well.
    we always kidded one another about needing to borrow one another’s vehicles.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It’s about time.

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