Once we had children, I became the driver of the newer and larger car, the “safer” car, as I was the one shuttling the precious cargo around. So by default, my Then Husband, who I will call “Howie” for the sake of this story, took over our older, other car, which he commuted to and from work in.
The Other Car was a Toyota Tercel with over 100,000 miles on it (rather impressively, it actually made it to 250,000 and was then sold to someone else – still running). The car was a stripped down little roller skate of a vehicle; 5-speed standard transmission, no air conditioning, roll-up windows, no frills. We did have a decent sound system in it, with home-made speakers housed in large boxes (Howie insisted on that). Because of its age, the car naturally had some issues. It rattled very badly. It was rusting through in a number of places. We lived in the woods and the mice had found their way inside some of those holes, making nests within the car. You would find mouse turds on the floor. Sometimes when you got into the car, a shadow of a mouse would dart away beneath your feet. One time while he was driving to work, a mouse actually jumped up on Howie’s shoulder – unbelievable that he did not drive off the road, for I probably would have.
The headlights on this car kept burning out quickly for some odd reason, which was a major nuisance, because it was difficult to get your hands into that small space where the bracket was to replace them. It was the kind of car that you had to keep some tools in for quick repairs whenever you drove it anywhere. It was a bit unnerving to drive The Other Car, and I started to avoid it as much as possible. To his credit, Howie seemed to just deal with all of it…..not like we really had any choice.
It was a very warm spring evening when he drove off to attend a course at a community college, in pursuit of educational and economic betterment. The college was situated in a small river city not far from where we lived. I made dinner for the kids, cleaned up, tucked them into bed and waited for Howie to come home. When he arrived back a few hours later, he was a bit shaken up and had this story.
After class was finished that night, Howie was headed home his usual way. He had all the car windows open and was enjoying the unseasonably warm night air, when he came upon existing road work and a detour. This detour took him into an unfamiliar area of the inner city. The year was 1992 and a decision in the very emotional Rodney King case had just been handed down. Los Angeles was in the middle of six days of rioting. Unrest was happening in smaller cities across the country too. Lost in the dark and with only one headlight working (he had not gotten around to fixing it – the replacement part was sitting in a box on the floor of the car until he had time to install it) Howie detoured into a neighborhood where people were outside and angry in the streets. Suddenly, they started throwing garbage pails at the car as he drove through. It was a scary situation but he managed to find his way out, unnerved and unscathed, except for maybe a couple of more dents to the old car.
Emerging from the detour onto the familiar state road once again, he continued heading towards home. Stopping at a traffic light, he sighed with tremendous relief, popped a tape of the Grateful Dead into his very good car stereo, and prepared to unwind for the rest of the drive back. But as he waited for the light to change, the car began to shake, and then a thundering roar suddenly drowned out the music as a number of bikers on their Harleys pulled up at the light and surrounded him. One big, brawny guy pounded on the roof of the car and leaned his head into the open window. Howie started to wonder if he was really going to make it home that night.
But the biker grinned and yelled “Grateful Dead! Turn it up!” Amazed (and again relieved), Howie complied by cranking up the Grateful Dead on those home-made speakers so they could hear it over the roar of their engines. The light changed and they all started off down the road together. There were bikers in front of him, behind him, and on the side of the car. The windows were all open, the Dead was blasting, and Howie had an escort as they all picked up speed together. The warm spring wind was blowing through the open windows and all was OK with the world once again.
That is, until the bikers suddenly veered off in different directions. Howie looked into his rear view mirror to discover that they were gone.
In their place were the flashing lights of a police car. He could not believe how the night was unfolding. He pulled over.
“Well sir, yes, I know the headlight burned out, and I actually have the replacement right here in the car”, said Howie, and he reached down to pick up the box on the floor of the passenger side that held the spare headlight.
“DON’T MOVE! Keep your hands on the steering wheel!” the officer sharply ordered. “Do you have any weapons in your possession”?
Howie quickly complied, hands on the steering wheel and in full view. “No sir, no weapons“, he said.
The officer came around to the passenger side of the car, opened the door and began shining his flashlight around the vehicle. And then he reached his hand under the passenger side seat to check for contraband.
Suddenly there was a loud snap, the police officer yelled and quickly pulled his hand away from under the seat – with a mousetrap attached to his fingers.
I believe Howie figured it was all over for him then.
Much to this officer’s credit, and despite the obvious pain he was in (and luckily for Howie) he sort of kept his cool. Through his teeth he said, “Why do you have a mousetrap under your seat?”
“I have mice!” said Howie, as if that was obvious.
With all that they see and hear, I do believe this might have been a first for this officer. Miraculously, he let Howie go with just a warning about the headlight. Actually, it was rather incredible, given the circumstances.
When Howie got home, he related his tale of his adventure to me. As you can imagine, he was animated and sweaty and looked way whiter than his usual whitish self.
The thing about it is, as wild a ride as it was that evening, in so many ways this kind of event was sort of our “normal”. And you know, it seemed to make perfect sense to me that we had a mouse trap under the seat of the The Other Car. With peanut butter as bait. I mean really, isn’t that how you catch mice?