Always drive something different

By Steve Estes

Recent events have reminded me why I like to drive vehicles that stand out in a crowd.

Other than the fact that my short-term memory isn’t quite what it used to be, driving easily recognizable vehicles usually means you can avoid some embarrassing moments. You know the ones.

The moments when only silence is the correct response.

Driving a bright red Jeep ensures that I can find my own ride in a crowded parking lot. I don’t always remember where I parked the darn thing, but a quick scan more often than not reveals its hiding place and I can retrieve it without a great deal of wounded pride.

A few weeks back, we needed to rent a vehicle to pick up newspapers. There is only a finite quantity of paper that will fit into the back of a Jeep, even with the seat out. When that quantity is exceeded, we must find something a little more roomy. We bought a small open-top trailer for just that purpose, but there is also a finite weight that a Jeep will handle towing. There have been times we’ve exceeded that as well.

So this particular week we rented a GMC Yukon. It’s a brute of a vehicle, even though it has no guts. It’s just big and roomy, which is exactly what we needed. We had to stop off at a local drug store on the way back from Miami that particular week to pick up a prescription for a friend. As I sat in the vehicle waiting for the prescription to be filled I read the competition and listened to a few tunes on the country station out of Florida City comparing their choice of music to the local country station.

As I turned a page the door opened and I expected Holly to climb in.

Imagine my shock when a lady I didn’t know tossed her bags on the seat and announced that she was ready to go.

I had nothing to say. I didn’t want to startle her and cause apoplexy, but I really didn’t want to play taxi cab either, so I just loudly cleared my throat. She looked up and the surprise in her eyes had to have been mirrored in mine.

She grabbed her bag, mumbled a quick apology and began frantically looking through the vehicle to see if I was stealing hers, or she was in the wrong one. She discovered the latter, grinned sheepishly and stepped back out. Seems her friend was driving a large SUV of similar color and style and she just hopped in before looking closely.

Not a problem. I said a polite goodbye, she went around the back of the car and opened the door two slots down, climbed in and the car left. I shook my head and went back to reading my paper.

A couple of weeks after that, I was returning a rental car to the Marathon airport. It was a rather nondescript common sedan type. White it was. As I gathered my belongings and started to get out of the car, the passenger door swung open and this leg stepped in. Holly wasn’t with me. I knew this was a problem.

Again a bag hit the seat, and the back followed the leg. With her back to me, the lady couldn’t see me, so I again had to loudly clear my throat. That didn’t work. An arm appeared inside the car.

Hoping I wouldn’t get a purse slapped against the side of my head, I said softly, “Excuse me.”

She got out and walked away without a word. I returned the car and picked up my Jeep.

Now that we have youngsters running around the house again, I have to be particularly careful in parking lots because little ones simply see a red Jeep and beeline for it trying to be the first one in the door.

I readily admit I don’t lock my car doors on Big Pine, or almost anywhere else in the Lower Keys.

I very rarely carry anything of value in the vehicle except in my pockets and we have just come to the conclusion that not locking cars is one of the nicer perks of living life on a laid-back island.

So when the little ones hit the Jeep, they jerk open the door and start to climb in. A few nights ago, they climbed into the wrong Jeep.

It was red, with black trim, just like mine. It had a trailer hitch on the back, just like mine.

Problem was…it wasn’t mine.

I’m not sure what the lady who was sitting in the Jeep would have done had it been my fat butt that crawled in beside her. I always have my keys in hand and go immediately for the ignition. Would this have been one of those one-chance-in-a-thousand times when my keys would have started another car? I’m told that can’t happen. Knowing what I do about corporate America, I can’t believe they make a different key for every single vehicle that rolls off the assembly line.

She was nice about it, but she was also quite adamant to me that they weren’t her kids and would I please take them where they belonged?

The kids weren’t convinced.

They looked at the lady in the front seat, who obviously wasn’t their “Grammy” and then looked back at me with this really quizzical expression.

Then they got flippy.

They told the lady that was “Grammy’s” seat and should she go find her own.

I tried to downplay the conversation while herding them back out into the parking lot.

The smallest one wasn’t going without a fight.

He turned to the strange lady he thought was invading “Grammy’s” space, wagged his little finger at her and told her to “Get out of ‘Grampy’s’ Jeep.”

I don’t know if she was amused.

I didn’t stick around to find out. I grabbed him around the waist and hauled his little butt down the aisle to the real Jeep where they belonged.

As her husband arrived and they pulled out of the space, she shot me a look that I really can’t identify readily, but I’m sure if I had a target painted on me, I’d be hurt in some fashion.

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