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Column: Knuckleheads confused by straight-stick

Back a lot of years, the oldest of The Young Girls (my three daughters), was ready to learn to drive. I came upon an old Datsun, straight stick, that was well past its “use by” date. I bought it.

The local fire department needed a car to try out their new metal cutting tool, so they chopped the roof off. I put some hay bales out in the field so The Girls could practice parking. Not only my three, but some of their friends chugged around out there in the field. So, all of my kids knew how to drive a straight stick.

While planning to leave for a trip to Florida a week ago (I’m back, and I’m oh so sorry about that.), I talked to daughter Mary who lives in Minneapolis. So I could park my Focus hatchback there while gone. Leave her a key, just in case it snowed and she had to move it.

I parked the car in front of her garage, which is on an alley behind her house. I put the keys in a zip-lock bag, threw them behind the driver’s side rear tire and left for the airport.

In Florida, at my brother’s place that night, the phone rings.

“Dad, where are the keys to your car?” She then added, “How come you didn’t leave it locked?”

Uh-oh. I did leave the keys, I told her, and I did leave it locked.

“Well, the car is unlocked and the keys are gone,” she said. “Were they in a zip-lock sandwich bag? Because there’s an empty bag lying beside my garage.”

Double uh-oh.

I’m sincerely puzzled at this point. So, I said, more or less, let me get this straight… The car is unlocked, someone has the keys, and my car is still there?

She said that’s right, then asked “What should I do?”

Now, that is truly a good question. Can’t lock it up very well, someone has the keys. So I said: call the cops, see what they think should be done. She did. The cops, to make a long story short, didn’t care what she did. It’s Minneapolis. One more stolen car apparently isn’t a big deal. I was disappointed in their apathy, but not surprised. Any town building a billion dollar football stadium to host eight games cannot surprise me.

“How about I take the battery out of it,” my daughter suggested.

Huh. Good idea. That’s what she did, plus emptied it of my stuff, including the glove box. Now, she’s getting on an airplane to join us in Florida early the next morning. The little red stick shift car is going to sit there for four days while she’s gone. Talk about vulnerable. But, I figured, if they want to go buy the proprietary battery that fits that model, it’s their car.

(Yes, you have by now figured out that I could have handed her the keys when I saw her in Florida, right?)

Daughter Mary thought about it, and when I saw her in Florida she said that some young teenagers have been suspected of stealing cars and driving them several blocks and abandoning them. That made sense. 

Here’s how I think it went. Knucklehead Teenager number one says to Knucklehead Teenager number two, “Hey, I think I just saw some guy throw something behind the tire of that little red car. Let’s go see.” K.N. two agrees.

They go look, and sure enough, some country bumpkin has hidden the keys to that car behind the wheel. They’re juiced. A car. All theirs. Quick joy ride. No sweat.

K.N. one unlocks the door, looks inside, says something like: “Oh s…! It’s a straight stick!” He doesn’t know how to drive stick. Neither does K.N. two. So, they decide to go play computer war games, it’s cold out there.

Here’s what they left behind (besides my car): two pairs of Thinsulate dress leather gloves, like new. What else? Well, a goose down parka.

But the best part? I forgot that I cashed a check the week before, and thrown the money into the glove box. About four hundred bucks.

All because they didn’t know how to drive a straight stick.

To think, my next car was going to be an automatic.

The Prairie Spy, by Alan "Lindy" Linda