Did I Lock My Car?

People, there are not enough criminals to go around. And if there were, they would not be rising at the crack of dawn to steal your stuff, including your car.

But there you are, living in small town America, on your way to the grocery store to get a gallon of milk. And lord knows, the criminals will be waiting.

It’s 6:30 Sunday morning. Driving down the empty neighborhood streets, the homes look as slumbering as their occupants. Occasionally a person moves in the windows, sipping coffee, or someone is walking across a dew-covered lawn to fetch the newspaper.  Overall, the scene is dark and silent as you head into downtown, passing by closed shops except for a convenience store and a donut shop. It is small-town America. What could possibly go wrong within this pastoral setting?

Not much except for the crazies in your head.

Pulling into the grocery store parking lot, there are ten cars, including yours. The lot is aglow in a lemony bath of halogen light as sunrise is still thirty minutes away. You wave hello to Mrs. Anderson, a longtime friend, who’s entering the key code on her door to allow access into her car. There will now be nine cars. Surrounding this sparsely occupied lot is a small retail center (hair salon, art/framing gallery, and embroidery shop), and a plant nursery. Their parking lots are empty.  Apart from the every-so-often annoying sound of a grocery cart’s crippled wheels, what we have here is an area that is as quiet as a funeral.

You’re driving a Honda CR-V, which happens to rank as one of the top ten least stolen vehicles in the country.  In fact, your car includes some not-so-aesthetic features: rear bumper damage from a telephone pole; hood, roof, and trunk indentations from golf ball size hail; and a problematic rear view mirror that is adhered to the windshield with silver duct tape. Miscellaneous papers are scattered across the top of the dashboard, and a disorderly pile of clothing and running shoes make home on the back seat.  It’s a mess, but it gets you to where you need to go.

You park in a space that makes for a fifteen second walk to the store’s entrance. As you get out, your golfing buddy Don Jenkins is exiting the store, carrying a watermelon.

“Seriously?” you call out, “6:30 in the morning and you’re buying that?”

“A request from the misses,” he says, then fumbles with his keys to unlock his 1984 Ford pickup.  Once he leaves….eight cars in the parking lot.

Fifteen seconds is all it takes for you to enter the store. Such a contrast from the outside world. A bright fluorescent enclosure busy with stockers working the aisles, making sure the shelves are plentiful for the after-church crowds.  It doesn’t take but five strides into the store before the look of uncertainty drapes your face: Did I lock my car?

 Did you lock your car at 6:30 on a Sunday morning in small-town America with eight cars in the parking lot? How did we ever get to this point? When I was a kid I would ride my bike into town and leave it leaning up against the side of the theater.  Two hours later it’d still be there, untouched.  From a criminal’s mind you’re driving one of the least cared about cars on the planet, and, to make matters worse, it’s such a hail-plastered eye-sore, it screams, NOT EVEN WORTH YOUR TIME AND HASSLE!! 

 The other morning you went to the post office to mail a letter.  Three cars were in the parking lot.  All you needed was a stamp from the automated postage machine just inside the front door.  Of course, you made sure you pressed that remote security anti-theft device first.  When you finished (two minutes max) you drove away only to discover there was a second letter that you found on the passenger side floor.  A U-turn took you right back to the post office.  There were then only two cars.  Beep-beep!  You locked the car.

If there are no cars in the parking lot, we lock our cars.  We go to a friend’s house–we lock our cars.  We go to a friend’s house in the country–we lock our cars. After all, we never know when the next person to arrive will have a mischievous agenda. But we certainly suspect he’s out there.  Even Don Jenkins wasn’t comfortable leaving his old and worn 1984 pickup unsecured in the near-empty parking lot.  All he had to do was get a watermelon for the misses.  A five-minute errand at most. We are creatures of habit.  He locked his truck.

Before the Sunday crowds descend upon the grocery store, the worshipers will have locked and unlocked their cars at church.  Chances are every single person will have fallen victim to this habit.  I find the church environment peculiar. It’s the place where we go to lift ourselves, to reconcile, to understand, to have faith in mankind.  Church parking lots themselves are like sanctuaries, as if the vehicles themselves are in prayer, and the unwritten creed is not to disturb them. No, they are not immune to theft, but if there’s one place that’s given plenty of space, it’s the church.

In addition to small-town churches, plant nurseries, barber shops, hardware stores, post offices, and grocery stores rank as some of the top places to feel safe.  Other than a matter of convenience that the remote security anti-theft device is in your hand, why lock your car in those places?  I know, I know…it’s going to feel like jumping off the high diving board at the swimming pool when you were eight-years-old, your belly stuffed full of high anxiety.  I realize car theft and vandalism is a daily occurrence in this country, but it seems like we need to step outside of our comfort zone and have a little faith in areas that aren’t as risky, as a way to decondition our fears.  After all, how are we even to begin having faith in mankind if we have to constantly lock our cars?

We have to start somewhere.  I’m urging people to take road trips to small communities across the nation.  Go to the local grocery stores with only two intentions:  to NOT lock your car, and to buy a watermelon.  And when you return to your car that will be in the same place you left it (and it won’t have been tampered with), take that watermelon to the nearest city park, find yourself a picnic table under a tall shade tree, and have faith that your first cool, watery bite will indeed be the beginning of something remarkably and wonderfully unexpected.


Copyright Ros Hill 2016




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