Fortunately for me, being 6’7″, unshaven, and disheveled with a goatee while loitering in the Wal-Mart parking lot isn’t at all suspicious. It’s just part of the shopping experience.
Had I been jumping into strangers’ cars outside stores that were a bit more posh, like a Nordstrom’s or a Dollar General, I’m sure I would have been accosted by security and maced into submission.
We’ve all heard about the dangers of texting while you drive but I’d like to nominate myself to become the poster boy for an even greater danger. Texting before you drive.
As I exited Wal-Mart this afternoon I was busy fumbling with my phone and reading emails while walking to our van. Thanks to my superior peripheral vision, I saw our van from the corner of my eye and pressed the door unlocky button on the remote. Still reading the email, I opened the door, climbed into the driver’s seat, and tried unsuccessfully to start the engine.
It was then that I noticed that my gangly legs were far more scrunched than usual. My daughter’s stuffed animals were missing, someone had picked up all the scattered raisins and cheese cracker shards, and there was an unfamiliar coffee mug in the cup holder. I also noticed a necklace of rosary beads dangling from the rearview mirror and a redesigned interior complete with beige cloth seats that replaced the Smudge Gray color I was used to.
It’s difficult for me to express the flood of thoughts that entered my brain when I realized that I had gotten into the wrong car. Staying put actually seemed like a viable option. So did trying to start the car again. But, instead of these two misdemeanorish options, I decided to exit the vehicle and act as innocent and as suave as possible.
When you do something this stupid you can’t help but feel that every set of eyes in that parking lot is square on you. Along with every security camera, YouTuber, and News Team within a 60-mile radius. People get in and out of cars all day long in parking lots without so much as a glance yet I felt like the entire world had gone dark except for the bright white spotlight that was now fixated and tracking my every move.
My escape plan was genius.
I’d just act as though I had simply forgotten something back in Wal-Mart. I’d re-enter the store, wait 3-4 hours, and then exit as though nothing had happened. Thereby giving the millions of viewers nothing to go on. All they’d think is, “Oh well, the guy must have forgotten something back in Wal-Mart.”
Instead, as luck would have it, I wasn’t eight feet from the van before I saw a woman approaching with her cart.
All that echoed in my head was, “Please don’t let this be hers, please don’t let this be hers, please don’t let this–”
“Can I help you?,” the woman asked all nervous-like.
Damn. It was hers.
I had three choices. I could flee, I could mutter something incoherent hoping she’d think I’m insane and then just explain it away at the police station, or I could try looking as innocent as possible and hope to charm her.
Considering this woman had just seen a lanky homeless-looking dude exiting her vehicle, I thought it best to choose the latter. Although fleeing was a close second.
Me: “No, I’m just a moron. Your van looks just like mine and I wasn’t paying attention. I’m parked right across from you, in that silver van.”
Confused Lady: “Oh. Oh my.”
Me: “I’m so sorry. I swear I didn’t break in. I pressed my little doo-hickey thing to unlock the door but it must have already been unlocked.”
Confused Lady: “That’s okay, darlin’. Our vans DO look alike, don’t they.”
Me: “Would you mind terribly if we just switched vans so I don’t look like a complete idiot? We can totally switch back a few miles down the road.”
This made the confused lady laugh so at least I diffused what was already a very embarrassing and awkward situation. To anyone else, I looked like a carjacker. Albeit a really bad one, but a carjacker all the same. And with my son having already visited the police station after doing something stupid, I didn’t need to make it a double.
I suppose I could have just proceeded to my car that was just across the aisle but I still felt like the biggest boob on the planet. So, I stuck with my original plan and proceeded to hang out in front of the Red Box kiosk for two or three minutes. When I though the coast was clear, I put my cell to my ear and pretended to be chatting with Heather as I walked for the car.
Just in case the parking lot was bugged.
“Yeah, I went back. They didn’t have it. I’m just coming home.”
Believe me, I know the whole ordeal could have been a lot worse. Unoccupied cars at Wal-Mart are about as rare as US-made products. I could have very easily wandered into a vehicle with a sleeping old man in the front seat, Ritalin-deprived children in the back seat, or a rabid Pit Bull who was tiring of chewing on headrests.
If people would just lock their cars, situations like this couldn’t happen. Yet because of her disregard for safety, I had to spend several minutes pretending I was just forgetful. Not stupid. Just…forgetful.
Although, being a man, the line between these two is obviously quite fine.