April 22 ē 06:43 AM

The stranger behind the wheel...

June 30, 2010
She wakes up one day behind the wheel of someone else's car. Driving someone else's car. Going down the road in a car that is not hers and it's a very strange feeling.

It's a red car—so not her color—with a gray interior. Well, that's something familiar at least. Vaguely.

And here she is, driving this there's-no-way-I'd-ever-pay-money-for-a-red-car red car down the road, realizing that she's in someone else's car.

Her real car is black. With a hatchback and pristine gray seats. Pristine because they're sheathed in black seat covers with gray flames dancing across the backs right up to the headrests. She loves those crazy seat covers; bought them with some of the dough she got from selling the Fiero, which she also dearly loved.

There is not a speck of red in sight in her real car, of course. She'd never, ever choose red, period. Black is the color for her vehicles, exclamation point. The only red in the remote vicinity of her real car is on the lips of the sparkly capped, sad-eyed pout of the court jester dangling from the rearview mirror. The accompanying Mardi Gras beads and moons and stars are, of course, silver and blue and magenta and gold but definitely not red.

So what the heck's she doing in some red car driving down the heavily rutted, aptly named Old M-21 on her way home?


It's May of 2009. A Saturday. A surprisingly warm day—hot, even—for the early spring month. Even with the humidity, Victoria (not her real name) welcomes it with open arms. She likes it hot. The hotter the better. Michigan winters are endless so an 80 degree day—even if the dewpoint is at about 150—feels great.

Victoria (not Vickie, she always goes by her proper name in honor of her grandmother, her namesake.) is in a big hurry. She has to race through her house cleaning chores before running out to take some photos and then hopefully take a quick run down to Rochester for a carryout from Bangkok Cuisine before her friend has to go to work around 3 o'clock. Victoria's craving the hot, spicy kowpad (Thai style fried rice with tofu) and wants to surprise her friend with an order of garlic fried rice with squid, also hot.

Always industrious and a natural clock-watcher, Victoria's right on the money. Chores done, photos taken, she's on the road to Bangkok anticipating a round trip ETA back at home at 2:32 p.m.—a fifteen minute window to drop off the surprise carry-out and make her friend's day.

The Thai food smells spicy and hot as the flames on her seat covers. It fills Victoria's quirky and much loved black PT Cruiser. Her mouth is watering.

As she drives east toward home she notices what looks like a jet black curtain hanging in the sky. Though she's at least 20 miles away, the jet black curtain looks as if it's hanging right over the area in which she lives. Perhaps even her very own home. Victoria dismisses the thought with a chuckle. Things always look funny from a distance, she tells herself.

It's not so funny looking as she approaches her driveway. Victoria can blame no optical illusion for the dark black curtain that is, indeed, hanging over the area in which she lives. Up close, the curtain looks more like a wall. Like a funky, greenish black wall. Moldy. Scary.

"That's not good," Victoria says to no one in particular. She pulls up to the house, parks and rushes into the house. It appears there's no time to grab the carryout bag, water, other odds and ends in the black car.

Wind blows. The budding formerly vertical limbed trees are horizontal with its force. Everything is black. Victoria paces to and fro, not sure where to go. There are windows everywhere and trees that can sail through those windows everywhere, too. She grabs her cats and sits in the doorway of her '50s era pink and blue tiled bathroom. She hears a huge boom and feels the house shake. Then it's over. The black curtain has lifted. A gentle rain falls. A "tree limb," the diameter of which is greater than her torso and five times her height, rests in a tangle of emerging branches and leaves atop the PT Cruiser.

"Dammit," she laments. "The Thai food!!!"

Along with no Thai food, there is no electricity. No water. No sump pump. No "normalcy," a condition which will persist for days—months even.


The red car is Jacklyn's. It's too small for her now that she's running a home day care center. Jacklyn and her husband Tom know that Victoria's in a bind, what with no vehicle and the eye-opening "experience" of "full coverage" and whatnot. Plus they'd like to buy a van. A deal is made. It's a godsend.

Though it's not her real car, Victoria finds that it's rather snappy—even if it's red. The cracked windshield and dented front fender make her feel young again—it looks like a car her 27-year-old niece might drive. The sunroof is nice, too. She's never had one before. Just like she's never had a red car. Never ever. Still doesn't, really.

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Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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