Drive yourself crazy

Drive yourself crazy

My friend Ruth and her husband, Bernie, are not your typical car thieves. They’re committed Jews who have lived honorably all their lives. Their commitment to Jewish tzedakah and their love of the shul where they have been active members for more than 60 years is legend.

Nonetheless, the other day they got a ride in a squad car owned by the Westfield police department. They were not actually arrested, but I’m sure the officers who picked them up are still having a good laugh even now, a few weeks later.

Fortunately our friends were not cuffed, nor charged with grand theft auto, but that was truly within the realm of possibility, although they are law-abiding citizens who happen to own a nice new Cadillac, black on the outside and tan on the inside. Apparently that combination appealed to someone else as well.

Here’s how the story played out. Bernie dropped Ruth off in front of a store and went on to park. When her shopping was finished, she walked out ahead of him and saw their car. She entered on the driver’s side with no problem, since she has, or so she thought, the newfangled openers that we all have, keyless entry. I really think the auto manufacturers should rethink this invention.

She drove up to the door to meet Bernie, who became the driver, and they went, unmolested, innocently, on their merry way.

A few miles later one of them noticed that there was an unfamiliar set of keys lying in the center console. Strange. Only then did Ruth see a pair of sunglasses that did not belong to either of them. Mystifying.

Let me remind you. These are lawful people, great-grandparents to a beautiful crop of toddlers for whom they are perfect role models.

And though you might consider them old, what’s more important is that they consider themselves young! I’ll let you judge for yourselves. She’s in her upper 80s and he’s a bit more.

Thus, with Bernie calmly driving through the local streets, Ruth suddenly screamed that they had stolen a car, the very Cadillac in which they now traversed Westfield. They pulled over to the side of the road and called 911. Within moments, the Westfield police arrived. One officer drove the stolen car back to the site of the original theft while Ruth and Bernie were, for their first time ever, escorted in a police car.

No, my friends, just to reassure you that American justice is just, they were neither cuffed nor photoed nor fingerprinted. And naturally you will not find them on any list of the Ten Most Wanted. Of course not!

Arriving back at their own car, they saw a driver, even older than they are, walking toward their car, the one that did not contain an unknown’s sunglasses. That gentleman, flummoxed, bewildered, and perplexed, couldn’t figure out why his black Cadillac with the tan interior was locked. At that moment Ruth and Bernie’s police escort called out to him, politely informing him that that wasn’t his car.

The driver explained that he always left his keys in the car. That way he didn’t have to search for them. The officer replied that this is a bad practice, perfect for a serious car thief, who will always find much pleasure in hopping into an empty car with keys generously provided.

No one went to jail, and Ruth and Bernie now have their own black Cadillac back. Oh what a relief it is! Doubtful that they have police records, but if I were them, I’d be more careful, especially if their car has someone else’s possessions inside.

I remember a day, over 25 years ago, when we confronted a missing car ourselves. Our grandson, known that day only as Baby Boy since it was before his brit milah, was born at a local Manhattan hospital on Amsterdam Avenue. We, excited sabim, grandparents, went to pick up our daughter, her husband, and their new son, to bring them home to their Upper West Side apartment. We were lucky enough to find a parking spot close to the hospital’s entrance. We had already equipped the car with an infant car seat and we were ready to claim the young man. Neither one of us bothered to read the parking signs in front of the hospital. We would be very quick, and we were certain it would be legal and okay.

With great joy and pride and with the new parents and their new arrival in tow, we came down the elevator to the lobby and began walking to the car. Oops indeed! There was no car. I ran in and told the security guard that someone had stolen our car. He chuckled. Apparently this was a frequent occurrence. And like the police in Westfield, the traffic police in New York, New York were equally diligent. Our car, by then, was en route to the police lot in the Bronx and had to be bailed out. And so there was no private car driven by joyful grandparents to bring the new little boy home!

Two taxis and several hundred dollars later, in cash, we reclaimed our car.

These little anecdotes teach us what we already knew, that man can plan but that doesn’t always equate to accomplishing what he sets out to do. You know the classic Yiddish saying about men’s plans. And how true it is!

We experienced that this past week, when we decided to take a ride to Cape May. Neither of us had ever been there, and the hyperbole on the reviews portrayed it as charming and delightful. We could no longer resist.

It was charming and delightful. It was also super-crowded, extraordinarily expensive ($8 for a small ice cream cone!), and the ride back would be a replay of the ride down on the parkway, trees and cars, cars and trees. We decided to program our Waze to take us home on Route 9, a more local and interesting road. This was a mistake!

The first thing that happened was the tire pressure light on our dashboard went on. I don’t know about you, but I really panic when something like that happens. Neither one of us is at all capable of changing a flat tire, and we didn’t even know if we had a flat. Or a spare tire actually. Of course we had one of those useless donuts. Big deal.

Enter our hero, Kevin!

We pulled into a WaWa, and it had free air. That was a miracle! And they had an employee, 17-year-old Kevin, a second miracle. He volunteered to check the pressure and fill the tires with air while we two old parasites kept cool in the same troublesome vehicle that was apparently sinking into the earth due to a lack of tire pressure. Kevin got us on our way (yes, we did give him a big tip) but the light remained on for the remaining 120 miles or so, which was at least disconcerting, if not terrifying. Never knowing if our tires would manage to roll us home was not fun.

So, back to Waze and Route 9. We continued past WaWa, having thanked Kevin prodigiously, and were on our way when, abruptly, our internal narrator, the lady who calmly sits hidden inside the Waze app, must have fallen asleep, or something more nefarious, because there we were at the end of the road with a huge river facing us and no sign of Route 9 or route anything else.

Perhaps she wanted to drown us, since she knows we are always obedient and obey her every command, and this was the mighty Tuckahoe River ahead of us. Our car was not amphibious. Maybe she thought it was.

Well, not to belabor this, obviously we, with the low pressure sign still on, as it remained the entire trip, had to turn around and reassert ourselves, firmly telling our navigator not to disappoint us again and to get us home.

That she understood, and with trepidation we made our way back home. Home is her favorite word. You know the drill. When we arrive, she charms us by saying “Welcome home!” That always feels so loving.

In actuality, we learned nothing on this trip except that there is no bridge crossing the Tuckahoe River from Route 9 and that ice cream is pricey in Cape May.

We also learned Ruth and Bernie can steal a car and get away with it.

Pretty useless stuff.

Please feel free to drop me an email at

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!

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