So this is one of the stories I want to use in my book...enjoy...

Pennsylvania is a big state. Really big. People don’t give it its due. New State Slogan: “Pennsylvania: It takes a long time to drive through our state.”

As I am driving, and possibly breaking the law by talking to my friend Ramona on the cell phone, I look down at my windshield and yell, “There is a mouse in my car!”

“There is a mouse in your car?!” she says rather calmly.

“Yes there is a mouse,” I say, sounding a bit like the mouse I bet.

“In your car?”

“In my car.”

“At your feet?”


“Where in the car?”

“In the car.”

“Yes, but is it running around inside the car.”

“No, it is in the car.”

“Nicole, where is the mouse? Inside of the car?”

“No outside, on the windshield.”

“In your car or outside of the car?”

“Outside of the car.”

“Pull over.”

Right. I will call her back.

Who knows where this little guy came from. I started driving in Montana and now I was in Pennsylvania. The mouse was cute. It looked up at me while I was driving, turning its head around at me, and smiled with the wind rushing through his fur. Ralph the Mouse could not have been cuter, had he been in my car riding his motorcycle. The mouse then turned his head back around and, with ears back, looked happy to drive along sitting there. I swear he grabbed on. I wish I had a picture. No, no mice in the car, even cute mice.

I try to shoo it away.

I get back in the car. There the little guy is again, popping back up and looking up at me all innocent and happy to be sitting in my engine riding along.

I repeat the pull-over and try the shoo away exercise two more times. At one point a couple in a very large RV drive by and ask if they can help me. No, thank you, I have a cell phone, AAA, and it is only a mouse.

The reason I have AAA and a cell phone for driving across the country is not because I planned well for this trip or prepared at the beginning.

I had left Missoula around 4 in the afternoon three days earlier. I wanted to get on the road. My brother and sister tried to persuade me to stay home for another night: “you won’t get that far, just hangout with us.” I left anyway. The drive was not bad, even though I had not done much driving since I’d been in Germany and I therefore arrived in Billings late, around 9:30. It should have taken me only five hours. My Jetta was doing great. Before the drive someone had asked if I thought my eight year old, 125,000 miles already driven VW would make it across the country. Of course it would make it, why not?

I pulled up to the fuel station, went to put in some fuel, and noticed the gas cap cover needed a key. While in Germany for the year, I had loaned my brother Montana my car. I looked at the key chain, no key to the gas cap. Hum, not good, I think. He must have lost the gas cap over the year someplace. So I go inside and look to see if the fuel station sells these gas cap covers.

I ask the girl at the counter, “Do you sell those gas cap covers with the keys? I have lost my key and want to try one.” She replies, “No, but I have an idea, why don’t you just use your key?” I am not making this response up. I ask the biker dude and truck driver outside having a beer if they have any ideas. Biker: “Well, I would take a flathead screwdriver and jam it into the key slot and turn really hard while doing it. That might work.” I’m not making that up either.

I call my brother who had been driving the car for the year.

“Montana did you forget to give me something when I left today?”


“Something to do with the gas?”

“Gas money?”


“Oh Shit! Oh SHIT! Oh shit!”

“Ok, so we need a new phrase,” I tell him.

“Call me back. I will look on the internet for a solution.”

I drive on to the Flying J Truck Stop. Very cool places, for the uninitiated. You can shower, eat, buy a TV and do just about everything else you might think of at this chain of truck stops found throughout the US. One of my friend’s truck driving stepfathers wanted to setup their driveway to look like one.

No gas cap covers with keys there, but I am offered a phone book. I call AAA and decide to join, at the pay phone. I’m at the pay phone because I did not think the sales rep at the cell phone store in Missoula, Montana was giving me a good enough deal. I wanted a free phone, she said they did not give out free phones anymore. What did she know? So, I don’t have a cell phone for my drive across the US with the early model VW. What could go wrong?

I finally get an AAA guy on the phone.

“Hi, I am in Billings, Montana and I need to join AAA and get a locksmith.”

“Ma’am, what is your address?”

“Which address?”

“Your billing address.”

“Stevensville, MD”

“I am sorry ma’m, I believe that office is closed, this is the national office and I do not think we can sign you up right now.”

“I need to join AAA and get a locksmith.”

“I am really pretty sure we cannot sign you up right now.”

“I really need to join.”

“Don’t you think calling to join AAA right now is a lot like trying to get homeowner’s insurance when the house is on fire?”

“Well, now I need to join AAA, get a locksmith and talk to your supervisor, because what I don’t need right now is a lecture.”

This was one of the few times in my life when the snappy response came to me when needed. Nice.

After a moment on hold, I am signed up and a locksmith is on the way. The locksmith mentions that I do not look like a big city attorney. Because I am not. He put law student with New York together and noticed right away that I did not seem to be what should have come out of that equation.

I get back on the road the next morning and everything goes well all the way to St. Louis. Yes, this is a detour. My grandmother lives there. I am shifting, not 15 miles from my grandmother’s house, when the car dies on the interstate. I pull over and notice the huge approaching summer storm. Thinking someone will stop to help, I sit there…watching the storm get closer. Realizing no help is on the way, I get out, a guy in a car stops. I hesitate for a moment, reminded of my mom telling us over and over never ever to get in the car of a stranger. I take the ride to the Cracker Barrel near by, and pray that if it comes to it, my mom can pull some strings to save me if this dude is an axe-murderer.

The tow truck driver is a trip. Young, nice, portly. He tows my car to a Ford dealership where the AAA people told me they could fix the Jetta. I paid $45 extra because it was outside of the 3 mile free AAA towing range.

I call the next morning, and the conversation with the Ford dealership goes something like this:

“Hi! Nicole Harkin here. I dropped off my Jetta. So how long will it take you to fix it up.”

“Well, we can’t fix it. This is a Ford dealership. But even if we weren’t a Ford dealer, it would be awhile, because all of the mechanics in St. Louis are on strike.”


“The mechanics are on strike.”

Right. Right. AAA comes through once again. Why didn’t they mention this problem on the phone? And who has ever heard of unionized car mechanics?

I call around, finding the one VW dealer open. AAA pays to tow Jetta there. The general manager tells me he will try to work me in. I mention law school starts on Monday and, as this is Friday, I really need to go.

I get the call late Friday night that the car is done. I pick it up the next morning with Grammy. Naturally, the Jetta has a flat tire. It is sitting there on the lot with a flat tire. It did not have a flat tire when I brought it to them. After waiting two hours they fix that too, but for free. Oh and by this time, Grammy has decided that I cannot drive any further without a cell phone. I get one because she is mostly correct.

Back on the road.

Oh and I finally ended up using the windshield wiper fluid to encourage the mouse to get out of the car. I never saw him again, but felt bad. I hope nothing happened to him.

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