I still can't believe that what I'm about to tell you actually happened.
This is beyond an embarrassing moment. This is something where I legit think I might have to move.
Just the other day I was thinking about that terribly embarrassing experience I had last December at that movie theater late on a Friday night and I was like "I haven't done anything embarrassing for a while. Good job, Eli. You're growing up."
And then this morning happened.
It all started because I noticed that the "Check Battery" light had come on in my car. It's actually been happening a lot lately. Ever since I jumped Matt's vehicle when it wouldn't start last month and then I think his car gave my car a car STD.
NOT THAT WE KNOW WHAT CAR STDS ARE.
So, as I was driving to work this morning, I thought maybe I should run the car into the dealership, which is on the way anyway, and have them check it out before I end up a poor helpless damsel in distress on the side of a lonely highway.
So I stopped by the car dealership.
A man who looked too young to even drive a vehicle, let alone have a job, told me they could look into it but that it would probably take several hours because they were pretty busy that day.
The dealership has a very wonderful service wherein they give you the option of taking a free loaner car if it looks like the service is going to take a while. The loaner car is always a better car than the one you bring in, so every time I take one I drive away feeling like the Beverly Hillbillies who just struck oil but don't yet have the social graces to be among the rich.
I once had one of these loaner cars for a week because the dealership had to order some part and I was seriously tempted after two or three days to just drive off into the sunset and change my number.
Anyway, child laborer told me they had one loaner car left and that if I wanted it, I could take it for the day.
I jumped at this, telling him that I would be so careful and that I'm really responsible and that they could trust me, etc.
He pointed at the car, parked out front, told me it was ready to go, and bid me farewell.
Picture this scene.
I had with me the following items:
1. My laptop bag.
2. A gym bag.
3. Several large paper bags carrying gifts for coworkers, which I had planned to pass out today.
4. A grocery sack with food for lunch.
5. A heavy coat that I was carrying around because as it turned out it was not cold enough for a heavy coat.
I had a lot of crap with me.
It was seriously a miracle that I was able to carry all of it at once.
I should qualify for the Olympic Games just based on how much stuff I was carrying.
There should be a tax deduction for people who can carry the amount of crap I had.
People should have to let me get off of planes first.
There were large windows so that everyone inside the dealership could see what was going on outside. So all 20 or so people had a perfect view of me, Eli Whippelnott McCann, schlupping out to the loaner vehicle with enough possessions to get my own episode of Hoarders.
I opened the back door and started unloading everything, carefully, into the back seat.
I shut that door.
I opened the driver's door.
I climbed into the vehicle. Into the largeand exceptionally-nice SUV.
This was one of those cars from the future where you don't actually put a key in the ignition and there isn't a shifter thingy. You just push buttons and the car does what you want.
I have no business driving a car like this. Back in myyyyy day, you started your vehicle by giving it a big push and then prayin' to Jesus. So when I'm faced with this intimidating technology, I panic.
Seeing a car behind me, I knew I needed to get moving, so I started pushing buttons until the vehicle began to move forward.
I congratulated myself, and then peeled out of the parking lot like a teenage girl from a 90s movie.
I had the perm and everything.
And THAT'S when I saw something out of the corner of my eye.
It was a rapid movement of some sort. It was coming from the side of the car.
But I quickly turned, basically ignoring it, and pulled out onto the main road in front of the dealership.
I should have investigated the movement.
I knew something was off.
But I was just trying to get to work. So I didn't investigate it.
A moment later I looked into the rear-view mirror.
I will never, in my life, forget what I saw in that rear-view mirror.
Hollywood directors could go their entire career and never capture as perfect a scene as what I saw in that rear-view mirror.
That rear-view mirror is already being nominated for at least five Academy Awards in cinematography.
They are making room for that rear-view mirror at the Smithsonian as you read this.
As I looked into that mirror. I saw four. FOUR. onetwothreecarrytheoneFOUR.
Four grown men. Running. Nay. Sprinting. after my vehicle.
All four of them had their arms waving frantically in the air.
All four of them screaming.
But they were too far away for me to make out what they were saying.
It all seems like a dream to me now. In the moment, I wasn't sure if they were trying to get my attention, or if something else was going on.
But then my phone rang.
And the person on the other end resolved that confusion.
Man: IS THIS ELI!?
Eli: . . . yeeeeesssss.
I don't know why I said it like that but I just turned bright red again thinking about it.
And then this next part I heard in that slow motion deep voice.
Man: Yooooouuuuuu toooook the wroooonnngg caaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrr.
I took the wrong car.
I climbed into a running vehicle. One that was not mine, nor was it meant for me, and I drove it away.
Grand theft auto.
And you're probably thinking the same thing I thought in that moment. "Well, maybe this isn't that big of a deal. Eli just took a different loaner car than they intended him to take."
As the man's voice on the phone was making out the R sound on "car" as in "you took the wrong car."
Right as he was finishing that sentence, my head suddenly did a full 360 around my neck like the girl from the Exorcist. And upon surveying my surroundings, I noticed dozens of someone's personal items.
Some shopping bags of clothes.
A pair of children's gloves.
A dog leash.
This was not the dealership's loaner vehicle. This was another customer's car. One that had just been serviced and left out front for the customer to drive away.
This car belonged to one of the four grown men who had run half a block screaming at me to cease my felony actions.
And in my panic, I tried to make what must be the worst u-turn in history.
I sorely misjudged the turning radius of this vehicle, and so had to stop before hitting the curb on the other side of the street.
Cars coming down that lane had to stop because I was now in the way.
And because this was a vehicle from the future, I couldn't just shift it into reverse. I had to quickly identify the expert-level-button sequence to get the car to go backwards.
The four men stood there watching this whole thing. They watched as the cars on the street who were waiting for me started honking.
They watched as I accidentally turned the space vehicle off in my attempt to get it to reverse.
They watched as I tried to figure out how to turn it back on, repeatedly failing in my efforts.
They watched as the cars on the street started going around me, because my car was still sitting nearly perpendicular to the lane, completely blocking it from passage.
They watched as the man who was still on the phone with me walked me through some very simple instructions on how to drive a car, like he was Houston and I was an Apollo astronaut in the 60s just trying to make it home.
Eventually I got the vehicle back into the parking lot.
Now, you might be thinking that the embarrassing things are probably over at this point. You might be thinking that I got out of the vehicle and left the place.
You are wrong.
The embarrassing things are not over.
Everything you read up to this point was just a warm-up act for what happened next.
I got out of the car. My face was BRIGHT red. So red you could see it from space.
I was bumbling like an idiot. Apologizing incessantly. Apologizing for everything that has ever happened. I think I may have even admitted to being the Zodiac Killer at some point.
Keep in mind that I had loaded this person's car chuck full of all of my possessions, like I was a family of four going on a road trip to see grandma.
I had to undo all of that. I had to unload all of these things as the four men, including the one whose vehicle this was, stood around me, watching me, probably still trying to figure out if they needed to report me to the police.
I glanced back at one point and noticed that every single person inside the building was standing with their faces pressed up against the windows, watching this spectacle, likely upon hearing the frantic phone call from inside.
The guy who had been on the phone was now outside watching this as well.
I pulled my bags out of the car, apologizing and apologizing to no one in particular. Well aware that everyone was staring.
With all of my things, I started to walk away from the car. And that's when I heard the owner of the vehicle say, "excuse me. That's my gym bag."
I looked down at the handful of bags I was holding and realized that I had inadvertently grabbed a strap of a bag that was already in the car before I loaded my own stuff.
Shifting all of my incessant apologizing over to this new thing I had done, I fumbled through the straps to try to release the one that didn't belong to me. And in doing so, I dropped the bag. Onto the ground. Into a gutter. That was full. Of. Water.
For those keeping tally, by this point I had:
1. Stolen this man's car.
2. Caused a traffic jam in this man's car.
3. Made this man chase after me on foot.
4. Stolen this man's gym bag.
5. Dropped this man's gym bag into a puddle of dirty water.
He quickly picked it up.
I was guided away by an employee who seemed to want to either put me out of my misery or just get me the hell out of there before I did any more damage. He led me to the loaner vehicle I was supposed to take.
I loaded that car with all of my things.
I got into the car.
I shut the door.
And as I drove away, I started screaming the words: "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU YOU IDIOT I HAVE TO MOVE I CAN NEVER GO BACK THERE EVER AGAIN I NEED TO JUST ABANDON MY CAR!"
Somewhere in the middle of my third act of "Emotional Meltdown: The Play," I heard a strange noise.
It was coming from my phone, which I had placed in my shirt pocket, something I frequently do.
I pulled the phone out.
I looked down.
And I saw.
That my phone call had not been disconnected.
In all of the commotion, the guy who had called me did not hang up. He just ran out of the place to greet me upon my return.
In all of the commotion, I had not hung up the call. I had just put the phone in my shirt pocket.
By the sound of the ambient noise coming from the phone, I am 110% sure that I was on speaker phone.
On speaker phone.
Inside the dealership.
For everyone to hear.
The man who had made the call had not made it back inside by the time I started my car monologue, and so he had not yet hung up to spare me any more humiliation.
Every employee and customer of that place listened to my self-loathing as I drove away from truly the most embarrassing experience of my entire life.
But how are you doing?
~It Just Gets Stranger