Marvelous invention, the automobile. Marvelous right up until the moment you lock yourself out of it.

Here are three car-lockout tales -- the first harrowing, the second enlightening, the third puzzling.

GEORGIA AVENUE AND PINEY BRANCH ROAD NW: Jenice L. View of Northwest was on "my last errand of the day." She was "tired, hungry and anxious to get myself and my 2-month-old daughter home."

As Jenice juggled purse, packages and child, she accidentally locked all of the above inside her car.

Jenice ran over to a man in a nearby parked truck and begged him for help. The man went to a gas station to borrow a coat hanger. Meanwhile, Jenice found a pay phone and tried to call relatives.

Her money was locked inside the car, and she hadn't memorized her Calling Card number. The operator said Jenice could charge a call to her home phone if someone was home to verify her identity. But no one was, so Jenice was out of luck, even though this was something of an emergency.

The man in the truck solved the short-range problem. He jimmied the car open with a coat hanger -- then left, Lone Ranger-like, before Jenice could get his name. She asks me to thank him in absentia -- and I'm glad to.

The long-range problem is trickier. Is there a way that Jenice didn't think of to place a local call without money, without a Calling Card number and without someone at home to verify the charge?

Mike Houghton of C&P Telephone says there are three ways Jenice could have proceeded:She could have dialed O for operator and asked for a supervisor. Sometimes supervisors can jerryrig solutions. She could have called 911, even though this wasn't clearly a life-threatening situation. She could have placed a local collect call. Mike notes that this would have cost 84 cents -- 25 cents for the basic call and a 59-cent surcharge. But for a woman who was as upset as Jenice was, 84 cents doesn't sound like too much.

Mike also recommends that Calling Card holders memorize their numbers. I did that long ago so I wouldn't have to hunt through my wallet every time I wanted to charge a call. But there's another reason -- and Jenice is a living example of it.

BELLE VIEW SHOPPING CENTER, ALEXANDRIA: Carolyn O'Brien of Alexandria isn't sure how she did it, but she did it. She locked all her keys in the car while in the self-service lane of a gas station. At least the engine wasn't running.

Three young men who work at the station offered to help. Promisingly, one of Carolyn's rear windows was open about a quarter of an inch. But how to force it farther open without shattering it, or jamming the up-and-down mechanism?

The young men hit on an ingenious idea: Carolyn's dipstick.

They pulled it out of the crankcase, inserted it into the crack and tried to fish for the lock/unlock lever in the side of the door. That didn't work, but the jostling opened the window a tad further -- enough to stick a ruler through. Bingo.

Like Jenice, Carolyn did not get the names of her benefactors. She wishes she had, because "they saved me from a lot of anxiety." They also taught the rest of us that the best tool for a lockout situation may be right under the hood.

ROMNEY, W.VA.: While taking a weekend in the mountains, Yours Truly went into town to get the Sunday papers.

On the way, Y.T.'s keychain disintegrated. Y.T. reconnected all the keys -- or so he thought. He found out otherwise as soon as he locked the car door and shut it.

One key out of 12 was not on the chain. It was sitting on the mat, where the driver puts his feet. It was the key to the car door.

Go find a dipstick, you say? No good, my friend. The windows were all shut tight.

Go find a coat hanger? No good again. The car has power door locks. They lock all four doors with a flick of a switch. A coat hanger would do you no good because there is no button to yank up.

Yours Truly solved the problem with the aid (and the keys) of Dearly Beloved. He phoned her. She bummed a ride into town and opened the car door -- but not before shooting Yours Truly a searching look that asked: "Why are you such a hopeless yo-yo?"

If I could answer that question, Dearly Beloved, I'd be a happier Yours Truly (and you'd probably be a happier Dearly Beloved). In the meantime, I have another question:

How do you get into a locked car whose doors have power door locks?

I asked six D.C. area car dealers that question. They all said: "You don't." One of them said, "Break the window with a brick." I thanked him deeply (and a bit insincerely).

So I appeal to you readers. Is there a way to get past power door locks? Give me a ring at 334-7276 and let me know what it is. Please. Before Dearly Beloved shoots me another one of those looks.