"Everybody says this is a story for Bob Levey," began the letter from Bethesda. Two pages later, Bob Levey heartily agreed. But why keep such a story to myself? I hereby don't.
This is the tale of a mishap that was about one in a zillion. But it could happen again at any time -- and there is no way to prevent it.
The scene was a quiet street near the Grosvenor Metrorail station in the early hours of Sept. 6. My correspondent and her husband were sitting down to their Sunday morning coffee and the Sunday morning Post. Said the hubby, who had just been outside picking up the paper: "Where is the Honda?"
The wife said she had no idea. The hubby said uh, oh, it must have been stolen. So he called the Montgomery County police.
Officer Jim Barnette came to take a report. He chuckled softly when the couple said the car was a blue 1977 Honda with 130,000 miles on it. No one had stolen it for the parts, Officer Barnette delicately observed. He was delicate because the Honda's parts were probably worth about $2.98, wholesale.
Even so, the car had been in the family since birth, and the couple was eager to get it back. A day passed. Two. Tuesday morning, the phone rang. It was a man named Mike. He had three things: a red face, the missing Honda and a whopper of a story.
Mike is a coworker of a woman named Sue, who lives on the same street as the Hondaless couple, just a few doors away. Sue had gone out of town over the Labor Day weekend, and had offered to let Mike use her car while she was away. Mike agreed, so Sue gave him the key to her car and directions to her house.
A blue 1982 Honda.
Mike had come out to pick up the car on Thursday night. In the dark, he couldn't make out the house numbers. But when he came upon a blue Honda parked somewhere near where he was supposed to go, Mike said to himself, "That must be it." He tried Sue's key. Wonder of wonders, it opened the locked door and also started the engine.
Mike told the Hondaless couple that he didn't realize his mistake until Monday, when a headlight blew. While searching in the glove compartment for the fuse box, Mike had come across the registration. It wasn't in Sue's name, of course.
On Tuesday, the first day Sue was back at work, Mike asked her about the discrepancy. "Oh, my God!" she gasped. "You picked up the wrong car!"
Sue and Mike immediately called the Hondaless couple to explain and apologize. That night, the 1977 Honda was back home -- and Mike had brought the anxious owners two boxes of candy for their trouble.
How in the world could the key to a 1982 Honda work in a 1977 Honda?
Ed McFadden, Honda sales manager for Wilson Pontiac and Honda in Silver Spring, says it's entirely possible.
"Honda will repeat a type of key every two years," Ed said. "And every five years or so, they will repeat an actual key." So, although the Bethesda Honda Swap was "very, very unlikely," it's "certainly possible," Ed said.
How does a Honda owner (or the owner of any model) protect himself against something like this?
"He can't," Ed said.
Reassuring, isn't it?
But Ed pointed out that it wouldn't be worth a thief's time to steal cars this way. "There are much quicker ways to break into cars," Ed said. "Professionals can steal a car in less than a minute, without a key. If they tried one key in lots of cars, it would take a lot longer, which would make them much more likely to get caught."
So peace has returned to a quiet street near the Grosvenor Metro station. But the next time you lock your car, and you think you're making it as secure as possible . . . sorry, gang, but you're not.
From Ann K. Bixby of Arlington:
"Last evening, I was sitting in traffic behind a van that had been painted with the legend, OLLIE NORTH -- AN AMERICAN HERO.
"I had just enough time to read it before the van went through a red light to make an illegal left turn.
"If only it had been a right one . . . . "
Unsuspecting Little Me published a gag here the other day about Cinderella. Seems Cindy had a motto: The shoe must go on.
Once the groaning stopped down in Norfolk, Art Finley ghostwrote mottos for three other women of the storybooks.
For Little Red Riding Hood: Fangs for the memories.
For Goldilocks: Always buy into a bear market.
For Snow White: Little things mean a lot.