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What has your car become: Haven? Hiding place? Rat condo?

For some, cars have become a haven during the coronavirus pandemic.
For some, cars have become a haven during the coronavirus pandemic. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

And just like that, the thing that changed the American landscape, the workforce, the air we breathe and our daily lives is idle.

What to do with cars now?

In driveways across America, batteries are dying. Rats are moving into engines, gnawing through hoses and cables.

“The dealership said we are the FIFTH people to call with this problem,” NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell announced on Twitter last week, after she found rats living in a car engine that had been idle for one week.

For some, cars have become a haven.

“I have reached the moment in quarantine when I am sitting in my car in the garage because it’s the only place I can go to get away from my family,” tweeted Lisa Miller, under her handle @iwork_imom_icook.

I know Miller isn’t the only one finding solitude on four wheels.

Even commuters who used to hate their car time are sneaking into their Priuses to listen to their favorite podcast on the driveway.

In the parking lot of a hotel serving as one of the city’s homeless shelters, I met a mom using a friend’s car as an outing for her chubby-cheeked first-grader.

The highlight of Joaquin Sullivan’s day was a trip to sit in the back seat of a friend’s car, just for a change of scenery from their 323-square-foot room.

“It’s boring always being in the room,” Joaquin explained.

A homeless child’s world shrinks to 323 square feet thanks to coronavirus

We feel you, little man.

Even if you don’t understand Hebrew, you can probably relate to the rant that Shiri Koenigsberg Levy, 41, a special-ed teacher in Israel, recorded when she hid in the car from her four kids.

“Listen, this won’t work! This home schooling is really impossible. It’s not normal!” Levy vented. For a moment, her car was her safe space, her spa, her therapy chamber.

Funny, because the car is usually the crazy-making place for parents who log long-haul-trucker hours during seasons of practices, tournaments and games, rehearsals, shows and gigs.

A rare day without driving felt like a weekend on a Caribbean beach, and most of us never imagined escaping to the car.

Our minivan is my new glass-enclosed nerve center, the only quiet space I can find to do phone interviews away from my husband’s loud Zoom calls, an onslaught of office cliches about “circling back” and “unpacking” and “optimizing dialogue.”

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Without the children in the car, the hockey smell is gone. So are the wrappers and Gatorade bottles, the snacks, the pucks . . . the kids. Wait! No. Kids.

This is it! It is my new hiding place not just for me, but for rations and resources.

Because being cooped up for weeks with three large males is 24-hour “Hunger Games.” Suddenly the guys who can’t seem to ever find anything without the help of a maternal tracking device have found everything — the special bottle of Italian blood orange soda I’d been saving, all the bags of chocolate chips, every chunk of cheese, my grapefruit sodas, which they all used to hate until now.

Now, the goods are secreted away in the van (and fortunately, the guys don’t read the column). This is the first year the Easter candy survived. There are still granola bars! In the van. The idle, quiet van, with the gas tank I filled on March 26. The $1.74-per-gallon gas prices are laughing at me like an Alanis Morissette 2020 remix.

There’s no traffic. Essential workers get to and from work in record time. The air is cleaner: The Environmental Protection Agency is reporting some of the best air quality in years. Satellite photos from across the globe show that the shutdown of factories, less air travel and fewer vehicles on the roads are clearing the skies.

Cars are now storage facilities, hiding places, floats for all those drive-by birthday and graduation parades on YouTube. They are our day spa, our recording booth, our nap pod.

The Germans, of course, found a way to blend the autobahn and Kraftwerk with the Autodisco last weekend, where a Club Index DJ in Schüttorf grandmastered over a parking lot full of Deutschlanders in their Beemers. Only two people per car, bitte.

Cities across the world are finding ways, once lockdowns end, to permanently ban cars from popular places that have been overrun with traffic.

The Rue de Rivoli in Paris will bid adieu to cars after the crisis is over. New York will tell drivers to fuggedabout clogging Second Avenue, which will have big bike lanes once everything reopens. Milan is making 21 miles of streets bike-only boulevards. Bogota added nearly 50 miles’ worth of bike lanes.

Once the pandemic is over, of course, many people may feel safer commuting by car than bus or subway.

Will our vehicular havens return to the gridlocked highways and road rage of the past?

What will our car lives be like when we leave our lockdowns?

And most importantly, where will I hide my grapefruit sodas?

Twitter: @petulad

Read more Petula Dvorak:

A disruption in the global Nintendo market began with a teen bored with lockdown

A photographer retakes the senior portraits to reflect the real class of 2020

What truly ails us isn’t just a virus

Coronavirus may push the homeless to avoid shelters, sleep on the streets

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