Playing musical cars on a January night in Shelburne

Once you place an order for a prescription refill, some pharmacies are as annoying as the village gossip.

Photo by John Quinney

On Jan. 4, I placed my Walgreens order shortly after 9 a.m. Within six hours, I had received two voicemails and two emails. If only to end the barrage, I stopped by the Shelburne Walgreens on my way back from a Williston appointment.

I picked up my meds and agreed to a 10-minute wait while the pharmacist arranged for our health care provider to pay for two COVID test kits.

Leaving Walgreens, I strolled to my car, hopped inside and reached for the key. But something was wrong. The upholstery was black not gray, and the car carried a faint tobacco smell. I quit cigarettes more than 35 years ago.

I got out of the small blue Toyota and noticed that it was a two-door model with an unfamiliar license plate. My small blue Toyota is a four-door Prius C.


Perhaps I hadn’t parked my car where I thought I had? That seemed entirely possible, so I wandered around the parking lot for a couple of minutes looking for my car. Nothing.

I realized that I had parked in a handicapped spot, so went back inside. “Did you notice anyone towing my car within the last 15 minutes or so?” Baffled looks. “No. It would have taken longer than 15 minutes, though.”

Back outside for a more extensive parking lot search. No car.

Could my car have been stolen? In downtown Shelburne? After all, it was dark and I had left the car unlocked, keys in the cupholder.

I called the Shelburne Police, gave the dispatcher a description of my car and waited a few minutes until two officers arrived. One went inside Walgreens to check video footage, since my car had been parked right in front of the pharmacy camera. The other cop asked some basic questions and gave me an incident report to complete. I was thankful that he made no judgments about people leaving keys in unlocked cars.

I called Colleen and while waiting for her to come get me ran through some “worst case” outcomes: My car gets trashed; my squash and pickleball rackets are gone; I’ll be without a car for weeks …

Looking at the small, blue Toyota brought back memories of an embarrassing incident from the early ’90s.

I had returned to my Seventh Generation store in Burlington after running an errand to a nearby gas station and convenience store. My colleague Mark greeted me with, “Whose car is that?” I looked at the car I’d parked out front.

It was similar to mine … but it didn’t belong to me.

I drove the car that wasn’t mine back to the gas station to find a puzzled person standing alongside my car. I had “stolen” his, and he was happy to have it back.

Back to that January night. Colleen arrived and I thanked the cops who said they would call later in the evening. “What are the odds that I’ll get my car back?” “Good. I’ve got a couple of ideas, but if those don’t check out, your car’s probably in Burlington.”

Back home, we started getting leftovers ready for a later than normal dinner. My phone rang. “Hi. This is John.” “Shelburne Dispatch. It’s a case of mistaken identity. Someone took your car by mistake. Do you give your consent for them to drive your car back to Walgreens?” “Yes, of course. We’ll be there in a few minutes.” Big smile.

Soon after we arrived at Walgreens, two cars showed up. My small, blue Toyota pulled into the space next to the other small, blue Toyota. The Shelburne Police parked nearby.

A middle-aged guy hopped out of my car and apologized. He was visiting his sister and had borrowed her car. He had hopped into mine after doing his Walgreens business and tried his key. It didn’t work, but the one in the cupholder did, so off he went. He was somewhat embarrassed.

I told him my story about “stealing” a car. He relaxed a bit. We shook hands. I thanked the cops and drove home, laughing, incredulous and much relieved.