With three little taps, I'm a firm believer in the 'Net

OK, y'all. It's official. I am impressed with the Internet.

Oh, I've used the Web for a long time. I surf the 'Net and make travel reservations and buy stuff - and even read the newspaper online. I do a bit of Internet research from time to time and even have my own Web site. But I never realized how valuable a tool I had at my disposal until this week. Let me tell you about it.

I got a text message from my youngest child, Jenna, on Wednesday evening. (Yes, I text.) It seems like her car wouldn't start. The lights worked, the horn worked and the radio worked, but the key wouldn't turn in the switch. She insisted that no degree of joggling the steering wheel or jiggling the key would do any good. I told her to catch a ride to her next activity and I would be along to try to get the car started.

The car, by the way, is an 8-year-old Dodge Caravan with close to 200,000 miles on the odometer. It's still a great vehicle, too - despite the $4,000 "scratch" Jenna put on the back quarterpanel last spring - about four days after getting her driver's license. I bought the car in the summer of 2002, just before departing on a four-week odyssey to the West Coast. You haven't lived until you've driven to California with a wife and three teenagers, but I suppose that is another story for another day. Let's just say that my Caravan has provided dependable transportation and, until Wednesday, had never failed to respond when called upon. Try to find a friend like that in the 21st century!

I was certain that I would be able to crank the car if I wiggled the key a little and held my mouth just right. I was wrong. Jenna was right. The key would not turn. The steering column wasn't locked up, understand. The wheel turned freely. But the key wouldn't budge, no matter what I did.

Visions of tow trucks and dollar bills with those little wings attached danced in my head. I drove home, but before calling the AAA wrecker service, I decided to seek assistance on the World Wide Web. I figured I wasn't the only non-mechanical person in the world that ever had problems getting a key to turn in a switch.

This is where the amazement commenced. I sat down at the computer and Googled "Dodge Caravan, key won't turn." That was about as to the point as I could come. Immediately, dozens of references lit up the monitor. There were hundreds of people, scattered all over the planet - or at least the United States - eager to tell me, and the rest of the world, about their automotive problems and how they solved them. There were entire forums dedicated to keys and Caravans, and some people told elaborate stories about where they were when their cars wouldn't crank and what they had to do - and how much they had to pay - to get them going again. Who would have thunk it?

But on all the forums on all the Web sites mentioning keys not turning, one phrase kept popping up. The "rubber mallet trick." According to dozens of people, none of whom had a reason to lie, as far as I could determine, all I had to do to get the car started was tap the key three times with a rubber mallet. I didn't think it could possibly be that simple, but what did I have to lose?

I got my buddy to drive me back over to where the car was stranded. Not having a rubber mallet, I substituted a rubber-handled screwdriver - Phillips head, in case you're taking notes. I inserted the key in the switch and tried to turn it, to no avail. I sheepishly tapped the end of the key with the screw driver handle and gave it a little turn. Nothing happened, which was exactly what I expected.

I decided to give it one more try. This time, I tapped the key like I meant business, and then tried, once more, to start the car.

It cranked like a brand new one.

I turned the car off and tried again. Nothing. I tapped the key. The car cranked right off. Three times I tried to turn the key to no avail. Three times I tried the "rubber mallet trick," and three times the car cranked. Problem solved, and an expensive repair bill avoided - at least temporarily - through the magic of the Internet.

Like I said, I'm now a firm believer in the Internet and I intend to follow the example of the current administration and spread the wealth around. Just yesterday, for instance, I Googled "How to beat Florida in football."

Sadly, no results were found. But I intend to keep trying. If I ever do get results, I'm forwarding them directly to Mark Richt in Athens.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and

author. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.