Joseph F. Berenato
On the Batmobile, blueberry season & a bit of friendly banter
Since July is National Blueberry Month, and the blueberry harvest is in full swing, I thought this would be a good time to share with all of you my favorite blueberry season story—which, incidentally, doesn’t actually feature a single blueberry.
Picture it: Hammonton, 2010. I was living in a ridiculously spacious four-bedroom apartment upstairs from one of the businesses on 12th Street that had its own parking lot and was within walking distance to all of town’s amenities—including cannoli right across the street, which probably accounted for my 50-pound weight gain.
But I digress.
It was the first day of blueberry season. The workers had arrived several days before and were eager to get out into the fields. My father had asked me to come into work at 6 a.m. (that day and for the rest of the season), so I woke up at 5:15 a.m., downed about a quart of coffee and got ready to go to the farm.
By 5:40 a.m., I headed downstairs and got in my car. (Some of you may remember it: it was a black 2005 Saturn Ion, bedecked with Batman symbols on the trunk and all four rims; my license plate was even BTMOBLE, in case anyone was still uncertain at that point.)
I turned the key, put it in reverse and heard an awful grinding noise.
I took my foot off of the accelerator, waited a few seconds and tried again; same noise. I turned the car off, got out and started to walk around it. I got to the car’s passenger side and stopped in my tracks.
I think it took my not-quite-caffeinated brain almost a full minute to fully process what I saw: my car was up on two cinderblocks, and my front passenger tire was gone.
I called the police, who said they would send someone out immediately, and then called my father.
“Dad, I’m going to be late. Somebody stole a tire from my car,” I said.
I’m not sure that he processed that fully, either.
“Well we’re starting in a few minutes. I need—”
“Dad I don’t have a tire and I’ll be there when I can,” I said, and hung up.
Right then, a patrol car pulled up, and then-Lieutenant Kevin Friel got out. Friel has always been one of those people that I’ve known forever, but don’t ask me how we actually met. At any rate, the familiarity helped with the situation.
He confirmed that, yes, my tire was in fact missing, said that he’d file a report and then offered me a ride to work.
In the back of the car, of course.
As we were driving there, another police officer’s voice came over the radio:
“Tell Mr. Berenato that we think the Joker stole his tire,” he said.
I may or may not have said some words that I hope weren’t broadcast back because they would have violated FCC regulations.
A few minutes later, we pulled up in front of the farm’s packing house, where dozens of the workers had gathered, ready to head out into the field.
“How’s your morning going?” I said to everyone and no one in particular as I exited the vehicle.
The understandable look of confusion on their faces as the farm’s manager got out of the back of a cop car is something that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
“Better than yours,” a voice said. It was my dad, who was almost doubled over in laughter.
A few hours later, my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but it was a Hammonton line so I picked it up.
“Is this Batman?” the voice on the other end said.
Here we go.
“Yes it is, old chum,” I said.
“This is the Green Lantern. The Justice League has found your tire,” the voice—which I now recognized as Friel’s—replied.
And, sure enough, they had, next to a Hyundai a few blocks away from my apartment that was also missing a tire. Apparently, whoever stole it—and, to my knowledge, they are still at large—didn’t realize that their car required five lug holes, and my car’s tire only had four. The unfortunate Huyndai, however, had the requisite number, but at least the thieves were nice enough to leave my tire behind.
That was a memorable day, and an even more memorable blueberry season—though, again, not because of the blueberries. That summer would later see me require rabies shots and ultimately become displaced because of a bat infestation—and oh, did people have fun with Batman having bats in his Batcave—but that’s a story for another time.
Joseph F. Berenato began as a mild-mannered reporter for The Hammonton Gazette in 1997, and returned to that position in 2019 after an 18-year sabbatical, during which he farmed, taught, became a grandfather, dug graves and wrote, but never so prolifically as he has since his return. You can email him at email@example.com or find him on social media at @JFBerenato.