It s always a bad day when a person locks his keys in his car. And it is always a good day when a long-dormant skill can be dusted off, updated and put to use to open the car to get them out. And in case you have not figured it out, that person with the bipolar day was me.
I am not, understand, in the habit of locking my keys in my car. Most people have managed to get out of that habit by buying a car with a keyless ignition. I will get there in another decade or so, but that time has not yet arrived for your correspondent (who has not yet used up his current car). And locking keys in the car has happened to me a few times before. I will never forget the first.
When I was in high school, some friends and I decided to drive the 100-ish miles to Indianapolis to watch the time trials one of the weekends before the annual Indianapolis 500 race. Race tickets were notoriously hard to get back then but the time trials were cheap and easy to access. It was 1977 and I was less than six months into ownership of my first car – a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible.
Because my car was the biggest of those available in my circle, I was chosen to be the driver for the trip. It was a beautiful Saturday in May and I was on my first road trip that did not involve parents. We found the track and followed the signs that directed us to parking. Everything was going great until I stuck my hand into my right front pocket at some point mid-morning and I got that sinking feeling when I realized that my key ring was not in its assigned pocket.
Crisis No. 1 was averted when we found the keys – hanging ever so handily from the key that was nestled snugly in the ignition switch that was prominently displayed on the dash. Which led us to Crisis No. 2: we were over a hundred miles from home and were locked out of the car. By that time I had learned the skill of fishing a coat hanger through the side window and grabbing the hook around the chrome lock post to open the door. There are many things easily available at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but coat hangers are not among them. We quickly figured that a slice through the fabric roof would get us access easily enough, but new convertible tops don’t grow on trees and I hoped to avoid the need to buy one so quickly.
In one of those great “Ah-Ha!” moments, I opened the hood and grabbed the oil dipstick from the engine. I wiped the oil from it and had one of my friends push upwards on the convertible top, which allowed enough of a crack to thread the looped end of the dipstick in to do the coat hanger’s job. My success taught me that a guy who thinks for a bit can get himself out of a lot of problems.
I did the same thing a couple of years later. I mean the SAME thing because it was once again in Indianapolis. Apparently it would have been too convenient to lock my keys inside somewhere local. Only this time, I was there for work and was driving a company car. At least I was somewhere that had access to a coat hanger and I was soon back on the road home, with my boss none the wiser.
Some time in the early 2000s I did it again, parked out front of the downtown library where I went to retrieve a book that one of my kids had reserved for a school project. That day I was wearing a suit and was staring at a locked Ford van that was nowhere near as easy to get into as the old cars of the 1960’s and 70’s. I had no tools and no patience, so I called a locksmith who charged me an exorbitant fee to open my car. I don’t remember how much it was – I tend to block really unpleasant things like that from memory.
A person might think that after some 45 years of car ownership, a guy would be past the time when he might do something as stupid as locking his keys in his car. I recently discovered that I am not that guy. Instead, I was fully capable of going there once again. In my defense, it is a lot easier to do when the power lock is not working on your driver’s door, rendering the ubiquitous clicker useless. A push on the little plastic lock post on the drivers door locks the car snugly, and I unlock it in that quaint, old fashioned way of putting my key into the lock in the door handle. But that old-school method can result in old-school problems.
I thought about calling Marianne, who was about a 20 minute drive away. She, however, does not like driving on slick streets, and our street was not in good shape after a heavy snow early in the week. I tried to remember where I was in my on-again-off-again relationship with AAA, but then my resolve hardened. I have a stubborn streak when it comes to self sufficiency.
Did you know that it is possible to stretch a long piece of string with a slipknot past the weather stripping, so as to drop the loop onto the little plastic lock post, then pull it snug and pop the lock open? Neither did I. You can look it up online. It had been a long time since I had tied a slipknot, but I got plenty of practice as it took maybe
fifteen twenty tries for the loop to hit its target before getting too tight with the thin string I had available. But at the end of about twenty minutes there was success.
So, depending on how you look at things, I have either learned not one single thing since 1977 when it comes to minding my keys, or I have remained impressively current on ways to solve the problem when the keys end up on the wrong side of a locked car door. Some might think that I have a bright future in car thievery, but I will confess that with modern vehicles I would have no idea what to do inside the car without the key. But if someone wants to film an action movie called “Unlocked In Thirty
Seconds Minutes”, I am available.