Backup is the key to car keys

January 21, 1999|By Kevin Cowherd

IF YOU EVER want to test the stress levels of your heart without the hassle of going to a cardiologist and jumping on a treadmill with little wires stuck to your chest, try doing what I did the other day.

Try locking your keys in your car.

Eleven in the morning, in a grimy strip mall in the middle of nowhere, my keys are locked in my car.

In the old days, locking your keys in your car was no problem. All you did was borrow a wire coat hanger, which everyone carried in their car for just such an occasion.

Then you twisted the end of the hanger into a little noose.

Then you jammed the little noose between the rubber seal and the window of the car door, snaked it down, looped it around the button atop the door lock, and gave it a tug.

Boom -- you were in the car.

If you were really good, you could pop that baby in 30 seconds or less. Heck, I used to actually enjoy locking my keys in my car, just for the challenge of breaking in.

But now if you lock your keys in your car, it's a nightmare.

Because cars don't have button-top locks on the door anymore. Now cars have power locks and child-proof safety switches on the door, and the simple wire coat hanger -- the cotton gin of car break- ins -- has been rendered all but useless.

It's a sad day in America, my friends.

Anyway, here I am: 11 a.m., the strip mall from hell, keys locked in the car. I am doomed.

Actually, I'm left with two choices.

I can throw a cinder block through the car window, unlock the door, and drive away sitting on a bed of jagged glass -- all the while staring at a repair bill of several hundred bucks.

Or I can call my wife and see if she'll bring the spare key, which is on her key ring.

I go with Door No. 2. I'll call my wife.

At this point, if this had been a commercial, I would whip out the cell phone, punch a few numbers and within seconds a smile of relief would wash over my face.

Except this ain't no commer- cial. Because I don't have a cell phone.

From what I can tell, there are only about four people in the contiguous United States who don't own a cell phone.

So now I have to find a pay phone to call my wife. A pay phone that works. A pay phone without bubble gum stuffed in the coin slot, the ear piece ripped out or the steel cable for the receiver hacked off.

This is not as easy as it sounds.

Now that nobody uses them anymore, every pay phone in the country looks like it just came from a combat zone in Bosnia.

But finally I find a pay phone that works and get through to my wife. She is not thrilled about having to leave work and drive 35 minutes to rescue me.

But she knows that without me, her life would be infinitely duller. Plus she'd have to handle the kids by herself, which would reduce her to a quivering mass of jelly in no time.

On the ride home, the two of us come up with a brilliant idea: I'll go have an extra car key made.

Then I'll buy one of those little metal key boxes with the magnet on the back that you stick somewhere on your car, for when you lock yourself out.

So I go to this lock and key store, buy the extra key and the little metal key box.

"Where's a good place to hide this?" I ask the guy behind the counter. "By the wheel well?"

"Nah," he said, "that's the first place car thieves look."

"Inside the little door for the gas tank?" I ask.

"God, no, they look there, too."

Within 60 seconds, this guy has me convinced that every car thief in America is either a psychic or a member of the Mensa Society and knows exactly where I plan to hide this key case.

(This, by the way, is the same thing that happens whenever I check into a hotel with my wife. If we're leaving the room and I hide some money in a shoe in the suitcase, she says: "No, that's the first place they look!" If I hide it in a pair of socks, behind the drapes, behind the headboard, it's always "the first place they look."

(It's gotten so bad, I'm afraid to check into a hotel without bringing along a 700-pound, steel-reinforced safe.)

Anyway, after much searching of my car's frame, I finally found a great place to hide the key box.

For obvious reasons, I can't tell you where that is.

The most obvious reason being: I've forgotten it myself.

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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