Key catastrophe a sure sign of the season

June 10, 2000|By ROB KASPER

A WINDOW shattered this week -- a sure sign that summer is starting.

This time it wasn't the traditional warm-weather culprit, a baseball, that cracked the glass. This time we broke a storm window while breaking and entering our own house. The "B and E" coincided with another popular seasonal activity, locking ourselves out of our home.

The shattered glass, and the crawl through the window, are signs of a bigger domestic problem: key control. It is an issue many households struggle with.

If the words "I can't find my keys" sound familiar, then you too may suffer from this condition. If you have been in Baltimore while your keys were in Washington, then you are familiar with this syndrome. If you have found yourself drilling tiny holes in the plastic-covered transmitters that "beep" open your car doors, then you have experience in this field.

Key control becomes especially difficult at our house when school lets out for the summer. The parents are at work. The teen-agers are in and out of the house all day -- and who knows where the keys end up.

A complicating factor is that the older kid occasionally needs to drive one of the cars. We have three drivers, two cars (a sedan and a station wagon), and four sets of car keys. Each car has two sets of keys, attached to beeping transmitters which unlock the car doors, mute the car alarm systems and permit the engines to be started.

Having appointed myself as the grand pooh-bah of key control, I have set several goals for our household. The first is making sure that the driver of each car is carrying the correct keys and beeper to operate that vehicle.

We seem to have accomplished this goal mainly because it is impossible to start the station wagon with the keys for the sedan, although judging by the battered condition of the station wagon's ignition, that has been attempted.

We have trouble, though, with another goal, namely, making sure that the driver is carrying around only the keys and transmitter for the vehicle being driven, not the one parked at home.

If the car is parked behind our Baltimore home, but its keys are several miles away, then the car is not operable. This is a point that has been made repeatedly, usually in heated telephone conversations with the offending key-carrier.

It seems to me there are two basic approaches to key control -- the tight-fisted one and a free-spending method. In the tight-fisted approach, you keep the number of keys in circulation to a minimum. You also closely monitor their movement. Subscribers to this system often employ a "key board," with hooks, to keep keys from wandering into purses or pockets.

The free-spending approach, on the other hand, floods the household with keys. There are first-line keys, back-up keys, and back-ups to the back-ups.

I have tried both methods of key control in our home, neither with notable success.

For the cars, I have kept the number of car keys to a minimum. I did this mainly because of the cost of the plastic-covered transmitters that hold the car keys and disarm auto security systems. Those things cost about $30 a pop.

I found this out one afternoon when I visited the shop that put the car alarm in our old station wagon. A piece of one of the old transmitters had snapped off. It could beep, but couldn't hold any keys.

I had planned to take the free-spending approach, to buy three new transmitters, one for each driver in the household. But when I learned that would cost me $90, I took the cheap route. I bought one new transmitter, then gingerly drilled a very small hole through an old one's casing. I threaded a key ring through the hole. It doesn't look great, and it's not too stable. But it saved bucks.

For the household doors, I used the free-spending approach. Getting copies made of the door keys is cheap, so I gave every member of the household a set of keys to the front and back doors. Moreover, I made back-up sets of keys to pull out in case of a key emergency. I did this several years ago, and over time, this once plentiful supply of keys has dwindled.

That is how the window got broken. Last Saturday, I couldn't find my keys; they weren't in their usual spot. So as I hurried out the door, I grabbed a back-up set of back-door keys.

When our 15-year-old son and I returned home, I noticed that the back-up back-door key was bent so severely that it couldn't open the door. So, at my urging, the kid removed a storm window, then climbed inside.

A few minutes after we got inside the house, I heard a loud noise. The storm window that the kid had pushed up had come crashing down.

The other day I carried the wounded window frame over to the neighborhood hardware store to get new glass installed. This weekend, when I pick the window up, I will have to get even more copies made of the backdoor key.

Already the summer and its attendant key control struggle have started with a bang.

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