Sunday, August 14, 2011

Locked Out

I had been meaning to make a duplicate house key ever since I moved into my new place a month ago. In fact, I was planning to have a duplicate key made the day I dropped my niece Caitlin off at the airport to head back east. I just didn't get it done soon enough.

I suppose it was bound to happen. Lately, I seem to have an adversarial relationship with keys. I often misplace them or forget them or take the wrong set with me. Which is odd, because for thirty years I had the same key ring from college, which I never, ever lost. Until I sold my house two years ago and my keys mysteriously vanished. After that, wham, bad key karma.

I clearly remember the time I got locked out of my dad's house in Connecticut, where I had moved temporarily to wait out the recent recession. My dad was out. It was winter, and bitter cold. I had only ventured out for a minute, to get something from my car, when the front door blew shut. Shut and locked that is, with me on the outside of the door, in flip-flops, a tee shirt and sweat pants, in 32 degree weather, with no cell phone and no car or house keys. And no idea where my dad went or when he would be home.

I tried the other two doors; no luck - locked tight. As I went up the wheelchair ramp from the slate patio to check the sliding glass doors, I slipped on a patch of ice and landed on my knees on the slate, hard. Over a year later, I still have scars on both knees from that fall. I checked the family's secret place to hide the spare key, which used to be in the garage, but the garage door was also locked.

I didn't seem to have any other options, so I set out to meet the neighbors. In my dad's town, there is minimum one acre zoning, with houses tucked away up long winding driveways, which means sometimes you have a long walk just to go" next door". I don't remember trudging through side yard and two feet of snow to get to the "next door" neighbor's house; I might have gone the long way - up my dad's steep driveway, out onto the street, over the hill and then down the neighbor's long and winding driveway. In any case, no one was home. So I trudged on to the next neighbor a little further away. Fortunately, this neighbor was home, and he made me some tea while I called my dad on his cell. My dad, who had planned an afternoon of errands, interrupted his plans and came home to let me in. The neighbor let me stay at his house, sipping tea, until my dad came home.

When I moved back to California, to San Jose, my housemate had the habit of keeping all the doors locked, all the time, even when she was home. This drove me crazy, as I am always puttering in the back garden and I don't always bring my keys with me. Fortunately, I had a great neighbor across the street, who helped me several times when I got locked out, before I got smart and had half a dozen duplicate keys made, which I hid in various places in the back yard.

So now, here I was, up in foggy redwood country, locked out. I had car keys but no house key. Landlord up the hill - not home. Downstairs apartment neighbors - not home. What to do? It was 4 pm in the summer, so weather was hardly an issue. I washed my car, which was streaked with dirt and road grime from my recent vacation. Left the landlord a note to please unlock my apartment. Did some exploring down a backyard trail. Went on a short hike to get the mail at the bottom of the road. Checked my dashboard clock - 6pm and no landlord in sight. I started to think about possible overnight plans. And then, I remembered Barry helping me open the backdoor at my house in San Jose - with a plastic credit card. So I tried it, with my health insurance card, in case I mangled it while squeezing it between the doorframe and the door. After a few tries, the door popped open, much to my surprise.

Such good security we have up here, although not any different than my house in San Jose. However, my landlord is in the process of putting in a locking gate at the end of the driveway. People are gone all day at work here in foggy redwood country, just like anyplace else, and stuff gets stolen up here, just like anyplace else. On my way to get the mail, I ran into a group of people who don't live out here, car pulled to the side of the dirt road, picnic blanket and food laid out on the ground next to the car, even though there is a red "Private Road" sign nailed on a tree at the entrance to our road. These people were probably harmless, but you never know.

Me: This is a private road. Guy: Yeah, we know. Me: incredulous look on face. Guy: We'll be out of here in 20 minutes. I think to myself as I continue down the road: What is it about "Private" that you don't understand? There are six different county parks within a few miles of my house, including the one in my backyard, which has trail access forty feet from where you parked your car and a dirt parking lot across the street. Yet you drive your car and spread your picnic things on a road that you know is a private road. I don't get it.

The group had packed up by the time I returned with the mail, and I assume drove out shortly thereafter. The whole locked out and private road incident made me stop and think. If I can do it, anyone can get into my place with a simple plastic library card. I figure I have two choices - change the lock on my door to a deadbolt, which seems like overkill....or just throw away the damn keys and not bother with locking the doors at all.

I just hope the landlord gets that gate working soon.

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