Saturday, July 13, 2013

Night in the Parking Lot

I didn't intend to spend most of the night in the parking lot of my place of employment, but that is exactly what happened. I got out of work at midnight and trudged into the shadowy parking lot with all the vivacity of a somnambulist. I unlocked my car. I put my car keys into my purse. I opened one of the rear doors, threw all of my bags into the plushy back seat, and closed the door. As soon as I opened the door to the driver's seat I realized my grave error: My car keys were in the back. I closed the door.

Then the car locked automatically. It takes all of ten seconds for Nina the Car to shut down like a tank. Because of this, no one will ever steal her, not even me. Her security system is so sensitive it can be set off by a firefly. It's like owning a really vicious Rottweiler. Every time someone takes a step too close, she starts snarling her head off, even when you're the one holding the end of her chain.

I shook my fists at the sky. I haven't had the car for two months and I've already had the check engine light turn on, a tire deflate, and the battery run dead. I seem to be going through the whole checklist of things that can go wrong with a car.

Not knowing what else to do, I went back into the building. I saw a security guard in his office and humbly asked what I should do. He directed me to the engineering department. The engineer and I walked out to the car, where he attempted to pull the doors open with his bare hands. He seemed strangely surprised that his fingers couldn't pry open a car door. Then he advised me to call the local police.

The engineer and I waited for the police outside under a streetlight in the otherwise lifeless employee parking lot. A coworker pulled up in a truck.

"Did you lock your keys in your car?"

I nodded.

"What you need to do is get a screwdriver and then wrap it in a piece of cloth and dig it into the top of your car door. Then you pry open a space to fit in a coat hanger."

I suspected that this coworker might be an expert car thief.

"You've been down this road before," I said.

As he drove away, I tried to imagine myself prying open a car door with a screwdriver. I was not the Herculean strong-man for the job, but the man swerving away in the truck might have been. The engineer was offering to fetch me a screwdriver when the police arrived. He scribbled down my licence plate number and information and gave me something to sign.

"I don't know if I'll be able to open the car," the officer said, producing a black duffle bag full of thick, rubber-coated wires. "We used to carry slim jims. Now the department says we can't do that anymore. The slim jim will open up most cars, but sometimes it will break the lock system. Then the people who own the cars can't sue because they signed a waiver."

Then I realized that the thing I had hastily signed was a waiver.

"But I can open up a car with a slim jim in ten seconds flat," he boasted. "I've been doing it for fifteen years. It's these new guys who don't have the proper training who break cars."

He proceeded to mutter about department funding as he wedged one of his tools into the corner of the car door. He was still unable to fit one of the wires into the door, so he inserted a thing that sort of looked like a whoopee cushion and pumped air into it as though he was taking the car's blood pressure. The air wedged the door open a little bit more and the wire fit into the space with ease. At the end of the wire was a little nub of rubber that was supposed to catch on the lock of the door and unlock it.

For the next ten minutes, I watched the officer fish wires of varying lengths into my car to catch the lock. This tense display of skill was like watching someone play the crane game in an arcade and dropping the teddy bear over and over again. The rubber nub would nick the lock, slip, and thud against the window like a bird. The officer took out the wire, bent it at another angle, and tried again. Finally, the lock bobbed up and the car alarm went off. I flung open the door and dug my keys out of my purse, resolving to make a copy of my car key and wear it around my neck for the rest of my life.

"Yeah, if I had the slim jim it would have taken me ten seconds, not ten minutes," the officer muttered. "But the department thinks this is better. What do I know?"

I thanked the officer and he drove away with his duffle bag of magical wires. I also thanked the engineer, who had been supervising the unlocking process. I waved goodbye and he walked away, waving. I called Dave to let him know why I was coming home late.

"Why didn't you just call me? I could have just brought you your spare key," he said.

When I hung up the phone, the engineer was still there, waving. So I waved again. I pulled around the parking lot. He was still there, slightly little closer to the building now, waving.