Pajamas and Authoring at Seventeen Below

February 6, 2018

This Is Just to Say

February 20, 2018

The Lost Key Saga

February 13, 2018
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My Toyota Yaris came with three keys when I bought it.

Unfortunately, after I had owned it a couple of years, only one key remained. The others slid down behind the couch cushions into the innards of the couch, or beneath seven-year dirt under the refrigerator, or under a flipped-up corner of linoleum in the very back corner of the coat closet beneath a forgotten mound of flip flops and winter boots…or wherever it is keys go when they are irretrievably lost.

(Mom wants me to clarify at this juncture that “seven-year dirt” is hyperbole. Which is a sophisticated writing technique that non-artists, who don’t know any better, might simply call exaggeration.)

For years, I limped along with one key only, being ever so careful not to lose my last remaining link to my engine. Yes, I did accidentally lock myself out of my vehicle—twice—but otherwise all went well. Recently, though, I got to thinking that I really should have myself a new key made lest I lose it, too, and be out of a ride.

So when I was in ACE Hardware one day, I asked if they could replicate my key for me. “Sure,” the dude in charge of keys told me. “But I need to check first to see if it has a chip in it.” So I ran out to the car and double checked the owner’s manual to confirm that my car was indeed a 2007, and he pulled up information on his computer and told me that my key was indeed a chip key. I would need to go directly to the company to have a new key made.

I was surprised, since my key, like my Yaris, was a basic model. No unlock button, no panic alarm—just a metal blade with a black plastic head. But apparently there was a chip hidden inside. (This modern technology has made my generation one of the few in history to live lives more difficult than our parents.)

I sighed. “Okay, thanks anyway,” I told the key man.

I went home and lost my key the same day.

Dad, more concerned than I was over my dilemma—no doubt because he envisioned me driving his spare vehicle for the rest of my life, or until I lost his key, too—called up the nearest Toyota dealership, located an hour away, to ask what should be done. The lady he talked to told him the car would have to be towed to the dealership, as they needed the car itself in order to program a new chip key.

For two weeks I begged rides and listened to Dad’s reminders, every time I came in the door with his key in my hand, to put it in the bowl on top of the refrigerator where it belonged.

Finally, I asked my brother in law, Jeff, if I could borrow his truck, which had a hitch. Then I could rent a car dolly from the car parts store in town and tow my car behind his truck the hour’s drive to Markquart Toyota in Eau Claire. Jeff—no doubt envisioning his truck in a ditch somewhere between my home and Markquart—said he had to go to Eau Claire to work the next day and generously offered to tow my car for me when he went.

He arrived early the next morning in his truck with the car dolly already hitched on behind. I thought regretfully of how early he must have had to get up to drive the 30 minutes from his house to Ladysmith to rent the dolly before driving 15 additional minutes from Ladysmith to my house, all before 8:00.

I went outside to help get the car up on the dolly, and then went back inside a few minutes later to find a warmer coat and boots. It was below zero weather outside. I watched Dad and Jeff work in the cold to maneuver the dolly to just the right place so that the keyless car could be rolled into position onto the dolly with the help of the skid steer to do the pushing. I watched them cinch the front wheels in place—Jeff without even any gloves to shield his hands from the snap-ice cold—feeling weak, inept, womanish, and stupid.

I paid the bill with my credit card over the phone later that day—seventy-three dollars. High enough, but a nice break for me because the price I’d been quoted earlier was significantly higher. Fifty-some dollars a key, I’d been told, plus a one hundred nineteen dollar initial charge. It hadn’t taken as much time as he thought it would, the guy from Markquart told me now, over the phone.

When I came home from cleaning up at the butcher shop later that evening and parked my parents’ borrowed car in its place, I found my own car waiting for me with two brand spanking new keys lying on the seat, along with the dealership’s summary of costs.

The guy at markquart said all he needed was the title, Jeff texted me later. He didn’t even need the car. 

Serious? I texted back.

That didn’t make sense, because the lady Dad had talked to from the dealership said very clearly that they had to have the car in order to program a new chip key.

But when I re-checked the summary of costs, I was able to connect the dots in a way that made sense to me. They’d charged me twenty dollars per key, not fifty as they’d originally said. Twenty dollars was the same price I would have paid at ACE Hardware to simply have my key replicated.

These keys were not chip keys!

They were just plain old basic keys made of metal and plastic, just like I’d always thought. It wasn’t technology making my life difficult, but the overly insightful key dude from ACE Hardware.

The lesson to be learned from this lost key saga? I have no idea.

Possibly to hang on to your car keys.

Or possibly not to read chip-style complexities into things or people that are really just plain old basic models, with no secret information and no hidden agendas.

Sometimes keys is keys, and what is is what is, without hyperbole—and that’s all.


  1. I don’t have a key story, but I do have a tale of two pairs of glasses. When we moved nearly 2 years ago, I lost two pairs of glasses at nearly the same time, a pair and a spare. We combed through the whole house, now empty, and even used a flashlight at twilight to spark possible shattered lenses that the lawnmower may have rolled over. I ask you, How can you lose not one, but two pairs of glasses, at the same time!! I can’t drive without glasses, so in the midst of the busiest year ever I had to stop, buy glasses and throw down hundreds of dollars in the process.

    To date, I have the one new pair I wear but today I will drive over to Lenscrafters so I have a spare. Besides, I have coupons, which they may or may not honor. Yesterday that guy on the phone muttered something about “out of network,” We’ll see.

    Great story Luci, which many writers (and non-writers) can identify with for sure! 🙂

        1. Although I would very much enjoy seeing you again, Laurie, and would want to attend just for that reason, this year April is packed for me, and I’ve had to say no to the Institute. I hope we will be able to connect in person again…maybe at a future writer’s conference.

  2. I think the lesson to be learned is not to believe what the guy at ace hardware (who is clearly not an expert on these things) or any other low-level employee who may not know what he’s talking about (even if he acts like he’s an expert), but to ask around and get second and third opinions. In this case I would certainly have called the dealer first and asked THEM if my car (that model from that year) had an electronic key. I’m not denigrating all “low-level employees” who may be smarter and know more than their bosses sometimes. Just that I am a lot older than you and I have learned the hard way to be suspicious of what I am told. When I don’t know a lot about something myself, I ask a lot of questions, especially when a lot of money and/or bother is involved. You’d be amazed at how much bad information you can get from people who don’t know what they’re talking about!

    1. Good point. The man at ACE was going by HIS best information from the computer, so I am not sure where the confusion about the keys came in. I remember the dealer when I bought the car mentioning that there were several different versions…so maybe some of the cars had chip keys. I don’t know!

  3. I think this post is one of my favorites. I was not surprised at the insert about your mom! However, I was sure it would end with you finding your old keys after all the hassle. I guess misery loves company but I am glad to know that I am not the only person who does the same absentminded thing more than once.

    1. 🙂 I am not looking too hard for my old keys anymore, because I DON’T want them to turn up in some obvious place, leering at me.

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