I broke the first rule of van life. I didn’t know where my keys were.
It only took about twenty seconds of not knowing where my keys were for life to begin to unravel.
I’d pulled in to a potential boondocking spot to check it out on my way somewhere else. As I drove around the main loop, nature called, then began to shout. I pulled into a spot near a pit toilet restroom and hustled inside. Once out, I slapped some hand sanitizer on my palms and climbed into the driver’s seat. Then I thought, I should take a few photos here, grabbed my camera, got out of the van, and slammed the door behind me.
Snap! Snap! I took the photos and turned around to get back in the van. The door was locked. I reached down for the cord around my neck on which my keys usually hang. No keys. That’s when I realized I didn’t know where my keys were.
It didn’t take me long to find the keys. I looked through the window on the driver’s side door and saw them, one sitting in the ignition, the other hanging on the ring. I cursed under my breath.
Maybe another door is unlocked, I thought. I walked around the van checking doors. Every door was locked. Every window was latched. There was no getting in.
This is what I think happened. I unlocked the van and got in the driver’s seat. I hit the power lock button, but didn’t close and latch the driver’s side door. I put the key in the ignition, but didn’t start the engine. I decided to take photos and grabbed my camera. At that moment, I thought I knew where my keys were, but in reality, I didn’t. I got out of the van, not realizing the door was going to be locked when I slammed it behind me.
So. I was locked out. My keys were in the van. My phone was in the van. All helpful phone numbers were in the van. Everything was in the van, except for me and my camera, and the camera was not going to do me any good.
Down from where I was parked was a school bus. It had a nice, conservative, professional looking paint job. When I’d first pulled in, I’d seen a man and a young teenage boy cooking at the fire ring. (Roasting marshmallows is what it looked like they were doing.) When I saw the man (thin, mid 30s, with short brown hair) come out of the bus, I walked over and politely asked him if he knew how to jimmy a lock. He grinned and said he didn’t have the right equipment, which made me think he could jimmy a lock if he had the right tools.
When I told him I’d locked myself out, he and his boy (about thirteen years old, lanky, short hair, and with a machete strapped to his side) walked over to the van.
The man walked around the van, checked every window, tried every door, found it was locked tight, except for a window on one of the back doors. Unfortunately, there’s no way to open those back doors from inside even if one of us could have gotten an arm through the small opening at the bottom of the window.
The man and his son discussed different tools they might have that would work to jimmy the lock on one of my doors. Nothing the boy named seemed right to the dad.
At one point I asked if they had a coat hanger, and the man laughed and said, I live in an RV. I guess those marshmallows I thought I saw hadn’t been skewered on a coat hanger.
The man thought he could take the bolts out of the piece holding on the back window and remove the whole thing. He sent the boy to get tools. The boy came back not only with wrenches, but with two younger kids, a girl of about eleven, with long blond hair slung into a ponytail, and another boy, this one about nine with short, dirty-blond hair.
The man couldn’t get the bolts off. He sent the boy to get crescent wrenches. Those didn’t work either. The man tried the boy’s machete in the gap between window and body on the passenger side door, but that didn’t work either. The girl produced a Swiss Army knife with a tool the older boy thought might work, but that tool too proved inadequate.
Just when I thought the man was going to admit defeat and tell me there was nothing he could do to help me, he wondered aloud if he could remove the pins from the hinges on the side door, thus enabling him to remove the door. He banged on the top pin, and to everyone’s delight, it moved. He sent the big boy to the bus for a hammer and chisel. It didn’t take long for him to remove the pins and take the door off its hinges. Some wires (electrical, probably) connected the door to the van body, so the man held the door while I tried to snake my (frankly, too fat) arm into the gap between the door and the van’s body. Then the man had the idea to open the latch on the window of the unhinged door. Once I stuck my hand in the open lower portion of the window, it was easy enough to reach under the cloth organizer hanging there and slide open the lock.
It didn’t take the man (who when it was all over introduced himself as Tim) long to get the pins back in the door’s hinges, at which point, I was on my way.
Thanks Tim (originally form Philly) for not giving up and leaving me stranded. You’re not just a good Samaritan, but an angel too, I think.
I took the photos in this post.