My keys were missing. Magically, mysteriously gone.
The problem was, I was already driving when I realized it. I’d just left the house after 8 p.m. to do a couple of hours of Ubering and was driving down Sossaman toward the 60 when I realized they were missing. Compulsively, I had just patted my front pocket to make sure my wallet was there as I’d taken it out to buy something online earlier. And it was. But strangely, I didn’t feel my keys. I reached into the cup holders in the center console. Nothing but cough drop wrappers. Nor were they in the passenger seat. And not in the pockets of my light jacket and not in the back pockets of my jeans, where I’ll occasionally drop them for a second while doing something.
I have a keyless ignition system, so I couldn’t have started my journey without the key fob. I knew I’d locked my front door because the lock usually sticks, but this time the house key had engaged the deadbolt relatively smoothly.
I pulled into a parking lot and left the car running and turned the roof light on and looked on the floor. I double and triple checked everywhere: the dash, the cupholders, the seat, the floor up front. I turned on my cell flashlight app and got out of the car and looked under the seats from the front and the back. Nothing. And because I’m Ubering, the usual flotsam and jetsom of papers, Harkins loyalty cups, etc. that normally clutters the cabin was not present to give my fugitive key ring a hiding place. I patted myself down more thoroughly than if I was under arrest. Nothing. I was completely flummoxed, so I did another futile search as if reality would have to acknowledge that my key fob had to be here and would make it reappear.
I got back into my car. What were my options? Continue on and trust that I would find them when I got back home after Ubering? I toyed with the idea, then the thought of returning home in the wee hours and having to roust the Houseguest out of bed and earning scornful glares after repeated phone calls or obnoxious bell ringing wasn’t appealing. Or what if I turned my car off somewhere in Phoenix while waiting for a passenger and couldn’t start it again? No way she’d pick me up in some scary neighborhood. I’d have to take an Uber home.
Could I have left the keys in the front door? Surely, there wasn’t enough range to start my car from there. I drove home and checked the door. No keys. Then I went back and searched my car again.
I know what you’re thinking: Did you check down the side of the seats? I did with a cursory glance, but my key-repelling measures were in place. Let me explain.
See, I really hate the engineer who designed my Mazda 3 hatchback. Oh, I like the car well enough, in fact, I actually love it. It’s got stylish lines for a lower-end hatchback, it’s comfortable, and it gets really good gas mileage. I really can’t complain.
Except for one thing: The key-eating black hole under the front seats; it is the bane of my existence.
The egghead that designed the front seats did such an admirable job at conserving space that there is barely any room at all between them and the center console. Oh, there’s still some space. In fact, there’s just enough space for my key ring to inevitably find its way down into it when I eventually drop it. It doesn’t matter where I lose my grip or the angle or the height. It. Doesn’t. Matter! The merciless black hole that dwells in the grim darkness under my front seats draws those goddamn free falling keys inexorably into its relentless gravity well. The second they leave my fingers, those doomed keys are streaking past the event horizon and disappearing into the black hole’s greedy maw and into oblivion far beyond recovery (well, beyond easy recovery).
And always at a crucial time. Got an important meeting early in the morning when I drop my keys? Might as well kiss my key fob’s ass goodbye cause I ain’t seeing it for a while.
The first time it happened, I thought I could just rescue them by reaching under the seat but no, as we’ve established, there’s no open space between the seat and center console. Trying to reach in from behind the seat is just as futile because the seat effectively walls off the slim crevice from a perpendicular approach — you can’t even catch a glimpse of the damned keys. After experiencing this frustration, if I could have unbolted my seats and burned them, I would have. It was so maddening that after the first few times of dropping my keys into the Crevice of Doom and screaming my throat raw in helpless fury, I finally stuffed a bright green microfiber cloth down each gap to close them off.
It was a genius move, and I patted myself on my back for my resourcefulness. Problem solved.
So, where the hell were my keys? Okay, at this point, things were feeling a bit Twilight Zonish. Obviously, I’d had the keys at some point, in close proximity to the car or else it wouldn’t have started. But where the fuck were they?
Finally, I pulled out the green microfiber barriers and shone the light from my phone into the Crevice of Doom. I manipulated the seats and suddenly there they were, barely visible, a faint glint of dull metal.
I steeled myself for the ordeal that was coming.
With a supreme effort, I jammed my hand down into that fiendishly designed crevice and could feel my fingertips brushing the keys, so tantalizingly close, yet so frustratingly far away. Dare I try to force my hand further down? It was already wedged in painfully tight and I was a little concerned that I might not be able to easily extract my hand. Of course, being stuck in my driveway wouldn’t necessitate me having to chop off my limb like the guy who gets his arm pinned by a boulder in 127 Hours. No, I’d just have to wait in humiliation till the Houseguest roused herself the next day and eventually left the house.
Finally, I resorted to a long screwdriver from the tiny set of tools I carry in my trunk and making ineffective passes at the keys. Somehow, after twenty-five minutes, I managed to nudge them enough to (barely) get a hold of them and gingerly extract them.
Anyway, I have carefully stuffed the microfiber back in place. I don’t even know how it happened in the first place, how my wretched keys had slipped through the impenetrable barrier. The only thing I can logically attribute it to is some sort of malevolent sorcery.
And you, unknown Mazda 3 engineer. I love your key-stealing car, but I hate your guts.