Principle No. 1:
Keep track of ‘em. Your keys, that is.
Principle No. 2:
Keep spare keys in safe places in case you screw up on Principle No. 1.
Yesterday, when the clock struck quittin’ time, I turned off my computer, rolled my wheeled office chair a couple of feet to push the buttons that locked the file cabinets, rolled back to pick up my purse, and reached inside it for my keys. They weren’t where they were supposed to be.
I took everything out of that part of my purse to see for myself. I needed my eyes to convince my brain that my empty fingers weren’t lying. “Wait!” I yelled to two co-workers who were still in the building. “Don’t leave me,” I pleaded. “I can’t find my keys.” If I hadn't caught them before they left, I couldn’t have locked up the building to go home.
My missing key chain held my car key, a remote keyless entry/alarm fob, my house key, my gate key, and keys to the front and back doors of the office. It also held a tiny file cabinet key that opens the file drawers I’d just locked.
I went through my purse again, section by section, carefully but quickly. I pinched all around the lining in case the (big wad of) keys had somehow slipped through an undiscovered open seam. I shook the purse to listen for the jingle of the keys. Nothing there.
My co-workers helped me look all over my desk, in the desk drawers, in the wastebasket and file box under the desk, and all around the floor. I took practically everything out of my purse again. As we searched, I began mentally backtracking to the last time I’d used the keys. It was after lunch, I recalled. I’d unlocked a file cabinet to put something in it. When I thought about it, I remembered having trouble getting the documents to fit properly in the file. In fact, I’d had to use both hands. Had I possibly laid the keys in the file drawer so both hands would be free? I couldn’t say. I was pretty sure of one thing: the only key to that fireproof, tamper-proof file cabinet was on my key chain.
After about ten minutes of searching, we gave up. One co-worker lent me her key to the front door, and the other stayed with me while I verged on panic. Fortunately, I found a spare car key I didn't know I had in a zipped pocket in my purse. Even more fortunately, and unlike the keyless entry system that came with my last car, this car key overrode the alarm system, let me turn the engine on, and didn’t lock up the steering mechanism. Once we confirmed that, I knew I could at least get home.
Home. How would I get in the house? My co-worker waited while I went back in the office and called my daughter. My daughter has a key to my house, she lives five minutes away, and she was home, thank goodness. My co-worker locked the building, I drove home, and my daughter was here waiting for me with the door wide open. Whew! Welcome home.
Once inside my house, I made a beeline to the place where I was pretty sure I had stashed some keys. I found an extra house key and an extra gate key, plus the spare keyless entry fob for my car. As far as office keys were concerned, I figured I’d call a locksmith first thing this morning to make new keys for the office doors and to drill out and replace the locks on the file cabinets. Since it was my fault, I expected to pay for the locksmith. It would be an expensive mistake, but at least I had a plan.
Plan or not, I couldn’t relax. I tried to watch TV, but some nebulous thought kept niggling at the back of my mind. The more I thought about it, I remembered that another co-worker, one who had left for a different job more than four years ago, used to have a key to those file cabinets. What happened to her key? A little more time passed, and it popped into my mind that I'd found a bunch of keys in a desk drawer when we moved offices last year. What had I done with them? Another twenty minutes went by while I tried to recreate the logic I would have used in determining where to put all those keys. Finally, I thought I knew where they might be. The only question remaining was whether or not there was a file cabinet key among them.
I knew I should just hold that thought until morning. I knew it would be foolish to drive back to the office last night to satisfy my curiosity. Wasteful, too, considering the present price of gasoline. It would be a totally unnecessary errand and would have no effect whatsoever on the outcome.
I did it anyway. I drove back to the office, located the batch of extra keys, dug among them and found a file cabinet key, tried the lock, and it popped right open. Bingo! I pulled a drawer open, and there was my key chain, right where I'd never intended to leave it. I could have kissed it.
Some days we get lucky. Most days, in my experience, we’re better off to have a backup plan.