My keys have been giving me trouble. Seasoned motorists out there know what I mean. Cars, keys and locks can be a frustrating combination. Long ago, when garbage was not recycled and there were only three TV channels, car keys were straightforward. You put the key in the lock and made a twisting motion.
In the 1980s, this was deemed too much effort and automobile manufacturers ordered scientists to work overtime looking for a solution. The slide-rule set came up with "keyless entry" a technology that allowed you to open your vehicle remotely with the press of your thumb on a magic fob. These early key fobs were around the size of a small woman's shoe and their reliability was sporadic. If you misused one, it set off a car alarm that woke everyone in a five-block radius. Today's versions are smaller and more powerful.
A few weeks ago, I tried to keep this fact in mind whilst standing vexed beside my Grand Caravan. Before proceeding further, I'm going to ask you car aficionados to exercise a little imagination. Close your eyes and think hard.
I want you to:
1. Imagine you voluntarily own a 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan. Hey, we're all a few poor life choices away from this possibility.
2. You want to get in that Dodge Grand Caravan to drive it somewhere.
Okay, what's the only thing worse than owning a Grand Caravan and wanting to drive it?
You guessed it.
3. Being locked out of your Dodge Grand Caravan because the keyless entry system isn't working.
That was my fate. It was a cold day and I was due for a meeting across the city but my keyless system (which normally works two out of three times) was not co-operating. I stood there, pressing furiously. Nothing. Okay, I thought, this is aggravating but there is a contingency plan. I flicked a switch and drew out the old-fashioned metal key from my fob and inserted it into the lock.
Nothing. I jiggled it. Still nothing. I put the metal back in the fob and began pressing. Maybe it would work now? There was no reason it should but I had no other solution. Once again, nothing. I stormed around the vehicle. Tried the trunk. Nope. Tried the passenger door. Strike! Tried the sliding doors. No movement. I peered inside the car. There were women's shoes on the passenger seat and I thought I could see my wife's Wonder Woman reusable shopping bag on the floor. All familiar.
I walked to the front of the minivan and stared at the license plate. It looked beaten up. Had someone vandalized it? What was I to do? An important meeting was coming up. Obligations needed to be met and keyless technology was messing me up. I cursed violently and with great anatomic detail. I needed either a solution fast or a chance to blame someone other than myself. So I did what any red-blooded male in my predicament would do: I called my wife.
"Have you had any trouble with the locks?" I said. "I can't get in. I've been trying for five minutes."
"No, it's been working fine. Did you try doing it manually?"
I resisted the temptation to make a double entendre. "Yes. No luck."
"Oh, I guess you could call a taxi."
I focused on the license plate. "Yes, I'll have to call a cab."
Then, I began to slowly read the licence plate. The letters were unfamiliar. I could hear my wife's voice on the phone growing more distant. I looked at the black 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan before me. It was unwashed and had the requisite underground parking garage dent on the back right wheel. I once more looked inside. That was not a Wonder Woman bag – it was a brightly coloured bag that looked like a Wonder Woman bag. Dread crawled up the back of my neck.
Looking left, past the cube van parked next to the minivan I'd spent the last 10 minutes trying to break into, I saw a black 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan. I checked the licence plate. It was my car, Wonder Woman bag and all. Panicked, I hung up on my wife in mid-sentence and ran. I'd spent the last 10 minutes trying to break into someone else's Dodge Grand Caravan. Had I followed my baser instincts and decided to "show" the car that it could not defy me by borrowing a crowbar as a means of fixing my door lock problem, I'd have committed a felony.
Still stunned, I returned and gave my other car a look. Nothing had been damaged. I quickly climbed into my Dodge Grand Caravan and, with even more shame than one normally associates with operating such a vehicle, drove away.
The following week was spent recounting this folly, and to my surprise, I discovered I was not the only one to make such an error. In fact, there were many wrinkles. One friend, who has two vehicles, described using the wrong set of keys on his car and becoming so enraged he eventually inflicted damage on what he thought was an insubordinate vehicle.
Nor did I need to worry too much about being mistaken for a car thief. Today's culprits are as high tech as the locks they pick. In October, The Sunday Telegraph reported that car thieves in Britain are using "jammers" that allow them to access a BMW in less than 90 seconds without inflicting a scratch. The Telegraph says that in 2012 more than 20 million pounds worth of vehicles have been purloined so far in London alone.
Next time I find myself confronting an unruly car lock, I won't jump to condemning the automobile. I've learned my lesson. As I've said before, the fault, dear commuters, is not in our cars, but in ourselves.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy