By Margie Bailey Rose
Most drivers lock keys in their car a time or two, but I do it regularly. A key-in-the-ignition alarm will be my first criteria for the next car I buy. My current vehicle refuses to die, and I am too frugal to trade in a paid-for car that still runs, even to quell concern for my mental health. I will have to live with my problem a while longer. Three of my children carried extra keys for me over the years and were very good about coming to my aid when I called for help. They (as well as rescuers in the form of locksmiths, police officers, and filling station personnel) couldn't resist gentle chides about hiding a key outside the car or carrying an extra key on my person. When I lived in California my car was damaged twice by thieves trying to steal it, so I am paranoid about hiding a key they could find. Twice I locked my purse containing an extra key in the car with the other key in the ignition. I may be beyond hope. I won't share all of the locked-out stories but some are entertaining– in hindsight.
When the last of my six children graduated from high school I began to plan my life. (Life just happened before that.) A list of all the things I hadn't done went on and on so I trimmed it to those I might be able physically to do and afford. Number one was– Join the Peace Corps. (My kids were ready to have me committed for my own safety and that of others. Who could argue with them?) I was surprised to learn that one of my best friends also regretted not being able to join the corps because she too was busy raising children in the Ô60s. The planning began. We would quit our jobs and take off for parts unknown– she to the Eastern Bloc and me to Africa. As we poured over Peace Corps literature, it became clear that you go where they think you fit– not necessarily where you want to go. We were not discouraged and persuasive application letters helped us make the cut to attend orientation in Los Angeles.
We drove to LA from San Diego in my new car, and being a few minutes late (the famous traffic) we dashed into the Federal Building. It was all so reckless and exciting we devoured every word, asked a million questions, scribbled notes frantically, and were the last to leave. We walked through the nearly empty parking lot with arms linked singing 60's songs. At least I could find my car. (Those are stories for another time.) As we approached, I dug in my purse for my keys.
You probably know the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach as your mind races back to getting out of the car. I hoped I hadn't left them in the ignition and sure enough, I hadn't. Looking through cupped hands against the glass, I saw the keys lying on the backseat. They must have fallen out of my purse when I was gathering our materials to take into the meeting. What now?
As we pulled at every door and window in despair, a man in his 40s walked up to us and asked if we needed some help. Some middle-aged (I am being kind here) white ladies standing in a dimly-lit parking lot in Los Angeles late at night, might have been wary of a black man's offer of help– not us. We showered Mr. Ludgood with thanks and conversation as we followed him to his car. He worked for the FBI and had come out to his car on his lunch break. His car's trunk held a wealth of helpful items including a flashlight, coat hanger, and crescent wrench, which he used one after the other to search for the keys, reach for the keys, and pull up the door lock. After 40 minutes and some help from a skinny-armed young woman from the Peace Corps workshop (she came over to see if we were trying to steal the car) the doors were unlocked and two very grateful ladies were on their way home to San Diego.
Mr. Ludgood would not accept any payment for his time and efforts on our behalf, so we asked him the name of his supervisor and sent a letter of gratitude for his personnel file.
I hope someone who knows Mr. Ludgood reads this story and thanks him once again for us.