We try to get to Texas to see my sister on a semi-annual basis. We don’t get to see her much beyond this. So every year or two we hold a family reunion in Austin and my parents often drive over from Mississippi to join up. We all love Austin. It’s an outstandingly cool city (except in the summer, which is why we try to go in March when you can breathe).
Last week, the wife and I loaded up and headed for the airport, a nearly two hour drive away. (I’m going to be vague here about the exact location of said airport, for reasons that will become apparent by the end.) Somehow we’d managed to get a flight at 11:30a, which meant we didn’t have to be there until 10:30a instead of at the ass crack of dawn as our last several flights have required. We left the house round 8:30, grabbed some breakfast on the drive, and scooted on down the interstate. We knew we would be squeaking into the airport right around 10:30, the requisite hour before our flight. As we were pulling off the interstate to head toward the airport itself, the wife gave a sudden intake of air and then uttered the words no one ever wants to hear before a long journey:
“Oh, no,” she said.
Her tone was grave.
“What?” I said. “WHAT?! WHAT IS IT!?” I then followed up, after seconds of her silence had passed.
“I don’t have my wallet.”
“I don’t have my wallet. I left it at the house. It’s in my other bag, on the kitchen counter.”
We went through the usual “Are ya sure?” business, but only halfheartedly because we both knew it was true.
“What are we going to do?” I said, continuing to drive like a madman for the airport. My thought was that we had to get there quick and acquire 100 percent confirmation that a lack of the required government-issued photo ID was truly the deal-breaker we knew it would be–you know, on the off chance that we’d slipped into an alternate reality where it wasn’t. The wife whipped out her phone and called our niece, K.T., who was watching the house. The wife explained to K.T. that she (K.T.) would need to quickly leave work, rush home, grab the wife’s wallet and hit the road in our direction, probably to meet us to exchange it at some mid-point yet-to-be-determined. She said “us,” but I was already revising that to “her,” as there was nothing stopping me from getting on the plane since I had my ID in my pocket where it always is. (Tex Mex awaited, after all, and wasn’t going to eat itself.) We’d purchased the tickets directly from Delta, so one of them could be changed to a later flight–yet another reason to continue our trek to the airport.
Within a few minutes, we reached the airport and swung into the closer-to-the-check-in-desks 20 minute parking lot for what we thought would be a very short visit. We explained our major error of the morning to the two nice ladies at the Delta check-in desk. We would not have been surprised if they’d laughed at us, but they were actually quite sympathetic. The decision of what ID would be acceptable was not up to them, however, but instead up to the TSA down at security.
“You could try showing them your registration and insurance,” one of them said with a shrug. “They might take that.”
The wife rushed back to the car for any proof of identity she could find there while I went ahead and checked our bags, both under my name. The ladies were even kind enough to waive the second bag fee. Soon the wife returned with a fistful of papers and we lugged our carry on down to TSA where the wife presented them with her car registration, her wildly expired proof-of-insurance paper, and her library card, none of which had a photo. TSA’s response upon seeing these was, and I’m paraphrasing, “Yep. That’ll do.” And they escorted us right on through to the area with all the conveyor belts and x-ray machines, where we were asked for our shoes.
We went right through the rest of security with no problems, were soon on board the plane, and had left the ground behind on our way to our layover destination in Charlotte. It was not until we were coming in for a landing in Charlotte that the wife looked across the aisle at me and said more words no one wants to hear in our situation: “Do you remember where we left the car?”
I mouthed a very rude word beginning with an F as I realized we’d left our vehicle in 20 minute parking. We were now well and truly EFFed.
We sat in silence as the plane taxiied to its gate, unsure of what if anything might be done to fix this EFFing.
“You should call them and see what we can do,” the wife said.
“Oh, no,” I said. “I believe YOU should be the one to call them.”
She did. The folks she spoke to told her that the car was still there in 20 minute parking, though they seemed a little surprised by this as vehicles left in the 20 minute parking lot for periods longer than the specified time limit were supposed to be towed. Visions of huge tow fees, as well as expensive taxi-trips to impound yards that would more than likely be closed when we arrived, danced through my head. The airport person fortunately assured us they usually only tow cars over to airport short-term parking, though they did also still charge the enormous tow fee. At least we wouldn’t have to go off site. The wife told them that if they could hold off on towing the car, we could probably get our niece to come move it. Could they give us a couple of hours? Or maybe six? They generously said they’d give us til 10 p.m.
“How much are we going to have to pay K.T. to do this?” the wife asked.
“Mmmm… $200?” I said. Felt like incentive enough to make a round trip four hour journey and essentially lose most of the day she would otherwise be paid to work at her job–assuming she could even get the time off. I then wondered aloud how much the tow fee would be, as it potentially could have been cheaper to just let it be towed. The wife did not know the fee, but said it also potentially could be far higher, which I decided was the safer bet when it came to airport tow fees.
Unfortunately, K.T. said there was no way she could get off work to race home, find our spare key and then take a four hour round trip journey.
“I’ll give you $300 if you leave right now,” the wife said. No dice. K.T. was seriously trapped at work, but said that when she got off work, she would indeed go home find the key and race to the airport.
Now, here’s the thing about the spare key to the car: I didn’t know precisely where it was located. Oh, I had some ideas, sure, but couldn’t recall its location with the kind of certainty you might think wise. You see, there used to be two spare keys to the wife’s car: one that had key fob buttons built into it, which lived in the copper catch-all dish atop my dresser, and a second master key that had a gray plastic body and no fob buttons which also lived in the same copper dish. However, a few weeks back, when I went to find said spare key it was missing from the dish and only the master key remained there. My memory at that point was of taking the master key out of the copper dish, announcing to the wife that it was now being put in a safe place, announcing where that safe place was to be located, then placing the key immediately in that safe place, and walkin’ away. Only I now could not recall the location of the safe place. It was very safe indeed. I had fuzzy memories of a wooden box, perhaps like the one on the wife’s dresser, where she keeps spare change from foreign lands. Or the wooden box within a wooden box within a wooden box also atop my dresser. Or possibly the junk drawer in the kitchen. Or maybe the cat’s butt. But which cat? I didn’t know. So we texted all of these possible locations to K.T.
Hours later, after we’d arrived in Austin and were chilling with my sister and her family, K.T. phoned. To our disbelieving ears, the spare key was to be found in none of the places we’d suggested. I brainstormed more places, offering up the junk drawers in the laundry room; the copper dish on my dresser; a different wooden box; the drawers in the dressing table by the front door; the surface of the wife’s dresser; the dining room table that is perpetually covered in junk mail and teetering piles of paper; the various bowls containing assorted paperclips and junk on the shelves of the sun room; my underwear drawer; the other cat’s butt; and was K.T. truly certain she’d checked the junk drawer in the kitchen? She swore she had torn all of these places apart, as well as others not mentioned, and the only keys she had found anywhere were ones to my car as well as a fob for a car we no longer own. Apparently, our vehicle was to remain in 20 minute parking that night. Which, from all indications, meant it would be towed come 10 p.m. We could only pray the tow fee was less than $200.
The following morning, I hassled my wife until she called the airport again to learn to where our car had been towed and how much it was going to cost us. It was a different person on shift, though, so she had to explain the level of dumbassery necessary to leave one’s car in 20 minute parking and fly away. Eventually, she was told that her car remained in 20 minute parking. If we could get someone to move it for us, the airport suggested, maybe we could avoid a towing. The wife told them that getting it moved did not appear to be in the cards, we had just hoped for an update and maybe a bill total. They said they’d see what they could do and might get back to us. That was, naturally, the last we heard from them for the rest of the week. And after hanging up, the wife announced it was also the last time she would be phoning anyone about the matter. She was not going to let worrying about it ruin our vacation. If they wanted to tow it, they could tow it and we’d just have to pay whatever they asked. It wasn’t like they were going to blow it up, or something–they could only relocate it. Whatever problems were created would be dealt with in the future, but that was for Future Us to be concerned about and Present Us should think of it no more til the end of the trip. I had to grudgingly admit this made sense. I didn’t like it, but it made sense. So I stopped worrying about it, too.
The niece overnighted the wife’s wallet to her, so we could at least get home again and so she could have ID for margaritas. Our vacation progressed and a fantastic time was had by all. And the closest we came to dwelling on the matter were the multiple times we got to tell and retell the story as we met friends both old and new. We laughed and laughed about how screwed we probably were, but how we were also not letting it get us down.
“I bet they just leave it in 20 minute parking,” my dad suggested.
“Yeah,” I said. “They probably will.”
One week later, as we were coming in for a landing at our airport of original departure, I leaned over to the wife and said, “How bout I go deal with getting our luggage while you go find the car?” She agreed.
Minutes later, I hadn’t even quite reached baggage claim when I got a text from her with the car’s location. Just like Dad said, it was still very much parked in 20 minute parking. I popped outside real quick to see her approaching the car, which was practically the only one in the 20 minute lot. Then I saw her pull a thick stack of parking tickets from beneath its windshield wiper.
Turns out we owed $25 per day in parking fines, which is $17 a day more than if we’d parked in long term parking. In total, though, there were only $125 worth of tickets, which is only $70 beyond what long term would have been. Turns out we had a sympathetic airport staff on our side.
When the wife went to pay the tickets, the airport police officer said, “Yeah, we just got lazy with that one.” He said that the airport police and the airport policy makers have a bit of a disagreement with how to handle 20 minute parking violators. Policy is to tow them to short term and charge a healthy tow fee on top of the price of the short term parking day fee. He thought this was overkill, though, so they just decided to leave the car where it was and ticket us.
In the end, we came out ahead in a lot of ways. I was almost glad that the niece hadn’t found the key, because that would have been $200 on top of the short term day fee, which probably would have meant we would have broken even with just having it towed.
As of this writing, the whereabouts of the spare keys remain unknown.