“The Talkin’ Forgotten ID, Spare Key, Short Term Parking, Tex-Mex Blues”

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.

Having reached the city in which the airport is located, we were just pulling off the interstate at the airport exit when 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.”

Her tone was grave.

“What?” I said.  Several frustrating seconds of silence passed.  “WHAT?!  WHAT IS IT!?”

“I don’t have my wallet.”

More silence.

“What?”

“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 business of “Are ya sure?” but only halfheartedly because we both knew it to be true.  Her wallet was not with us.

“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 had to be–you know, on the off chance that we’d slipped into an alternate reality where 9/11 had not happened and we could still fly freely, sans ID, like it was still the `70s or something?  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-way-point-yet-to-be-determined.  The wife said “us,” but I was already mentally revising that to “her,” as there was nothing stopping me and my ID, which I’d managed to bring, from getting on the plane.  (I know, it sounds terribly selfish of me, but Tex Mex awaited and it wasn’t going to eat itself.)  We’d purchased the tickets directly from Delta, so we knew one of them could be changed to a later flight if need be–which was yet another reason to continue our trek to the airport.

A few minutes later, we reached the airport and swung into the closer-to-the-check-in-desks 20 minute parking lot and dashed for the Delta line.  We explained our major error of the morning to the two nice ladies at the Delta check-in desk. We were prepared for them to laugh at us, and would have gladly taken the ridicule.  Instead, they were sweet and sympathetic, as nice ladies often are.  However, they pointed out that the decision of what ID would be considered acceptable was not up to them 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.  “TSA 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 both of our bags under my name.  The ladies were even kind enough to waive the second bag fee, given the circumstances.  Soon the wife returned with a fistful of papers from the glove box and we lugged our carry on down to TSA.  There 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 took a gander at this pile of half-expired crap, sniffed a couple of times, and said the paraphrased equivalent of “Yep, that’ll do.”  And they escorted us right on through to the security area, with all the conveyor belts and x-ray machines, where we were asked for our shoes.

We were stunned and amazed.

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.  And 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.  And we sat in silence as the plane taxied to its gate, unsure of what, if anything, might be done to fix this grand and sandy EFFing we were about to receive.

“You should call them and see what we can do,” the wife said.

“Oh, no,” I said, allowing a very pregnant pause.  “I believe YOU should be the one to call them.”

So she did.

The folks the wife 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 might be, as it could potentially have been cheaper to just let it be towed.  The wife did not know the fee, but pointed out that it also potentially could cost far more, 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 make the 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 like to have when it came to your spare key.  For 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 the location of that safe place, and then placing the key immediately in that location.  Only now, weeks later, I 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 top of the wife’s dresser in which she keeps spare change from foreign lands.  Or maybe the wooden box within a wooden box within a wooden box that also lived atop my dresser.  Or possibly it was just the wooden structure of the junk drawer in the kitchen.  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 other junk drawers, the copper dish on my dresser, a different wooden box, the drawers in the antique dressing table by the front door that we don’t know what else to do with but store random crap within, 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, and my underwear drawer.  And, we asked, was K.T. truly truly certain she’d actually checked the junk drawer in the kitchen?  I mean, thoroughly?  She swore she had torn all of those 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.  From all indications, this 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 and guilted my wife until she called the airport again to learn to where our car had been towed and ask much it was going to cost us.  It was a different person on shift, though, so she had to explain to this new soul the level of dumbassery we had achieved by leaving our car in 20 minute parking and then flying several hundred miles away.  Eventually, she was told that despite previous promises to have the car towed, it was still in 20 minute parking.  Again, they said, if we could get someone to come move it for us,  maybe—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 an estimated bill total.  They said they’d see what they could do about that and might get back to us.

Naturally, that was the last we heard from them for the rest of the week.  And, after hanging up with them, the wife announced it would be the last time she would be phoning anyone about the matter.  She was not going to let worrying about the car ruin our vacation.  If the airport wanted to tow it, they could tow it and we’d just have to deal with it later and pay whatever they asked.  It wasn’t like they were going to put it in a car crusher or blow it up, or something—they could only relocate it.  This was all just a problem for Future Us to be concerned about and Present Us, at least her half, would be thinking no more of it til the end of the trip.  I had to grudgingly admit this made a lot of sense.  I didn’t like it, but it made sense.  So I stopped worrying about it, too.

In the meantime, K.T. 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 encountered family and friends both old and new.  We laughed and laughed about how screwed we probably were, but also about 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, and still cheaper than paying K.T. $200 to move the car.  And the reason for this lack of towing came down to having 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.  The airport police thought this was overkill, though, so they usually just left the cars where they were and gave them daily tickets–which they probably saw more money from anyway.

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.

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