Parking lot rescue: prepared citizens can help themselves and others

Picture a silver sedan in a bustling Trader Joe’s parking lot.* Two ladies—perhaps a mother and her adult daughter?—are huddled to one side of the closed trunk, but at the hinge end of the lid instead of the part that opens.

I walked right past them to unload groceries into my van. I was parked in an adjacent space. When I finished putting my things away, I noticed that the ladies hadn’t moved. Their heads were together. It looked like they were trying to solve a problem.

I asked if they needed any help.

Rescue scenario: a trapped set of keys

Here’s what they told me: the younger lady dropped her keys as she pushed down on the lid to close her trunk. The falling keys became trapped between the trunk and its lid. Without the keys, she couldn’t unlock and release the lid in order to free… the keys!

This sedan didn’t have a button inside to release the trunk. It didn’t have a fold down rear seat that opened into the trunk. Even a lady’s slim fingers were too thick to reach fully into the space where the keys were trapped.

It turned out that more was required than simply fishing them out. The keys were actually being pinched between two different parts of the car.

While I was hearing this explanation, another passer-by asked if he could assist.

An aside: This is my America! We help each other in times of crisis.

The ladies filled him in on the scenario while I grabbed the first vaguely tool-shaped object in the back of the van: a 12″ ice scraper. The flat edge could slide between the lid and trunk. They went to work trying to dislodge the keys.

While the original pair and the new helper made this attempt, I delved deeper into the array of equipment I keep in the van for emergencies.

Ammo can in the van: a tool box

Here’s a peek at a collection of useful tools in my vehicle at all times. It’s part of my personal ethos to be prepared. Some gear is switched out seasonally—like the larger SnoBrum† and a full size shovel—but these items never leave the van.The heavy duty metal box came from Costco, and was labeled as an “Ammo Can.”**

I can’t speak to its value for storage of munitions, but it is a sturdy box with a solid latch not likely to come undone accidentally. I paid a good price. I chose it because I wanted something strong enough to be stepped on by a child in elementary school, and tall enough to support said kid’s dangling legs that still hang far above the floor of the van, especially when he sits in his booster seat.

With no enclosed storage in a van, keeping gear up front combined nicely with the need for a step stool or leg support.

The right tool for this job: a metal pry bar and hammer

By the time I unlatched my gear box and rummaged around for the small hammer and mini pry bar, the trio had concluded that the ice scraper was a fair notion, but it wasn’t rigid enough to do the job.

I offered up a work glove to protect her car’s finish from the metal edges of the tools, but she didn’t seem too worried about her older model sedan. I think the melting ice cream in the trunk felt more urgent in the moment.

The younger lady, whose car I think it was, really enacted her own rescue. She just used my tools to do it.

The young man assisted by fishing around under the lid with the slightly bent end of the mini pry bar for the keys while she used the hammer to pry the lid up and release the trapped key fob.

As an easily irritated parent myself, I’ll also credit the older lady with being a supportive, calming presence. I could be roused to snapping at my family under the stress of being part of a spectacle*** in public.

Good things happen in the world, and deserve our notice

All in all, it was a twenty minute detour from my usual routine. It’s hardly worth reporting to the world, except that I drove away that day with a happy heart. Readers deserve to hear the good news in the world as well as the titillating catastrophes that fill our airwaves.

I was also reminded of my reasons for carefully stocking my van—and my home—with simple tools for self-sufficiency and preparedness. I’m pretty far removed from a doomsday prepper, but I do believe in helping oneself and others when possible.

I’m gratified to know that I selected the right tools to keep on hand for the emergency I met in the Trader Joe’s parking lot on a brisk November morning.

I’m grateful that it wasn’t my set of keys trapped somewhere inconvenient, and that I had the ability to assist.

I’m optimistic that, if I were the one in need, kind strangers would step up to help me help myself.

These aren’t uniquely American values, but they are fundamental to what has made America great. We all have the opportunity to embody them. Making the effort to do so is the most effective tool I know of to combat the current trends of partisanship, hate- and fear-mongering, and the isolationist effect of a digital life.

Reach out to the real person standing next to you when you see a need. Make eye contact; make human contact. Do good because it’s the right thing to do, not because of any external validation.

The result will be the kind of community in which sensible people wish to live: healthy. Interconnected. Human.

*If I were a proper modern person, I’d have some action photos to show of this event taking place in a local parking lot. I wasn’t holding onto my phone in the moment, so the reader must use her mind’s eye and imagination.

I’m so sorry to repeat such an atrocity, but the company spells “snow broom” like that!

** You can buy one like it here if you missed them at Costco for half the price. 

***I’m terribly vain about my competence, and having it threatened brings out the worst in me.
I would feel foolish for 1) trapping my keys, and 2) needing help to extricate them, though, as a bystander, I wasn’t judging these ladies as fools at all!I’m working on it. Sigh.

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