March 24th, 2011
I know this is almost a cliche, but here goes. Just to show you that it still exists.
Today my car needed some work. This morning I dropped it off at the mechanic, who lives right off a well-traveled state highway. They don’t have a dropbox for keys because, well, they don’t need one. I left the keys in the car.
They called to say that they’d have to close early this afternoon, but not to worry — the keys were in the car along with the bill, which I could drop by and pay or put in the family’s box at church.
And sure enough, the car sat there the rest of the afternoon, and until about 9:45PM, with the keys in the ignition, bill tucked in under my ham radio speaker, ready to pick up.
And it wasn’t at risk for being stolen. Things just sort of happen that way out here sometimes.
I remember one time we were taking a train out of Newton, KS, which departs at about 3:30AM. The only other train through there departs at 3:00AM. And back then, there was sometimes no station agent on some days. We got there our usual 15 minutes before the train departed, and struck up a conversation with a couple from California. They were almost beside themselves with shock. First off, they had arrived an hour and a half early, being used to doing that for getting on planes and, apparently, trains.
But what really stunned them was the fact that the station was simply left unlocked all night. There weren’t any cops there, and in fact there was nobody there at all for most of the night. And yet it had no signs of graffiti, no vandalism, and no apparent concern from anybody that it was unlocked. I think they also felt unsafe, having no guards or officials present. And they were literally the only people in the station for an hour, I’m sure.
And sure enough, along came the train. We all heard the whistle and had our things ready to go by the time the conductor got off the train, walked into the station, announced it, and led us all out to it. 3 minutes later, we were all on our way to California and the land of, apparently, locked doors.
Back in 2002, when we bought a house in Kansas, the inspector commented that none of the outside locks worked. At closing, the sellers gave us a key, commenting “We never use it and it took forever to find it.” I guess that’s why they didn’t know the locks were broken.
There’s something good about a setting like this. I know that my car is safe at the mechanic with the keys in it. He knows that I’ll pay his bill. We all take pride in our community institutions. And besides, if anybody did try to spray some graffiti in the train station, they’ll be living with people that will remember it for the next 40 years. Accountability is implicit here.