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Keys locked in the car present a window of inopportunity

Tue., June 4, 2013, midnight

I feel sorry for kids today.

I know. Saying those six words makes me sound older than the dinosaurs being represented in that exhibit that’s coming back to town.

But I can’t help what I feel, and here’s why:

There are millions upon millions of young Americans out there who will grow up without ever experiencing the thrills and satisfaction that come with breaking into a locked car with a wire coat hanger.

Not that I’m anyone to talk.

My coat hanger aplomb, I’m sad to report, has plummeted significantly over the years. That fact became quite apparent last Friday shortly after I parked my 1967 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser outside The Spokesman-Review.

The day seemed to be going so well.

Then I got out of my car, fed the meter and …

Aw, crap!

Through the windshield I could see my car keys leering at me from the front seat of my very locked station wagon.

A helplessness, panicky sensation overcame me.

I haven’t felt so depressed since Steve Tucker’s last re-election.

Can you guess what I did next?

That’s right. I wriggled and jiggled every door handle even though I knew doing so was as futile as pushing an already lit elevator button.

The wagon was locked.

I knew it. The car knew it.

Soon every snickering pedestrian on this section of Sprague would know it.

But then came this tiny flicker of hope.

Inspection revealed that I had not rolled my driver’s side window all the way up. Maybe  1/8  of an inch of airspace had been inadvertently left.

All is not lost, I muttered, and headed into my place of employment on a coat hanger quest.

Once upon a time, the wire coat hanger was as essential to the driving world as fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror.

Unravel the coat hanger. Bend it into position. Twist one end into a tight hook.

And with a little practice, you could feed it through any window crack and pop open the vertical door lock with a quick and upward snap.

Well, at least you could until automotive technology took off faster than a Studebaker Avanti.

Factories began to regurgitate ubiquitous airtight, jellybean-shaped automobiles with internal door locks that are harder to crack than a bank vault.

Lock your keys in a modern car and you basically have two choices:

Call AAA.

Call the Russian Mob. (I hear they specialize in stealing Toyotas.)

OK. There is another option.

Many cars today have this satellite technology. You can get your doors unlocked with a simple call to a bank of hard-to-understand phone operators in New Delhi.

I don’t know a lot about it, but why would I?

I drive a 1967 Vista Guzzler that can be unlocked with a coat hanger.

If you can find one, that is.

A search through the newsroom closets revealed that there had been a paradigm shift in the coat hanger industry.

When did all the plastic coat hangers take over?

I don’t know, but luck was on my side.

I found one of the old bendy wire ones in the last closet I checked.

Thus armed, I headed back outdoors with the confidence of a man on a mission.

At the Cruiser, I untwisted the hanger and put a tight hook on the end. Calculating the angle of the dangle, I bent my hanger into what I believed to be the perfect shape.

Ever so slowly, I fed the hanger into the window crack and then manipulated it with surgical precision, until I …

Hooked it on the bloody steering wheel.

I pulled it out and made some adjustments and …

Grabbed the steering wheel again.

I think this is when the cursing started.

I considered looking for a rock or something hard enough to break the window, when a figure approached and a voice said:

“You look like you could use some help.”

He introduced himself as Ward Merkeley, former board member for Spokane’s Mobius.

That’s the downtown Science Center that teaches kids all about technology and math, but probably nothing at all about automotive coat hanger mechanics.

Merkeley, who is in his 60s, took my hanger. He commenced to reshape it into something that didn’t look anything at all like what I had come up with.

Smart aleck.

He fed it through the window as we chatted about the good old days, when a guy could work on his Chevy without first having to get a postgraduate degree in computer science.

I’m happy to say that Merkeley didn’t unlock my wagon on the first try.

That would have been too painful to bear.

I think he nailed it on his third attempt, after putting one final bend in the thing.

Pop. The door unlocked.

I snatched those keys off the seat like they were gold coins.

I thanked Merkeley profusely and made a promise to myself as I watched him saunter away.

Next time I come downtown, I’m leaving the window wide open.

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or

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