“wow. a customer! when was the last time THAT happened? I don’t remember what to say here.”
I’ve just walked in to the neighborhood key shop. it’s an old, well-worn place that looks like it’s been there since the beginning of time. although i’m not sure they had keys in the beginning of time. more of a new testament thing i guess.
it’s like walking into mayberry. old, dusty, the feel of having been left behind in a world that moved on to big boxes and internet services. the sign behind the register says “prices will depend on the customer’s attitude.” i try to be pleasant. pleasant is not a good look for me. oh, well. retail.
there are four employees in a shop that doesn’t recall ever seeing a customer. how is that even possible? two of them, twentysomethings who look like they might be auditioning for the nerd role on csi, are eating chinese takeout. where can you get chinese takeout in our neighborhood? a huge dog lies on the floor next to a safe. he’s totally unimpressed with my arrival. a fourth person, an old guy who i never actually see, is behind a partition of keys.
i tell the first guy, who as it turns out DOES know how to interact with a customer, i just need a couple of copies of my apartment key. a couple of minutes and that comforting buzzing sound of the key maker later, there they are.
anything else? he dutifully asks. well, i COULD use a copy of my car key. but it’s an ’88 honda and nobody seems to have that key anymore. any chance?
old honda! his eye light up. my sister used to have one of those! great car. i’m sure we have one.
he goes rummaging. guys in key shops are good rummagers. I think this will work, he says. can i go out and try it? i say sure. we go out, and he puts it in the ignition. yup, it will work, he says.
we go inside. again, the grinding sound. the chinese food continues. the dog looks up, totally unimpressed. after he finishes, he asks if it’s ok to go out and try it. sure. we go out, he puts it in. i’m not going to start it up, he assures me. just turning it over to make sure it works. and of course, it does. he pats the steering wheel, some sort of connection with a memory.
we go back inside. old honda? the voice of the unseen old guy asks. yeah. what number was it? blah blah, the guy tells him. i can imagine him filing the number away in his head. just in case.
i pay for the keys and go over to pet the dog on the way out. he yawns and shifts around a bit. i walk through the safes and stuff and more stuff, someone’s lifetime of accumulating odds and ends. it feels real. i’m back at granddad’s store in vancourt. a simple life. thrley’re not here to maximize profits or diversify sales or take over the world. they’re just here to make keys. i want to sit on the porch for the afternoon. i want them to survive.
sometimes i question mo’s staunch refusal to set foot in a walmart. i tend to view change as inevitable. but all it takes is one visit on a windy afternoon to a mom and pop store in a little south tejas town to remember why this country was always a pretty great place. maybe it still is. you just have to look for it.
look around your neighborhood sometime. find that store you’ve driven by a million times but never entered. go in. buy something. talk. live. remember.
all i needed to unlock that memory was a key …
My favorite kind of store. And I’m totally with Mo on the Walmart thing. I just knew she and I were soul sisters.
I had a very similar experience at a green grocer by my old apartment. And at the end of the day, the old man who owned it, locked it up with a padlock. No roll down gate, no coded alarm system. Just closed the wooden door and put on a pad lock.
what a great story! when it gets too complicated, i use the adding machine.