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When the key is locked away

Open SpaceDerek FranzGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Flash back to last fall.The car door slams. The sun sinks slowly in the west, and shadows begin to crawl over the hills of barren cottonwoods and dried leaves. I grab a beer from the cooler, zip up my fleece jacket and set out for a stroll down the middle of the empty road.After 10 hours of solo driving that began with a $160 speeding ticket outside Denver, all I can think of is how good the Tecate tastes. It’s good to have finally arrived, and I’m sure I’ve made it through the toughest day of the trip. Now all I have to do is settle in and wait for my climbing partner to pull into camp.The October air is still enough to hear deer slinking in the brush. I come to an empty parking lot; the pavement is warm, so I sit in the middle of the white lines to watch night close in on Devil’s Tower.Once a mass of molten lava in a volcanic neck deep in the earth, the strange horn of phonolite porphyry now juts into the stars some 800 feet, much more if you count its vertical relief from my seat on the valley floor. My mind is stirred. I sip beer and listen to creatures rustling in the woods all around me at the perimeter of the asphalt. Despite all the tiny crunches, snapping twigs and hooves poking the ground, a desolate silence still pervades the surroundings and gives me a feeling I shouldn’t be here. Pulses of relaxation are interrupted with sudden shivers of loneliness. I feel at home and lost at the same time.Dark clouds outlined in moonlight suddenly part to reveal a glowing red orb so full it seems likely to burst and spill blood from the sky. Halloween is almost here, and the setting steals my imagination.What if I were wandering into a place where nightmares are real? Maybe the shimmering, green eyes of the deer staring back into the beam of my headlamp really belong to lurking demons, harmless in one existence but in not in another.Oh, God! I’ve watched too many movies, read too many stories and listened to Jack-o’s “Thriller” too many times to pry my playful mind from the grip of this dreadful vortex sucking my imagination into the darkest closets of my skull. I’ve managed to creep myself out. I’m ready for Todd to get here, and I’m hungry for dinner, anyway, so I rise to my feet and pace hastily back to camp.As I approach the car I fondle my pocket for the keys. What?! I don’t feel the tiny metal pieces of salvation anywhere on my person – crap! I cup my hands to the window. Sure enough, all my keys and all my hope are splayed on the driver’s seat. My guts go into my throat. I pull another beer out of the cooler and take stock of the situation. I’ve got an empty tent, the clothes on my back, a cooler full of Tecate and bread (the food is safely locked in the vehicle), and possibly hours before Todd arrives. I remember seeing some rusty lengths of wire along the road and start walking back to find them. Fancying myself as smart and savvy, I’m pretty sure I’ll find a way to pick the lock.Each time I slot the brittle, scrappy wire down into the door, however, another section of the manky stuff snaps off, littering the inner workings of the car with tiny clinks that will rattle in that unreachable void forever. My hope and my wire are running out. And I’m getting colder.Todd arrives, but the only result is more empty cans of beer and more pieces of wire stuck in my door. After a sleepless night Todd drives us around for an hour to get into cell phone range. A sweet old guy with a tow truck turns out to be our last good hope.”You need to get a magnetic key stash,” he says while flipping through his “How to break into a car” manual.Tool 47, detailed instructions, 15 more minutes of fishing around in the door and $79 saves me from breaking a window.Another guy with missing teeth and a greasy ball cap pulls up next to me in his RV after the tow truck leaves. Apparently he had been watching with great amusement.”You’re a gol-danged idiot!” He jibed with a good-natured chuckle as he leaned out the window. “I done that three times then I finally got me one of them magnetic keys. You should get one of them.””Thanks. That’s a good idea,” I said as he drove off.Flash forward to now.My car is in the shop getting $1,500 worth of repairs before I hit the pavement for an extended road trip. Thunder claps and rain pours. “Hotel California” plays softly in the café, and all I can do is type and wait. Waiting for what, I don’t know, but that’s sort of the point. At the moment I’m stuck. I know I’ll get moving soon, though. I’ve got me one of them magnetic keys, so I’m not too worried. If there is any other advice you would like to give Derek Franz for his travels, he may be reached at rockgripper8000@yahoo.com.


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