I returned to the apartment building, stuck the key into the lock, and felt the same frustrating resistance that first brought me out of my apartment on a snowy sleepy Sunday afternoon. I tried it again. And again. And again. If this was the login screen on a certain website, these repeated failures would force me to wait for 30 minutes before I could try accessing the building another time. But it wasn’t, so I didn’t have to. I tried it again. Same result.
Eventually, I found a locksmith who made a copy that works. The previous two keys I had, one the property manager for my new apartment building had made and one I made, were bad copies. I’m used to copying things using a computer, which makes exact clones of data and files, and errors are virtually impossible in this world, so this concept of a bad copy was territory I haven’t encountered in some time.
When I went to nearby locksmiths, I was asked a question I couldn’t answer: where was this key made? I didn’t have that information. Nevertheless, I thought I solved the sourcing mystery by looking at the logo stamped on the key. This symbol must designate where the key was made, right? Actually, it’s the branding for the company that makes the blank for the key.
I don’t know much about keys.
This motivated me to do a little research into how keys are made and some other key facts about keys.
- We can thank ancient Assyrians and Egyptians for keys.
- Here’s how hardware stores make key duplicates with a key cutting machine.
- Apparently key copies can be made in a number of different ways, including with an app and self-service kiosks.
- Locksmiths open 24 hours aren’t necessarily open 24/7.
A little something I enjoyed about my journey was the system I employed for ensuring I didn’t mix up the keys when I was walking home. I compartmentalized the keys by using different pockets: my left jacket pocket held the key my roommate lent me to copy from (the original, working version), my right pants pocket held the copy of the key I was given (the bad copy), and then my back-left pants pocket held the third key (the new and working copy).
I wasn’t mad about the bum copies. I wasn’t annoyed about running back and forth for this chore. Keys are important; they occupy coveted space in my left pocket on a daily basis, yet I’m disconnected from the work that goes into producing them and the challenges this process presents. Bad copies are part of the game. Being temporarily unable to access my apartment building allowed me to unlock some of the knowledge and history hidden within the rattling objects in my pocket, and now I can carry around a greater appreciation for these long-standing, inexpensive emblems of security.