Like many great adventures, it happened at night. I went to pick up my friend Eric from the airport after his return flight from Colorado, where he had spent the week snowboarding. I was looking forward to picking him up, because we always have awesome conversations on the ride home.
I arrive at the airport a few minutes early, and start my holding pattern, circling the terminal slowly, enjoying the drive and The Civil Wars on my iPod. I’m always nervous driving to the airport, and driving around there was an excellent opportunity to learn which lane to get in to drop people off, park, or drive through with the least traffic. In the future, I’ll be much better at bringing people to the airport.
While I’m in my 5th mile around the airport, Eric calls me to let me know he’s gotten his bags and is headed down to meet me. I park in the lower check-in area and decide to get out and help Eric put his bags in the trunk. I get out, close the driver-side door, and come to a surprisingly quick dreadful realization.
I locked my keys in the car. With the car running. With my iPod playing. At the airport. At 9:45 on a Sunday night.
I immediately see Eric walking toward me and clue him in on the situation. I ask him to stay by the car while I go find a locksmith. At one of the busiest airports in the country, where literally thousands of people park their cars every week, I think there surely must be a locksmith on call. Turns out I’m wrong.
I ask a friendly police officer what to do, and he gives me the number for Pop-A-Lock. I call, and am informed that the nearest locksmith is 55 minutes away. In fact, he is as far or farther from the airport than I was when I left my house to come here. I ask her to have the technician call me anyway, since I may not find anyone closer.
Quoted price: $73.99
I run back down to the car and ask Eric (who has a fancy internet-enabled phone) to start looking for locksmiths online. He gives me the number for one, and I call. “I locked my keys in my 2008 Mazda3 at the airport. Can you help?” I ask. “Nope,” is the hasty reply, and the call ends quickly.
Eric keeps finding and dialing more locksmiths, which he gives my number and location. One of them calls me. “I’m twenty minutes away, should I come?” “Yes,” I reply, “but let me cancel the one on the way.”
New quoted price: $29.99 service fee to show up, labor depends on make/model of the car.
Graciously, the Pop-A-Lock technician doesn’t charge me any cancellation fee. “Customer first,” he says. He realizes the other guys are much closer and that it would help me out a lot not to have to wait for him.
As I hang up the phone with Pop-A-Lock, the other locksmith calls me back. I give him specific instructions on how to find me, and learn he is 20 to 25 minutes away.
As soon as I hang up the phone, I get another call. “This is Mika. You spoke to my colleague John. He’s 20 minutes out, but I’m only 15 minutes away. Where are you?” I was wary that I might get into a situation with too many locksmiths showing up, but I gave him my location anyway. “I’ll be there soon, and call you as soon as I’m approaching the airport,” he says.
Eight to ten minutes later, I get another call. “Where are you?” a voice asks on the other end of the line. “Are you John? Or John’s colleague?” I ask (I couldn’t remember Mika’s name.) “What?” is the reply, “Where are you?”
Now, I’m pretty sure I’m missing something. This new guy didn’t seem to have any knowledge of John or Mika, and said his name was Moses. Since I didn’t remember Mika’s name, I thought maybe he was Mika, arriving as planned instead of John. I gave him directions to find us.
He pulls up in a late-90s Chevrolet minivan with a front tire so low the rim is almost on the ground. No business logos, no identifying decal anywhere on the van.
Moses jumps out of the van and approaches the car confidently. He’s a twenty-something Israeli kid with a serious demeanor. “I need to see your license,” he requests. “No offense.”
I offer him my driver’s license but later wonder at the fact that he didn’t ask for further proof of ownership of the car.
“Are you Jewish?” he asks. “No, Catholic actually,” I reply. “Ah. You have a Jewish name,” he says, “Do you know what it means?” I think for a minute, surprised by the question, but then remember “Gift of God.” I ask him what Moses means, although I already know. He gave us a quick history lesson about how Moses was found in the river, and then continues his work.
He pops the door open in a matter of minutes, using tools from the back of the messy van. He returns the tools to the heap behind the folded-down rear seats and gets in the drivers seat, presumably to write me a receipt.
Eric follows him and asks how much it will cost.
Eric walks back toward me with a worried expression. “He said it’s going to cost $129! Don’t pay that much,” he tells me in a hushed tone.
I approach the van and say confidently “I thought it was only going to be $50.” I went with the assumption that Moses was with the company Eric had called, and they had given him a ballpark figure of $20 labor after the $29.99 service fee.
“I’ll have to check with the company,” said Moses, and so I walked to behind the van to give him privacy for the call.
A few minutes later he calls me back up. “It’s okay,” he says.
I ask whether he has a credit card machine. He doesn’t, so I go to the ATM to get him some cash. The machine only dispenses $20 bills, so I withdraw $60, and hope Moses will give me change.
He does, a $10 bill. No questions, no waiting for a tip. “Have a good night!” he says. “You too!” I reply, “Thanks.” And I really am grateful. Instead of paying $73.99 and waiting for an hour, I got the entire job done in the time it would have taken for the first locksmith to arrive, didn’t get a ticket while parked at the airport, and didn’t pay $129 to have my door unlocked.
I usually don’t have the guts to negotiate confidently, but tonight was different. I felt courageous, like my skill in talking to people was saving me money and time. Buzzing from the adventure, Eric and I start driving home.
The phone rings. It’s Mika and John. “Hey man, where are you?” asks Mika. “I’m here at the airport looking for you.”
With a sinking feeling I realize what has happened. Moses wasn’t from the company Eric had called. In fact, after discussing it with Eric, we assume he must have been from the company that told us “no” when soliciting their services.
“There’s a $29.99 service fee for me coming out here,” Mika states when I tell him about the mixup. I realize he’s right; I do owe him for calling him to the airport, regardless of whether I was there waiting for him. John is on the line as well, and I can tell they both think I’m going to hang up and not pay them anything.
My conscience and Catholic faith inform me that the right thing to do isn’t to leave them hanging. So, still buzzing off my earlier success at negotiating, I ask them whether they can charge me a $15.00 “cancellation fee” instead of the $29.99 service charge. John replies that $20 is the smallest amount he’s willing to charge to the credit card machine. I agree, thanking him for cutting me a break. Once he realized I would pay, the conversation got a lot more friendly and relaxed. I genuinely thanked him for only charging me $20, and apologized for my mistake. He told me to keep his number for the next time I needed a locksmith.
Total cost: $70, in less time than originally quoted.
I had a hard time falling asleep that night. Talking with strangers always gets me amped, especially when money is at stake. I felt that I handled the situation to the best of my ability (despite calling too many locksmiths,) and resolve to get a spare key made soon. Never know when I’m going to need it.