I work on the Upper West Side in Morningside Heights, and every day at lunch I take a brisk walk for exercise in and around Riverside Park. Part of my walk involves the alternate-side-of-the-street parking Olympics, which means walking six blocks down to the bridge where I just moved my car two hours earlier and relocating it to a newly open spot just outside my office building. Once my car is safely reparked, I usually head down the hill to Fairway Supermarket on 125th Street. Along the way I stop in one of the small parks and do some crunches and push ups on a bench. It’s my favorite sort of multi-tasking: car, food, exercise, all within one neat hour.
On this particular day, I was also talking to my sister on my cell. It was her birthday, and I was giving her a painstakingly detailed blow-by-blow of my day, something only a sister would listen to with any patience or interest. I stopped to do my crunches and push-ups and then headed on down the hill for my Fairway salad, all the time chatting with Sis. Get the salad and head back up the hill, through the park, past the nanny packs and on past my car toward the office. My arms are killing me because I’m loaded down—I can never go to Fairway without stocking up.
Suddenly I hear what sounds like my car alarm set off by the panic button. I pat my pockets for my keys. No KEYS. I quickly realize that if I don’t have my keys, and the alarm is sounding, someone ELSE does. I rush across Riverside Drive to my car, and the alarm stops just as I arrive. There’s no one there—no one around at all. The full implications hit me. Someone has MY KEYS to my car, and my house, and I am in deep, deep doo-doo. Plus, I’m late getting back from lunch, and I really don’t have time for this! Why, I wail to myself, why am I always getting myself into trouble like this?
In a panic, I start to retrace my steps. I speed-dial Fairway (as if that chaotic food circus could ever locate my keys under any circumstances) and simultaneously recall and turn toward the park where I did my crunches. I’m afraid to even go two steps from my car for fear that someone will leap out and steal it. At worst, I have a spare key upstairs in my purse. (I cannot take credit for this foresight—it all goes to my husband who would never, ever be in this sort of a pickle.) But if I leave, my car may disappear. And even if I do move my car to a parking lot, I will never, ever again be able to park in this neighborhood, and I will have to take the subway for the rest of my natural-born days.
I walk quickly, arms aching, to the bench where I was doing my crunches and see two nannies with their charges casually chatting. I rush up to them and ask breathlessly, “Did either of you see a set of….” My voice trails off as I see my keys sitting gingerly atop the park bench. One nanny volunteers: “We found the keys and kept pressing the panic button, hoping you would hear us.”
Now that’s a woman I want taking care of my child.