The Adventures of Rob and Dorrit (the Toyota Echo): The Spare Keys

This month I did something stupid that I have never done before. I locked myself out of Dorrit on my way into class on a cold and damp Thursday morning. I could make excuses, like I if the car had an alarm and central locking I would have needed the keys to lock it. But in reality, it was all my own fault. I drove out to Surrey as usual on Thursday morning which is a thirty-minute drive on the highway. I got to the school early so I parked up and took my keys out of the ignition and put them on the passenger seat and proceeded to look at my phone to pass the time. As the clock turned 9:45 am I got out of the car with my bag, phone and wallet and locked the driver’s side door using the door switch as I always do. Just as it clunked shut, my heart sank. I searched my pockets for my keys knowing I wouldn’t find them. I walked around the car, there they were sitting on the passenger seat where I had left them. My keys; the car’s key, a safe deposit box key and my house key.

Rather than losing it and getting angry, all I could do was curse under my breath and let out a sigh. I walked around the car checking each door to see if I could magically open them. I even considered breaking a window to get in. The ironic thing is Dorrit is not that secure, even when fully locked. I have no doubt that even a moderately talented car thief could open the door in under thirty seconds. Lacking the necessary skill, all I could do was walk into the school and calmly explain the situation to my boss. I would have to journey back home after class to get the spare keys to open the car. There were only two problems. The journey back on transit would take 90 minutes each way and I couldn’t call home to see if my landlady was home as she is a very nice Chinese woman called ‘Betty’ who does not speak English. I greet her and we say ‘hi’ to each other. But that is the extent of our conversations. I deal with her son, who is a fluent English speaker and was out of town for a month.

I was less than focused teaching that morning as I knew they next few hours would be messy. The thought of being on a train for hours was less than appealing. To my surprise, my boss offered me his keys and said I could take his car and drive back home. His car is a F25 BMW X3. Under normal circumstances, I would have jumped at the chance to get my arse into a BMW, but I was unsure. Having very little time to consider my options, I took his key and thanked him uttering a prayer to myself as I approached the vehicle.

I had never driven an X3 before and it was certainly bigger than Dorrit, with a much higher seating position. Thankfully, the controls and dash layout was familiar to me as this car was a F- generation product very similar to my parent’s cars. I had spent a lot of time in my father’s F13 6-series over the summer and it operated in a very similar manner, right down to the electronic handbrake button. As I pressed the ignition button, the car sprung to life, with the familiar beeping and bonging as I put the weirdly shaped automatic gear selector into reverse and released the electronic brake. The size was immediately obvious. Whereas Dad's car was low and long, this X3 was much higher. It did have the parking sensors and rear reversing camera, which was a massive help. I have often scoffed at these aids saying that if you can’t reverse your own car, you have no business driving it. I was quickly reconsidering that opinion. After slowly getting out of the car park and onto the road one thing that I immediately loved was the larger wing mirrors that offered an excellent field of vision. Cruising onto the highway, the appeal of the higher driving position also became apparent. I could see more on the road and felt very safe in this unfamiliar vehicle. In typical BMW fashion, the car felt rock solid on the road with slower steering feedback and an unstressed 2.8 litre turbo engine. At the 100km speed limit, I was barely scratching its performance limits. I was totally loving this experience. A childish part of me felt like I was in a 'man’s' car and it reminded me of how I felt as a child in my father’s various E30 3-series cars. I also appreciated the X-Drive 4-wheel drive system this X3 had. As a BMW purist, I have never been a massive advocate of this layout as it goes against BMWs traditional rear-wheel drive layout. However, living in Canada, with annual rain and snow storms, I now see the appeal. I was enjoying myself, feeling more assured and aggressive on the road. Arriving at my house, I parked the car and crossed my fingers that ‘Betty’ was home.

Modern technology came to my aid for the second time that morning in the form of Google translate. I type out “I’m locked out. Can you let me into my suite please?” in Chinese. I rang the doorbell and waited with baited breath. Silence. I didn’t panic. I went and sat in the X3 to wait for her to arrive home. I said another prayer asking that it be soon. It gave me time to look around the car’s interior now that it was safe to do so. People have criticized BMW for having very similar interiors in all their cars, regardless of price and size and this interior was very much 3-series based. It was a higher spec compared to Mum’s F30 320d, but had an almost identical layout. I understand the complaint and would probably share the sentiment had I spend my own money. The other side of that coin is that if you have driven any modern BMW, you will feel at home in all their cars and they have larger, more expensive cars further up the range to keep you coming back.

I was so busy looking around, considering how I would spec such a car that I nearly didn’t notice ‘Betty’ walking up the street. I jumped out of the BMW and she looked surprised to see me. This was a big step up from Dorrit. I hoped she didn’t assume I was doing very well for myself and suddenly raise my rent! I showed her my phone with the translated text and thankfully she understood my predicament. She let me in the main entrance and opened the laundry room door for me to get into my suite. I had a spare house and car key hidden away and quickly collected both and put them in my pocket. Feeling a mix of stress and relief, I decided to boil my kettle and make a cup of tea before hitting the road again. I texted my boss to let him know all was well and that I would be back in Surrey soon. The drive back was uneventful, but parking was a bit of a challenge and it took me a few attempts to get the X3 parked tightly into its allotted space. Dorrit was there waiting. I used the spare car key to open the car and grabbed my keys. I gave my boss back his key and offered him cash for gas, which he refused. Getting back into Dorrit felt instantly familiar and the smaller size made it easier to maneuver around. Honestly, I was just happy to be able to drive the car home and been able to deal with the problem calmly and quickly.

I have vowed to be more careful about where I put my keys from now on.