Friday, June 02, 2006

Locksmith Tricks

I used to enjoy watching the Johnny Carson Show and Ed McMan with his exaggerated style of introducing Karnak the Magnificient, his all inclusive impossible summary of abilities, “Everything you could ever want to know about. . .”, prior to handing off to Johnny, “Wrong,. . . Oh, Master of Metamucil”, rolling his eyes while hesitating a half moment as he flashed a boyish grin, pulling an extra laugh from the audience.

The State of Texas has mandated locksmith licensing along with mandatory continuing education to guarantee that Every Locksmith is Qualified to Handle Every Possible Situation that might arise. The public knows this and so it really doesn’t matter which locksmith they call. Every locksmith is just as good as the next. Yea, right…

I regularly get calls from potential customers explaining in a worried voice about a lost set of keys. I could silently nod my head, not that they would see, take down the necessary information, quote them a price to get them on their way; Or listen to what is being asked for; that takes a little more effort. They don’t just need a replacement key, they need somebody to help make them feel better about being such a dummy; to pull that off takes more than basic locksmith skills.

I like the way Jim Reed would respond when somebody told him they’d lost a key. “Great!”, sounding like Tony the Tiger, “Now I’ll be able to make my car payment this month!”, or some other outrageous remark catching them off guard. He wouldn’t give them time to dwell on what he’d said, following it with an apologetic laugh to let them know he was only trying to lighten up the moment with a joke.

Years ago I installed deadbolts, before I decided that working on cars was what I enjoyed the most. I would take all the measurements, drill the holes as the customer went about pretending that they weren’t interested in my drilling holes in their house. I’d stop suddenly, a panicked look on my face and blurt out, “Oh no, This Was the right door you wanted the deadbolt on, right?” The blood would drain from their face as their eyes bugged out. I’d laugh, a hushed “getting into trouble kind of laugh”, smile and wink at them so they’d know I was just messing with their brain. The air would return to their lungs as they remembered that I was indeed working on the right door. It’s called having fun, something that will provide future customers as they go about telling their friends what a great job and how professional you were. Did I mention that it’s important to do a great job too?

Most locksmiths can read a key’s profile to produce a working key. I do it all the time when opening a locked vehicle. ( As a side note; it’s important to make sure that the lock you are about to bypass actually belongs to the person asking you to apply your magic tricks. Get some proof, a driver’s license, an insurance card with a matching name along with the VIN to satisfy yourself prior to working. )

Sometimes the keys are hanging in plain sight and with a little effort the information can be had. I have one of those neat little ocular tools which permits me to magnify the image, a real help for my aging eyes.

I was reading the profile of a key inside an old Chevy truck, the customer and his friends keenly watching my activities; they’d expected me to use a Slim Jim or some similar opening tool. It dawned on me that I was on stage, “performing”, the spot light aimed, the audience hushed in eager anticipation. Maybe I should sell popcorn at intermission.

“What’s that thing do?”, he pointed to my fancy little magnifier. I was reading a rather worn original six cut GM door key at the time.

“Oh, on the side of original GM keys they’re imprinted with an invisible key code. This thing has infrared filters so I can read those codes.” You’ve got to have some fun and it extends the mystery of the locksmith profession.

The most fun I had on a lock out was on a similar set up. Upon arriving I was able to read the door key without making a big deal of it; the cuts were so clearly defined as to make it child’s play. I walked to the back of my truck, clipped a key and the thought occurred to me; have some fun, the job’s as good as done. I took a second key from the rack, a blank and showed it to the customer.

“These are made out of some kind of fancy alloy material designed by NASA. I got them at the locksmith convention last month and I’ve been waiting to try them out; you’re my first chance to see if they really do work. They’re supposed to cut themselves right there inside the lock.”

“No way!”,( I’ve intentionally omitted the all too common expletive between No and Way!”) an incredulous facial expression on his face, half believing it might be true while discounting such a possibility as totally unbelievable BS. I palmed the blank and in its place I inserted the already cut key.

“It takes a couple of minutes for the chemical reaction to work”, looking at the time and standing back away from the car, as if the heat might be too intense.

“That won’t damage my paint job or anything, will it?”

“No, at least that’s what they claim.” After a couple of minutes I went over and tapped on the key to “set the cuts”, I think that’s what I told him. “It should be done now”

“No sense in me doing all the work” as I guided his hand toward the key. He cautiously touched the key to make sure it wasn’t hot. The key turned effortlessly in the lock to his surprise. He withdrew it, studying the perfectly cut key in amazement.

“Damn! I hope only locksmiths can buy these fancy keys!”. I never did fess up to what I’d done; that guy could pass a lie detector test. I hope the next locksmith is up to the challenge, has a box of those self cutting NASA key blanks ready; a Slim Jim just won’t be near as professional.

Edited July 22, 2006

This article was published in ALOA's Keynotes, July/August edition; a little bit of a surprise when I opened my magazine this afternoon and saw it listed.

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