A few short weeks ago, I arrived up to a drug treatment centre where I was working with a group of young people. They were participating in a support group for those affected by other people’s drug use. As always, I arrived early to get organized and discuss the upcoming session with my co-facilitator. I got out of my little blue car and while doing so was distracted by a group of boys, who were taking wooden pallets from outside a factory. I locked my car door while watching this group and removed my bag from the boot. I headed into the centre where I was working only to slowly realize I did not have my car keys. Panic brewed deep inside me as I only have one car key. Horror was realized when I saw my keys still in the ignition and my car radio still playing. Some swearing insued.
My group would arrive shortly and I only had three options. First, break a window to retrieve my keys. Alternatively, call a lock smith and wait two to three hours for them to arrive, at which point I would also have a flat battery. Or finally, pick the car lock somehow. The first two options would be costly and it was still two weeks away from payday. I decided the third option was most favourable. I asked my colleague to see if there was a wire coat hanger in the centre. I also called my wife and asked would she search at home for wire coat hangers and bring some to me. While I waited, I desperately searched Google: ‘how to break into a car’, ‘how to pick a car lock’, ‘how to break into a car with a coat hanger’. Eventually, I found a video and studied it intently.
My colleague had found a wire hanger. In theory this seemed straight forward and simple. In practice it was a nightmare. It was cold, getting dark and at any moment my support group would arrive. I could easily explain what I was doing; however, I did not really want to impart on them this image of their youth worker breaking into a car. Even if it was my own car. Nor did I have time to wait until after the group to attempt my plan, as I would have surely had a flat battery or someone else would have completed the job whilst I was working and made off with my car! With a butter knife in hand I prized back the window seal so I could insert the hanger. With knife in one hand and hanger in the other I cursed silently to myself. The group of young boys who I was watching earlier, wheeled a trolley of palettes past as I fumbled on. I gave them a nod. In that silent exchange we shared a mutual understanding. I was also passed by numerous cars,trucks and vans; none stopped to offer help as I attempted my break in. Eventually, my wife arrived with extra coat hangers. I desperately jigged, wiggled, pushed and pulled hoping to hear that ‘pop’. Beads of sweat formed on my brow. My wife coached supportively and my colleague offered tea.
I shaped the wires and reshaped. I used two at once. I prayed as I jiggled them. I asked the universe for a divine intervention. Then in my final furious attempt I gave it one last flourish, one final frenzy of effort. Amazingly I heard a triumphant little ‘pop’, and I had successfully unlocked the door. Normally I am humble quiet type; however, emotion surged inside me and I jumped up and down with joy. Proud as punch I kissed my wife and handed her the coat hangers. I retrieved my keys and went into work. Moments later my group arrived and they remained unaware of my deviant activity.
Interestingly, none of the people who passed by stopped to offer help or alternatively challenge my activity. Did I look menacing with my floppy white hair or had the passer-byes assumed I was respectable? What was it that inhibited these passer-bys from taking some course of action? Were their ‘street eyes’ unseeing. Why were they blind to my activity? Many years ago Jane Jacobs wrote about city sidewalks and the role that people have in maintaining street safety. Jacob’s suggested that ‘street eyes’ [the eyes of street residents or proprietors] ensure the safety of street users and defend against predatory strangers. But what has changed since Jane Jacob’s era? Had I not been the valid owner of the car, I could have successfully stolen the vehicle without being challenged or reported. These passer-bys would have been complicit in my ‘illegal’ activity.
Has society become too dangerous a place now to risk challenging a rule breaker or alternatively help a stranger? Did the geographic location alter people's actions or lack of? If the incident had taken place elsewhere, not outside a drug treatment centre, would the passer-byes have intervened? Had my break-in taken place in suburban setting, might people have interacted with me?
This incident not only raises questions about the inaction of passer-bys when witnessing possible deviant or criminal activity, but also what has happened to Irish 'street eyes'. In addition, there may be useful material within this incident for exploring masculinity. Men and machines are often synonymous. However, my mechanical skills are basic at best. Were my new found skills the root of my pride or was it having engaged in something a little deviant and risky? I had successfully unlocked my car door under pressure and without having been seen my by support group. Was the element of 'risk' a contributing factor to my delight at having popped the lock? Was it my mastery over something mechanical? Or my having achieving a result despite being under pressure? Either way one thing is certain, this man was absolutely delighted at having successfully manipulated a little piece of wire to break into his car!
© Clay Darcy, November 2013