Something strange happened during the automotive revolution: The engines got smaller, the batteries got smaller — heck, even the cars got smaller. Somehow, though, our car keys only got larger. It’s as if Alice took a drive through Wonderland.
Cars used to come with two slim keys: One for the locks and one for the ignition. You could fit them in a pack of gum. Today’s car keys wouldn’t fit in a pack of wolves. My last car came with a key fob that could have held the spare tire. How can it be that my 60-GB USB drive is no bigger than a thumbnail, yet I need a fob the size of a small child to open my car door? It’s a Honda, not Capone’s vault.
Like most things, it’s probably because there was never any money in the old design. Today’s car keys are intricate gadgets that cost more to replace than the transmission. They require batteries, for crying out loud, with tiny screws that only the car shop can open. Only the auto industry would consider the act of adding batteries to an ancient Egyptian technology as innovation.
Car keys worked just fine without tacking on unnecessary functionality. In fact, most modern car keys are no longer keys at all. They’re bloated lipstick containers with buttons we always manage to push at the wrong time. Granted, my mom loves that she can open her hatch from across the parking lot to remember where her car is, but was the physical act of turning a key really so hard? It’s not like we’d already cured cancer and scientists were running out of things to do.
Instead, my key ring resembles something a 17th-Century prison guard would lug around. My car keys are part of an unruly mess inside my pockets that already includes my house keys and a set of work keys for my file cabinet, closet, and a few drawers. As if this Jacob Marley-esque rattling chain of keys wasn’t enough, my gym card and AAA tag hang from it like forgotten souls, used only slightly less than my valet key (which, despite lacking any electronics and meant only for the ignition, is still fatter than Scrooge’s Christmas goose).
Because keys are metal teeth that live to eat through my pants, I’ve gone through a series of leather muzzles to leash them, but none are ever big enough to handle today’s car keys. They end up clipped like reindeer to the outside of the bulky case, an exercise in futility. I’d pay extra just to have that tiny keypad next to my car door again; I’d bite the bullet and open the hatchback by hand.
Alas, it seems these enormous car keys are here to stay. I’ll continue to smile awkwardly while you struggle to turn off the car alarm you accidentally pushed, and you’ll politely look away from the beeps and flashing lights as I keep hitting Unlock instead of Lock. And both of us will greet each other with that uncomfortably telling question, “Are those car keys in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”
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