I Left My Keys in San Francisco

When I was a kid, there was very little that could keep you awake at night more than the intro music from Unsolved Mysteries. Who knew when one of those fleeing murderers and kidnappers might show up at your front door? These stories were, well, unsolved. That meant that every one of the bad guys was probably going to meet up at my house in the middle of the night.

And Robert Stack's creepy voice didn't help matters much either.

But in February of 1989, an episode of Unsolved Mysteries aired that captivated me like no other. The special 90-minute episode dedicated to the three men who escaped from Alcatraz in 1962 fascinated me -- from the elaborate plan to the question of their survival.

So let there be no doubt that I was on board when Trisha suggested a trip to visit some friends in San Francisco. She had some pre-COVID flight credits to use and the timing was right other than the fact that Charlotte, Anna, and Mason were scheduled to be with their mom during that time. We'd hoped to find a time when we could take up half the plane with our entire family but a few scheduling conflicts kept this from happening.

I have to say that one of the worst parts of divorce is experiencing and doing fun things without my kids. But that's the reality of it, I suppose.

I digress.

So we packed up. We masked up. And we headed to sunny California.

We ate.


We drove down Lombard Street which claims to be the "crookedest street in the world."

I swiped this picture off the internet since taking decent pictures on the way down this street proved to be easier said than done.

I saw a boat that reminded me of my cousin, Mike -- a huge Slayer fan.

I'm still trying to figure out this contraption.

The bay area certainly did not disappoint when it came to my favorite kind of artwork.

There were sea lions -- both painted and unpainted.

We walked through the massive trees of Muir Woods.

Somehow my iPhone caputred this pretty cool shot.

Here's an idea of just how massive these trees are.

We got to see a bridge.

All kidding aside, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and driving across it was a pretty surreal experience for me. The Golden Gate Bridge has always been one of those things you read about in books or see in photos, but having never been to San Francisco before, I'd never recognized the true beauty and sheer enormity of this structure.

But c'mon now. Let's be real. My first visit to San Francisco was only going to be complete if we were able to visit Alcatraz.

Unfortunately, as we quickly learned, tickets for tours of The Rock go quickly -- a fact combined with reduced services due to COVID that left us out of luck as we flew to San Francisco. I knew going in that we'd have to come back to the Bay area sometime in the future if I was ever going to see Alcatraz up close ... and I was fine with that. This was a somewhat last-minute trip and there were plenty of other amazing things to experience.

Was it disappointing? Sure. But not anything that would ruin the trip or make anything else less enjoyable.

As we spent one afternoon walking the streets of Sausalito, we'd stopped for a break at an ice cream shop and I suppose Trisha's friend Jennifer thought she'd take one last shot in the dark.

And there they were.

Tickets for Alcatraz. The next day.

After a few frantic moments of swiping around on their phones, they had tickets confirmed and purchased.

We were going to Alcatraz. Over thirty years after first learning about the island prison from an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, I was going to see it first hand.

And it was just as fascinating as I'd hoped.

While driving the Golden Gate Bridge was one kind of surreal, walking through Alcatraz was another. This was the home to Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. This was the spot where people died trying to escape and others died trying to prevent escapes. This was the actual cell where months were spent chipping away at concrete -- part of the escape that first grabbed my attention as a twelve-year-old.

Man. What an amazing experience.

. . .

I'd like to say that this trip was completely fun and stress-free ... but that wasn't entirely the case.

We had parked outside the city and taken public transportation through Oakland and into San Francisco on the day we visited Alcatraz. As we were waiting to board the tour boat that would take us to the island, I realized that I didn't have the keys to our rental car.

I checked every pocket in my shorts and in my jacket. I checked them multiple times, actually.


After a few minutes of semi-panic and troubleshooting, we decided that they had to be inside the car itself. The car had a keyless start -- something I don't have in the car I usually drive -- so surely I had parked the car and left the fob in the console. At least this is what I told myself.

We went ahead with our tour of Alcatraz and spent some time doing some other touristy stuff along the water before heading back to the train. Arriving at the stop where we'd parked, I couldn't get to the car fast enough to check for the keys. My stomach dropped when I pulled on the handle to find the car locked up tight with no keys inside.

Now what?

These keys could be anywhere. On the ground. On a train. Somebody could have tossed them in the trash. Maybe they were sitting on a ledge somewhere.

The fact of the matter was simple though. Somewhere between the spot where I stood and downtown San Francisco were the keys to our car. Among a Bay area population of nearly eight million people, our car keys were lost.

I mean we weren't stuck. We knew we could get replacement keys from the rental company -- at a steep cost, of course. Surely we could have it all sorted out before we were to head home in a little over 24 hours. But it was more the frustration and hassle of the completely avoidable situation that was overwhelming.

As Jennifer's husband Chris and I stood next to a locked car and discussed our options, the ladies headed back into Lafayette BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station. We had two options -- go to the airport and pay for replacement keys or wait it out and see if the keys were recovered somehow. It was Sunday and apparently, if the keys had been lost on the train, the BART lost and found was not open until the next day.

And then we saw them. Two women -- our wives -- emerging from the station with smiles on their faces and arms raised in celebration!

Jennifer had asked the station attendant if there was any way to check with other stations along our route in hopes that the keys had turned up. A shot in the dark but a shot nonetheless.

Would you believe that two stops into the city after ours, the keys had been found on board the train and turned in?! They were waiting for us there and we had just enough time to hop back aboard the BART, get to the station where our keys were waiting, and reboard one of the final trains home for the day.


Think about that.

We had traveled through both Oakland and San Francisco. We had walked a few miles in the city. The keys could have been anywhere. But in a matter of just a few hours, I had lost the keys -- a needle in the proverbial hay stack -- and had them back in hand as though nothing had happened.

That's insane.

God bless that random person who turned in our keys. There are good people out there and these are the people who inspire me to make myself a better person every day.

Those people ... and this person ...

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