I haven’t told anyone this story from the road trip yet because there is shame involved. It’s a tad longer, but stay with me because it’s got a great payoff.
One night in Utah, I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. This was not unusual, so before lights out, I had done my preparations. That night was a sleep-in-the-car night, which meant that once the seats in the SUV were released and the make-shift bed was made, I put my flip-flops, Handi-Wipes, and fluffy roll of TP into the cubby in the passenger-side door. On the hook above the window, I hung my hoodie and the car keys.
When you are inside a locked car and then try to leave it, unless you first unlock it, the car alarm will sound when you open the door. You must then stab your fob’s “Alarm Off” function, sixty times to get it to stop. When we camped in the car, of course my friend and I locked up once we were inside. This meant that in the middle of the night, when I would get up and go to the bathroom (read: bush), I would have to locate the keys in the dark, make sure I unlocked the car, then exit. Exiting, by the way, was a Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus clown car routine: I squeezed out the door and essentially did a sommersault onto the grass.
We were in a public park that night, so the spot I found was near the public bathroom facilities. I say “near” because the facilities were locked up at sundown, something I found out when I tried to open the door. Okay, no problem. The lights inside the brick structure appeared to be motion-sensored, so I jumped up and down and got the lights to go on, which threw light onto the grass behind the building. It wasn’t a lot of light, but it was enough to “go” by, heh, heh. So I went. Because it was 3am and there was only a dim light by which to see, I covered up my…visit with leaves and sticks and earth matter with every intention — this is important — with every intention to clean everything up in the morning. I respect my National Parks! Bleary eyed, sleepy, with grass in my hair but much relieved, I tumbled back into the car and went to sleep.
In the morning, I looked for the keys to unlock the door before Claus and I got out and made tea. No keys. Not under the sleeping bags. Not on the floor by the seats. Not in the front. Not in the back. We were trapped in the car. If we opened the door, the alarm would scream and, not having keys, there would be no way to turn it off. It was getting really hot inside that car. We finally determined that we could open the car doors because the dashboard screen said, “No fob detected,” which, considering the situation, is the best example of a “mixed blessing” ever.
We took a deep breath and opened the doors. No alarm sounded. The keys were nowhere. They were really, really nowhere. I combed the park, convinced I had sleepwalked the perimeter in my pajamas and dropped the keys. Claus looked under the car twelve times. We looked for an hour and then I began to cry. Those keys, impossibly, were Gone. Do you know how much it costs to get a replacement key for a rental car? Both cell phones were dying. This was a bad, bad situation. Oh, and one other thing: I looked many times around the makeshift bathroom area I had created at 3am. Not only were the keys not there, but my bathroom, such as it was, was not there. I didn’t have to clean anything because there was nothing there. No paper, no leaf cover. Someone had cleaned.
I called the Park District. Had someone been by? Had they found keys at XYZ Public Park near Zion?? I was going to clean up! Please! Don’t judge me! And okay, judge me, but did someone find keys for heaven’s sake?? Nothing here, they said, but you could talk to the police. I was patched to the station and I blubbed the story to the officer there, that I have a condition that makes me have to poop all the time [sorry] and I have to go in the night, and was it at all possible that a Park District person came through, saw that there was an…incident, and cleaned up and maybe found car keys nearby?? Somehow??
There was a silence. Then:
“Well, I’ve got your keys,” the officer said.
I almost fell off the memorial stone slab I was sitting on. “You do??? You DO???” I flapped my hands at Claus. “You have them?? But…but how? Oh, god… Someone found my… Oh, no, oh no…” And I began blubbing again that I’m not a bad person, that I’m a law-abiding citizen (mostly) and, “I’m so, so sorry that –”
“First of all, you can’t be campin’ in the park,” he said. “And yeah, the guy who does the bathrooms over there found the mess. He waddn’t too happy ’bout it, either. Stepped right into it. He found the keys in the grass there and brought ’em over to us. I can get ’em over to you in about an hour when I’ve taken care of this other thing.”
I wept. I told the officer that I would pay any fine he’d slap me with and would enjoy paying it. He said that wasn’t necessary. When he brought the keys I again begged him to let me give him money. He declined and said it was all no big deal and to get along, now. I think he took pity on a girl who had slept in a car and had to poop in the middle of the night.
Later, Claus said that in the early morning, he had heard what he thought were two men arguing. We figure it was the cleaning guy, shouting and hollering when he discovered the situation. I’ll have you know from then on, I did not wait until the morning to clean up any bathroom area I created. Turns out there are these things called flashlights.