Not so very long ago, a key was a small piece of metal with notches cut into it.
Today, the "keys" to some cars contain computerized stuff that allows us to remotely lock/unlock doors or activate a "panic/anti-theft" feature that blows neighbors right out of bed with flashing lights and "Beep! Honk! Beep! Honk!" horn squawks right out of a Bogart movie set in World War II Nazi-occupied territory.
I'm not sure which I dislike more, the all-in-one key/fob that will force me to spend $100-$300 to replace it if (as frequently happens) I lose it or break it, or the "anti-theft" system itself, which in my humble opinion has never, ever scared off an auto thief in the decades during which it has disrupted my sleep, startled me into fight-or-flight breathlessness, or caused me to form homicidal thoughts against the oblivious car operator who will not accept God-given duty as a human being to return to the car and shut off the thing.
I have heard the "anti-theft" systems disrupting my sleep, disrupting church sermons or solemn funerals, and generally getting everyone's nerves on edge.
I cannot imagine that activating the "panic" lights and horn will scare off a drug-crazed rapist. I have never been a drug-crazed rapist so I don't know precisely how they behave. But from what I have read, strange sounds and flashing lights are fairly normal occurrences in their brain-friend lives.
I confess to having used the "panic" system once, in a large parking lot in another city, because I emerged from a baseball game without the faintest recollection of where I had parked my car. Eventually, the "clicker" on the fob called my attention to the lights and horn pinpointing my car's location. Several people standing nearby were extremely helpful, pointing out the way with waving arms and some of their fingers.
But is it worth annoying dozens of people just to compensate for my own stupidity? I think not. Since I have the "panic" system, I will use it. But if I didn't have it, I would eventually find my car, forlorn in a vast emptiness, and I alone would have had to pay the penalty, e.g., waiting for the lot to empty and intensifying the walk-on-pavement pain in my knees. The rest of the people would have gone home unannoyed by "Beep! Honk!" as is their right.
Let's say, though, that the remote access and "panic" features are desirable.
That doesn't mean that I should be forced to spend $100-$300 to replace the key that opens my car's doors and trunk and starts its engine.
Last week, I did have occasion to buy an extra key for my wife's car.
It cost $11.
The manufacturer (thank you, Hyundai) chooses to put the expensive controls on a separate fob.
That gives me a choice about whether to just spend $11 or so and drive my car to the grocery store, or spend $100-$300 because I need to drive my car to the grocery store. With separate fobs and keys, the convenience of remote entry and panic systems can be deferred until I have saved up the money needed to replace those controls.
My own car has an all-in-one key and controls unit (phooey, unnamed manufacturer). If I lose it or break it, I have no choice but to spend a chunk of money, since the car is useless if I can't enter it or start it.
That happens frequently.
It is not my fault.
I am convinced that, besides remote entry and panic features, the controls fob contains an evil chip, a chipmunk chip if you will, that enables my keys to do strange things all by themselves.
They find their way into washing machines. They burrow to the bottom of stacks of paper on my desk. They jump out of the pocket of one jacket and into the pocket of another one hanging nearby. Sometimes, they even levitate and pass right through doors, ending up on the garage floor or the driveway.
This also produces frenetic fight-or-flight breathlessness as I tear through the house, flapping my arms and tipping things over, telling all and sundry about the renewed attack of the evil, key-stealing chipmunk chip.
If I can push a button on the fob and make my car flash and beep so I can locate it, why can't I push a button on my car to make my chimpunk-chip keys chirp and beep so I can locate them? After all, it is much easier to lose a fit-in-palm cluster of keys than it is to lose a 2,000-pound car. I know. I have done both.
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: email@example.com.