Thursday, February 23, 2006

Unlocking Prague

Prague is a city of keys. Big keys, little keys, folding keys (really; I own one), big Medieval bastards that unlock thick cellar doors, front door keys, courtyard keys, mailbox's a miracle that Praguers don't jangle when they walk, because most of them carry around at least ten clumsy hunks of metal all the time.

Czechs aren't trusting people by nature, so they tend to lock everything in sight. This even penetrates weird places in the home - the box with photos of grandma, for example, or the kitchen door. And offices, forget about it. The place I work now, in a district above the Vltava river called Holesovice, requires the use of FIVE keys before you can get in the door. Front building door, initial gate on the first staircase, second gate protecting office door (requiring two keys, just in case) and finally, office door. If I want to avail myself of the toilet on the upper floor, that's an additional key for the SECOND gate on the uppper part of the stairs. Thank God I don't need to access the broom closet.

Meanwhile, my office set features one more key, for one of two rooms on the upper floor we don't need and rarely use. I never bothered to grab a key for the other one. Are you losing count already? I know I am. That's a grand total of EIGHT keys for one little company.

Many people in this city have the habit of looping all of their keys - home, office, country home (common for Praguers) - into one scary, chaotic tangle. "Just a second, I'll get the door..." they say as they grow old combing through the mess. Is it the long key, the slightly shorter one, or the one hanging by itself on a separate loop? Office, home or garage?

What sells pretty well here are the colored little plastic covers that go over the heads of the keys. These really aren't an option - after all, no one wants to spend an hour a day testing the hundreds of choices on a jailhouse ring just to get into the apartment. These covers, like the keys they tag, come in a whole range of styles. Full ones for complete coverage. Outer edge only. Colored with little sparkly bits for the romantic (for a few crowns extra, of course). Black or white for the minimalists.

With the multitude of locking devices available, it's also wise to vary the color of the key itself. Your local Prague locksmith - and there's one on pretty much every street and shopping mall - can copy a whole spectrum of tints for the discerning keyholder. You can have a veritable rainbow explosion of color in your pocket if you want.

But sometimes, even the handy local locksmith isn't around or available. In my previous job, they worried a lot about the keys, so they changed them more than once. In one of the exchanges, I remember getting a set of three shiny new ones. They were very pretty, granted, but far too similar. I still had a few hours to go at my desk and had already had lunch, so didn't really have a good chance go down the street and get a key While You Wait. But dammit, I wanted to MARK THOSE KEYS. So I got an orange highlighter and attempted a homemade tint job on one of them. Failure! Key metal is cheap stuff, but tough enough to resist wimpy highlighter. Most of the color came off in my hands over the next few days. My next move was to wrap that universal solution - duct tape - around the head, popping a hole in the middle where the loop should go. Success! The tape wound itself off eventually, coming off in a sticky wad in my pocket, but it lasted for months. And that ugly little thing was instantly distinguishable from the millions of other keys circulating around the city. Eventually, though, I had to give it up when I quit the job.

But it wasn't much of a loss. I had a gangload of locking devices for my apartment and building to keep me company, so I didn't miss the office ones I surrendered. And the ones I own are more than enough to be faithful companions forever. Let's see, there's front building key, front door key, deadlock key, mailbox key, courtyard key, basment key...


La la la said...

I never realized how simple things are over here.
Good luck on keeping them all staight.

Eric said...

Hi Desperate;

Ha ha. Consider yourself lucky. You're in the States, I assume? Growing up in NY, I only ever had one key...for the entire house. Ah, those were the days.


La la la said...

total curiosity on my part but... why did you move to Prague?

Eric said...

Hi La La La La La La;

In short: New York circa 1994 was still in a pre-Internet era recession, was living at home, couldn't find interesting work, my band was breaking apart. Why not move away? And somewhere cheap, preferably. Somewhere I could survive for a few months on something like $1,500. The cute girls and good beer helped too.


Prague Hotels said...

Yes, I noticed that every door in Prague is locked and people have a big bunch of keys with them. And this bunch has a long ribbon, it seems that girls who have so little bags have just keys inside:)

Michael said...

Very useful and interesting article. Emergency locksmiths are playing very important role. You can call at just about any hour or any place to have a locksmith sent over that can replace, pick, repair, or remove, a lock or other safety device covered in an emergency locksmiths job description. It's fairly common for people to accidentally lock themselves out of their own house or car. Beyond that, emergency locksmith can also open things such as a safe. Given proof of ownership and other proper credentials that prove you are the owner of course.