So, I was really loving this whole ‘couch surfing’ experience. After I returned to Madrid after my week at “English Camp” I ended up staying at my new friend Alex’s place for a few days. He lived about thirty minutes out of downtown Madrid at the last metro stop. It was in a quieter residential neighborhood pretty far from the hustle of downtown and a bit out of the way, but it was great. I had my own room and I ended up even having the whole place to myself because Alex went away for the weekend with some friends and he trusted me and just left me the keys.
Well… I thought he left me the keys. He left me a spare set that we tested on all doors to his apartment–there is the exterior building door, an interior common door and then finally his apartment door. The problem was the outside door key was not a good copy and therefore it was hard to open. So, being the gentleman he is, Alex switched the key with his master key so I wouldn’t have any problems—or so we thought.
The next day I spent out walking around Madrid and didn’t return until about 11pm. This is when I realized, much to my dismay, that now I had two keys for the outside building door and NO key for his apartment door. You see, these keys look very similar… so similar, in fact, that when Alex switched the keys (which was supposed to make my life easier) he accidentally gave me two of the same key. So now he had the same two keys for his apartment door and I had the same two keys for the external building door. After trying, in vain, to jam the key in his lock (isn’t it usually the guy trying to do this??), I tried to stay calm and figure out my options.
My first option was to just try the key again one more time—maybe somehow I was simply a moron and forgot how to work a key? Nope. It was the wrong key. In this situation, I would have loved to be the moron. Alex was three hours south of here partying with his friends for Halloween. BUT, his parents lived a ten minute walk away… and luckily he had shown me their apartment just two days earlier. They must have a spare key. Did I pay attention when we went there—of course not—Alex was with me. But somehow I had to remember where it was and I knew their last name so hopefully I could ring their apartment and in my best Spanish explain to them through the intercom that I was not a mass murderer or vagabond looking for food… just ‘una amiga de sus hijo.’
So I set out toward their place. All the way there, I was trying to calm myself down and telling myself not to worry because they would be there, just sitting there missing their son and holding tightly onto his spare keys. I also practiced over and over how to explain my predicament in Spanish—I wasn’t too up on the ‘locked out’ vocabulary. But when I got to what I thought was their building, I discovered there were about four different entrances AND the buzzer only had apartment numbers–no names. I was doomed.
Okay, stay calm Lisa. Don’t freak out yet.
I was starting to panic. I looked through the glass doors to the mailboxes and could make out some last names, but only the people that wrote with markers… the rest were too far and too hard to see. And, yes, of course, there were several Rodriguezes. This is not good. I can’t ring all these people who probably speak no English. Okay, don’t panic. I knew they lived on a higher floor because when we were there, we had ridden the elevator. But that’s all I could remember. I decided to go around the building to two other entrances. We had driven out of their garage on this side entrance, but I could not remember for the life of me if the actual front door was over there.
Then miraculously, somehow, while walking up the set of steps to the last entrance I recognized a big crack in the marble. I have no idea how this ‘fissure of hope’ registered in my brain the first time we were here, but it was like a long lost friend. I just somehow remembered looking down at it when we first were here and wondering if the step would be loose. Since I hurt my ankle the first time (remember from the running story??) I have been extra careful to watch my step everywhere. So, I knew this must be their entrance. Finally, there it was–a mailbox with their name and even Alejandro’s name on it. Okay, things are looking up. I practiced the Spanish phrases I would say to explain my sad case. I rang their buzzer. Then I rang it again. And again.
Okay, things are looking down now. They are not home. And, probably like the rest of Spain, are away for the holiday weekend. Shit. I don’t have Alex’s number with me (yes, I left it inside his apartment that I was locked out of). And I don’t have a phone to call him on anyway. I don’t have anything except my purse and a gossip magazine I bought at a newsstand… I guess I can sit on the magazine or if it starts raining I can use it as a hat. His parents were the only link I had. Okay, ‘maybe they will be home soon’, I tried to tell myself. ‘After all, it’s only after 11pm and Spaniards stay out late.’ My head started to spin, thinking about where I would sleep. Should I just sit on the steps here? What the hell am I going to do?
I’m all alone in Madrid with no friends, no phone, and all my things are locked inside an apartment and the owner will not be home for four days. Basically, I would have to find a computer somewhere (I would have to ride the train back downtown… and find some late night internet café) where I could look up Alex’s phone number… then call him and hope he has a cell signal wherever he is and hope his phone is even turned on. But then what if he says that his parents have no key to his place… then would he have to cancel his trip and come here—or I’d have to get a hotel for 4 days with no belongings—just the clothes on my back. Now I was starting to get nauseous.
Suddenly, a family of three walked up the steps.
“Hola. Habla Ingles?” I asked desperately.
“Yes, I do,” replied the husband, my savior.
I asked him if he knew the Rodriguezs and, surely by some stroke of coincidental luck or perhaps divine intervention, not only did he know them, he was their next door neighbor. Oh, thank God. And he even had Alex’s cell number on his phone. My luck was changing. He called but got no answer. He then called Alex’s sister. Oh, yes, good idea! Maybe she has a key! It turns out that she was at a bar just a ten minute drive away.
So, this amazing prince, Antonio, drove me over to find her. On the way there, we chatted and I thanked him profusely for his kindness. He asked what I was doing in Madrid and I mentioned wanting to find work here possibly teaching English. Well, turns out he wants a private tutor for his son. So now I have no keys, but maybe have found some work in a very convoluted job search method!
He dropped me off at the bar and I met Alex’s sister, Esther (who speaks no English), her boyfriend, and their friends. She had already spoken to Alex on the phone and we all headed back over to his apartment because I thought she said a neighbor had a key. I tried to explain that I had two of the same key, but my Spanish vocabulary about keys and locks was strangely still not up to snuff. So, Alex thought I was just some silly girl who could not figure out the lock. So, we went back in vain, and tried the damn key again even though I knew it would not work. If it did—then I truly was a moron. But, we all tried it again and I tried to show them both keys and how they were identical. Finally, they understood the problem and gave me the bad news… that no one had any spares at all. Great.
She called Alex back on his cell phone and now, finally, everyone was on the same page. I was locked out. I had two keys for the OUTSIDE door and none for the INSIDE door. Oh…now we get it. But, then Alex told her that we could break into one of the doors. Alright, I like this plan. So now, Esther had to ring a random neighbor to let us into his apartment and then into an inner courtyard that was only accessible from each apartment. She broke into Alex’s apartment and lo and behold let us all in the front door.
Home at last, thank god almighty, home at last (thanks MLK). I was reunited with my belongings and a place to sleep. Hallelujah. Now, we just had to figure out how I can stay here for the next few days with no key to the front door. I had a key to the upper lock, just not the lower… so everyone agreed with my plan to tape the door latch open on the bottom (so it would not lock when closed) and then I could just lock and unlock the top lock.
My nightmare evening actually turned into a fun adventure with new friends and I truly could not believe at first how unlucky I felt and then how incredibly lucky I felt, within an hour’s time, to have found their neighbor Antonio who then found Alex’s sister… who then was able to get me in. It almost seems too random to be true. But it happened. And me and my stuff are reunited (and it feels so good) and here to tell you so. And, believe me, the next day, I was scared to leave, but before I left, I tried my keys in every lock—twice—just to make sure I could get back in.