Why you should care

Sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Ameer Mandilawi
Albuquerque, New Mexico

It just ended. My last call finished up with a gentleman who had his house broken into. They stole both extra sets of keys to his cars, which were in his house. So I went to his house and rickied both of his cars so the stolen keys no longer worked.

Here’s what I do. I pick a lock. I can’t really explain the process, because that’s the trade secret of it all. I can just tell you that we pick ’em. This is one of these businesses where you get grandfathered in and you have a friend or family member in the business. There are schools that teach it, but it’s very basic. I learned from my dad who was a locksmith, and I started working for him in ’97, but you can only work for Mom and Dad for so long, so I opened my own business in ’98.

Usually calls are happy to see you. You go there, people are locked out of their house in nothing but their pajamas. They’re definitely in a certain state of mind, because you figure these things are your security blanket. Your whole day is thrown off. Of course, though, there are some calls where you have your spider sense on and something doesn’t feel right. There was one time we went to open a house, and we go to open the front door, which wouldn’t pick. We go to the back door, and a guy comes out of the house with a knife. Turns out there’s a divorce going on and the woman hadn’t told us.

There are customers of mine who’ll invite us over for Christmas parties or out for baseball games. I feel like I was meant to do this. I really do. A lot of people joke that it must be nice that I can get into anything and make a key for any car. That’s just not true — it’s only most cars. Yeah, I can look at any building, any car, and in my mind I have a way to get into it pretty much no problem. But I don’t think about that power. There’s no reason to do it illegally if people will pay you to do it legally. If people who break into houses and cars would just do positive things, they’d get so far.

I haven’t ever been locked out of my own house, but I did leave my keys in my car once on a lockout call. That was pretty embarrassing. She was a realtor, all nicely done up, ready to show houses, and she was excited to see me because she wants to leave. I go to her and say, “Um, ma’am do you have a hanger?” She said, “You’re not gonna use that on my car right?” I said, “No, no — on mine.” I had to call my wife in the end to bring me a key, because if all your tools are locked in, you can’t do a thing.

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Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.