July 30. It had been a damp night and I woke up soaked. I hung my tent, pillows, and blanket out to dry using the outside of the car as a clothes hanger and decided to go for short walk. I put my key in my shoe. Normally I put it in a purse but I’d just gotten a bee out of the car and didn’t want to risk letting it back in to get the bag. I figured I’d feel it if it fell out. I walked over to where the shepherd had his small wooden house (more like a cart covered in tar paper) and took some photos of the site and surrounding scenery. Later I wondered whether there was a family curse regarding not taking photos of shepherds in fields. While on a four month European camping trip in 1968, my father took photos of a shepherd on two different occasions. They were innocent enough, but ended up with us trapped in the car at gunpoint by Yugoslav troops. It turns out that the shepherd had been walking through an airfield at the time of the photo. My dad hadn’t seen the sign of the camera with a line through it, which was facing the other way.
The view of the surrounding mountains was breathtaking. I picked my way through the lumpy grass and sheep excrement, admiring the view. As I wiped shit from the bottom of my shoes, I realized with a sickening feeling that my key was gone. I dropped to my knees, not worried about the poo, and started to feel my way across the meadow, hoping against hope that I’d find the needle in the haystack. This went on for 20 minutes, then I saw two runners returning from a workout and asked whether they spoke English. I was in luck. They proceeded to help me hunt for the key, trying to trace my steps from the car. Thirty minutes later, a family bumped along in their truck heading back to their village. All five, including the driver’s elderly parents, joined the search. Then another family came. We spent the next hour searching. To no avail.
Finally, Kata suggested we call the police. I asked if she could, as I don’t speak Romanian. She did, only to be informed that it was not an emergency and to use our imagination. I didn’t have a whit left of imagination. I’d used it already. Desperate (I imagined being stuck there for days), I asked her to call a tow truck. I’d looked up several with the pitiful internet connection I had there. The runner said they’d never be open on Sunday, especially not in this area. I pleaded with her to call anyway, and reluctantly she did. It was a miracle. Someone answered, and they were willing to drive the 24 miles into the mountains from Sibiu. The problem was, they weren’t good at opening cars, and told her they’d probably have to break the window. Shit. I was leasing this car from Citroen, and any accident had to be reported to their insurance company. I called Citroen EuroPass to find out what to do. They said I should deal with their company and that they would recommend someone. I told Kata to call the Sibiu tow guy back and tell him I didn’t need them. She and her boyfriend Edward were about to leave for their home in Timișoara. Just as they were packing to leave, I got a call back from Citroen saying that they didn’t cover lost keys and that I was on my own. Panicked, I found Edward and asked him to have Kata call the tow guy back and say we needed him. She did, and within an hour the tow jeep arrived. I had started pacing the road that descended into Sibiu, as I was anxious and tired of sitting. I expected them to break the window, and was already anticipating having to go for a day or two with a broken window and possibly lose all my valuables as a result.
The tow couple were a team. The woman helped the man find a good window, and encouraged him, while the man worked with a metal coat hanger to try to catch the lock. I was so nervous that I retraced my steps back to the shepherd’s fold, hunting for the key and trying not to notice the sound of breaking glass. I finally returned, and to my amazement, I watched as he finally succeeded in catching the lock. Quest success! With a renewed belief in humanity, I exclaimed “Bravo” and gave them both a hug. He asked me to look for my spare key, then test the remote control. It worked. Another miracle. The fact that I’d somehow thought to keep the main key in the car was yet another positive. I figured replacing the spare key that I lost would be cheaper than replacing the main key. We drove caravan-style down the mountain, stopping in Rășinari to get money. I was only carrying 6 lei, equivalent to 1.50 USD. Definitely not enough to pay for his services. I hadn’t asked how much it would cost. I found out he wanted $100 USD. Luckily I’d brought a few bills with me, and searched the car. I found a Ben Franklin and handed it to him. It was a new bank note. I expected him to think it was forged, as it looked too perfect. But he accepted it. I felt really lucky to have found them, and bid them farewell. Maybe the curse was broken.