It is said that every day of life is an important day because you can never have it back. None the less, it is clear when you look ahead on the calendar, some days loom as more important than others. Friday May 11, 2018 was to be more important than others. I was scheduled to accompany my sister at 5:30 AM to the hospital for our 89 year old mother’s shoulder replacement surgery, scheduled for 7 AM.
Beyond Mom’s surgery, my wife was landing at 8:05 AM returning from the conference of the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing. At the conference she had made a presentation on the role of nursing in the diagnosis and patient counseling of frequently ignored malady Metabolic Syndrome. Her presentation would potentially impact thousands of lives.
It was important to be with Mom as she entered surgery, greet my wife as she returned from this significant presentation and be back to join my sister with Mom as she awoke from surgery. To facilitate this I clearly would be in need of my car.
The Presidential Rally and Elkhart PD Sgt. D. L. Jones
The day before, May 10th was also important, but in a different way. President Donald Trump was holding a rally at the North Side Middle School in Elkhart, IN. I am in the middle of a project with my friend Shane Bouvet, a young man who can truthfully refer to Donald Trump as “my president and my friend”. Attending the Elkhart rally would be helpful in moving that project forward. I had attended a presidential rally once before, in 2017 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Iowa experience had been electric, and since Elkhart was only two hours away, I wanted to have that experience again and add to my knowledge for my project with Shane.
The over 7,500 crammed into the Elkhart North Side Middle School gym for the Trump rally would leave with memories of the event, the people they met, Vice-President Pence’s speech and the inspiring, moving and entertaining experience of President Donald J. Trump. While I have those memories my most indelible recollection revolves not around the presidential experience, but rather about my interaction with a very special officer of the Elkhart Police Department, Sgt. D.L Jones.
The doors for the rally, which was to begin at 7 PM, were to open at 4 PM. Elkhart has a population of about 52,000 and likely gets crowded when there’s a Notre Dame football game in South Bend a little over 20 miles away. A visit from the president, even with professional assistance from county, state and federal law enforcement would clearly be a taxing event.
Many people had waited more than 24 hours to assure themselves of a good place in the gymnasium. I arrived in town about 4:00, knowing I had to wait in line, but that thanks to Shane and his friendship with the Front Row Joes (a group of Trump supporters that prides themselves on being first in line) a good spot would be saved for me.
Parking near the venue was not an option and I wound up in the parking lot of Hoosier Harley Davidson. It seemed a safe place as the motorcycle dealer’s sign was flashing: WELCOME PRESIDENT TRUMP. I pulled into a rare empty space labeled EMPLOYEES ONLY, figuring this was a special day in Elkhart and locked the car with the remote.
Hoosier Harley Davidson is about a 15 minute walk to the school. Finding the school was easy. I followed the crowd of red hats emblazoned with MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. Besides the parabolic antennas of news trucks could be seen a few blocks away. Soon I was part of the line waiting to clear security.
Going Through Security
I texted Randal Thom, a member of the Front Row Joes. He texted back that they were inside the gym at the front and the center of the podium with a spot for me. Near 6 PM I got to the entrance and security. There was a woman with a large purse in front of me with whom I had conversed during the wait. Everyone was anxious to enter and TSA was doing their best to be quick, yet effective.
The woman ahead of me nearly emptied her purse on the table before entering the metal detector. I emptied my pockets and pushed my belongings along the table behind her purse. I soon followed her through the metal detector.
Gathering my belongings I noticed my phone’s power cord was not among them. I spied a white cord I thought might be mine hanging from the woman’s purse a she was walking away. I called to her. She graciously pulled a tangle of cords from her bag and we discovered my cord among them. I thanked her and we went our separate ways to find a spot to see the President.
In the North Side Middle School Gym
In the gym, except for the press and a wheelchair area, the basketball court was designated standing room only. At the foot of the stage stood the Front Row Joes. I texted Randal my thanks, and found a great bleacher seat. I was happy to be there, but didn’t want to stand for the next few hours.
The experience was electric. Since more on that will find its way into my project with Shane Bouvet, a short comment: I think anyone who can should attend a Trump rally, not only to see the President, but to experience the sense of camaraderie, good will and family that is shared by folks who are otherwise strangers. It is something not appreciated watching on TV or a video
Returning to the Car and the Missing Keys
At the end, I made the 15 minute walk to my car along with thousands on the blocked off streets of Elkhart. The car was safely in the Employees Only spot at Hoosier Harley Davidson. I reached in my pant pocket for my keys. The pocket was empty. Unconcerned I checked the other pocket, then back pockets, then jacket pockets, then the pouch on my hoodie. No keys. I was in fact without keys, both for the car and home.
My first thought was of the next morning and how the three most important people in my life, my wife, sister and Mom were counting on my being there.
I turned and walked against the tide back toward North Side Middle School, praying for a miracle.
After the 15 minute walk, the school that had been jammed a half hour before was nearly empty, save for some remaining press and law enforcement. I related my predicament to a plain clothes officer, who allowed me in and helped look fruitlessly through a box of things that didn’t make it through security. Retracing my path earlier that evening, I looked everywhere I had been and spoke to everyone I could without luck.
A ray of hope arose when I was told there was an officer who had found a wallet, cell phone and keys and I should check with Elkhart PD outside the building. I approached a police car, was greeted by the fierce bark of a German shepherd. The officer in the driver’s seat smiled to assuage my surprise. After I explained my problem he directed me to their temporary command center at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School.
At the school there was an Elkhart PD lieutenant and the school’s principal. No keys had been brought to the command center, and the lieutenant could not locate the officer rumored to have found keys. Both lent a kind ear, advising me that at nearly 10 PM there was little chance of renting a car except perhaps at the South Bend Airport nearly 25 miles away.
After explaining I was two hours from home and brainstorming options, it became apparent that I would be spending the night in Elkhart. The lieutenant called an officer to provide me a ride to a motel, and the principal volunteered to contact Hoosier Harley Davidson in the morning about the car in their lot.
It appeared I was not going to be there for my wife, sister and Mom.
Meeting Sgt. D. L. Jones
I got in the police car and the officer asked if I had a motel preference. I said no and he started heading toward the Elkhart motel area. As we drove he asked about my situation. I told him my issues, including my thought that the woman in front of me in security had likely swept my keys into her purse accidentally.
He asked if I was open to his contacting a lock smith about getting a key for my car. I replied that would be great, but I wasn’t optimistic as my car had a key with a microchip. It was a 2000 Cadillac Sedan DeVille and I thought my best hope was to get the VIN number to a local Cadillac dealer in the morning. He was undeterred, and pulled into a parking lot.
He pulled out his personal cell phone and made a call. Someone answered. The officer spoke: “This is Sgt. Jones of the Elkhart Police Department, are you available for service?” Sgt. Jones went on to explain my situation. The lock smith was unable to create a chipped key, but knew someone he thought might be able to. There after the Sgt. made a series of calls, all without luck.
In between calls, Sgt. Jones stopped and asked where I lived. I explained it was about 2 hours away. At that moment, he made a surprising and generous offer. “I can get my personal car and drive you there.” I paused for a moment and asked what he thought it might cost. His response: “Nothing.” I had been placed by Divine Providence in the hands of Elkhart’s finest.
Though at this point I dearly wanted to be with all my girls in the morning, I demurred at accepting his offer to drive me, but I thanked the Lord for guiding me to the Sgt.
The Thought of Sgt. Jones That Got Me Home
He then asked if there was any chance there was key in the car and I answered “No”. Then a little light went off and I remembered something about a “valet key” mentioned when I bought the car four years ago. I corrected my “No” to “Maybe” and explained about the “valet key”.
He put the patrol car in gear and we headed to Hoosier Harley Davidson. Along the way, he explained that some Cadillacs were difficult, but he would give it his best shot. Arriving, we saw my car alone in the parking lot that had been filled to capacity a few hours before.
We both exited the police car and the Sgt. laid what looked in the middle of the night like a black velvet jewelry viewing cloth on the hood of my car. Sgt. Jones opened the cloth to reveal a set of tools, selected one and worked without success on the passenger door. He selected another, went to the driver’s door and in a moment the door was unlocked. The car alarm went off. A few button presses and shortly the alarm went silent.
Happy to be in the car, but without optimism I opened the glove compartment. I rifled through the things that collect there, insurance cards, service records, owner’s manual and more. I tossed aside a large envelope that looked like it came with reports from an accountant. The glove compartment was emptied and I had not found a “valet key”. Discouraged, I began putting things back.
As I was doing this, Sgt. Jones got a call back from a lock smith with whom he had left a message and was advised this person could create a chipped key. The large envelope was the last thing I was putting back and I turned it over, to see “Cadillac” written on the outside. I felt the envelope carefully, felt something hard, then looked inside. I found a little plastic bag, labeled “valet key”.
The key started the car. Sgt. Jones called the lock smith back to tell him not to come. We spoke for a while, and he gave me his card. On the back of the card he wrote his personal cell phone, told me it was on 24/7 and if I had any trouble on the road, I should call him.
The Following Day
The next morning I went with my sister and Mom to the hospital. Once Mom was in surgery I got to the airport to pick up my wife and got back to the hospital before Mom was out of recovery. I drove everywhere with the “valet key”.
I texted my thanks to Sgt. D. L. Jones of the Elkhart PD that morning. He would acknowledge my thanks. Later that day, he texted me again, asking about Mom and sending his prayers.
Mom’s doing great and my wife’s presentation to her fellow nurses will have a profound impact. I was able to be there for Mom with my sister and share in my wife’s homecoming thanks to Sgt. D. L Jones, police officer, Good Samaritan and guardian angel.