The Man with the Key

A few weeks back, before the snow started to fly, a friend and I were walking around Long Lake Regional Park in New Brighton, one of my favorite places to walk. As we were walking I commented to her on the random pipes I’ve noticed sticking out of the ground — pipes that have lids on top of them and locks keeping those lids closed. I wondered if she knew what they were and she said she didn’t.

“Someone does,” I said. “In fact, in some office in some building in this county there is a man with a key!”

That was intriguing to me because in China to be in possession of a key is to be in possession of power. When trying to get something done, one of the most dreaded phrases you don’t want to hear is “the man with the key is not here,” which can either be a statement of fact or simply another way of saying “go away, I don’t want to deal with you.”

Where is the man with the key to these pipes, I wondered.

The next week, as I was walking in the park by myself, I spotted a pickup truck just off the path, and a man standing next to one of the pipes.

It was him! The man with the key!

I wandered into the woods where he was working and asked him to tell me about the pipes. He told me that they were old wells and his job was to monitor the water quality. Once upon a time there had been a refinery on the site and the state was making sure that their clean-up efforts were effective. He told me that he checks them twice per year, and when they are sure that there are no more contaminants then they will allow the nearby property to be developed.


It was a great day. I had found the man with the key!

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