Profile from Columbia's VOX Magazine • By: Joey Ukrop • Photography: Alex Menz
Around 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Bruce Jamison’s cell phone rings. He flips it open. “Locksmith,” he chimes in his usual, friendly tone. The man on the other end rattles off the details of the problem: a young couple, lost key, frantic search and rapidly dropping temperature.
Throwing a few layers of flannels over his large frame, Jamison jumps into his metallic-green minivan and drives toward Twin Lakes Recreation Area.
Standing in the dim parking lot, Jamison is greeted by a couple in their early 20s. The two were taking a road trip to Florida and decided to stop to walk their dogs. As they spent the afternoon enjoying the brisk December weather, they lost the ignition key to their van somewhere near the footpath. With the daylight quickly fading, they ran into a stranger who offered to help — and even pay the bill for a locksmith.
In less than two hours, Jamison took the steering wheel off, machined a new key and assembled everything back together as the dogs watched from the rear of the couple’s van.
The engine fired to life, and the couple thanked the strangers. A reduced price was tallied, and everyone motored into the darkness — warm, happy and safe. If those individuals were asked about the locksmith who helped them on Christmas Eve, who knows if they would have remembered Jamison by name.
Certainly they could describe his tall build and thinning gray hair combed across the top of his balding head. Perhaps they noticed his smoke-colored eyebrows that lifted above his glasses whenever his laugh echoed through the thin night air.
Regardless of the impression he leaves, Jamison darts to the scene like the Lone Ranger. But his efforts are usually thankless. After 26 years of locksmithing, he discovered that this is the nature of the job.
For this under-the-radar craftsman, late nights, back-road travels and on-the-spot fixes have been standard fare since he took command of Columbia Lock & Safe in 1991. He dedicates about 80 hours to the job each week, and he has handled just about everything. He has reworked a safe at the historic Howard County Courthouse and assisted a man who locked his keys in his car while urinating. But for Jamison, it’s all part of the job.
One call brings him to Fayette. With his left hand, he lowers the van’s window to speak with Betty Crigler, the woman who needs help. He’ll be jump-starting her car. From the rear compartment of the van, Jamison grabs a jump box — a defibrillator of sorts for cars.
He takes a lap around the Buick’s faded front end and moves his hands underneath the hood like an artist shaping clay. Suddenly there is a metallic pop. The sheet metal lifts, and he then slides it forward. Crigler applauds. Battery terminals are hooked to the jump box, and a turn of the key brings the car to life.
“Oh, how wonderful,” Crigler says as she picks at a cluster of rust-colored pine needles frozen at the base of her windshield. Jamison spots this and shuffles back to his van, only to re-emerge with a silver ice scraper. Grasping the foam handle, he brushes the remaining pine needles onto the driveway
From across the engine compartment, Crigler says something too quietly for Jamison to hear. He walks over, crouches by her side and listens to her as if she were his own mother. His face breaks into a smile. For Jamison, the small moments like these make the long hours worthwhile. It’s just a matter of unlocking them as they come along.