I graduated high school in 1997. That summer a good friend and I took a trip to Europe to celebrate of the end of high school and our impending move to college. It was a typical “ride the trains and stay in hostels” trip. We knew where we were starting (London) and where we needed to end up a month later (Berlin), but everything in between was pretty much improvised.
We came across lots of people trying to sell us stuff, asking for money, and so on. On a beach in Nice, France, we spent some time talking to a man who was trying to sell us jewelry. He had a bunch of stuff “from an ex-girlfriend” that was “pure gold” and supposedly worth way more than what he was asking, but he was willing to make a deal for us because we seemed like such nice guys.
We treated his claims with the proper degree of skepticism, but we appreciated his approach, and he was entertaining enough, so we each gave him some cash and took a ring from his jewelry offerings. I don’t remember the exact amount I paid. In fact, I probably wasn’t even totally sure at the time, as one of the running jokes of that trip was that we were international travel novices and were constantly getting tripped up by the basic concept of an exchange rate. I probably just offered whichever bill I had easiest access to in my pocket, and he accepted it.
I’m not sure exactly when I put that ring on my key ring, but it’s still there today — a nice reminder of that trip. I’ve never worn it (the only finger it would fit on is my pinkie, and I’m not really a pinkie ring kind of guy), but people often notice it and ask me about it. They usually assume it’s related in some way to my wife, mother, or grandmother. It’s an interesting insight into someone’s personality when I tell the ring’s story and then see if they’re amused by my having saved something purchased from a random hustler on the beach, or if they’re disappointed that there isn’t a more romantic backstory.
Key Ring Chronicles is a crowd-sourced project that explores the stories behind objects that people keep on their key rings. It was created and is overseen by Paul Lukas, who has kept a quarter with a hole drilled through it on his own key ring since 1987. Readers are encouraged to participate by sending photos and descriptions here.