Fright Night on Highway 345

I have been a business traveler for just over 15 years.  My travels have taken me all over the country, to large cities and very small, rural communities.  I have traveled in large groups and with myself as my only companion.  In the beginning, I would I would stick very close to my client and hotel location, rarely venturing into the community.  As my confidence grew, so would my explorations.  Depending on where I was at for the week, I would take at least one night and drive through the area to experience the culture, see the sights, or meet up with an old friend that I had recently reconnected with.  I would do this without much forethought for my safety.  I never paid attention to my surroundings.  I never even thought to give my family an idea of what I would be doing or where I would be going.  It never dawned on me that if something ever happened, would they even know where to start looking. As a young 20-30 something, you just never think of those things or that bad people can be just around the corner.  Well, I learned my lesson one Wednesday night in Southern Kentucky.

My husband and I had been married for a couple of years.  The pastor that married us had moved his family from our hometown church to a rural farm community in south western Kentucky over 3 hours from where we lived.  I had  client that was just over 30 miles away from my pastor’s new church.  Whenever I was in the area, I would drop in to see them and attend their Wednesday night services.  I had been to his church several times and was somewhat familiar with the area, or so I thought.

paved-road-corn-field-runs-tall-stalks-45219844On this particular Wednesday night, I was running a little late and there was a ton of construction on the main highway.  So much, that all of the signage had been removed up and down the highway and the landmarks had been disturbed.  I had an idea of where I should turn, but I wasn’t completely sure since I didn’t recognize the area.  I stopped at a gas station to confirm the location of the road I was looking for.  This was so important, because this was a farming community and all roads off of the main highway were completely lined with corn fields.  One wrong turn and you could get lost in the corn forever.  Keep in mind this was before the invention of GPS and smart phones.

So, I stopped to ask for directions.  In my family, I am the only person who will ever stop and admit that I am lost.  My husband – not on your life – he would rather drive in circles than ever ask for directions.  Drives me NUTS.

ellipse_sign_345-svgI pull into a convenient store directly across from the street that I think I am looking for.  The parking lot was fairly empty with only two vehicles, other than mine.  One of the cars belonged to the clerk behind the counter and then there was a panel van at the pumps with driver in the store.  I paid little attention to this as it is a scene that plays out at gas stations every where in the country and at any time of the day.

hopkinsville_iSo, I pulled up, parked, and went inside.  Without any thought, I blurted out to the clerk that I was looking for highway 345 and could he tell me if it was the road across the street.  The clerk responded that he wasn’t sure but I was welcome to check out one of their maps.  I proceeded to the map section of the store (remember gas stations actually carried maps!!!) and found that the store was out of the local maps.  I yelled this to the clerk and asked if he had one behind the counter.

This time, the other customer responded that he had one in his van and that I was welcome to walk out there with him to use it.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and this unwavering fear came over me.  I have no other way to describe what I was feeling except in that moment, I was very scared for my life.  There was something very, very wrong here and my next actions could mean the difference of whether I would see my family again.

I politely thanked him but declined his offer and proceeded to meander through the store while keeping an eye on him.  He was watching me throughout the store.  I pretended to shop, gathered a few items, and acted like I was heading to the check-out.  When I started up to the cashier, so did he but at an awkwardly brisk pace like he was in a hurry all of a sudden.  As soon as he was occupied with the cashier, I dropped everything and ran for door.  I jumped in my car and tore off down the road across from the store.

This road was a narrow country road, lined with corn stalks on both sides.  There was nothing down this road except 10 miles of corn and the church.  There wasn’t another house or business or even a place to turn around if I found that I was lost.

I am racing down this road with my heart pounding and adrenaline pumping, praying it is the right street.  I glance in my rear view mirror and see a pair of headlights following me.  My first thought was that it could be other church members just going to Wednesday services. Then, I noticed the time.  It was 7:10 and services started at 7:00.

As I drove, I turned right then left then right, following my memory of directions to the church.  I was on the right road and the headlights were continuing to follow me.  It was dusk, so I couldn’t quite make out the vehicle, but, I thought it was the van from the store. What was I going to do?  When I arrived at the church, I would most certainly be the only one in the parking lot.  Could I get parked and into the church before this van reached me?

I decided that I would park my car as close to the door as possible, whether there was an available parking spot or not.  I could not leave any room for this man to approach me.  My intuition, instinct, or whatever you want to call it, knew that my life was in imminent danger.  So as I continued to drive, I watched the headlights follow and I planned my escape.

61341851I finally arrived at the church parking lot and pulled into the lot like a bat out of he$$.  I raced to the door, through my car into park, jumped out and ran to the church doors as if my life depended on it.  I opened the door to the church just as the van (the same van from the gas station) raced in behind me.  There happened to be a deacon of the church just in the vestibule.  I was shaking and crying and he knew something was wrong.  We both went to the door to see the van making a U-turn, screeching his tires in the process and heading back out the way he came.  He was gone and I was safe.  But that night opened my eyes to the dangers of being oblivious to your surroundings and how important it is to pay attention to your instincts.  Just a few years before this, I may have been more naive and trusting and could have seen myself making a different choice in that store.  I could have trusted him over my instincts and followed him to his van.  Then, this story would have played out on the evening news.

Another lesson I learned is the importance of leaving a trail for my family to follow if the worst case scenario happens.  If this man had gotten to me, my family and friends wouldn’t have known where to begin to look.  No one knew my plans that evening.  No one knew the hotel I was staying at or even rental car I was driving.  I could have ended up as one of the thousands of other men, women, and children that go missing every day and are never seen again.

This changed me and my perception of the world.  I always tell my family where I am and what I will be doing.  I am constantly looking over my shoulder at the people around me.  I am never the first person off of the elevator in the parking garage or hotel.  I am never ashamed to ask for an escort to my car if I see something suspicious in the parking lot.  Some people snicker and smile when I tell my story.  Maybe they think I’m a bit dramatic or paranoid.  That’s fine.  I’m alive, I’m aware, and I refuse to be a statistic.

http://www.NamUS.gov

http://www.missingkids.com/History

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nuts on the Plane

My travel life consists of planes, trains, and automobiles. Though lately, planes have been more prominent.  For the most part, I want my layovers to be as minimal as posdelta-snackssible.  With them long enough to use the facilities, get a quick snack or drink, and time to get to my next gate without killing myself and those around me.  The problem with this plan arises when the airlines don’t stick to their schedules and the first leg of my trip is delayed. My otherwise determined stroll through the airport becomes an all out race against time plowing through the crowd as if my life depended on my getting on that next plane.  When this happens, and it always does, using the facilities and grabbing a quick snack are thrown out the window.  I am stuck with whatever is available on the plane – pretzels, peanuts, or cookies, unless I am fortunate enough to get bumped up to first class.

drink-cartBy the time the flight attendants come around with their carts bumping the passengers as they go by, I am dying of thirst and hungry.  My drink of choice is either sprite or water, unless I’m in Delta Comfort or first class which it would be a screwdriver.  My snack of choice is always the peanuts, though why bother on the snack since there are like 5 nuts in the bag.  It’s just enough to take you from just hungry to starvation.

I have been on one or two flights recently where peanuts were not an option at all due to a passenger having a nut allergy. Sometimes we learn of this just by there not being peanuts as an option.  Other times, the flight attendant will make an announcement and you will hear the entire plane groan in unison.  It makes me think peanuts are the snack of choice.

Anyone who flies routinely or has listened to the stories of my adventures, knows that peanuts are not the only “nuts” on the plane.  The airports are full of them.  I seem to run into at least one on every trip.  I have two working theories on this  1) I have a “nut” magnet floating in my body somewhere, because they seem to be attracted to me, and 2) there are more “nuts” than there are normal people and they are breeding like rabbits.

Through the years, I have learned not to make eye contact or engage in small talk withchatty-kathy anyone in the airport.  This gives those “nuts” an open invitation to invade my space and my sanity with stories of their pain, anguish, and bodily functions.  Now when I say bodily functions, I am absolutely telling the truth.  Several years ago during a period when I appeared much more reticent for strange conversation (I left my headphones at home) a lady shared with me her daily battle with Crohn’s disease and IBB in extremely graphic detail for the entire flight.  I learned more about those awful conditions than I ever care to know.   I have to say I didn’t need the peanuts that day.

The other thing I have learned about the “nuts” on the plane is there are three basic kinds of “nuts”:

  1. Chatty-Kathy Nuts who tend to be fairly harmless but feel the need to tell you about everything they are experiencing, their inner most thoughts, desires, wants, needs, dislikes, and medical conditions.
  2. Rude and Obnoxious Nuts who tend to believe the world belongs to them and everyone else is breathing to serve them and the rules don’t apply to them.
  3. Dangerous and Psychotic Nuts who have violent outbursts (physical or emotional) and should not be allowed on a plane at all.

Unfortunately, I have encountered all three more than I ever care to remember. Now that I make sure I have at least two pairs of headphones at all times, I don’t encounter the Chatty-Kathy nuts that often because they are looking for people who appear open to conversation.  I keep my headphones in at all times, whether I am listening to music or not specifically to ward off the Chatty-Kathy nuts.

I seem to run into the Rude and Obnoxious Nuts the most often.  There was one time I was sitting at a table in the New Orleans airport eating lunch when a man approached me and demanded that I give up my table so his family could sit down.  Mind you, there were at least ten EMPTY tables in the same area.  There was another instance when I was on a plane sitting between a lady and her 5-year-old daughter.  She had to have the aisle and her dauannoying-passengersghter the window.  I was forced into passing things between the mother and daughter for the entire flight and having the child climb over me a couple of time to give her mom a hug.  At the end of that flight, the lady asked if I could pack her daughter’s belongings since I was sitting closer to the child (not by choice I can assure you!!)

I have only run into the Dangerous and Psychotic nuts on one occasion, which was back in August of this year.  I was sitting on the plane getting ready to land in West Palm Beach.  The guy sitting next to me reared back and elbowed me in the side.  This wasn’t an accident.  This was a full on assault for which I did absolutely nothing to deserve.  I had not said one word to this guy the entire flight.  I hadn’t even looked his way.  I was merely sitting in my seat working on my laptop the entire flight, when out of the blue, he hit me with such force that it took my breath and brought tears to my eyes.  We were within minutes of landing and I told him that when we landed, my husband (who was meeting my flight) was going to kick his a$$ and then I was going to have him arrested for assault.  Needless to say, he bolted like a yellow-bellied coward.  I ended up with cracked ribs and am still in pain two months later.

Last night, I ended yet another adventure where I encountered a “nut”.  I was standing in baggage claim enjoying my husband’s presence and a gentleman walked up and randomly started talking to us about a plane crash occurring in 1977 killing 29 members of the University of Evansville basketball team.  I looked this up when I got home and it was a horrible tragedy, but I am perplexed at why this guy felt the need to share this with total strangers.

My travels this past week took me Dallas.  While I had been to Dallas on business many dfw-terminal-mapyears ago, this was my second trip in as many months.  Both times, I encountered travel issues more of my own making, for once.  A couple of months ago, I ended up trying to check into the wrong airport.  I was flying out of Love Field but trying to check into DFW.  The Delta agent was quite amused when I proceeded to argue with him that his computer was as messed up as was the entire airline industry…OOPS!!!  I ended up taking a cab to the right airport and caught my flight by the skin of my teeth.  My latest issue with Dallas travel happened just last night.  This time I actually got to the right airport, but boarded the wrong bus to the wrong terminal.  The bus driver asked me what gate I was going to.  I replied “E17”.  He then asked what airline.  I replied “Delta”.  He tried to tell me I was going to “American”.  I’m like “No, I’m going to Delta”.  After goincrazy-ladyg back and forth for a few minutes I realized he was telling me the bus was going to the terminal for American Airlines (terminal D) and not Delta (Terminal E).

This helped me realize that there is a fourth type of “nut.  The Brain-dead and Air-head Nut whose travel exhaustion sometimes prevents her brain from comprehending common sense situations which results in the “nut” feeling like she is always in the twilight zone.

The last time the flight attendant mad the announcement of a passenger with a nut allergy on board, I wondered what would happen if I called Delta an explained that I had a different type of “nut” allergy and if they could remove the other types of “nuts” from the plane.  Then I realized the plane would be empty and I wouldn’t be flying either, because I am one of those “nuts” on the plane.  You gotta love the live of a traveler!!

 

 

 

 

Redneck Fences, Hobby Lobby, and an Endless Supply of Wine

As a traveler, there are few things that cause more anxiety than emergencies at home while I am thousands of miles away.  My husband has a laid back temperament, while I have a tendency toward the dramatic.  His calm attitude often comes across more as a lack of concern altogether, which often sends me into the stratosphere.  My last post “Buns on the Table” detailed my journey to Beckley, WV at the beginning of the week.  I ended that post by reading a fortune cookie that said “You will pass a big upcoming test”.  Ha!! Little did I realize exactly what that upcoming test was going to be.

Living in Florida, we are always aware of the potential for tropical storms and hurricanes between June 1 and November 1 of each year, with the prime intensity occurring during September and October.  We always stayed tuned to the news and I have several weather apps that I follow when on the road.  Hurricane Matthew started rearing his head toward the middle of last week, though the models had him way off the coast of Florida as he passed by.  This meant we would probably see some wind and rain, but nothing to be concerned about, so I continued with my travel plans to Beckley.

img_5009With the weather update on Monday, the path changed and Matthew, now expecting to be a Cat 4, was starting to take closer aim at us.  My anxiety started to increase as my travel plans were to be in Beckley until Thursday then, fly to Gainesville, FL Thursday afternoon and drive home on Friday evening.  The timing of Matthew would put me in a hotel as he approached North Florida on Friday.  I did not want to be stuck in a hotel, alone, during this storm.  It was important to be around my family.  If nothing else than they needed to feel the anxiety I was feeling – kind of like a “share the wealth” moment.  Needless to say I changed my travel plans to get home before the storm.img_4966

Now that was taken care of, I had to start preparing.  Since I was in WV, this meant barking orders to my husband from six states away at all times of the day or night.  I will give him loads of credit, because I would have stopped answering the phone on call #3 for sure.  I gave him list after list after list.  I was so worried that he wouldn’t get everything that I made him face-time me so I could see the supplies.

Over the course of img_4977the next few days, my anxiety grew.  With each update, the path of Matthew was moving west, with the path coming closer and closer to my home town.  The one and only hurricane I had ever been through was Wilma in 2005 and from what I was hearing that was nothing compared to what was looming on the horizon.  I finally made it home Wednesday evening right before the flights started to cancel.  We were now in a race for time.  The storm was expected to begin impacting us Thursday afternoon.

There was so much to do in addition to the shopping.  We had to shutter the house, dig out the generator,img_5016 fill our gas cans, pack our pictures and albums, etc.  Probably the hardest thing to do was to convince my husband that all of the crap he had been accumulating on the side of the house and our patio needed to be moved into the garage.  This included a 40 year old riding lawn mower that died 20 years ago.  Why on earth did we still have that? Getting this into the garage was no easy task.  First of all, the thing hadn’t run in at least five years (Chuck would say 2 or 3, but he’s kidding himself) and the tires were dry-rotted.  Second of all, it was on my back porch and behind my “red-neck” fence with no gate.  I won’t even try to describe the fence.  (The picture is worth its weight in gold.) Needless to say, we had to push that monstrosity around the house.

I am from Kentucky and very proud of it.  But anyone driving by our house would know instantly and a redneck lived in our house – and not just any redneck.  Our house looks like it belongs to one of those Jeff Foxworthy rednecks.  You know – “you might be a redneck if…”.  Now we don’t have any old appliances on our porch, but I do have one in the garage.  My husband keeps insisting that it should be on the porch or side of the house.  I swear if I ever come home and see it out there, I am moving!!

Thursday evening arrives, as does Matthew.  It starts out like any thunderstorm, fairly windy with showers here and there.  The sun pops out occasionally.  With the shutters up, we can’t see outside, we can only hear the sounds.  Every 10 minutes or so, Chuck goes outside.  He wants to watch it.  He is worse than a toddler sometimes.

 For the first few hours, its not really that bad.  But then, the rains and the winds begin to pound us.  Our lights and cable flickered on and off throughout the evening.  We were glued to the news to see how it was progressing and watching it was making me nuts.  I had to do something to keep myself occupied and off of my husband’s nerves.  So I did what any crafter would do in that situation, I pulled out my scrapbook materials and started working on an album.  I made some good progress before the lights went out for good.  I was at the dining room table throughout the night, working away while listening to our house creak praying the roof would hold.  Chuck and my daughter gave up and went to bed around 1 am.  There was no way I could sleep.  So I continued crafting with my two schnauzers at my feet trembling and my cat sitting on my lap.

 

The worst of the storm hit us around 2:30 am.  I am sitting at the dining room table with my 3 animals completely in the dark listening to the war raging on the outside.  It sounded as if our roof was being pelted with boulders.  The wind was howling louder than I had ever heard it before.  The front door was rattling like someone was trying to shake it open.  I could hear the rafters moan wondering how much longer would it hold, how much longer could it hold.  At that moment, I don’t know who was shaking more – me or the animals. Though my husband and daughter were still sound asleep snoring almost as loud as the hurricane raging around us.

Finally, the noise started to die down and the lights flickered back on.  The cable was gone, but I had my phone.  The news showed the storm had weakened and timg_4994he eye was now north of us.  Hell yeah it was weaker.  It must have wore itself out beating up on my house!!!  I had enough, dug out some sleeping pills, and went to bed.  I woke up on Friday morning to calmer skies and a phone ringing off the hook with friends and family checking on us.  We ventured outside to begin assessing the damage.  I was holding my breath considering what I had heard just a few hours earlier.  To my surprise and much relief, we had minor damage that could be repaired within minutes.  Gazing down the street, there were trees down and fences obliterated, though my redneck fence survived quite well.  Our lights were on, though cablimg_4648e and internet would be out for most of the day.

As Friday progressed, the weather calmed and the sun started to come out by late afternoon.  I was very antsy and decided to drive through town.  I saw more of the same, trees and fences down but very little structural damage.  Some businesses throughout our town were open, though most remained closed.  As I drove further down US1, I saw the glow of my favorite orange sign – Hobby Lobby.  It was still standing and open for business.  We could now relax because all was right with the world.img_5003

Earlier today, I was chatting with some friends and sharing stories of our night with Matthew.  We all agreed that along with purchasing endless cases of water, bags of ice, bread, first aid supplies, etc we would also make sure our checklist would included an endless supply of wine.

 

 

 

 

Buns on the Table

pf-changs-atlanta-airportOver the last few years, it seems I have spent more time at the Atlanta airport that anywhere else in the country (including my home).  For at least the last year, the airport has been under going some major renovations.  The latest being a massive upgrade to the dining choices.  There are many more modern and appetizing choices now available, which is so important when you have long layovers or stranded due to “weather”.  Tonight I experienced one such “weather” event on my way to Beckley, WV where I was delayed close to 3 hours.  In the grand scheme of airport delays, 3 hours is nothing…but I digress.  Anyway, I was stuck and it was dinner-time so I decided to partake in a rather scrumptious dinner at PF Chang’s.pf-changs-airport

It has always amazed me how many tables can be stuffed into airport restaurants.  I walked in as a party of 1 and was seated almost right away at a tiny table that was sandwiched between two larger tables already occupied by diners enjoying their meals.  I had to squeeze between  my table and the one right next to me in order to sit.  As I did so, I could feel my butt graze the plates on the table next to me.  It was a good thing I was wearing black pants since there was no telling what type of sauce was now slathered on my back-side.  It was interesting that they didn’t move their plates nor did they stop eating what was in them.  I would have certainly lost my appetite.

One thing the airport restaurant designers did not consider is the space needed for img_4954luggage.  Nearly every traveler has at least one rolling suitcase to put in the overhead bins and many people have two.  So as I sit and wait for my dinner to be delivered the tables on both sides clear out and fill back up again.  This time the patrons on both sides of me have their luggage nestled between our tables to keep from tripping the servers as they walk by. Commendable on one hand, but on the other it leaves me with no exit strategy. So instead of savoring my food into oblivion, I am contemplating which set of luggage on which side of the table that I am going to stumble over when I leave, or better yet, which set of dishes and sauces will further compliment my attire as I squeeze back through.  Maybe luck with be on my side and one of the two tables will leave before I do.

img_4949My dinner choice on this night is my “go to” dish at PF Chang’s — Chang’s Spicy Chicken and Fried Rice.  I absolutely love this dish though it is way off the rail in terms of carbs and calories.  If my doctor or beachbody coach had a glance as my dinner choice tonight, I would have a lot of “splaining” to do.  The food was as expected – absolutely delicious.img_4955

The best part of any Chinese meal, is always the fortune cookie.  Years ago when I was in college, we had a tradition to add the words “in bed” to the end of any fortune cookie saying.  With that in mind, tonight my fortune was….

“You will pass a big upcoming test…’in bed’.”

Sounds like I may have a promising week after all.