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.













The Art of Burning Water

TMomhere are quite a few things that must work in sync in order for a traveling mom to be successful.  One of the most important things is having a support system at home to help with the daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring thMom and Allie - The Early Yearse kids, etc.  My situation is no different. In the early years, when both my husband and I worked, my wonderful mother provided part of that support.

DSC_0915After our move to Florida my mother became very ill and my husband retired and took over these responsibilities. He never once complained. He seemed to relish his new role. It gave him the opportunity to work on his dream car and hang out with his other retired friends.

Throughout our marriage, he has often mentioned how he had once dreamed of becoming a chef.  Well, now he had the chance to become the head chef of our household.   I use the term chef very loosely as most of his meals seemed to consist of grilled sandwiches and hotdogs.  After a while, I threatened to never allow another hotdog in my house if I saw one on the table for dinner again.  Thus, the dinner experiments began.  Most of his experiments were quite tasty once you got past their appearance.

One evening I was on my way home from the office when I called to ask what he was cooking for dinner. He said he was going to “surprise” me. I should have immediately turned around and gone back to the office – anywhere but home.  How could I forget that the word “surprise” in the same sentence as dinner is never, ever, ever a good thing. It bears the same connotation as “mystery meat” did in the school cafeteria and often the same physical side effects.

Since I had not yet learned this lesson, I continued my trek home quite eager to see what he had been up to.  When I open the front door, I was instantly hit with the most pungent smell I had ever encountered.  My eyes burned and began watering. My nose, and even throat, were on fire.  They felt like I had been doused with kerosene.  This was all before I had shut the front door.  I thought maybe he made a mess in the oven and turned on the cleaning feature.DSC_0324

I heard him clanging around in the kitchen, so I knew that although the smell was horrific it wasn’t physically damaging.  I dropped everything and rushed into the kitchen to find out what in God’s name he was up to.  He was so excited, he had found the crock-pot and was making BBQ (with a side of paint thinner?).

There was no evidence in the kitchen of what he used to create this concoction so I had no alternative but to inspect the crock-pot for myself.  I was very hesitant to lift the lid not knowing if I was going to trigger some insane gas explosion all the while recalling in detail the true crime stories I’d seen where a spouse murders the other by lacing the dinner with poison. As you can see, by this point my imagination had gone way overboard.

Now if I thought the odor was bad when I walked in, I was in for a shock when I lifted the lid on the crock-pot.  The smell, the vapors were so dense, so powerful I nearly fainted.  It took at least a half hour with the lid off, all windows open and fans blowing for the odorous cloud to disperse enough to look inside the crock-pot without scalding my retinas.  When I did, I saw two “unidentified” circular “objects” bobbing and “floating” in about two gallons of a yet unknown liquid. This gave a new meaning to “UFO” (unidentified floating objects in Chuck’s case). There was no way I was going to eat this, absolutely no way!  Now what do you think I ate for dinner instead?  Yep, you guessed it a freaking hot dog!!!

Now Chuck seemed to take my refusal to eat his experiment quite well.  He ate it and survived. I chalked that up to the fact that he had likely grown immune to its side effects by being exposed to the vial odor for so long.  After dinner, we cleaned up the dishes together. We laughed about it like we do most things. I joked with him that after tonight I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to burn water properly, to which he so jovially agreed.

I didn’t pay attention to what he had done with the leftovers.  I should have taken charge of them to make sure they were safely destroyed since dangerous chemicals could be very hazardous to our environment.  I just assumed he’d get the hint. Nope — not even close!

The next night, I again called on my way home and again asked what we were having for dinner. After last night, I expected to hear pork chops, spaghetti, or something similar.  I nearly drove off the road when he matter-of-factually replied “leftovers”.  What the hell was he thinking!  I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I was not eating that crap OR another hotdog for dinner.

I stopped by the grocery and picked up a few items to make a rather quick meal along with a mask to protect my senses from any further damage. To my dismay, I got home preparing for the worst.  When I opened the front door, there were no pungent vapors, no UFO’s in the crock-pot, just a bowl of BBQ on the table with the most mouthwatering aroma I had ever experienced in my house.

IMG_1921There was no way that BBQ came from the leftovers of his nuclear experiment.  I asked and asked again.  He stood by his story.  I looked in the garbage cans, inside and out, nothing.  My daughter swore he made the BBQ from leftovers – that she watched him and even tasted it.  If she was brave enough, how could I refuse. With reluctance, I grabbed a fork and took a couple slivers hoping and praying I was not eating my last meal.  When I finally garnished the nerve to take a bite, I literally crossed the gates of Heaven. This was the most amazing, succulent  BBQ I had EVER eaten.

Now, I am not a meat eater; however on this particular night I had a second helping and even took a small serving in my lunch the following day.  As we were cleaning the kitchen that night, I reached over and kissed him on the cheek and told him that he had successfully learned the art of burning water.