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Archive for the ‘Travel Tales’ Category

fpdayfoundscooter

Over the July Fourth weekend, my boyfriend Chris and I decided that we wanted to get out of town for a few days – and naturally, I thought of the beach. I don’t know what it is about Panama City Beach this year, but after a 20 year boycott, I have found myself gracing the Redneck Riviera’s beaches twice in three months. Why in the world would I want to do that to myself, you might ask? Well…part of it was that the area closer to Destin didn’t have nearly the kinds of last minute deals that you could get closer to PCB – – and the other part of it was that I’d always heard that PCB on July 4th was something to behold and thought it might be interesting to see. And boy did that assessment ring true.

So before we went, Chris and I discussed the fact that we knew it was going to be Certifiably Insane down there – – as in, the distinct possibility that we would witness more than one naked, drunk redneck, peeing out the back of a pick-up truck that may or may not have been owned by him and may or may not have been stolen…. while screaming obscenities at the moon – or a street lamp if he was too drunk to know any better. But we both decided that this would be an “Experience” and we would treat it as such. We would blend in as best we could and much like undercover reporters, find ways to infiltrate their camp in order to understand the Redneck Species a bit better. In preparation to do so, Chris brought his fake mullet leftover from a costume party where he went as Billy Ray Cyrus and there was talk of purchasing an airbrushed t-shirt with a rebel flag (that did not happen – – thank God). While I, on the other hand, practiced my profane hand gestures so that I would be ready for the moment that a redneck decided to inform me that he had a sizable present for me in his pants.

galastnightchrismulletwinkedit

Another key part of this plan to blend in was to rent a scooter. We’d latched onto the idea and wouldn’t let go. Who needs a Harley or a Chopper when you can climb aboard a Yamaha scooter? Coolness personified right there.

As luck would have it, there was a scooter rental place right beside our hotel – – so on the first day of our vacation, we walked over there determined to get one. Upon entering the establishment, the first thing I saw was a shirtless guy with a shaved head whose entire torso was covered in skull tattoos. I’m talking skulls with fire coming out of their mouths – – skulls with knives – – skulls on a mountain top – – skulls with beady, jeweled eyes. And if that wasn’t enough, he was also wearing a jaunty, fashionable skull belt to hold up his ratty cargo shorts. For a touch of subtle class, obviously.

“Wow.”, I thought, “I wonder if he likes skulls?”

We both walked up to the counter and informed Skull Man of our intention to rent a scooter. He reviewed our various options and finally after discussing the matter in serious, muttered tones to one another (as one does when it comes to serious matters such as a scooter rental), Chris opted for a two day rental in order to maximize our PCB Redneck Camp Infiltration experience. We signed a bunch of legal documentation – – promised we wouldn’t ride on the shoulder – – and off we went. No, we didn’t go over 45 mph, but still – – it was enough to put some wind in our hair and we were now part of the PCB Scooter Club. Being in the Scooter Club means that everyone on a scooter who passes you by honks at you and waves, and you’re supposed to do the same. A way of saying: “I see you on that pansy-ass scooter, dude – – but that’s ok. Because I’m on one too. RESPECK!”

After hanging out at the beach all afternoon, we decided we wanted to play Putt-Putt golf that night – – so we climbed aboard the scooter at sunset and headed down the strip in search for the cheesiest Putt-Putt golf place we could find. However, we did not get far on our journey before we came to a screeching halt due to the traffic being at a complete stand-still. It turns out that Friday night, July 3rd, in PCB, is THE night. Yes, THAT night. The night of the hollering. The night of shirtless men in lawn chairs on the side of the road yelling at women. The night of the rebel flags with a large TROUT in the middle flying proudly above the bed of a jacked up truck containing such stereotypical rednecks that I had to pinch myself to remind myself that we were not on the set of a movie. The night of men not caring one iota that I was obviously on the back of a scooter with my boyfriend as they proceeded to show me their various tongue contortions which were, apparently, a redneck salutation to women they take a shine to.

All told, it took us an hour to travel about 3 miles – – and it was a wild ride. I was at once dazzled and repulsed with seeing that level of over-the-top behavior – – everything one could possibly imagine would be seen and heard in what was essentially a Redneck parade, we saw and heard. I actually heard one very memorable statement when a man wearing only shorts and flip-flops who was chugging a beer said “Yeah, when I come to Panama City, I never have enough money for food – – – just for beer, man.”

Priorities, people. Priorities.

We played a fun game of Putt-putt, then came back to the hotel, parked the scooter, and went across the street to the outdoor beach bar to have some dinner and drinks. Afterward, we walked back to the hotel and, after a long day of sand, sun and a crazy scene, we were exhausted and hit the hay.

We woke up the next morning with a craving for some Waffle House. Chris is an admitted Waffle House addict, and I gotta admit – – that day, the All Star breakfast was calling my name. So he went off in search of the scooter keys while I went to get ready.

Now….before I relay this next bit of information, I have to qualify something for the record: Chris is a smart man. One of the smartest I’ve known. He is an Engineer. With a Mechanical Engineering degree. His favorite current application on his i-phone is one that quizzes you on all the bones of the human body which he plays with an annoying level of accuracy. He would choose a documentary over most any other type of movie, and loves learning new things on a constant basis. It is, frankly, somewhat annoying when I’m just wanting to immerse myself in a tiny bit of Lindsey Lohan gossip from my rag mag and Chris is all “What’s the capital of Bolivia?” I like learning and trivia a lot too but, Honey, seriously – – PUT A CORK IN IT RIGHT NOW!

But……….but………….he forgets things. Like an absent-minded professor forgets things. As in….forgets Very Important Objects. Nine times out of ten, just before we’re about to go somewhere, we end up looking for his keys. Or his wallet. Or his phone. Or his shirt. And if it wasn’t sewn onto the back of his body? His ass. And I’ve been getting used to this more and more and doing some preemptive steps to make sure that I note where he is putting his keys or his wallet right when he puts it down so I can then help out when we are in a rush and are looking for the Very Important Object. But I don’t always catch it…

So it wasn’t a huge concern to me when he said he couldn’t find the scooter keys – – I was used to this firedrill. But a half hour later, when he still couldn’t find them, I became more concerned. At that point, he said he was going to go across the street to the restaurant and look for them there, and if he couldn’t find them, head over to the scooter place and ask Skull Man if we could get another set. He got a head start on me because I was still getting ready, and said he would call me when he got it all taken care of.

Therefore, I was surprised to get a call from him about ten minutes later and his words were: “Um….do you remember where we parked the scooter?”

Did I remember? Of course I did. We parked it right out front of the lobby and even asked the hotel personnel if that was a safe place to park it. After their affirmative reply, then we’d parked it there and thought nothing of it.

Chris said “Yeah, that’s what I thought. And….uh. It’s not there.”

I blinked. “It’s not there???”, I said.

“Nope”, he said.

He’d already asked the hotel personnel if maybe someone from their staff had moved it, and they’d indicated that no one had. Things were looking bleak.

I met him downstairs and we discussed the options. Should we call Skull Man first? Or should we call the cops? We opted for the cops because we were afraid that Skull Man and his cronies would immediately try to charge Chris’s credit card for the WHOLE scooter before we had a chance to try to search it. We also discussed the possibility that maybe we’d dropped the key somewhere between the restaurant and the hotel – – I even went back to the hotel to check to no avail. But eventually we came to the obvious, dismal conclusion: Chris had left the key IN the scooter. Like a big, gold-leafed invitation to “PLEASE STEAL ME”.

I would like to give MYSELF huge kudos for the way that I held my tongue and didn’t yell at him these words repeatedly “ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? IN THE SCOOTER??? YOU LEFT THEM IN THE SCOOTER????” But digging from the trenches of my Zen center of being, I managed to refrain from saying these things since he obviously felt horrible enough about it already, and my frustration would just add an argument ON TOP of our current miserable situation. So, you know…..GO AMY!!!!

We had the front desk call the cops and then sat out on the bench like two school children who were about to be reprimanded by the principal. And when the cop in his big police SUV pulled up and parked in front of the lobby, we got up to walk over to greet him. He was a tall, beefy looking cop with piercing blue eyes – – like what Rosco Pico Train from The Dukes of Hazzard would look like if he was a Viking.

“Are you the two with the missing scooter?”, he said.

We both nodded tiredly.

Chris and I began telling our tale in tag-team fashion – – filling in bits and pieces that one of us remembered and the other one didn’t. Rosco was dutifully writing it all down, then off-handedly asked the question, “so, where’s the key?”

Chris and I both said “we don’t know..”

His hand stilled and the piercing blue eyes looked up from his pen and paper. “You don’t know where it is?”, he said.

Chris and I began relaying that unless we’d dropped the key somewhere and someone had found it and just HAPPENED to find our scooter out front of the hotel and decided to see if the key would work, then we were pretty sure that (gulp) we’d left the key in the scooter.

Rosco stared at us and chewed on his lip for a moment, then said “I have to be honest and tell you that something about this story doesn’t jive with me. I mean…how does the key just…. disappear? And I find it hard to believe you’d left it in the scooter.”

Um….had the man never looked for his keys in his house like I and everyone else in the world had after they “disappear”? Ripping off couch cushions, looking under every piece of furniture in the home, and then, finally, in desperation, checking the refrigerator and finding them there? KEYS GO MISSING ALL THE TIME!!! And as for failing to believe that we’d left it in the scooter – – he obviously hadn’t dealt with an absent minded professor type. I mean, I’ve picked up Chris’s i-phone that he’d somehow set down on the pavement of a parking lot before. He was VERY capable of leaving the key in the scooter.

My mouth fell open and I looked at Chris whose face remained calm and impassive. It slowly began to dawn on me that Rosco didn’t believe us. We were being wrongfully accused. WRONGFULLY ACCUSED OF STEALING A NEON GREEN SCOOTER IN PANAMA CITY BEACH!!!

I found myself very slowly relaying the facts again, trying to somehow convince him of our honesty through carefully enunciated words. I wanted to tell him that really, truly, WE WOULD MUCH RATHER BE AT THE BEACH RIGHT NOW than trying to track down a freaking scooter. Did he think we had it hidden in the bushes and were going to drive it all the way back to Atlanta? Did he think we were running a Scooter Ring?

Though he still looked unconvinced of our story, he said he was giving us the benefit of the doubt and would walk with us over to the scooter rental place to get the scooter rental information and make the report. I was in the pit of despair. Not only were we going to have to tell Skull Man and his cronies that one of their scooters had been stolen, but WE WERE BASICALLY BEING ACCUSED OF STEALING IT.

We walked in with The Law, and sure enough, there Skull Man sat, clad in nothing but his tattoos and skull belted cargo shorts. He stood up quickly when he saw the cop, likely concerned about the pile of bongs that he sells under the counter out back of the scooter shop. As we relayed the story, he began pulling out all the paperwork, looking both relieved that the cop wasn’t after HIM this time, and concerned about the scooter. Management was called, and as they asked questions, I just wanted to be swallowed up into the concrete floor in one gulp. And of course, when they got to the “where’s the key” question, and heard our answer, then looked at each other like they were talking to the King and Queen of Moronville, I pretty much wanted someone to annihilate me from the face of the planet. I mean SKULL MAN was looking at us in a superior way – – like his IQ was higher than ours. Which made me want to remind him of all the brain cells he’d likely lost when he smoked his last fat one – – – I mean, NOT SO FAST BUDDY. Yeah, we’d lost a whole scooter, but *I* didn’t have the mouth of a skull emblazoned across my left nipple.

At one point, the cop asks Chris to step outside, and I remain inside and listen to the chit-chat of PCB party-goers who were renting scooters left and right – – looking longingly at the people who were turning in scooters like it was no big deal. After about five minutes, though, I became curious when Chris hadn’t returned, and I walked out right in time to hear the cop saying to Chris…“And I want you to understand that I need you to sign this statement but I still have a problem with your story, and I also want you to understand that we’ve put out an APB on this scooter and WHOEVER stole it *meaningful look at Chris*, is going to be taken down at gunpoint and arrested.”

Hold on. Stop the press. Because all I heard was the cop speaking in an accusatory way and appear to be trying to scare Chris into “confessing” to taking the scooter so that he wouldn’t have to take him down at gunpoint.

I know I shouldn’t have, but I got scrappy. And what does Amy say in her moment of scrappy-ness? In her moment of defying the law? I said these words: “Officer….we were just trying to go to WAFFLE HOUSE this morning.” And what did that have to do with ANYTHING? Well I DON’T KNOW, but I felt like somehow, people who were just trying to go get their hash browns scattered, smothered and covered weren’t two people who had pre-meditated notions to steal a scooter this morning.

Chris looked at me like he wanted to shoot me with a stun gun, and the cop didn’t even glance my way. To this day, I still quote line that to be funny when I’m getting worked up and Chris and I need a laugh. “We were just trying to go to WAFFLE house!!!!” – – it always elicits a guffaw or two from us.

We finally skulked away from the scooter shop after we’d made our statement and got a few more gazillion menacing, suspicious glances thrown our way. Since we were starving at that point due to no food on high levels of drama, we DID end up going to Waffle House. And while sitting there over our greasy breakfasts, we finally started to calm down and see the humor in the situation. I mean – – we were in Panama City Beach being accused of stealing a scooter. How freaking awesome was THAT? We were in trouble with the LAW! Two professional thirty-somethings from Atlanta with mortgages and sensible cars and corporate jobs were being accused of STEALING. ROCK. ON!!!!

When we were done with our meal, we meandered back to the hotel, discussing our options should they not find the scooter – – we were still discussing the costs, our rights, the chances of them finding it and other cheerful subjects such as that when we started driving up the long, winding parking deck of our hotel – – as we got to one of the top levels, we swung the car into one of the vacant spots and hopped out en route to the elevator. Suddenly, we both looked over at the corner of the parking garage almost at the same time.

There sat a neon green scooter. With the key in it.

We walked over to it, barely daring to hope – – – and then realized – – IT WAS TOTALLY OUR MISSING SCOOTER!!!! Our excitement and relief could barely be contained – – someone had obviously found it with the key still in it and took it for a joy ride. Who could blame them, really? Not saying it’s right but, come one – – it’s PCB, on the fourth of July – – and a scooter was sitting there with the key in it. Helllooooo. Of course it was going to be taken for a joy ride.

We called the scooter rental place and they told us to bring it back, of course. We were nervous doing this, even though it was a short distance away, because there was an APB out on it and, you know, WE COULD BE TAKEN DOWN AT GUNPOINT for being in possession of it.

Skull Man was happy to see the scooter, obviously. And as Chris took care of all the paperwork and legalities and we waited for management to show up to check the scooter, and call the cops to tell them the scooter was back safe and sound, then I feigned significant interest over Skull Man’s tattoos. He was more than happy to give me his reasoning for having them (“I really like skulls”) and do a veritable show and tell of when and why he’d gotten each one. Fascinating stuff.

We finished off our time at PCB with fireworks, drinks and bad bar food – – – pretty much what one would have expected and there was no more drama to be had. So as we rode off out of town at the culmination of our trip, en route back to our more sensible existence – – we decided to give up our lives as pseudo-scooter thieves. It’d been real. And it’d been fun.

But it hadn’t been real fun.

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Amy2hands

I bought a cowboy hat the other day on a whim. I’m sassy most any day of the week but with the hat, I’m Super-sized Sassy with a side order or Kicking-Your-Ass. I really don’t know what possessed me to buy the hat – – but there they sat atop a shelf at Target in their cheesy, Cowboy-wanna-be perfection for $12.99 and suddenly I was compelled to buy one. It lay at the bottom of my shopping cart, promising me adventures on a hilltop somewhere in Wyoming – – slow-motion scenes of the saucy blond sitting on a horse driving the cattle with precision, persistence and a hair toss played through my mind like a romance novel come to life. And then reality entered my dream and I realized I don’t know how to ride a horse.

So I ride around in my convertible instead, and stare out at the sunny, sweltering city from underneath the brim of my hat, feeling very American indeed. I’ve had such a love/hate relationship with my country in the past and I feel myself falling in love all over again lately with it’s grit, heat and open roads. I don’t have to actually be on the open road to dream about the open road – – and dreaming of it, I have been. Specifically, Route 66 – – the pinnacle of all Open Roads. The stretch of pavement that yawns out before steaming rubber wheels en route to nowhere and everywhere. Route 66 isn’t really about getting to your destination – – it’s about experiencing the journey, which is, of course, representing the very ideal that we all are told to strive for on a daily basis – – and no matter how trite and predictable a statement it has become, it’s good advice.

route66

I want to take my hat to little diners dotted along the highway and say things like “howdy” and “I reckon I’d like some of that blueberry pie you’ve got on special, ma’am if you could be so kind as to serve me up some”. Then after she brings it to me, finish my pie quietly and mysteriously from the corner booth – – tip her 5 dollars, tell her to “keep the change” and wink at her as I walk out the creaking, glass door. Aside from her thinking I might be some sort of Roy Rogers lesbian (which I’m not….not that there’s anything WRONG with that!), I figure it could be a pretty smooth move – – indicative of someone who’s facing inner truth on the open road and just wants to share the joy of this existentialist discovery with a friendly waitress via monetary altruism. Or, you know……..whatever.

So for now, I am a cowgirl with a $12.99 hat in the city, wearing a tank top, some strappy high heels, and paying way too much for my hair highlights. But you can see by my swagger that I’m a REAL cowgirl at heart – – who’s just looking for the chance to hit the open road and kick some cowboy’s ass for lookin’ at me wrong.

Amyfinger

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tirefairy

So my new cousin-in-law (got that?) Liz and I were jonesin’ for a trip out-of-town to the beach, and originally were aiming for Pensacola to participate in their annual “Mullet Toss” weekend (the fish, not the haircut – – not that the idea of tossing fish is much better than tossing bad haircuts). But the Mullet Toss was not to be due to some unforeseen circumstances – – therefore, I had to say good-bye to that very ripe, very robust future blog post. So we reviewed our options – – mentally scanning the Floridian possibilities, and finally settled on the Destin/Panama City Beach area. Upon further analysis, we realized that the hotels toward the end of the PCB strip had the best deals – – and these looked like NICE hotels. Not the dingy, mildew infested, “what’s that stain on the bed?” hotels that I remember experiencing there in my youth.

So last weekend, with my convertible stuffed to the gills with far more things than two women really needed for 2 nights at the beach, she and I made our way down south in beautiful sunny weather, with the top down and blue sky above the entire trip. We talked and laughed about nothing and everything – – eating food from the cooler she’d loaded in the back seat and sipping our non-fat Starbucks Frappaccinos. Truckers honked – – we waved and laughed – – like Thelma and Louise except without all the robbery, guns and that whole tragic cliff thing at the end.

As we got closer to our destination, fatigue had set in a bit and she and I were definitely ready to get there. We hadn’t stopped once on the 6 hour trip, so our necks were aching and butts reaching the cheek-numbing point. But we charged ahead, knowing there would be plenty of time to relax and stretch on the beach. Who needed time to stretch our legs at a convenience store when there were ocean breezes ahead just within our grasp?

As we got into PCB, we drove high above the water on one of the many bridges in the area, noting how beautiful it looked and, once again, what a perfect day it was for a drive to the beach. I reached the end of the bridge and began pulling into the left turn lane at a traffic light per Liz’s instructions – – but no sooner had I made it into the turn lane when I heard a loud, continuous roar, and smelled the tell-tale scent of burning rubber. I looked at Liz and she looked at me and she said “that’s you…”. Flat tire. CRAP. I stopped the car, turned on the hazards and as I did so, I heard Liz say “that guy’s gonna help…”. I looked at her and said “what guy?” She pointed out the windshield and said “THAT guy…”

I looked up to see a large, red pick-up truck backing up quickly and purposefully until it was end to nose with my car – – and a very tall, very tan, very jolly looking man with a white-toothed grin leaped out of the car with a car jack already in tow. I thought, “Wow. Somebody was a Boy Scout.” Liz and I had already started unloading the back of my trunk, searching for the spare tire – – but he wasted no time and before we could say more than 2 sentences to him thanking him for stopping, he had put the jack under my car and was manfully pressing down the lever. I looked at the clock on my phone – – I think it had been 60 seconds since we stopped the car, and the back end of said car was already in the air. Talk about a Panama City Beach McGyver. I expected him to ask us if we had any fishing wire, chewing gum and the blood of an Irish Elf so he could magically produce a new tire in front of us right before our eyes.

Once he had the car up, he noted that she and I had still not located the spare tire in the back – – I was about to go get the car manual out of the glove compartment when we noticed that he was squatting under the back of the car and, with a wrench that he just HAPPENED to have with him, he started unscrewing the spare tire which was located up underneath the back of my car. We made small talk with him as he did so – – discovering that he’d stopped to help when on his way to work. We thanked him profusely once again as he put the spare tire on my car, handed me the shredded one which we put in the trunk, and lowered the jack.

I pulled a 20 dollar bill out of my pocket and begged him to take it for his time but he just grinned, said it was his pleasure, jumped in his truck and sped off.

Liz and I stood there and blinked a couple of times, then got back in the car and drove away. From the moment that we’d smelled the burned rubber, to the moment that we started driving again, it had been about five minutes. I felt like I’d witnessed a sighting of the Flat Tire Fairy. Granted, I realize that he was probably a little more eager than usual because Liz and I are both owners of some decent Mammaries that were contained within fairly small tops – – but still. It had been pretty impressive.

So while we experienced much in the way of the traditional Panama City Beach rednecks during those two days – – catcalls and general uncouth behavior that is to be expected in the “Redneck Riviera”, our Tire Hero stood out in my mind as what I’m sure are many locals who live there. The locals who put up with the tourists getting flat tires, and the bad rap that their area gets because of all the Rednecks who show up there with some bad liquor and rebel flag decals, ready to cause trouble. THOSE locals are the kind who would stop and change a tire for two women because it was the right thing to do.

But it WAS a little difficult to remember these sorts of tender-hearted thoughts about the humanity of Panama City Beach when Liz and I were asked by two male southern voices, whizzing by in a car as she and I sat at a red light coming back from dinner one night – – if we wanted to “go smoke some doobies” with them.

Now that’s more like it. Classy.

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hail

The bizarre can descend upon a seemingly normal day like Joaquin Phoenix on a late night talk show – – rambling and unexpected from the wings of the afternoon’s stage, suddenly obliterating the careful script you’d written for your activities into a million pieces. And so began my afternoon last Friday when I was driving to see my Dad – – en route to Indiana by way of Interstate-24 West, aiming for Nashville before I changed course to meander through the green fields of Kentucky, and finally into the southern part of Indiana.

I like driving – – and I especially like cross-country trips. I love seeing the vastness of the US open up along side a ribbon of highway, taking me through so many varying terrains. Even as my legs get stiff and neck aches from being in the car for hours at a time, I still love the feeling of being in my own small, metal world, watching the scenery fly past, slowly transporting myself to another place. I feel contemplative, calm, curious and free – – a great combination to experience so acutely at once.

On this trip, I had brought along one of my books on CD – – “Revolutionary Road” – – and was lost in the eloquently told drama of Frank and April, a troubled 1950’s married couple, as the narrator drew me deeper and deeper into their story with his gravelly, expressive voice. I had the car on cruise control and was leaning on the window sill with one hand driving, while periodically stretching out my legs and shifting my body weight as I was growing a little weary after nearly 3 hours on the road.

I glanced up and saw clouds forming in the green hilled distance – – dark, angry clouds, actually. Remembering that the weather had forecasted storms along my route today, I hit the eject button on the CD player and began to scan the radio stations for some information to ensure I knew the depth of the storms in the distance. I stopped on a Nashville station as someone said the breathless, urgent words “tornado on the ground” and “I-24”. I blinked a couple of times, thinking, “What road AM I on?” And as if answering my thought, a blue and red sign whizzed past saying “West I-24”.

“Ohhhhhh crappity crap, crap, CRAP!!!!!!!!”, I thought.

I listened further to what the radio was saying, hoping for some good news, but none would come. There were multiple tornadoes touching down near Murfreesboro and I was about 30 miles outside of that town heading directly for it. Not to mention there was a Tornado Watch over the whole area where I was traveling. I picked up the phone and called Dad to let him know what was going on, telling him I was going to stop and wait it out somewhere but that I wasn’t seeing any exits at that time. He insisted that there were exits all along I-24 along that stretch of road, but I wasn’t seeing any. I told him as soon as I found a place, I would call him back.

I was growing more and more nervous as I continued to drive through that beautiful countryside with the ominous clouds looming larger and closer with every mile and no exits in sight. At one point, I glanced to either side of the road looking for ANY sort of shelter – – a barn, an outhouse…..a large neon sign with an arrow pointing to a trapdoor on the ground that said “STORM SHELTER ESPECIALLY FOR YOU, AMY – – RIGHT HERE!!!!”. But no such luck. Then in the dark recesses of my mind, I remember hearing a few times that if you are on the road, caught in the path of a tornado, you should stop and lie in a ditch. LIE IN A DITCH!!!!!!!! Let me say that one more time: LIE IN A DITCH!!!!

That thought made me quietly begin to panic. Because let me make this loud and clear – – if I see a tornado barreling toward me, the LAST place I’m going to want to be is a freaking DITCH. I mean, come on – – a tornado would look at me cowering face-down in a ditch and laugh its menacing winded head off. It would be all…”Ooooooo, wheeeerrreee’s Amy? Whheeeerrreee could she be? Oh….look….I wonder if that’s her in the bright purple shirt, jeans and gold high heel shoes….in a wide open field, LYING IN A DITCH???!!!” And then it would pick me up like a rag doll and throw me in a nearby tree or, better yet, in a trailer park to hang out with the REST of the victims.

So it was with considerable relief that I saw a sign indicating a gas station coming up at the next exit. As I veered off the road at the “Bell Buckle” exit, I began looking for this gas station that had been advertised. And that’s when I saw it…perched on a small hill. A beacon of hope to a weary traveler looking to avoid a ditch.

I pulled into the gas station and parked the car, noting that it was a BP station, small concrete building, built into the side of the hill. “Excellent”, I thought. Concrete has to be good, right? And partially underground was even better.

I hurried into the doors and took in the traditional smells of a convenience store – – smells which, let’s face it, are mainly predominated by some questionable meat being deep fried and then re-heated under a flickering golden lamp. Today, it was thrice battered oily chicken fingers and wilted looking potato wedges. There was also a make-shift dining area in the center of the room which was inhabited by the most stereotypical redneck looking men I’d seen in a very long time. Ball caps, chewing gum – – smelling thickly of stale cigarettes. One picked his teeth with a toothpick. Another one weighed about 300 pounds and was pulling air from an oxygen tank when he wasn’t intermittently laughing with a gravely chuckle. As I sidled in and sat down at one of the tables, it was like the record stopped and all three men swiveled in their chairs to look at me. One grinned slowly – – I can only assume it was a smile that at one point had made the knees weak of one of the women in the small, Tennessee village from whence he came. But for me, the smile just made me reconsider getting in a ditch.

As they slowly began to return to their discussion, I was watching the TV that was set up along side the wall of the convenience store with interest. The problem was, I didn’t really know where I was – – and I was trying to put it all directionally together as far as how concerned I should be about a tornado heading toward this little gas station. And as I sat there and watched the news for more information, the more confused I became. Travelers who were also looking to get off the roads began shuffling into the gas station, looking bewildered, mildly concerned and asking the question quietly to one another “Where are we?” You would hear someone mutter the answer “We’re in Bell Buckle” – – but no one understood what that meant and exactly where that was in relation to the storms. The rednecks at the table appeared to be enjoying all the hubbub at their regular hang-out, grinning and leaning back in their chairs at the silly tourists and all of our i-phones, blackberries and cell phone use. The grinning guy grinned at me again and winked. I shifted in my chair and became terribly fascinated by one of the 7 deer heads on the walls. Deer heads who seemed to all have a smirking expression which said: “You people are worried about a TORNADO? Well at least you’re not dead and hanging on the wall of a place that sells burnt corn dogs and lottery tickets…”

At one point, after the news was indicating that the tornado was headed in our direction, a few of the men went outside to act as “spotters” and one particularly excited, round man kept yelling back into the convenience store about the size of the hail coming down. Repeatedly saying with wide, circular eyes, “Oh Lord….OH LORD! It’s getting BIGGER!”

“Way to calm the masses, buddy”, I thought

All told, I was in this convenience store for an hour and a half, waiting for the squall line of storms to pass. As I looked around the room periodically, wondering if we were all going to have to squeeze into a nasty, dirty, smelly BP public bathroom at any moment to seek shelter from a passing tornado, I was struck by all the different types of people there were together in that little room. And how it’s always in rare moments of sudden danger that you find yourself talking to strangers like you’ve known them a long time. People were chatting about where they were going and why they were going there – – people were asking if women with children wanted to sit down in their chair to rest – – and the rednecks were….well, chewing on toothpicks and giving crooked toothed grins but, still, they were mainly just watching the news like the rest of us, waiting to see what was going to happen. When you’re in danger, everyone lets down their guard because – – what do you have to lose? And no one wants to feel alone in a moment like that.

As it turned out, our little building was spared – – and the storms finally moved well past the area with blue skies ahead, so we all made our way out back onto the open road. Fifteen minutes from where I’d sought shelter, I passed by a long stretch of destruction. Houses with roofs blown off, power lines down – – a tractor trailer truck blown over – – all on either side of that stretch of I-24 that I would have been driving directly into if I hadn’t stopped. And as I continued to drive north toward Indiana, NPR reported on the very destruction I had just seen and the very places I had just happened to be driving through when All Hell Broke Loose.

And so as I finally made it, safe and sound, into Indiana that evening, I counted my blessings that I was intact and ok.

And that I hadn’t had to lie in a ditch.

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drivingfromsantafe
My friend Cathi and I decided to take a trip out west to beautiful, sunny New Mexico last Spring to visit our friend Valerie, in an effort to do what girls do best: drink copious amounts of wine, think everything is a LOT more funny than it actually is, and then head to a spa to be all Zen-like and philosophical. We accomplished all three goals like Olympic Champions in the event of Freestyle-Girl-Weekend.

I actually hadn’t even met Valerie until Cathi and I wheeled into her driveway, yelling cat-calling obscenities at her husband as he opened the gate for us to their working farm located just outside of Albuquerque. Cathi works with Valerie, had been invited out for a visit, and because Cathi knows that I will travel at the drop of a hat, and am reasonably house-broken, she talked Valerie and her husband into graciously opening up their home to BOTH of us. So you can only imagine the look on Valerie’s husband Jon’s face as these two completely loony, southern women pull up to the gate looking hyped up on stale, recycled airplane air and perhaps one too many diet cokes – – and proceed to grin at him like brunette and blond haired hyenas on our first trip out of the woods of Georgia in 16 years. He looked like any loving husband would look who had agreed to let his wife invite over a couple of wide-eyed, excited, LOUD women who were looking to open multiple wine bottles with our teeth and in the same breath, gab in great detail about which movie star has had the most plastic surgery: HE LOOKED TOTALLY TRAPPED.

I was immensely grateful for the graciousness of Jon and Valerie for those three days – – it was a much needed respite away from my crazy world at home – – and ultimately, just what the doctor ordered. We spent a lovely, lazy evening in their beautiful home that first night enjoying delectable vittles that Jon had cooked on the grill, as well as some fantastic vino and wonderful conversation. I was once again faced with the realization that with some people in life, you can just have an immediate ease and friendship right out of the gate. It’s a phenomenon that is so spontaneous and warm when it happens and in this case, attributed to the types of people Valerie and Jon are: Class Acts.

valamycathi

As we continued on with the visit, we witnessed some of the notorious oddities that can plague the Albuquerque landscape in really quirky, wonderful ways – – the first happening the night that we decided to go out to dinner downtown (photo from that night depicted above). As we motored slowly down the main drag, faced with brightly lit storefronts with multi-colored neon-signs, we all three suddenly noticed a group of people crossing one of the side streets just to the right of the car up ahead. We all became simultaneously silent as we noticed that this group all appeared to collectively be walking with a limp – – some appeared hunched over and were dragging their foot. I could feel us all quietly paying respect to what appeared to be a group of people having physical disabilities of some sort. But as we got closer, I realized that there was something really peculiar going on with this gaggle of folks – – for one thing, their clothes were ripped and disheveled. Nothing was computing in my brain yet as nothing was making sense visually – – limping, hunched over people with ripped clothes? What the….???

Then I noticed the pale skin and dark circles under their eyes. Valerie and Cathi must’ve put it all together at the same time I did because we all exclaimed nearly at once: “Are those ZOMBIES??????”

Sure as shootin’ – – it was a bunch of what looked like college students, dressed eerily accurately, as the Walking Dead.

I asked Valerie, “Errr….is there some sort of, you know, FESTIVAL going on?” What sort of festival exactly, I did not know: A bad, B-Movie Carnival perhaps? My mind was racing with possibilities and coming up with nothing. But Valerie wasn’t aware of anything. Therefore we had no idea if we were supposed to be laughing or if….whoa….MAYBE THE END OF THE WORLD WAS NOW UPON US and we would soon have a bunch of the Undead swarming our car and beating on the windshield, demanding to gnaw on our arms like human drumsticks. I could imagine my mother getting THAT call late at night: “Your daughter’s been eaten Zombies”. To which my mother would have pondered out loud: “Well I hope she was wearing clean underwear…”

And of COURSE the End of the World would start in New Mexico. It’s a state that is a freaking MAGNET for the paranormal, after all. UFO’s, ghosts – – Jackalopes. If it’s scary, weird and moves – – you’ll find it in New Mexico.

The next day, in Santa Fe, as I was buying some really, really, really hot chili sauce from a cute little shop that sells nothing but jars, jams and food meant to make you breathe fire (literally), I told the man at the register about the zombies we’d witnessed downtown and asked if he knew of anything going on that would warrant Zombie…er…fashion but all he did was shake his head and say: “Naaah. That’s just Albuquerque.”

It was in this vein of celebrating the New Mexican strangeness that we decided we needed to see a palm reader. So we did a little research and found one of two in the area and decided to make our way over there. In hindsight, given what we had been through with the Zombies, we really shouldn’t have. I mean, a Santa Fe palm reader is prrrrooobably only going to be a couple of steps up from seeing a Zombie or a Jackalope as far as feeling Totally Unnerved. And with a psychic we were going to have to pay money to get our minds toyed with. But this is what three, smart, successful women holding multiple degrees do: lose all sense of sensibility on a Girl Weekend and hand over our money to a gypsy in white hot pants.

When we walked into the psychic’s parlor, we were ushered in to sit on an antiquated old couch surrounded by old, worn furniture. I half expected to see a pot of tea and cookies out on the coffee table, but instead, we were only greeted by small children who kept scampering in and out of the room eying us with speculation. The “psychic” turned out to be the woman who’d answered the door when we first came in – – and she looked all of 23 years old. “Oh come ON”, I thought. “Where’s the older lady with one cloudy, white eye, a peg-leg and a pet lizard on her shoulder?” What a crock.

She informed us that she wanted to see us all separately so we each had to wait outside until the other finished. We all glanced at each other and shrugged our shoulders in a gesture that said, “Oh well…her rules”.

Cathi went first, and she came out with a tight lipped smile and revealed nothing to either Valerie or me as to what was said during her session. We’d agreed not to talk to each other until the end – – so we wouldn’t taint each other’s views of our sessions.

When I went in, within the expanse of about 5 minutes, I knew she was a scam artist. And a particularly BAD brand of scam artist who tries to infiltrate into the lives of the desperate and weak-minded and convince them that there is something really wrong with their lives. Something that only a ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR CRYSTAL taken from the BOTTOM OF THE NILE and blessed by the blood of 20 dancing scorpions could possibly help. She wanted to be my spiritual advisor you see because…apparently…my “Third Eye” was, for lack of a better word……..clogged. It needed to be cleared by the Crystal.

I looked at her with a steady, cold gaze and said nothing. She kept pressing me further – – trying to drive the point home and send me into a fit of despair over the dangerous, scary place my life was headed if I DIDN’T GET THIS CRYSTAL. I leaned back in my chair. She leaned back in hers. We stared at one another. My stare, I hope, said, “I am so, so onto you, Lady.” Her look said “if you’re not going to give me more money, then I have nothing else to tell you about your life, Blondie.”

I smiled stiffly and stood up, thanked her through clenched teeth for her time and went out the front door. I wanted to throw a zombie at her.

As Cathi and I sat together, waiting on Valerie, despite our vow to wait until we were all in the car to talk about our sessions, she and I immediately started spewing anger over the complete rip-off. And what was even MORE insulting was that, save for a few details here and there, Cathi and I got the EXACT SAME READING. The Crystal from the Nile, the Third Eye…all of it! I mean…how ridiculous is THAT? Did the woman think we weren’t going to talk to each other and see that, you know…MAYBE there was something fishy going on here?”

Valerie’s session was lightning fast, and according to her account of the visit, the woman told her a bunch of happy, joyful things about her life (after telling me and Cathi that we should basically lie prostrate with grief on our couches for the rest of our lives if we didn’t give her a bunch of money) and practically SHOVED her out the door in a state of urgency. We figured that she’d realized she wasn’t going to get any of us hooked onto her scheme and so she had no more use for our kind there.

As we drove home, grumbling over the nerve of that woman, we began talking about our “Third Eye” in a very comedic way. Like: “It’s getting dark and I can’t SEE very well with this clogged THIRD EYE” and the like.

But my very favorite moment was when Valerie, in a fit of angry comedy said: “Hey Lady…I got your third eye RIGHT. HERE. IN MY. PANTS.” and proceeded to point at the back of her jeans. That was the end of us – – we laughed until we cried – – completely dissolved in our juvenile, minimally funny humor. But we didn’t care….it was funny to us in that moment, as we drove home into the desert sunset, smiling and reeling over our strange but wonderful few days together.

To this day, the Third Eye lives on amongst us three sporadically in e-mails and phone calls – – the endless inside joke that keeps on giving. And for that…it was almost worth the money we gave to that psychic thief.

Almost.

cathival3rdeye

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Turn on the Telly

tv-set

When I visit the UK, I like to watch TV.

Oh, I know I should be out seeing the sights….and often I DO…but when you’ve been to that country as many times as I have, you begin to immerse yourself in the smaller nuances of life there as much as the tourist stops. It can be just as fascinating – – maybe even more-so at times.

One of the main reasons I like to watch TV when I visit, is that UK television is quite entertaining – – they have been bitten hard by the Reality Show Bug – – same as the US – – but they also have incredible documentaries, hilarious talk-shows, and historical mini-series by the bucket loads. I always end up finding a show that I become completely engrossed in that involves sweeping landscapes….or jaunts to Spain. Usually all narrated or hosted by someone with a wry, British wit.

In addition to that, one of my FAVORITE things to do is to watch one of their plethora of Home and Garden-type shows. One of the shows where a UK couple is either shopping for a new house in the country….or doing up a room in an old house….or similar. And I enjoy this because I absolutely love to watch the British be “enthusiastic” on camera. To say that they are less animated than Americans who appear on similar shows in the US would be the understatement of the century.

If we’re doing comparisons…. an enthusiastic British person would be like Mr. Rogers from “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” having taken several muscle relaxors, inexplicably adopted an English accent….and remarked that winning the lottery was “…quite nice, really. Fancy a cuppa tea?”. While an American winning the lottery would be like Richard Simmons, hyped up on 27 cups of coffee, wearing his favorite pair of satin shorts, having just received permanent laser hair removal on his legs…. in the middle of filming his new work-out DVD entitled “Sweatin’ To the Extreme Techno Dance-Club Oldies”…….and he suddenly sees Cher standing before him, who has magically appeared on set, and she breaks out into spontaneous song……….while Richard begins to scream and scream in complete, wild abandon…until he cannot form words and his vocal chords no longer make any sound because ………

he’s…..just……….so………excited!

Yeah…that pretty much sums up the difference between British and American enthusiasm.

So anyway, on these shows, the couple will walk in with a pleasant look on their faces, to see their new room….or the house that they might opt to buy….and the host is acting quite jazzed up for a Brit, really. He’s making all sorts of arm gestures trying to will the couple into reacting in a way that might approach the realm of enthusiasm that this new room or home deserves…

Host: So what do you think, Nigel and Katherine? Do you like your new room? Isn’t it FANTASTIC??!

Nigel: **mmm** [insert quiet, non-commital sound] ***more silence***

Katherine: **gazing about the room**

Nigel: I quite like the chair in the far right corner

Katherine: Yes the chair is lovely.

Nigel: **looks down** The carpet’s quite nice….

Katherine: Yes…the carpet’s lovely.

Host: Actually, the carpet was here…..before ….the renovation. Well! That’s all the time we have today folks! Tune in tomorrow!

At that point, the host wraps his arms around Katherine and Nigel and pulls them in for a forced side-bear hug. All the while, Katherine and Nigel gaze into the camera like deer in headlights, mustering what might be considered a smile in some areas of the universe. If it weren’t for the grimaces.

Meanwhile…..back at the ranch. In the US, all Ty Pennington has to say is “MOVE THAT BUS!!!” and an American family falls out onto the pavement in a state of convultions so violent that ambulances are standing by in the event that they will need a defibrillator to shock hearts back into submission. And God help us when they see the living room.

I also love all the UK advertisements. So often they are clever, interesting and truly funny….sometimes I like them even more than the shows. A new favorite of mine is the latest PG Tips Tea ad that was running when I was there over New Years. I asked Tony on the phone the other day how long PG Tips had been around in the UK and he said…”Well….do you know The Last Supper painted by Da Vinci?” ….I said, “Yes.” He continued…”Well, if you look carefully on the table, you can see tiny cups of PG Tips tea beside their plates”.

In other words, it’s a brand that’s become a staple over there and has been for quite some time.

Their ad campaigns used to involve live chimps who drank tea and acted like humans called “The Tipps Family”. It apparently was the longest running ad campaign in UK history. Most recently, though, they’ve been running a campaign that involves a monkey puppet and a man named Al. The monkey and Al converse about the wonders of PG Tips tea – – with the monkey, of course, being the brighter one of the two.

I am not ashamed to say, that I’ve watched this clip on YouTube about 47 times since I got back to the US from my visit. Because it never ceases to make me laugh.

It likely will not surprise most of you that I like to laugh at a monkey puppet.

A lot.

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watercolor

In the years that I have been traveling across the pond, one of the first things that I notice when I step out, bleary-eyed and jetlagged, onto UK soil, is the light. The light there is different. There is a muted, sheer quality to it – – delicate and dancing across surfaces in a very subtle way. Which is appropriate, considering that the very nature of the British People is one of subtlety – – of restrained emotions and refined speech. Somehow, the light that shines down on this little island nation reflects this mood in a beautiful way. It is a canvas of watercolored landscapes – – whispering, antique hues…..not one of bold, saturated primary colored oil paints that would be used to depict the wide-open spaces of the US, brilliant under it’s big cobalt sky and achingly stark, white clouds. The British use the word “lovely” to describe a wide array of things – – and that is the word that comes to mind when gazing out at the soft, waving green grasses….the small tufts of light pink clouds….the villages tucked amongst winding roads. This nation is, in it’s very essence……lovely.

As an American, I was initially afraid to speak too loudly and openly when visiting the UK – – my speech felt so abrupt and big in this land of quieter ways. I soon lost these inhibitions and realized my silliness with these sorts of thoughts….but I have not lost the awareness, when I’m there, of how my mouth fits around my vowels, using them almost as consonants. US citizens milk every sound out of our vowels, like a wrung-out wash rag – – while the Brits pause briefly over an “o” or an “a” with a staccato beat – a brief mention within a word before getting on with it (“Getting on with it” being another favorite British past time). Like with the landscape, the speech that hums throughout this country is a quieter, steadier rhythm – tart and sweet like a crisp, muted-green apple.

During one of the walks that we took in a nearby park called “Virginia Waters”, I was surrounded by this subtle light and the speech of the visitors there taking in the scenery – – a soft visual and audible symphony of loveliness. In these moments, I forget I am American and just drink in the stark, cold, biting air – – watching the light unfold across objects and people, alighting them in tones of translucent gold, pink and copper. I realize why artists have been inspired by the British countryside because my camera seems to almost click on it’s own – – begging me to keep pointing at each object along my path which has become, not a tree, but a piece of art….not a lake, but something so exquisitely still and quiet, I feel it might be impossible to fully capture it with a lens. But still, I tried.

Oh – – I love the bold, wide country that is America – – I love it fiercely, with a pride that spills into the veins of us Americans from such an early age. There are stretches of this country that can make a knot form abruptly in your throat, catching you completely off guard – – it is just so, starkly, richly, big and beautiful.

But even still….the quiet beauty of the UK seeps under my skin, with each visit. Learning my bones and wrapping its mild, calm fingers around them with a knowing, sweet reassurance. I am lulled under its spell, like a night song. If America is the sun, the UK is the moon – – – it’s lovely light shining down steady and sure, nestling into a nook of my heart, and resting there.

peoplewalkinglight2

watercolorbridge

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