Stranded on the Shoulder

BAM! BOOM! SCREEEECH!

I sat white-knuckling the steering wheel of my Toyota Camry, my heart racing, my arms shaking, and my mind trying to catch up with what had just happened. I quickly assembled the following facts:car1

  1. What looked like a piece of rubber tread in the road was actually a piece of metal.
  2. My front passenger side tire was most definitely useless.
  3. I was stranded on the shoulder of 635 with cars whizzing by me at 70mph+

As my car came to a stop on the side of the road, I heard another bang and glanced back to see another car come swerving onto the shoulder behind me. Black liquid oozed out from under its hood.

Crawling into the passenger seat, I slithered out the door. The pavement of the bridge under my feet shook from the weight of four lanes of traffic. My hair whipped around as cars whizzed by 5 feet from where I stood. I knelt to examine the damage. The tire would have to be changed. And I wasn’t quite sure that my spare was functional.

car2After checking on the lady in the car behind me, I climbed back into the passenger seat and pulled out my driver’s license. I had heard that one could call the highway patrol number on the back and get roadside assistance if on a Texas highway. When an automated voice began prompting me to take a survey, I hung up and called 911. Two of us taken out by debris in the road would be a convincing enough case to send someone out to assist, right? The worst that could happen is that I would be told, “Lady, fix your own flat tire.” Thankfully, the dispatcher took my information and said he would send someone out.

Twenty minutes later, I was still sitting on top of my pile of school books in my passenger seat feeling the car shake from the passage of fast cars right beside me. Finally, a highway patrol truck with flashing arrows pulled up behind us. My phone buzzed.

“We received your call,” the police officer said. “You told us you were on the eastbound side of 635, but apparently you’re on the west side. We got stuck in traffic and are on our way.” Offering a sincere apology, I climbed out and met the repairman. (No dumb blonde jokes, please!)car3

Since I had the easier repair, the man said that he would fix my tire first. Of course, when are things ever easy? Problems:

  1. Spare tire is bolted into my trunk. Backup must be called in.
  2. Backup has to bust holes in plastic bolt until it breaks so they can free the tire.
  3. Spare tire is flat.

The typical ten minute repair job took about an hour, but they got me back on the road. Besides a new tire and still needing to find a place that can weld the hole closed in my exhaust system, I came out all right.

As I was standing on the side of the road after the two repair trucks and police officer blocked off the lane of traffic closest to me, I couldn’t help but grin. The day was a lovely 60 degrees and sunny with baby clouds floating through the sky. I had lived through something I had always feared, but it actually wasn’t too bad after all.

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Besides my pocketbook, the worst of the collateral damage.
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A Heretic Among Us

Christmas had come again to my family home with my mother’s ever-growing collection of ceramic nativity figures, the Carpenters on the radio, and the smell of Pumpkin Latte hand soap coming from the bathroom down the hall.

As part of the Christmas festivities, I had the opportunity to host a Christmas party for my Sunday afternoon kids. At the beginning of December, I told them to be prepared; our next meeting was going to be a wildly epic birthday party for Jesus. As the date approached, I found crafts, cut out bingo tiles, made up Christmas cards, put together paper chains, and enlisted others to coordinate the decorations. The crowning pinnacle of the afterparty was a beautiful multicolored birthday cake. “Happy Birthday Jesus” was written proudly across its face.

The party was the next day, and everything was poised for the celebration. Leaving for dinner was my mistake.

As the grinding of the closing garage door came to an end, a pair of gleaming eyes peaked around the counter. She had been waiting for me to leave. Her tail flicked back and forth. She knew from eavesdropping that she had been forgotten this Christmas. The dog had a stocking with a gift inside, but she was neglected. This would never do.

I arrived home from the restaurant, flipped on the lights, and left my purse on the counter. I had almost made it into the living room when I saw it. Whirling around, a shriek erupted from my mouth: “THAT CAT!”

The beautiful cake had been squashed, squished, flattened, mashed, and mushed. It was as if someone had karate-chopped it with a well-placed chop. As if a dictionary had decided to belly-flop onto the plastic cover. As if a magnetic force from below had sucked the lid down only to release it a moment later. My beautiful birthday cake for Jesus had been desecrated beyond repair–and I knew exactly who had done it.

Jazmine, the Siamese cat, sat on the washing machine calling for her dinner. Her tail continued to twitch. She had gotten her Christmas revenge after all.

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Barricaded in the Bathroom

There I was…locked in the bathroom. Why do these things always happen to me?

The Tuesday had started off normal enough: no work, no school, and a lunch date with a friend. I had arrived at the Taco Joint a few minutes early and decided to stop in the restroom before my friend arrived.

Weaving my way through the booths and tables, I asked the lady behind the cash register where the bathroom was. She pointed down a long hallway. I followed her directions and came to a door with the word “Women” on it along with a large neon orange sign:

LOCK BROKEN. KNOCK AND WAIT FOR A RESPONSE BEFORE ENTERING.

I stood there for a moment in indecision. I didn’t need to go the bathroom very badly, but I didn’t want to sit in an empty booth playing solitaire on my nearly dead cell phone either. I decided to pursue my course a bit farther and knocked. No response. I opened the door.

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Not “the” bathroom, but this is how it was set up.

The toilet was the first thing I saw. It sat directly in front of the open door. There would be none of this holding the door or pushing it closed again that one can do in a normal stall. If someone decided not to knock, the door would open and there I would be for all the world to see.

By this point, I should have just walked away. I should have turned around, went back, and sat in the booth waiting for my friend. Then the thought struck: how broken is this lock?

I stepped into the bathroom and closed the door. The same neon orange sign was on the inside. Kneeling down, I ignored the sign and examined the lock. It was a handle lock with a button that you push in to lock the door and then push down on the handle to unlock it. It looked perfectly functional. I looked over my shoulder at the toilet. It was awfully far from the door. Could I trust the bustling mass of humanity outside to knock before entering?

If it’s broken, it shouldn’t lock, right? 

Standing up, I pushed in the lock. It engaged with a click. I wiggled the handle, and the nob popped out again. I let out my breath. I had been nervous for a second there. I pushed the handle all the way down and pulled.

The door remained closed.

I wiggled the handle again and yanked. Nothing.

Panic began to set in. I was legitimately locked in the bathroom! What was I to do? I banged on the heavy oak door and yelled:

“HEY! IS ANYONE OUT THERE!”

No one answered.

Stepping back, I tried to calm myself. The stark white tile, walls, sink, and toilet didn’t help matters. I sorted through my options. Should I keep yelling? Should I just wait and see how long it would take someone to come and find me? Should I see if my phone had enough juice to make one last phone call? I didn’t have the restaurant’s number so I would have to call the police. I could just imagine it.

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Police: What’s the nature of your emergency?

Me: I’m locked in the bathroom of the Taco Joint.

Police: How did that happen? 

Me: Well, there was this sign on the door saying not to engage the lock, and I did it anyway. I think you’re going to need a battering ram ’cause this door is really solid.

All the customers would look up from their tacos in amazement as a troop of policemen stalked to the back of the store and broke me out. Perhaps they would even have to bring along a crew of firemen. Ten minutes later, they would lead me through the cloud of dust and debris of what used to be the door. I would hurry out of the restaurant red-faced as the manager yelled after me, “DIDN’T YOU SEE THE SIGN!”

Facing the door again, I took a deep breath. I would try it once more. Pulling the handle down, I pulled on it with all my might. Nothing. I sighed and hit the handle. Suddenly, there was a small click. The door swung open.

I left the bathroom red-faced, but not covered in dust and debris. I survived the experience with nothing more than slight case of claustrophobia, a new appreciation for bathrooms with stalls, and a strong desire to cross out the words “lock broken” and write “lock sticks” instead.

If I ever see another neon orange sign, I might need to take it seriously.

 

One Dark Halloween Night

Halloween night 2014. A cold night with a full moon lighting up the Dallas sky. Too old for trick-or-treating, my sister and I had decided to attend a Halloween party. An old wedding dress covered in yellowed lace made the perfect Bride of Frankenstein costume for me, and my sister dyed her hair in order to be Frankenstein. At 10pm, we pulled away from the safe confines of our house and into the silence of a sleeping subdivision.

The streets were deserted as we drove down one lane and up another. No children dressed as princesses or junior superheroes were out anymore. Respectable people’s porch lights were off by now. A group of loud teenage boys passed by with pillowcases full of candy.

Leaving the confines of our neighborhood, we ventured out onto the dark roads lit with the occasional street lamp and neon lights. The part of town we had to drive through was one that I usually avoided at night. A blue “CashNow” sign flashed beside us while a purple “Discount Cigarettes” lit a portion of the deserted parking lot on our right. My sister’s painted face and neck bolts were illuminated, and I could see my own haggard features in the rear view mirror.

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Don’t we look ferocious?

Pulling up to a stoplight, I tapped my fingers against the steering wheel cover. I would be quite happy once we finally reached our destination. Was it always this eerie in this part of town at this time of night or was it only my imagination since it was Halloween?

A black mustang pulled up beside us on this empty stretch of road. It revved its engine, and I cast a quick glance sideways at the tinted windows. I quickly fixed my gaze back on the light and pretended I hadn’t looked.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed movement. The passenger window began to roll down. Licking my lips, I glanced at the cross-street lights. When would they finally turn red so we could go?

Questions began to race through my brain. What hooligans were they that were driving around this part of town on Halloween night? Why were they rolling down their window? What would I do if they actually tried to speak to me? Stories of muggings and car thefts rumbled through my head. Stories of drunk parties and wild young people. Stories of Halloweens filled with tricks not treats. I prayed for the light to turn green quickly.

Suddenly, I heard the deep growling voice. I whipped my head toward the car as green light washed over us.  The tinted window was just rolling up as the other car screeched away into the night. I sat there a moment pondering what I had just heard. The words?

“I’m Batman.”

So you see, I really had no reason for worrying that night. Those streets really aren’t all that unsafe or unguarded. Batman keeps watch over Dallas on Halloween. I’m just usually not out late enough to notice.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Perhaps its the community aspect of neighborhoods and communities coming together through trick-or-treating, trunk-or-treating, or fall festivals. Perhaps its the abundance of leftover candy, pumpkin carving, and brilliant leaves that go along with October. Perhaps its the knowledge that the holiday season is coming along with all of its festivities. Perhaps its seeing the parents and their children dressing up in coordinating costumes and coming to visit. Most likely, it is element of fun that goes along with this time of year.

Observations on the Working World

For the past year and a half, I have been impersonating a business woman at a large health insurance agency. Up before the sun, I would slog through the morning commute to put in my eight (or ten or twelve) hour workday. As of this week, I have joined the ranks of the unemployed again but have left my previous place of employment with both fond memories of friendly coworkers and mini-heart attacks of things that I have left undone. What follows are a few observations on Corporate America:

  • Life before computers was probably a lot easier. As a millennial, I’m not quite sure what it was like before, but it seems as if computers make life more complicated by providing an excuse to pile on even more work. Then, on the inevitable day (or days) when the computers are running slowly, smoke begins to pour from employees’ ears and a team sets out toward the IT department with pitchforks. Instead of a two-hour meeting where everyone gets together to crank projects out, the email train creeps into the hundreds until it feels like an episode of Lost where no one quite knows what is going on anymore.
  • Read receipts are a blessing and a curse. Having the setting on your computer that lets you know exactly when every email you send is read is a great way to keep tabs on whether your requests are being addressed. However, knowing someone has read your email and not responded can be incredibly frustrating. Then you have the awkward phone conversations where you say as sweetly as can be, “I sent you an email a couple of days ago. Did you receive it?” knowing fully well that they did and really wanting to say, “WHERE IS MY INFORMATION?!”
  • Elevator Etiquette. Not sure if this is a Texas thing or common knowledge from the male perspective, but there is a strange custom of holding elevator doors open for women and letting the women off the elevators first. This creates an interesting dance as the men who get on the elevator last jostle and rearrange themselves so that the women can get off first. I had to swallow smiles as I watched this show of chivalry being played out on a daily basis.
  • No one likes to talk on the phone. I thought that as an adult, one magically develops the ability to carry on extended conversations via the phone lines; however, it seems unanimous that emails or IMs are the way that most people communicate. The only time the phone is used is as a last measure. When you are calling someone or they are calling you, you know that something is late.

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    Being able to occasionally work from home was a nice feature.
  • The idea of an 8 am-5 pm job is totally antiquated. Emails come in on weekends, before 6 am, and after 9 pm. Sending out emails at 7:30 pm on a Friday night or 10 am on a Saturday morning and getting replies within twenty minutes is a terrifying thing. (Does anyone have lives outside of work anymore??) Of course, those instant replies are rather addictive and sadly don’t correspond to other types of emails one receives from non-work-related sources.
  • An “out of the office” reply means different things to different people. Some people are actually unavailable, but usually it just means that it might take someone an hour to reply rather than five minutes.
  • Letting employees leave early on the occasional Friday does more to foster loyalty and boost morale than just about anything else.
  • Spending over a year working with vendor partners and never actually knowing what they look like seems strange. Are they seventy-five or seventeen? Do they were Star Wars t-shirts or business suits? Of course, working with people spread out all over the United States allows the weather to be a continual topic of conversation.
  • Being surrounded by coworkers who are enduring the same stress, ranting about the same difficult situations and people, and who celebrate the successes of a job well done is the only way to make it through each new season.

I’m not sure what the next stage of my work life will entail, but I am thankful for the experiences that I had and the people I was able to meet during my time as a business woman in Corporate America.

Five Things I’d Love to Do But Probably Won’t Get To

1. Hitchhike across the United States – I think that would be the most interesting, economical, and memorable way to experience the country. However, I’ve been told it is no longer an advisable means of transportation.

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I could pull off the Disney princess look, right??

2. Work as a Disney princess at Walt Disney World – Apparently, there is a height limit, and I miss the cut off by about three inches. Perhaps I could be a Disney villain…

3. Marry an Australian archeologist – I’m thinking an Indiana Jones type. Of course, since I’ve never met an Australian OR an archeologist, this might be a little difficult.

4. Time travel – 1920 would be my starting date. Living through World War II, dancing with Gene Kelly in the 1950s musicals, writing for Disney, and swapping stories with Tolkein and Lewis…I would prefer those over Apple products, reality television, and selfies any day.

5. Have a slumber party at the White House – Yeah, no explanation needed.

What’s on your list?

Not Cut Out to Be a Choir Director

“Three miles to the world.”

That’s a catchphrase my church likes to use. You see, Dallas is one of the main hubs where the US government likes to dump refugees. People from places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Burma, Somalia,  and many other countries (some of which I’ve never heard of) find themselves in my illustrious Southern city. The government pays their way for six months, and then they are expected to have life figured out.

One of the opportunities that this allows me is the privilege of working with an African refugee church that meets at my church on Sunday afternoons. It is made up of refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda. Their services are taught in Kirundi, and the people sure know how to sing and dance and worship God! Even though I don’t speak the language of most of the adults, joy spills out no matter what language is being spoken.

Not your typical English praise song
Not your typical English praise song

Of course, since I’m typically the only white, English-speaking, American adult there and only come every other week, I don’t always know what is going on. This can create some interesting situations.

On this particular Sunday, the church was hosting a conference. Other African churches were meeting together, and each group had brought over their choirs to join in the festivities.

For the conference, I was told that the children’s choir was going to perform one of the English songs I had taught them. The song was a lovely repeat-after-me song, and I had purposely picked out half of the kids to lead the song and the other half to repeat. I arrived when I thought I was supposed to so I could practice with my kiddos, but something was lost in translation. I was given a “Glory Choir” T-shirt and rushed into the main auditorium. A quick whispered conversation let the kids know which song we were going to do, and I took my seat with a sense that everything would be fine.

As the service progressed, I began to wonder how I was going to pull this off. The children were going to sing a couple of songs in their native language, and then we were going to close with mine. Because of the hand motions and the lack of practicing, I figured that I would do what I’ve seen my choir directors do: I would simply go to the front of the room, kneel down facing the kids, and lead the song. That way they could watch me if they forgot anything.

Things didn’t go quite as planned.

As I waited, the kids who were supposed to start the song didn’t.

Their lovely artwork
Their lovely artwork

Perhaps if I start singing, they’ll join in, I thought to myself. Taking a deep breath, I burst forth into song.

Unfortunately, instead of joining in, all of the children decided to echo.

Now, I’ll pause right here and make this confession: I am not a singer. While I may be able to hold a tune in a limited range, I’ll make my mark on the musical world playing the piano way before I win American Idol. 

So, sitting on my knees, with about a 100 African refugees staring at the back of my head, I began belting out this song while flailing about doing hand motions, desperately hoping that the children would join me rather than repeat me. After the first verse, a very friendly African fellow hunkered down beside me with a microphone. He proceeded to hold the microphone for me while I continued waving my arms and singing slightly off-key for the remainder of the song.

I don’t know what the African refugees thought of the crazy girl teaching their children that day. I’m not sure if they understood why I was sitting perched in the front of the room with my back to them. Perhaps they wondered why I was waving my arms like a wild woman at their children. But at least they had no idea what the song was supposed to sound like in the first place so perhaps they’ll think it sounded like it was supposed to.

I didn’t get any compliments on my singing that day, but I’m chalking that up the to the fact that most of the adults don’t speak English.

Working with the African church is such a fun blessing! I never know quite what to expect!

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The kids are always a lot of fun!