Amber, We’re Not in Ortonville Anymore

Afternoon strolls are so invigorating. Back in Michigan, I would meander along down our quarter mile of private dirt road or saunter around the pond in the middle of my private university’s campus. The sun would gleam down on me and warm my face, or the brisk autumn wind would push me forward. Story ideas would swim through my mind, inspiration would strike, and I would always burst into an all consuming grin that I could never quite swallow.

Since my move to Texas earlier this summer, I haven’t taken many walks. Knowing any time spent outside in the heat would automatically mean a shower and the necessity of washing every item of clothing worn, my walks consisted of the occasional family affair complete with mom, dad, two sisters, and two dogs. While these were fun outings, its not quite the same as a silent ramble to sort through one’s thoughts. This last Saturday, I finally had a chance to venture out on my own.

A Michigan chill had settled over Dallas this particular day. The overcast, humid 70 degrees was the perfect fall weather for a September afternoon in Texas. After spending the morning and early afternoon chained to my laptop explaining how to write a thesis for the eighteenth time to all my online students, I had to get out. Since the rest of the family had walked earlier, I had the excuse I needed. Harnessing our golden retriever, Amber, we set out together.

Getting outside was wonderful! Having actual paved sidewalks was a huge plus. Following the curving arc of the road, I wandered farther from home, waving to the occasional neighbor. The sky was a smoky gray, but no rain had yet fallen that day, and the color gave a certain muted sense of adventure to the whole expedition.

Doesn't she look intimidating?
Doesn’t she look intimidating?

As I strolled forward with my normal perky step and observing eye, I noticed a red mustang with a white stripe down it pull up to a road I had just passed. It sat for a moment at the stop sign. Appreciating the car with the tinted windows for a moment, I redirected my gaze forward. Amber pulled me along, and I had enough other sights to take in that a car wasn’t too much of a distraction. It pulled away from the stop sign and caught up with me. Then it slowed down to keep pace.

An annoyance mixed with the slightest anxiety began to bubble in my chest as the car inched along on my left. From our previous time in Texas, we had known girls who had almost gotten dragged into cars as they were walking home from school. At the same time, perhaps the person in the car was merely trying to find a specific house number. There was no need to jump to conclusions. I sent a few veiled scowls over my shoulder and then tried to ignore the bright red car beside me.

Suddenly, the tinted window rolled down and a 30-something African American fellow grinned out at me.

“Just admiring the view,” he said.

The communication made me slightly less nervous. At least now I knew who I was dealing with. Glancing over again, I gave him a half-smile. With my T-shirt, jeans, unwashed braided hair, and unmade up face, I thought he was talking about the dog. Or he was admiring the view in a “girl-walking-dog-on-Saturday-afternoon-is-sweet” kind of way. I hoped he had said his peace and would now leave. He didn’t.

“You married?” he asked.

At the question, two major comebacks came to my mind. (Besides the fact that it was none of his business!) My first response: “I’m in a relationship with Jesus.” My second: “No, but my father is a black belt.” As I debated internally, I decided I couldn’t really lie, and I really didn’t have any reason to make up a story.

“No,” I said as I continued my striding forward.

The man grinned. “Can I have your number?” he asked.

Turning my attention to him, I gave him a sincere smile. “No,” I said sweetly. With that, I faced forward and continued tromping forward.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the guy shrug, roll up his window, and drive away. As the red bumper of the Mustang disappeared down an alley, I let out my breath.

It was only then that I realized I was hopelessly lost in our neighborhood and had no idea where I was. Thankfully, I had my phone with a GPS on it and managed to find my way home.

As I made it home hot, sweaty, and yet slightly elated at my adventure, I made a list of some of my observations:

1. A golden retriever is not a vicious enough looking animal to take as a guard dog.

2. I should probably carry a stick, pepper spray, or learn some self defense before wandering around Dallas alone.

3. I need an honorary husband/boyfriend that I can use as a shield against creepy men who ask personal questions.

As autumn arrives and I wander about more often, I wonder what other differences I will notice between Ortonville and Dallas.



How to Meet Middle-Aged Men

Car shopping is an adventure. Not only does one get to see the plethora of cars on the market, but one gets to meet a variety of people. As my sister, Michelle, and I embark on our car buying expeditions, it’s always interesting to see what happens. After visiting over a dozen car dealerships, here are some of my observations:

1. Car salesmen are very opinionated. When we visited a variety of small used car dealerships, we were warned against buying cars off Craigslist. As everyone knows, private owners are all crooks selling dying cars or waiting to waylay and rob unsuspecting buyers. Of course, the larger dealerships warned us about buying from the “mom and pop” shops because as everyone knows, those guys fix up wrecks and just want to steal your money. Bigger dealerships are the only “reputable” sources for buying used cars.

2. Bigger dealerships offer more perks. Sure, you have to pay $2000 more for the same car that the small business has and $3000 more than the Craigslist individual, but hey, you get free car washes for life or a guarantee on the power train as long as you never have your car serviced anywhere else. Who could pass up those benefits?

A sampling of our collection.
A sampling of our collection.

3. Car salesmen don’t understand the difference between a “good deal” and a “good deal for Angela.” If I sold my clean, undamaged ’97 Lumina for $500 in Michigan, I am not going to pay $10,000  for a car that is falling apart on the inside and dinged up on the outside. I don’t care what Kelly Blue Book or the manager says is a good deal. Just because a gas guzzling SUV is a great deal doesn’t mean it is as valuable *to me* as the price tag claims.

4. Considering buying a car is like playing Deal or No Deal. After the test drive, the salesman leaves you in a big room and disappears behind the partition. Ten minutes go by, and he appears with an offer. You counter, and he disappears for another twenty minutes. What’s going on in the back is hard to say, but it sure takes a long time!

5. Salesmen rise to the occasion. When I step onto a dealership parking lot and share the size of my budget, I get funny looks. The salesmen blanch a little, putz around on their computer, and call up their manager. After ten minutes of waiting, they always find me something  to look at. We drive to the back corner of the farthest lot to see the single car that meets my requirements, but they always manage to accept the challenge I lay before them.

Car hunting is terrifying and yet thrilling. Not needing to buy a car immediately has been a help too. My sister and I have met some interesting characters and withstood some intense pressuring. Overall, the men have let us know they care by their numerous phone calls and fatherly talks. The phrase, “If you were my daughter…” is thrown around frequently. My new car is out there somewhere, and I’ve found quite a few nice people who are wanting and willing to help me find it.