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.

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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pixabay.com

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.

Just Like Dropping Marbles

The day was like many others that I had spent at my new place of employment. Get to work around 8 o’clock, putter about trying to stay out of trouble, head to lunch, do some more puttering, and head home for the day. Only one particular thing was out of the ordinary on this day, and it happened at lunch.

As was my custom, when the clock struck 11:55 am, I gathered up my packed lunch and headed to my designated area. While my company has a cafeteria chocked full of tasty goodies (though I have yet to sample any), my Dave Ramsey-ness has prohibited me from partaking. While $5-$10 entrees and sandwiches seem to be a good investment comparatively to Dallas food prices, I prefer my sack lunch that saves me a few dollars here and there. While I look listlessly at my wilting lettuce and hope the slightly rancid smell my lunch meat exudes doesn’t mean it has expired, I rest confidently in the knowledge that I am saving money.

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The lunchbox

This particular day, I avoided the busy cafeteria and headed to my quiet grotto. While some of my coworkers have lunch together, I usually pass on their invitation. Their discussions on food (which I’m too cheap to purchase), sports (Texas people are crazy football fans!), and former coworkers (who I’m probably glad I never met) don’t seem to relate to me. An hour spent reading a good book or staring into space with a dreamy grin on my face as I world-build does more to rejuvenate me for the second stretch of the day.

I found my spot at one of the high-tables and had to hop to land on the tall stool. Three other high-topped two-seaters and four low, four-chaired tables surrounded me and sat overlooking the escalators in my office. People, like me, who preferred reading, thinking, or (most frequently) playing on their phones joined the ranks of the lone lunchers.

As I stomached the last of my salad, emptied my fruit cup, and tried to decide whether to save my chocolate square or scarf it down immediately, I began to absentmindedly fiddle with my necklace. The black pearls were nothing more than costume jewelry, but they stretched my meager supply of ornaments. Spinning the large and small balls in my fingers, I gradually worked from the front of my necklace to the back.

Snap!

They went everywhere!
They went everywhere!

Without warning, my entire necklace exploded! Bead after bead cascaded down the front of my red button-down, hit my lap, and shot out from me in all directions.

I sat frozen, helpless, incredulous as the small black spheres continued to form a growing half-circle around me. Like dropping marbles on a cement floor, the pings continued unchecked.

In unison, a dozen sets of eyes turned to me. I just sat there as the last of the beads rumbled down my chest and oozed away.

“I guess my necklace had all it could stand,” I said with a frazzled chuckle.

The dozen pairs of eyes all swooped back to their forms of entertainment. Perhaps they thought that ignoring the problem would save them from having to help.

I hobbled off my stool, my pencil skirt restricting my movement. Slowly, I began the process of scooping up my beads. One lone lunch buddy, who I never spoke to before or after, helped me gather up my two dozen beads. Hurriedly depositing them into my lunch pail, I headed back to work with a bare neck and a lunchbox full of costume jewelry.

My quiet lunch hadn’t been so quiet after all.

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Safe and sound inside

 

Wisdom Did Not Descend on Me on My Birthday

On the morning of December 28th, I awoke to discover that I had survived 24 complete years of life. On this day 24 years ago, Angela was born into this world. While this is a great accomplishment in itself, apparently, being a year older does not automatically make one smarter. I found that out quickly.

My birthday began relatively quietly as I dragged myself out of bed and prepared for church. My five day sabbatical from work seemed to have left me more worn out than before I began. Since my family all separates and evangelizes the entire city of Dallas by going to four different churches, I headed to church on my own.

Pulling into the parking lot of my place of worship, I was quite pleased with myself. With the holidays drawing to a close, traffic had been light, and I made good travel time. Pleasant thoughts of arriving early for the service for the first time in months swirled through my head as I pulled into the parking lot and found a close spot. I gathered my belongings as I listened to the end of a song on the radio, and then I went to turn off my car. I switched off my vehicle and started my normal routine. Suddenly, I realized I had a problem….

I had no training on what to do in a situation like this!

My key wouldn’t come out of my ignition.

Panic began to swirl in my chest, but I tried to calm myself down. When I had purchased the vehicle in October, I was only given a single key, and the key was bent. On Tuesday, I had had the hardest time getting my key to slide into the ignition (though I finally got it in after pushing on the brakes and straightening out my steering wheel). As I jiggled the key, turned the car on and off, and yanked as hard as I could, my stomach began to clench up. The key was not coming out, and I had no idea what to do.

The minutes ticked by. I was pressing, pulling, and praying frantically as I tried to process what to do about my problem. I had a warranty on my vehicle–should I call and say my engine swallowed my key? Should I call a locksmith? I was alone, and my family was inaccessible. I considered going into church and coming back later, but I couldn’t leave my car with the keys in the ignition sitting in a packed parking lot.

Five minutes of stress dragged by. I decided I needed a second opinion. No use getting the authorities and specialists involved if I had simply made an error. Like mothers who are able to find something in two minutes that took others hours to find, I wondered if perhaps someone else would have the magic touch I was missing.

A couple of cars pulled in, and I sprang from my vehicle to assault the other drivers.

“May I borrow one of you?” I called attempting not to seem too frazzled. “This may sound very dumb,” I said with a meek, frenzied chuckle to the 35-year-old man climbing out of his vehicle, “But I can’t get my key out of the ignition.” I went on to explain about the bent key, and my inability to free it from the jaws of my Camry.

The man began working to help this damsel in distress. He began asking questions about which way my key was bent and if this had happened before. I stood in the cold, swirling breeze trying to be helpful but really being no help at all.

“I don’t want to pull too hard and break your vehicle,” the man said. He seemed about ready to give up. I understood his feelings. At least my diagnosis had been correct.

As a final resort, the man began playing with the lock buttons and fiddling with other gadgets. Shoving my hands in my pockets, I let out a sigh. Now what was I supposed to do?

Click.

Suddenly, the man turned to me with a great grin on his face. In his hand, held aloft, was my free key!

These foreign cars are so tricky to use!

The man climbed out of the vehicle and handed over my released treasure. Trying to swallow his grin, he said, “Next time, try putting your car in park.”

With profuse thanksgiving and gratitude, I allowed the man to return to his family. He assured me that this would be our secret. I had a profound wish in that moment that my hair hadn’t been blonde.

So, moral of the story: wisdom did not descend on me on my 24th birthday. In fact, I couldn’t even make it to 9AM without having trouble. With a start like this, I’m a little concerned about what will happen to me in the next 12 months!

Artemis vs. the Fire Hydrant

One month ago last Wednesday, I found a new companion. His exterior glistened in the sunshine, and his interior was vacuumed and perfumed. After a summer of researching, test-driving, and withstanding numerous sales pitches, I had finally found him: my 2007 Toyota Camry. After trying on a collection of names, the name I had picked out two years ago in college stuck: Artemis Gordon, the faithful sidekick of Mr. James West from the 1960s television show The Wild Wild West. 

While I had planned this post to be an ownership announcement, recent events have changed my focus. Here is my beautiful new vehicle last weekend:

The illustrious Artemis Gordon!
The illustrious Artemis Gordon!

And this is what he looks like today:

What happened? Well, it's a funny story....
What happened? Well, it’s a funny story….

Oh, Tuesdays! I had recently decided that Tuesdays were my least favorite day of the week. Mondays begin a new week, and after a weekend of recovery, usually the first day has a bit of enthusiasm tied to it. Seeing coworkers again after a brief respite gives one something to discuss, and four more work days provide plenty of time to accomplish everything that needs to be done. Wednesdays through Fridays are comforting because the pinnacle of the week has arrived and the rest is a downward slope. Tuesdays, on the other hand, are rough. Any freshness about the beginning of a new week has worn off, and there are still too many days left to look forward to the weekend. Bad things happen on Tuesdays.

This last Tuesday was no different. The work day was fine, and by 4:30 p.m., I was glad to take my leave. I tromped through the new cold front to the parking garage that housed my new vehicle. A bitter wind blew through the six-story structure, and I had to dodge oncoming traffic and crazed workers who were in just as much hurry to begin their evening as I was.

Bracing myself against the cold and wondering why I had chosen to wear a pencil skirt and nylons that day, I made it to the farthest row from the building where I had chosen to park. I may have had to walk farther to get to and from my car, but at least I was closer to the exits. Cars sped past in a rush to get home, and I was glad to finally slide out of the wind and catch my breath. Rubbing my hands together and switching from heels to tennis shoes, I prepared for my commute and an evening of p.j.s and warm blankets.

Putting my car in reverse, I began inching my way out of my spot. Two cars were parked close on both sides of me, and I remembered again how much I dislike parking garages. There is a reason I always park in the outskirts of parking lots and choose parking spaces that I can pull through. With as much care as I could manage, I made sure that I was backing straight out.

My eyes zipped back and forth to scan the pickup truck and sedan that had made friends with Artie. As I inched out more, I checked my back windows to keep watch for rogue drivers who zipped past my bumper on their way to freedom. I checked my side mirrors to watch for other parked cars–though I purposely parked on the main thoroughfare so that I had more room to back out.

My breathing was quick and my body tense as I finally cleared the car on my right just enough to complete my turn. Glancing in my side mirrors and over my shoulders, I saw that I had a clear passageway to freedom. My foot darted from the brake that I had been cradling to the accelerator. Just a little gas to complete my backing up process, and I could switch gears and zoom away. I touched the gas and accelerated backwards.

BAM!

A jolt shook the car. I knew that I had made a mistake. My car had taken on the fire extinguisher box that was attached to one of the cement pillars of the parking garage. It had lost.

The assaulting pillar!
The assaulting pillar!

What followed is a sorted tale of putting back on my heels and trudging all the way back to the main building to confess my faux pas to the security guards. From there, I had to go show the damage and stand by awkwardly as pictures were taken of the pole and my car. Why the fire hydrant box looks like someone bumped it going 5 mph and my car looks like someone plowed into it going 50 mph, I’ll never know.

Doesn't look too worse for the wear, does it?
Doesn’t look too worse for the wear, does it?

This week has been a fun combination of getting damage estimates ($1600-$2000 for a new trunk lid) and filing my first insurance claim. My one month anniversary with my new vehicle didn’t go as wonderfully as I had hoped. For 5 years of driving on icy roads in blizzard conditions in Michigan, I never crashed into anything, but three and a half weeks of parking in a parking garage was all it took for my first infraction. At least, now I’ll have some sympathy when my 16-year-old smashes into her first tree.

So, meet Artemis Gordon! My much sought after and waited for companion. Perhaps he would have been better off with someone other than me! 🙂