If you’ve read the previous two posts, then you know the story of why I was about to drive to Illinois in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. If you haven’t read it, hmm….well, I’ll be nice and give you a quick recap of the reason for this 650 mile journey.
A selection of my poetry was chosen by New Route Theatre company’s Phil Shaw to be presented as
a sort of play. This was the first time which my work was going to be performed by someone other than myself and I wanted to be in attendance for this enormous honor.
Such a trip required me to be off work for several days and a car which wouldn’t be crushed under the task of driving 1200 miles in less than a week. My friends and family came through with the money I would need while my mother offered the vehicle and her company for the 12 hours of driving each way. She picked me up at 10pm on Monday nite full of the excitement of being able to witness her child’s accomplishment. Teasing me already about the fact that I have the world’s smallest bladder and the subsequent stops we would have to make to accommodate it, we hopped into her 2002 Chevy Cavalier and hit the road.
Our conversations were easy and full of humor, my mother and I speak often on the phone and get along well. We drove through rain and snow, stopping for coffee, gas & so that I could use the bathroom at a variety of well-lit truck stops. As we were coming up on Vernon, Kentucky, the battery light came to life on the dashboard. I was driving since riding shotgun tends to make me nauseous, so I casually asked her about the light. Her car had just been worked on and she was fairly certain that she had gotten a new battery and a new alternator just six months ago. We joked about the horrible prospect of being stuck in Vernon, a place where both of us had at one time driven to help my older sister, and passed the town without incident.
I drive to Illinois at least once a year and my mother drives to North Carolina to visit me even more often. In fact, there was actually an occasion about 4 years ago when my little brother came to visit and we met at the halfway point so that neither of us would have to drive the entire 12 hours. That story has become one of family folklore. The drop off trip was without issue, but after returning my little brother to our mom, a girl hit my mother’s car in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble in Lexington, Kentucky. It wasn’t too bad, just rear-ended, but then my mother’s car hit the car in front of hers….which was ours. This was entirely too much for her back and her heart and so she was fortunate enough to get the several hundred dollar tour of Lexington via ambulance. I was in North Carolina with my baby son at the time, so I wasn’t there to witness the events firsthand. I’m sure I will always regret that I was unable to be a part of the hilarity which followed. My husband had been a wilderness first responder, so the first aid portion was handled well. He gave her his Birkenstock sandals as a pillow and kept her & her sons calm. He handled things with the police and vehicles and then followed their directions to meet my mother at the hospital. At some point his shoes were taken, so he drove barefoot to get to his mother-in-law’s bedside. It wasn’t until after he & the boys, ages 10 and 14, went running all through the hospital that they discovered she had been taken to a different facility entirely. They found the second hospital, and stayed with my mother until she was released later that day. If that hadn’t been enough of an event, Kentucky is a no-fault state with regards to automobile accidents. Even though the teenage girl was at fault and ticketed as such, my mother’s insurance company had to sue to get any money for her car. It was all of this which was probably churning somewhere in the metallic mind of that same 2002 Cavalier as we drove closer and closer to Lexington last Monday nite.
I stop in Lexington just about every time I drive to or from Illinois. They have an abundance of Starbucks with easy access to the interstate. Twelve miles prior to the first Lexington exit, the little black car with the long memory threw an enormous temper tantrum. With the battery light still on at our last stop, I had also noticed a grinding on the front passenger side tire. Having lived in the north for so long, I presumed that there was a possibility that snow packed gravel or ice had lodged into the wheel well somehow. Hoping it would release itself and worried about stopping the car with the battery having issues and my little sister being in possession of my mother’s jumper cables, we had continued on. Now the car decided to grab our attention a bit more forcefully. The road was icing up as it was about 3 o’clock in the morning, but I didn’t feel any slippage so I was surprised when the anti-lock brake system warning light came on. This was quickly followed by the emergency brake light, the no traction light and to my horror, the air-bag light. As the brakes failed and came back to life, the dashboard lit up and went dark repeatedly. Leaning as far as possible from the steering wheel, terrified that a malfunction would deploy the airbag and shatter my nose as it did my little sister’s in an accident not far from Lexington years earlier, I ran through options in my mind. I’m a girl with a knowledge of engines and I have driven more cars in my life than even I recall. I did drive my 1972 Ford Galaxie 500 without brakes during a massive Illinois rain storm and have driven on packed snow & slick ice, I knew I could handle this. The car started to lose power and the brakes continued to give me problems, but I managed to get the car to the next exit which had already turned into a sheet of ice. All the while, of course, I kept up a string of comments and jokes to get my mother laughing and keep our spirits up. After all, there was nothing productive we could do in this situation but stay safe & address the mayhem as it came our way.
There was a Best Western just to the right of the exit and I figured that if the car would be sitting overnight, that would be an ideal location for its safety. I missed the turn into their long and fenced off driveway and instead eased into the tiny lot next to a Waffle House. Not the best place to leave a car, I made empty promises of a new paint job to my mother’s vehicle which I was now referring to as H.A.L. and coasted through a beautifully sharp u-turn to get back to Best Western. Almost into the parking lot, a calico cat dashed across my path and I looked up to the heavens, “Seriously?” I said, “Haven’t we had enough already?” Fortunately the kitty was fast as my brakes were pretty much nonexistent.
As the car rolled to a stop in the parking space, my mother immediately began searching through her tiny glove compartment for the paperwork from the new battery & alternator. Amazingly enough, in the 9 years that my mother had owned this car, I had never realized that the glove compartment was not tiny at all. It was huge. The optical illusion was due to the hundreds of napkins, wealth of invoices from mechanics & years of quarterly-issued insurance cards. After failing to find the receipt for the repairs and my mother dismissing my idea to build a shelter using the seemingly endless supply of plastic State Farm cards, we decided to check into the hotel.
Whenever I am having a particularly trying day and some good natured person asks me the cheerful, “How are you today?” my response is always the same, “SURE!”….accompanied of course by a large maniacal smile. The night clerk had a sense of humor, which was essential since I had barely napped before the trip and was now in the midst of a Lexington nitemare. If you know me at all, then you are aware that my sense of humor is in high form when faced with difficult situations and lack of sleep. My one-girl comedy routine was given excellent reviews by the hotel staff of one and we headed up to a reduced rate room to wait for business hours in Kentucky to resume.
Our resting place was only surface clean and rather nasty to some degree. My mother delighted in pointing out that some previous tenant had apparently found the phone book to be particularly erotic given what was dried on the yellow cover. We made phone calls, watched television and decided that our best course of action would be to speak with her mechanic in the morning before calling someone locally. My mother’s mechanic is the family mechanic. He repairs all their cars and, given that my father’s relatives were all Sicilian, was easy to recognize as a “family” mechanic of a different definition. He suggested that it was in fact the alternator and that if someone in Lexington was going to take advantage of one of his customers, he’d send one of his boys down with a flat-bed truck to take care of the situation and retrieve her car. My mother and I believed he would make due on his promise. We called a rental car company which would take a debit card since neither of us has a credit card and found a repair shop boasting “24 years of service in the Lexington area”.
Downstairs we met Beverly behind the desk and this lovely woman took pity on us immediately. She had heard of our plight and directed us to a hot breakfast for no additional charge while assuring us she would handle anyone who came in searching for us. Brad from Hertz showed up early, while the smiling tow-truck driver arrived late. Originally I thought that the 20 some minutes it took to get to the rental car agency was intentional due to the fact that we made Brad wait close to an hour while I retrieved our belongings from the room. Looking back, I should have just hurled the bags over the stairwell because to get to the elevator with the trolley required that I walk the length of the hotel when our room was on the second floor just above the lobby. I sprinted and got lost several times, but an hour was what it took to return to the dirty Honda Civic we would be renting.
Our drive was a little more urgent now. I was to be at Eaton Gallery for rehearsal that nite at five o’clock. When I called Geoff Beran, I would be staying with him and his wife Elizabeth, to let him know that I would be monumentally late, he already knew. Me being me, I had been posting amusing, informative or just plain desperate things on Twitter and Facebook during my Lexington ordeal. Had this all happened some other time than between 3-5 in the morning, I would have had a multitude of responses from my on-line friends. As it was, the replies started rolling in after I had already obtained a rental car and repair shop. Still, I was grateful to know that the people I spoke to virtually every day were there for me when I needed them.
The light blue Honda Civic didn’t have a working power source, so the GPS system my mom brought with her was a pointless accessory. We were both exhausted having been up over 24 hours, but we knew the roads to take so the rest of the drive was without major incident. Since it was now daytime we passed the time reading from my newest book purchase, “The House On Teacher’s Lane” by Rachel Simon. I had brought it along on my trip with the intention of filling my “downtime” with the gorgeous insights and ideas Ms. Simon is so fluent at weaving into a story. Unfortunately we only made it through the first couple of chapters before my mother realized that reading in the car while sleep-deprived was making her nauseous. We continued on with our previous conversations about family and the chaos we had finally escaped in Kentucky. By 5 o’clock pm we were in Bloomington and easily found the address we were searching for. I lugged my belongings into the Hotel Beran and my mom went on her way with the plan of returning to see the production of my work the following nite.
I have known Geoff Beran since before I moved to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois in 1992. He was friends with my older brother and sister as well as my boyfriend at the time, Brad Stefl. Elizabeth, his wife, had been one of the teenagers who frequented the open mics which I ran during the last two years I lived there. It was she who took over for me when I moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 1999. While I normally stayed with Brad when I visited, this time that was not a possibility. I jumped at the offer to stay with Geoff and Elizabeth knowing that it would give me the opportunity to spend more time with these wonderful friends. I made the right choice. Elizabeth is an amazingly talented artist and their house was gorgeous and comfortable. I felt truly welcome without the slightest feeling of having intruded upon their lives.
I showered, changed and then dashed out into the frigid winter temperatures of Illinois in February. Geoff dropped me off in downtown Bloomington at the Eaton Gallery for the final rehearsal of “And She Said….” poetry by Barbie Dockstader Angell. When I arrived the ladies were already on stage and performing. After huge hugs for Phil Shaw, the director and Don Shandrow, another founder and member of New Route Theatre, I fell into the awe of seeing my work on stage. The women who had been chosen to essentially play me in this adaptation, were phenomenal. Irene Taylor, Bridgette Richard and Jennifer Rusk delivered my lines with incredible humor and passion. I had told Phil that I was not the type of writer who thought her views were the only valid ones when it came to interpretation, his direction and their performances showed me that he took me at my word. They discovered aspects of the poems which I had never noticed, playing humorous and serious and unearthing jokes with a gesture or a subtle look. I have never been more proud of my work as I am after seeing what they were able to accomplish with it.
After the first run through I met the ladies and learned that they were all nervous about what I would think of them and their abilities. I assured them they were all brilliant. I also met Herb Eaton, artist and owner of Eaton Gallery. Once again the hand of Fate tickled my brain as I learned that he had worked as an art teacher at Lincoln College while I was attending the school from 1990-92. In my mind I could see Jerry Dellinger laughing at the coincidence. He was the reason I had become a writer, the man who introduced me not only to the world of theater, but had also introduced me to Phil Shaw and Don Shandrow. He was a founder of New Route Theatre and it was at his memorial service in August that I gave copies of my book to Phil and Don sparking the event that was about to take place. The production was actually dedicated to Jerry and I was going to speak a bit about him after the show then perform a poem written for him. Ah yes, serendipity was
falling upon me like snow.
After the rehearsal I caught up with Don at Denny’s, a former haunt of mine, his and Jerry’s, and spent the next day with Elizabeth, Geoff, my best friend Amber and her son. Wednesday nite I donned the infamous pink skirt from LOFT of Asheville and nervously headed over to Eaton Gallery for the performance. Pamala and Herb Eaton had outdone themselves with setting up the space. They set up a table with snacks, my artwork and a stool for me to sit on so that I could sign books after the show. My mother, sister Rikki and little brother Ian were already there. They had brought a video camera to record what they could and take photos afterward. At the time I was a bit disappointed that so many of my friends couldn’t make it out that nite. I had wanted to share this with everyone who had supported me in my work all these years. As the crowd came in I worried that the unbelievable cold temperatures would keep people home, but it turned out that was a blessing. The space held 60 and 50 people were there to check out this unusual show.
From the beginning they were entranced. A poetry show is usually expected to be reserved and solemn, but my work isn’t always that way. I always say that the audience I write for is mostly comprised of people who don’t realize they like poetry….this was my ideal group to speak to. They began by laughing. Not a chuckle or a giggle, but big, full, unable-to-contain-themselves-talk-about-it-the-next-day-at-work laughter. After those humorous pieces there wasn’t always applause, the spectators reserved that for those poems which really affected them in some way. During the show, however, the room was far from silent. When they weren’t laughing hysterically or applauding enthusiastically, they were murmuring in agreement. It sounded a bit like a gospel church….”hmm hmm” was heard repeatedly from all parts of the audience. I expected an “amen” at any moment. Oh yes, these people got the point of my words. Through Phil, Jennifer, Bridgette and Irene, I was speaking to them and they understood every single point I was making. In the back of my brain I realized that had the folks there all been friends and family I wouldn’t have known if they were merely being polite or truly affected by my work. After this nite I would have no doubt that my words were fully capable of standing on their own.
The show ended and I was able to talk to some of the audience. I signed books, listened to praise and spent time having my photo taken with a very sincere smile on my face. Unaware of how fantastically tired I was, I fully intended to go out on the town with Geoff and Elizabeth but instead settled onto their couch to watch sitcoms and relax with my wonderful friends.
The next day I spent time with Amber and Elizabeth and planned for my big nite out at a local bar. I had tried to find a place to get on stage in town, but when no opportunities presented themselves I chose instead to go hear an old acquaintance play his music and do a lot of drinking.
Ed Anderson had a musical open mic at the bar where I first attained a tiny bit of notoriety. Lizard’s Lounge has long since closed, but there was a time in the late 90’s when I could pack people into that bar for a book release or a show. Ed and I didn’t know each other well, but he moved to Asheville right before I did. His band, Backyard Tire Fire, actually still plays in both Asheville and Bloomington-Normal and when I traveled to Illinois this past October I was surprised to see advertising for them in both towns. Me being me, I never expect that he remembers who I am, but I’m delighted to say that he always does.
I also was going to meet up with a couple of old friends that nite whom I hadn’t spent any real time with in years. Beth Waller was a girl who I worked with and whose quick wit rivals mine. Rhys Lovell was an actor with Heartland Theater and we had not only dated at one time, but in my opinion he is one of the most incredible talents to have ever appeared on a stage. I had already been recognized once from the previous nite’s show, but was thrilled to be placed once again from my work in Studio Magazine in 2010. The gentleman at the bar, Marty, was an artist and while he didn’t have anything with which to get my autograph, he did take my photo with his phone. I offered to autograph that, but he declined with amusement.
It was a typical nite of drunken mayhem. I don’t normally have more than one beverage, but I not only had two amaretto stone sours and five “mud puddles” (I’m not actually sure what they’re called. Greg, the bartender, came up with the option since he didn’t have cream. The drink was Kaluha and Bailey’s and being made in Illinois, it was strong and only four dollars.) I also had a “Cherry Bomb” with my new friend Candy. This was my first taste of Red Bull and cherry liqueur, but it was probably what kept me awake until 3 am.
The nite would have not been complete without a post-bar trek out to Denny’s for breakfast. With an intoxicated smile on my face after being told by three different people that I resembled a young Joni Mitchell, I got a ride to my old hangout. According to Elizabeth I cleaned my plate and did so while practically lying down on the table. I haven’t been that inebriated since before I had my son. Ah yes, good times indeed.
Friday morning I awoke at 9 am Illinois time without even the slightest hangover, I attribute this to the Red Bull shot and greasy diner food. Elizabeth and I ran her errands and attempted to get together with my niece Brooke, which sadly never happened. I tried to nap in preparation for my drive home which would begin at 2 am Saturday morning, but only dozed briefly enough to have a bizarre and confusing dream. After packing my things we headed over to get coffee and kill time at Barnes & Noble where I finally held Steve Martin’s “An Object of Beauty” in my excited little hands for the very first time. (If you are somehow reading this post and are unaware of my passion for Mr. Martin’s work, please search his name in the upper left hand corner of my site.) After retrieving Geoff from work we headed back with two more cups of coffee for me to consume later and laid down on the couch to watch tv and wait for my mother to arrive.
We left at 1:45 am so that we would arrive in Lexington after the Hertz rental agency opened. My mother had spoken to the mechanic to pay him for the new alternator and arrange, then verify, her retrieval of the Cavalier from his parking lot on Saturday morning. Since the device charger in the Civic hadn’t miraculously repaired itself and the GPS system for some reason wasn’t holding the charge she had applied prior to leaving home, we were getting directions to the auto shop from my little brother over the phone. When we finally arrived, the car was no where to be found. It wasn’t in the lot as previously arranged and after looking through the windows at the 12 vehicles inside, it wasn’t in the garage either. The phone in the office rang without an answering machine to leave a message, so we reluctantly hurried over to Hertz to return the Civic.
We discovered immediately that none of the paperwork for the car had an address or phone number for the location we had been to. We drove for over an hour looking for the agency with no luck. My brother Jon is very adept at searching for things on-line so he was finally able to get us a number to call. We were informed by Brad, yes the same guy who picked us up on Tuesday, that they had recently moved into a new building and they weren’t responsible for us being able to find them. He gave us new directions and we were on our way again. Meanwhile Jon was searching for more ways to contact Chester Horn, the wayward mechanic who was looking shadier by the mile.
Let’s not forget that Chester has been “serving the Lexington area for 24 years”. This is an astounding feat since all four phone numbers we obtained for Mr. Horn were disconnected. One can only presume that he and his loyal customers are skilled at communication through semaphore or perhaps he has a flock of highly trained carrier pigeons.
After settling in at Hertz Brad changed his attitude. I’m not certain what it was that made him warm up to us. It might have been our need to call the police to report the car stolen. It could have something to do with my vast amount of charm. Possibly it was the fear that he couldn’t close at one o’clock if we refused to leave. I don’t know. Well, I guess there’s also a slim chance that my comments about 1500 followers hearing about every tiny detail of my trip and subsequently the possibility that Hertz customer service would be contacting me through this same medium about my experiences with Brad….yes, I suppose that could have been it.
I have a poem about Tomorrow being kidnapped. In it there’s a line which reads, “the police are no help so don’t bother to call”. Oh yes, I was living those words. My Twitter family was offering guidance and assistance, but the dispatcher on the phone and officer who finally arrived were beyond reluctant to assist. In Kentucky this matter would be handled through the civil court. It wasn’t until we reached the possibility that the car had in fact been left in the lot and may have been stolen from there, that the police jumped on board. I insisted that a report be written up and that we would be pressing charges against Mr. Horn. It would be up to him to prove that he hadn’t had anything to do with the theft of the car. Someone went over to the repair shop and verified that the car was not there and then, after not being able to contact Mr. Horn any other way, the county sheriff, Lexington police and a state trooper knocked on the door of his house in a neighboring town.
Meanwhile, our heroes were still trying to figure out what to do. The best idea after being up for so many hours, it was now 3 pm, was to rent a car. Although my friends Wendy Lou, Catherine Wells and Alex Zendel had all contacted me to offer rides, by this point my mother and I felt that staying one more minute in the 6th level of hell which is commonly referred to as “Lexington, Kentucky”.
As we finally got on the road in a much nicer vehicle given to us at the discounted rate of less than one day’s rental for the entire weekend, Brad was looking much better in our eyes. We picked up some food and were about to leave town when my mother received a call from the elusive Chester Horn. He was terribly confused and didn’t understand why we would sic all local law enforcement agencies on him in such a way. He had no recollection of arranging to leave the car outside for my mother, but it was there waiting to be picked up so he would send someone to meet us at his shop. We arrived before his employee so we looked through the windows again. It was a wide building with 6 garage doors and an office in the center. We peered through the glass again. Ten customer vehicles which we could easily see, two behind each door. The license plates were easy to read, so there was no mistaking a car’s color or make for my mother’s black Cavalier. Only the last door held two trucks owned by Chester’s company. Behind all the other cars, we were able to see the back wall of the building, however, where the work trucks were parked there was a small section devoted to a collection of tools and such for repairing cars. Yep, still no sign of the missing vehicle. Shortly after we stepped away from the doors a truck pulled in. Without a word to us the man got out and opened the last door. He pulled out the two company trucks and tucked behind them was my mother’s car. Ponder this for a moment dear readers, if you were intending to meet someone when your shop was closed, as Mr. Horn suggested he was, would you have parked the car in the only area of the garage where it could not be seen and would be the most difficult to retrieve? Aside from that, how was my mother supposed to have contacted him when there isn’t an answering machine for his place of business and he has no phone number listed either on-line or in the Lexington phone book? Say what you will and play devil’s advocate if you must, but I maintain that Mr. Horn was counting on the fact that the lady from Illinois whose car had a new engine but dented and scratched up body would not have the money or the wherewithal to take him to civil court in a town six hours from her home.
Having paid for the rental car through Monday and since we already discussed the possibility with Brad that the car may be returned in Asheville, my mother decided that we should both head to our respective homes. I unloaded her belongings and the large box of comic books that Geoff had given to my sister Rikki into her newly found Chevy. While lowering the heavy box into the trunk something at the bottom sliced a hole through my jeans and caused a deep cut on my thigh. I cursed loudly and sucked up the pain….there was no way I was going to get stitches in Lexington so I didn’t even bother to look at the gash.
By the time I arrived home I had been up for over 30 hours. My little excursion to the Heaven of the wondrous honor by New Route Theatre and its appreciative audience had taken me through a part of Hell I had never imagined. All future trips to Illinois will bypass Lexington, Kentucky even if I have to add an additional six hours to my trip.
….just remember my mother’s words of warning, “You’ll come to Lexington because your car broke down. You’ll stay because it was stolen.”