Saturday, August 29, 2015

Side Tripping in Idaho: Twin Falls, ID

I've been busy with other things but now I am finally to get back to business which means, back to Idaho for a few more stories.

When I booked our trip to Idaho, I only set plans for the evening.  I made our plans over a month in advance and had no way of knowing what the weather would be.  I looked up some indoor and outdoor options but in the end decided just to live in the moment and see where the universe took us.  The day after the concert proved to be a beautiful blue sky day and since we don't need to be back in Boise until 7 pm, David suggests we take a side trip over to Twin Falls.

David is constantly telling me what he has "read about" and in this case he has read about a bridge and a falls.  What he hasn't read enough about is how to stay awake in the car.  The drive from Boise south to Twin Falls is not exciting and I experience it largely alone.  As with many aspects of my life (myself, other people, situations, events and in this case places), Idaho isn't what I expected.  Living only 30 minutes from the border with Idaho I expect it to look like where we live.  Mountains.  Trees.  That was wrong.  The northern parts of Idaho do look like that but as you go south, not so much.  I think there are more trees in Amarillo than there are between Boise and Twin Falls.  It is flat and brown.  You can see for very long distances.  I didn't appreciate when we set out that we would be so close to Nevada until we started seeing signs on businesses about serving "Southern Idaho and Northern Nevada".

Over 20 years ago David and I talked about the possibility of living in Twin Falls.  He was finishing school and we had agreed that it might be best for us to get out of Texas.  We had been through a difficult time in our marriage a few years before and we had just spent a little over a year getting him through school while I was the only one working.  We had 3 kids in a crappy 2 bedroom apartment.  They had little foam chairs that pulled out into mats they slept on all in one room with no other furniture.  Our mattress was sitting on the floor and we also had no other furniture.  Everything of value had been sold or pawned to get him through the last few months of school.  Now he was graduating 1st in his class and we were ready for a change.  He applied for a job in Twin Falls.

The job he ended up getting was within walking distance of that crappy apartment and for the next 20 years we stayed in Texas.  Worked and raised a family.  But we always talked about going north and west someday and now here we are living in Montana.  And I think it worked out the way it should.  But for the writer in me it is interesting to look at this town and to think how different things would have been if we had moved all of those years ago.  Especially for our kids whose whole lives would be different.

The bridge isn't hard to find, you have to drive right across it coming from Boise.

The I. B. Perrine Bridge has been here (under other names) since 1927.  When it was built, it was the highest bridge in the world.  

 This bridge spans the Snake River and somewhere in that near distance is a site where Evil Knievel crashed in 1974 after his parachute malfunctioned during a jump.

As soon as you cross the bridge there is a visitors center so we stop in to see what information they have about the area.  What we end up seeing are people working on packing parachutes.  It turns out this bridge is a very popular BASE jumping site.  David and I grab our cameras and go to find a good vantage point to watch from.

Checking to see if the coast is clear.  There are a lot of boats, kayaks and paddleboarders on the river.

Over the edge.

The first step is the hardest.  This guy did a flip on the way down.

The girl he was on the bridge with jumps next.  No fancy flips for her.

Chute's out.

The landing site.

You can sign up at the visitor center to try this in a tandem jump.  We don't for a few reasons.  David has a fear of falling.  I have a fear of looking like an idiot or them telling me I weigh too much.  But a big reason is it seems like a LOT of work for such as short experience.  The packing of the chute appeared to be a very time consuming activity and then getting on all of the gear and walking out on the bridge to wait for a good time to jump.  It was over in a few seconds.  Then they have to hike back up to the top of the bridge carrying all of this equipment.  It is a steep, difficult hike.  After crying during our hike on St. Mary's, where only David was around to see, I am not prepared for the possibility I could have that same experience here with all of these people watching (and taking photographs).

Plus, there is a falls to see.  Shoshone Falls is listed as "The Niagara of the West".  I have been to Niagara Falls so I am really anxious to compare.

It may be 45 feet higher than Niagara but in scope and grandness...not even close.

They have much of the flow dammed up when we are there but even if it was flowing over the whole of this area, as it apparently does at times, this would still pale in comparison to the real deal in New York and Canada.  Still, I am awed by most waterfalls and the park/visitor area here is very nice and there aren't a lot of people so it was definitely worth the side trip.

On the way back, I treat David to a burger since there is no Popeye's in Twin Falls.  When we walked in I almost walked right back out.  I thought we were in the wrong place.  I wasn't expecting this "restaurant" to be in a bar/pool hall.

It is a good thing we stayed.  The burger came with tots.  I know the way to my man's heart.  I just might not be able to get in there someday when his arteries clog up.

On the way back to Boise, I think about what it would have been like if we had lived in Twin Falls all these years.  I told David - during the part he was awake for - that we would have been okay there.  It's hard to say I am glad we didn't move here back then because we went through some very rough years when our kids were teenagers and maybe that would have turned out different.  Well, I know it would have.  But different isn't always better, there is always the possibility of different worse. 

What I really need to learn from this trip is that my expectations are often wrong - about people and about places - and that it doesn't matter what the people we would be in that alternate universe would be like.  After all, they don't exist.   And look at his face in that picture.  Who would want to miss out on this version of David?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Anti-Foodie: Boise, ID

One evening when our friends Steven and Joanne were over for dinner, comments were being made about David's many food issues.  In an effort to semi-defend him I said, "He's just not a foodie".  Steven said, "Yes he is.  He would drive his motorcycle all the way to Boise just to eat at Popeye's Chicken."  And I immediately realized Steven was right.  David is a foodie.  A Crap Foodie!  Or as I now think of it, an Anti-Foodie, like the Anti-Christ only with food.  He stands for everything that is the opposite of what traditional foodies stand for.

In my mind foodies are interested in quality ingredients, whole, organic food and they are open to trying a lot of different things - squid and brains and quinoa.  For David, it is the opposite.  The Dollar Menu?  Absolutely.  Pesticides?  Bring them on.  And there is a long list of things he will not eat.  Like onions in any form, cooked or not.  Lettuce, forget it and if it even so much as touches anything he is going to eat, it is over.  Almost all vegetables are out of the question.  Strawberries or anything strawberry flavored.  He will eat spinach from a can but not raw or when I wilt it from scratch. He is more interested in Pop-Tarts and Spam.  Hot and Spicy Pork Rinds.  Frozen Pizza and Kraft Mac & Cheese.  Ranch Style Beans with cut up Earl Campbell's Hot Links is a staple when I am out of town.

And he WAS planning a trip to Boise.  He had brought it up more than a few times.  Boise happens to be the nearest city that has a Popeye's Chicken.  One of the main things he misses about living in the Dallas area is proximity to restaurants and in particular, fast food.  Popeye's is at the top of his list along with Jack-in-the-Box, Sonic and Whataburger, all places we do not have here.  To drive home how much he misses it...Boise is SEVEN  HOURS away.

So with his 50th birthday approaching and my general aversion to purchasing gifts for people who aren't lacking anything, I wanted to do something different.  I decided to drive him to Boise for chicken.  I started looking at what there is to do in Boise, as it is so far that we will have to stay overnight, and saw that The Zac Brown Band was going to be at the University there so I bought us tickets.  They also have an Escape Game.  I enjoyed that so much in Nashville and thought it would be right up his alley so I booked that too.

When I told him that for his birthday we were going to Boise and presented him with our travel itinerary and tickets (including the address for Popeye's), he was very excited we would be there more than one day.

I don't hear anything but David swears he hears angels singing.

He tells me before we leave that he plans to eat there 3 times.  Once on Friday night, the day we arrive, once on Saturday, before the Escape Game, and lunch on Sunday before we go home.  I inform him that I don't plan to eat there even one time but as it turned out, it didn't work out for either one of us.  We arrive in Boise and check in to our hotel and have just over an hour to get to the concert.  Popeye's is across town.  By the time we get there we really don't have time to go to a second place for me so, trying to be the good wife and considering this is his birthday trip, I suck it up and we go in.

David orders his favorite chicken strips.  He is almost giddy.  I try not to eat meat other than fish and fortunately they offer both shrimp and catfish.  However, I am weird about the possibility of food poisoning, something I have had multiple times, and it takes me a bit to weigh the options.  I go with the shrimp. Fingers crossed.

This photo is blurry because I am laughing.  Eating with David is a lot like eating with a small child.  He can watch me take food out of the oven or off the stove and put it on a plate and he will immediately try to eat it and burn his mouth.  Every. Time.

See?  It has been "SO LONG".  He couldn't wait.

My shrimp is terrible.  I ate about half only because my expectations for options at the concert are low.  In my mind, the first stages of imminent, unavoidable food poisoning have begun.  David ordered a 5 piece but they gave him 7.  He ate them all.  In the car on the way to the concert, he is regretting that decision.  "They were just so good," he says.  But he is miserable.  He's lucky I have Tums in my purse.

We never ate at Popeye's again.  He said the 7 pieces were the amount he might have expected to eat over the whole 3 days so he got it out of the way all at once.  We did make the pilgrimage to Sonic and Jack-in-the-Box, both for breakfast.  And we did find one other place he was quite happy with on a side trip, more on that next time. 
We Escaped at the Escape Game (with 30 seconds to spare in a 2 person team, something the worker said is very hard to do) and I thankfully escaped another trip to Popeye's.  Two wins in one day. 

If you are ever in the Salt Lake City airport Terminal B, you can swing by Popeye's.  Maybe you will see me there trying go soak up the smell for when I get home.  It's better than any perfume I could buy as far as David is concerned.  But soaking up the smell is all I will be doing.  I definitely won't be eating.  Even if you are buying.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The National Museum of Crime & Punishment: Washington, DC

David has always been slightly disconcerted by my interest in crime.  Like a lot of people, I like shows that deal with crime like Law & Order (Jerry Orbach, Benjamin Bratt and Angie Harmon episodes are my favorite) and Criminal Minds (Penelope and Dr. Reid).  But I really prefer true crime shows like American Justice, Deadly Women, Forensic Files or Snapped.  I have tried to explain that I like the part where they show how they solved the crime but he isn't buying it.  He thinks I am trying to get away with it someday when I decide to off him.  I will say I have learned a thing or two from these shows that might help in that event:
  1. Leave your cell phone at home.  So many people get busted when they call someone or they say they were home but their phone says otherwise.
  2. Poison is hard to detect and hard to prove if you do it right, also it is the preferred method for women killers.
  3. Get your story straight and stick to it at all costs.  Changing your story never works in your favor.
  4. Ask for an attorney.  Do not talk to the police.  I saw a show once where a young man was convicted of murdering a woman based on the fact that his bedroom window overlooked the dump site (at a great distance) and he had some drawings that "resembled" the crime scene.  He spent a LONG time in prison before they caught the real killer.  I always thought if you didn't have anything to hide, you didn't need an attorney, that show changed my mind forever.
I first became interested in this topic when I was a senior in high school and my government teacher, Mrs. Campbell, assigned a book report on a true crime novel.  I picked The Stranger Beside Me by Anne Rule.  Anne Rule has written a lot of crime books but this one is unique in that she personally knew the criminal, serial killer Ted Bundy.  They had worked on a suicide hotline together, as ironic as that is.

The first thing we see in the museum?  Ted Bundy's Volkswagen.  Whoever thought of using the handcuffs on the stanchions is brilliant.

This museum has an audio tour option.  It looks a little like a remote control but it has a speaker at the top you put to your ear like a phone.  When you come to a handcuff with a number in it, you punch in the number and it plays.  I paid the extra couple of bucks to do this mainly because the narrator is Bill Kurtis (narrator of American Justice and other crime shows).  I would listen to Bill Kurtis talk about earwax.  I love his voice.

I thought this museum would be mainly serial killers and big names in crime, which it did have, but there is a lot more than that.  It starts in the middle ages and goes from there.  There is a lot of information on various punishments and torture devices making me really glad I didn't live in the middle ages.

Even being a baker was dangerous.  There were other displays on things like the Iron Maiden, being drawn & quartered and placed on The Rack.  All very unpleasant.

From there you move into the age of Pirates and then the Old West.  On to the Mob and Bonnie & Clyde.

I don't think this was the real Bonnie & Clyde car, I think it was from the movie but I am not sure.  Like at the other places we visited in DC, people were sometimes a problem.

Hey, I was reading that.

And that.

Ugh, more teenagers.  I won't get to try my hand at safe cracking as Waldo and his friends are going to be there a while and there is a long line.

As expected there are sections for famous criminals, even a board of celebrity mug shots.  My fellow Montanan, Ted Kaczynski graces one wall.  Susan Smith another.  There is a display on the assassinated Presidents.  You can look at, but not sit in, a real electric chair, a guillotine, a gas chamber, a gurney setup for lethal injection.  

And you learn that my old home state of Texas is far and away the worst place to be on Death Row.  They have executed a lot more prisoners than any other state.

But like the show Law & Order, this museum is only partly about the crime.  About half of the museum is dedicated to law enforcement.  There are displays on famous lawmen like Eliot Ness and J Edgar Hoover and the creation of the FBI.  

That's me on the bottom monitor, learning about facial recognition.

You can learn about fingerprinting and get an electronic picture of your prints.  I didn't do this because I have done this for real.  I was fingerprinted when I went to work at a bank years ago and there was that time I was arrested...

You can do a lie detector test on yourself.  Those bars show I am lying.  This is really sad as I am the only person around so I am lying to myself.

I am going to memorize these and start using them when we play cards with our friend Steven, a former policeman.  I think I may need 10-30 fairly often.

 The answer is no.  I can do the push-ups and sit-ups but thankfully there is no one around to see that I can't do the one pull-up on the bar they have there.  They also have a shoot/don't shoot simulator and a car chase simulator but I can't do either one as no one is around to supervise. 

There is a computer where you can look up officers killed in the line of duty.  It wasn't easy to work with even though there were search options.  I hung with it and located one of David's great grandfathers, Dallas County (TX) Constable W. Riley Burnett.

They have a crime lab, that guy getting ready for his autopsy.  They also have a full room set up as a crime scene and a video you can watch to see how your eyewitness skills are.  I got 4 out of 6 answers correct.  I know this is not a realistic simulation since I have been an eyewitness and was terrible.  It isn't the same when guns are being fired in your direction as when you are standing in the relative safety of a museum watching a video that you can stand and look at as long as you need.

They also have a forensic lab where they offer classes in things like autopsy and blood spatter.  I think Kawiana (who is my only companion on this trip and who I lost way back in the Middle Ages) is as disappointed as I am that there are no classes available during our entire stay in DC.  They also have a walking tour that covers the Presidential assassinations but it was only on the weekend.

The museum has a temporary exhibit on animal poaching and what the ramifications to the animals and the environment are.  They had items made from animals like ivory statues, snakeskin boots and a horrific looking alligator purse complete with the whole head.

The final section was a room devoted to counterfeiting, the "victimless" crime.  If you are buying knockoff handbags and clothes or pirating DVDs, shame on you.

I liked this museum a lot better than The Spy Museum from the day before.   I really wish the forensic lab had been an option, if I am ever back in DC I would definitely check into that.  As with all museums, this one had a gift shop and this time I didn't buy anything for David.  

But I almost bought this for me.  I might have told David it was "for him" as a joke.  
I don't think he would have laughed.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Washington, DC

While purchasing gas, a couple of young teenage girls approached me asking if they could clean my already clean windshield for a donation.  They were collecting for a school trip in 2016 to Washington DC.  I gave her a $20 bill - the only cash I had.  Her eyes got really big so I assume that no one else was giving that kind of donation.  And I didn't make her clean the windshield. 

If I had known then when I know now, I might not have donated at all.

School groups were pervasive in DC.  Everywhere you go, there they are.  Observing them you know they are only there because 1) They can be so why not? 2) They get to stay in a hotel with their friends and without their parents 3) It provides an opportunity to hook up with someone, to goof off, act a fool and do all of the things teenagers do when they are away from constant supervision.  I know there are some exceptions but most of them do not care about the history of this country.

I know there are chaperones but let's be realistic...1 adult per 10 or more kids is not enough.  I know from experience.  When I was 15 my softball team went to Durant, OK for a tournament.  There were about 13-14 of us girls - all between 14-16 years old - and 3 adults.  We were traveling in 2 vans.  One of the vans had mechanical problems just south of the Texas/Oklahoma border.  Two of the adults had to go into a nearby town to get parts leaving all of us girls there with our coach Roy.  Someone, I don't remember who but certainly not me, convinced my friend Kim to moon the next person driving by.  So me and another girl stood between Kim and the coach and she did it.  The man stopped.  We went and hid in the van while Roy dealt with the irate man.  We also threw ice in the elevator at a hotel in Houston when the doors opened and then we ran away.  So again, I am not guessing.

Back in DC, they are everywhere and there are a lot of them around The Wall when we arrive.  The Wall was #1 on my list of things to see in DC.  I "know" someone listed on there.

Panel 12E, Line 18, first name on the line:  Thomas L Blackman.

Tommy was my mother's husband.  He was not my father and he died before I was born but he was a presence in the house I grew up in all the same.

Tommy was 21 when he died on November 4, 1966.  He and my mother had been married a short 15 months.  His son, my half brother, was 6 months old.  He was killed in a non-combat related fire, along with 7 other sailors, aboard the USS Franklin D Roosevelt "in South Asian Waters".  

I have been thinking about this time in my parent's lives more than usual and have been interviewing them about various details.  I always knew about Tommy.  My brother was never adopted by my father and he always carried the Blackman name.  I have seen Tommy's picture.  The flag from his coffin is still in my mother's house.  I have read the telegram they delivered when she was notified of his death and the one that was delivered to Tommy when his son was born.  I spent more than a few weekend days playing in Tommy's parents backyard so my brother could visit his grandparents and his cousins.  I attended Tommy's parents funerals when they died.  I have been to Tommy's grave more times than I can count.

I had never been to The Wall in DC.  I had been to a replica in Pensacola but the size isn't the same.  And maybe because I have been talking to mom about this more lately than I ever have before, it felt different.  My colleagues promised not to make fun of me if I cried and they even hung back and gave me a little space once we got there.  I told my mom I was going and she said, "touch his name for me" but I couldn't.  It is too high.

The Wall is higher in the middle and then tapers down to a few inches off the ground on either end.  Just like this boy who is taking a rubbing, someone would have had to sit on my shoulders to get to Tommy's name.  The park service said they have ladders they can get out during the day when it isn't crowded but I never had the opportunity to do that.

After being at the panel with Tommy's name for a little while, I walked down to the east end of the memorial and waited on my colleagues to catch up.  I am trying not to cry (at The Wall and also right now) but am failing (at both).  Two older teenage boys approach me and say, "What is this called again?"  I couldn't believe it.  There are signs all over the place that tell you what each thing is.  The Wall is right by the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Korean War Memorial.  Apparently, reading isn't being taught in high school anymore.  Or maybe it is common sense they are missing.

But more than that it strikes me that this memorial means so little to them, nothing really, that they don't even know what it is.  They weren't born during Vietnam.  At their age if they had a relative on the wall it would be a grandfather or great uncle.  But this Wall means everything to some people, like my mother.  But maybe you don't understand why my mother's husband's name on here would have an impact on me at all when he wasn't my father.

For me, the hard reality is that other people come here and mourn the loss of a loved one, someone they miss every single day.  But in my case, if Tommy's name isn't on that wall, I would never have been born. That is very difficult to reconcile.  I cannot even imagine how horrible that time was for my mother.  Her high school sweetheart was taken from her.  The father of her child.  She was 18 years old  when he died.  But if she had never gone through that awful time, I would not exist.

I know she can't choose between two lives but I can't help but wonder if she could, what would she choose.  And mom, if you are reading this, I know there is no right answer.  But I still wonder.  How could she not want Tommy to live?  Knowing that if he did, I wouldn't.  My younger brother wouldn't.  Our children wouldn't.  

We have all heard someone say that they believe there is only one right person out there for them but I don't believe that.  I can't.  If I believed that what would that say about my mother's feelings for my dad?  Or for Tommy?  My mother and father met not quite a year after Tommy's death and were married soon after.  They are still married today.  I know my mother loves my father but I also know she loved Tommy.  Still does.  Always will.

I know there are others out there like me.  People who would not exist if war didn't exist.  What does that mean?  Does it mean anything at all?  It is still happening now, today, will likely always be happening.  The answer for me is yes, it means something.  Something I cannot adequately explain.

On this memorial alone there are 58,272 names.

My father went to Vietnam when my mother was pregnant with me.  Once again, I can't even imagine how my mother felt during that time (or my dad either).  For a second time, she is pregnant and the father of her child is called away to Vietnam.  The stress must have been nearly unbearable this second time.  

This statue of 3 soldiers (the other is behind these two, this is the best angle I could get for this photo because of the massive herd of teenagers standing around it) was created to honor those that came back.  People like my dad who returned when I was 2 months old.

These 3 soldiers face The Wall, I assume as a tribute to those that didn't return.  Like these 3 my dad always has and to this day continues to honor Tommy.  He even cleans his headstone whenever they visit the cemetery.

I am not sure I can ever fully have peace in the knowledge that for me to live, my mother, Tommy's parents and siblings and others that knew and loved him had to live through so much pain.  When Tommy's father died some of us walked down to Tommy's grave which is nearby and my older brother, Tommy's son, was standing there looking at the headstone.  Even though I had been there lots of times before it never really felt the way it did that day to watch him looking down at that stone knowing his father was down there.  Someone he has no memory of.  Maybe it is even harder to consider since my dad is one of my favorite people on this earth.

So I visited the wall to pay tribute to a man I never knew.  To think about what his name, and all of the others here, mean to me.  To all of us.  May his memory live on in those who loved and knew him and maybe even a little in some of us who never had the opportunity.

Rest in Peace
Thomas Lee Blackman
February 10, 1945-November 4, 1966

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Spy Museum: Washington DC

I learned a few things by visiting the Spy Museum in DC last week.  Primarily I learned I am not suited to be a spy.  And either the people I went with aren't either or they ARE spies and are really good at it.

The museum has 3 attractions and me and my two friends and colleagues, Marci and Kawiana, did all three.  First up, the museum.  There are a lot of different areas, many that are interactive displays.

You are taken in an elevator to a room where you can select a new identity.  I think there were only 8-9 different ones and I selected Greta only because she was the closest in age to me.  You are supposed to memorize the details while you wait for the next door to open.  They tell you that you will be quizzed on this information later.

Not much later.  And I expected this to be a little more interactive.  An interrogation maybe.  Sweat me under the lights.  Instead, it is a computer terminal where you answer multiple choice questions.  I hope if I am ever detained for any reason, I am given the option of multiple choice.  Makes things a LOT easier.  So far, my cover is intact.

Next I receive my "Mission Details".  These are absolutely meaningless for the rest of the day, other than at the computer terminal at the end, where I am once again given a multiple choice quiz.  There are a pair of eyes at the top of the screen and as you answer incorrectly, they narrow at you.

I don't do as well.  I can't leave but I am not detained?  Seems like pretty shoddy counterintelligence work on the part of the English to me.

To be fair, there was a lot more to see after learning my mission details and the final quiz than there was between getting my identity and the first quiz.   There are exhibits on gadgets, surveillance, ninjas, code breaking, the works.  There is a hang bar where you try to hang longer than 007 did and the bar rotates as you hang.  The line is filled with people under 14.  There is also a large exhibit on the villains from all of the James Bond movies.

This section on disguises was interesting.  I may have to get a wig and try out some new identities on David.

At the end of the museum part, all three of us had the same thought.  Too crowded.  All of DC was crowded, everywhere we went, even during the day in the middle of the week.  LOTS of teenagers.  Probably my least favorite segment of the general population after mean people.  There are tons of school groups everywhere in town.  This museum is not in short supply.  It is frequently difficult to get up to an exhibit to read the information and/or look at the items.

I was sitting at that computer terminal trying to identify my "suspect" at the airport.  I was given his photo (still on the screen) and was watching "real time" footage.  I am supposed to click on him when I see him.  This little girl walks up and without even knowing what she is looking at she clicks my screen and ends my session.  She accidentally picked the right guy.

As with all museums of this type, there is a large gift shop filled with shirts, gadgets, magnets, personalized key chains, the usual.  This one also has a large bookstore.

Not even close to all of the books, there were more around the corner.  Spying is big business in literature apparently.

I don't always buy souvenirs for David.  If I see something that speaks to me, I get it but I don't force it.  He has everything so what can I get him at this kind of place that he will need or want?

Tempting...I am pretty sure he doesn't have one of these.  I ended up getting him a t-shirt.  Seeing him wear the same one from the Alligator Farm I went to in Alabama 2 years ago is starting to get old.

Next up was Operation Spy.  This is a one-hour "interactive" game that we are grouped with about 12 other people for.  Our group contains about half teenagers, half adults.

As far as I can tell, her whole job is walking people upstairs to hand them off.  No photos were allowed during this part.

A young man comes and is our guide or handler or whatever you want to call him.  He is "in character" and it is his job to help us find a "trigger" that has been stolen, allegedly by the Energy Secretary in Kandahar.  I thought this would be like the Escape Game in Nashville but it wasn't.  There isn't much to do.  We watch this woman, code name Topaz, in a hotel but it is prerecorded and nothing exciting.  We are supposed to break into 4 groups and watch but only one person can do the controls so the other people just stand around.  Our guide tries to get us to tell the other groups what is going on when she is on the sector we are responsible for.  

Next, we go into the Secretary's apartment.  Half of us are on the "trigger" team looking in a safe for the trigger and half are on the "documents" team.  Again, not a lot to do.  One of our team has a fake document scanner.  The other team gets the safe open but we need a key we don't have.  At this point the Secretary is coming home so we have to go.  We load in the back of a fake truck and are bounced around and finally let out near a tunnel.  This is where the problems begin.

If you read the post about the Escape Game you may remember that I mentioned one of the people that I invited was worried it would be dark.  That was Marci.  It is about to get dark.  We end up on a fake elevator and it goes completely dark so I reach out to grab her hand and she is squeezing so hard her fingernails are digging into my palm.  Later she almost climbs over Kawiana's back to get into a more lit area.  At one point while we are standing in the dark, I stood behind her with my hands on her back so she would know I was right there and no one else could be behind her and I can hear her hyperventilating.

We finally make it to a room and we are supposed to administer a lie detector test to Topaz who is in another room.  Our guide asks us to come up with some questions back in the truck to prepare for this and one of the young teenage girls blurts out "are you in a relationship with the Secretary?".  He tries to get her to be more specific and I think we are treading dangerously close to someone adding "sexual" to that statement.  During questioning it is clear some people don't know the meaning of a yes or no question.  They end up asking her if the Secretary wears boxers or briefs.  The guide mentions at this point that none of my group of 3 has contributed to the questions and he says I look like a bodyguard and mimics my stance with my arms folded across my chest.

We get a 4 out of 5.  We have no idea what that is based on and one of the teenage girls even says, "this is the same every time I bet".  The guide says no.  The score at the end is different.  And I finally realized what this reminded me of.  Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.  My kids used to watch that when they were young.  

Last up is Spy in the City.  Another interactive game but this time we are outside and only me and my 2 girls are participating.  We are trying to stop the Russians from doing something that escapes my memory.  I have to wonder, at the Spy Museum in Moscow, are they trying to stop evil Americans?

Marci and I reflected in our tablet.  You carry this around and it gets messages.  You go from location to location gathering clues.  Once again, not that hard and not that technical.  You can mess up and it will prompt you.  We couldn't find this one place and we clicked the map and it told us exactly what it looks like.

This is the part where it became increasingly obvious the three of us would be terrible spies.  Marci already had her issues in the dark.  Kawiana got cold and we had to stop so she could put on her jacket.  I was worried about getting a sunburn and had to stop to reapply my sunscreen.

And we are starving.  It is around 4 in the afternoon and we haven't had anything to eat since breakfast.  Here I am taking a picture of Marci and Kawiana in a Subway they ducked into to get us chips.  If you could blow up the photo you would see a security guard on the far left of the photo is giving me the stink eye.

I guess that is kind of the point of this museum.  You do walk out and look at people differently. People on the phone.  People taking pictures.  People "reading" a newspaper.  They told us during a film that there are more active spies in Washington DC than in any other city in the world.  I feel a little justified in hearing that because the night before, Marci thought I was being stupid when I said I would come get her when the security guards she was talking to put her in jail.  We were walking around The White House and she went up to these two guys and says "what's in this building" about the building right next door to the President's house.  Yeah, no problem there.  And I didn't mean DC jail.  I mean Department of Homeland Security jail.  In fairness, she thought it was the FDIC.  It wasn't.  He said "it's just offices".  You don't have to be spy to know that is code for Move On Ladies.

I think of all of the things we did in DC, this was probably my least favorite outing (with Spy in the City being the best of these 3 but still ultimately not at the top of the list).  Until it was over and we accidentally ended up in a covert mission.  Earlier in the week a lady recommended the restaurant Cafe Milano in Georgetown.  We get a cab to take us there after the Spy Museum.  We are really hungry now, I think it is pushing 6 pm.  

The problem is that we have been out most of the afternoon, walking around DC in 90 degree heat with 90% humidity.  We are hot and sweaty.  We are going up the sidewalk at the restaurant and I am already concerned.  White linen tablecloths.  Lots of silverware.  Crystal glasses on the table.  We walk up to the hostess stand and I say "do you have a dress code" and she says yes that it is business casual.  I ask if they can seat us on the front patio and she says, "that might be best for us".  

Our Frenchy waiter is none to happy to see us.  He brings us water since we don't look at the wine list (and receive an eye roll) and one crusty roll each (not a basket, individually plated) which I immediately start eating.  I don't notice the problem right next to me because I have already decided on what I am going to order and I am busy trying to figure out if they will bring more rolls.

Kawiana doesn't see anything on the menu she wants to order.  So someone (Marci?) makes the suggestion that we leave.  I have eaten the bread and drank the water and someone (the Maitre D?) has scowled at us after barely cracking the door to peek at us.   Agreed.  Let's go.  But I can't go without leaving a tip, something for the bread and water (it's like paying for prison food).  So we all agree to pay a little something.  The other girls get their money out quickly but I am fumbling with my purse and Marci starts to get excited.  "Hurry up before he comes back!".  I'M TRYING.  I wasn't expecting to ditch like this.  A good spy would always be ready.

I throw my money on the table and we nonchalantly (and totally spy-like) walk off the patio.  Up to the corner and just around so they can't see us.  In hindsight, they were probably glad to see us go and I doubt they would have chased us up the street had they caught us leaving.  Now we are about to start the whole "what do you want to eat" thing over.  Marci and I tell Kawiana she has to choose since she's the one we left for.  There is a place across the street and we decide to head there but on the way end up passing Martin's Tavern.  We go in and I am so glad it worked out that way.  We had good food and the waiter didn't treat us like smelly trash that wandered into his day.  The Police and Journey sing to us while we look at the information about the various presidents who have eaten here and which booth was their favorite.

Our booth wasn't listed but I bet a spy or two has sat in these seats before because as Marci so aptly pointed out earlier at Subway...
Spies Gotta Eat.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Jimmy Wayne Made Me Cry: Nashville, TN

If you are looking for a funny story, this isn't the one.  Unless you are among those that count my personal distress as funny, if that's the case, you're in luck.  This post will also have less photos and more words than my normal so be forewarned.

The country music singer Jimmy Wayne made me cry.  He was the final speaker at my company's annual conference.  That day is usually a "light" day.  All of my responsibilities are over.  I am just an attendee at this point.  We have breakfast, our customers vote on their choice for next year's venue, and we have one last speaker.  Last year it was Bob Eubanks, former host of the Newlywed Game.  The year before it was a man (can't remember his name) that was very funny.  Based on past history, I wasn't prepared.  And actually you have to go back a couple of days to see where the problems began.

We were in a bar.  I don't normally go to bars because as a teetotaler, it really isn't somewhere you want to hang out.  Having adults pressure you to drink when you don't gets old.  Just because I don't drink alcohol and act stupid doesn't mean I am not having a good time.  All of our employees and most of our customers are at the Wild Horse Saloon.  Two of my colleagues come hand me a camera and ask me to take photos for a while because they are going across the street.  Later they reappear with plastic syringes.  Jello shot skeletons.  When it is getting near time for the last bus to the hotel to come, they are not back, so I go across the street to find them.  They aren't going back and they beg me to stay with them.  Maybe they didn't beg, they might have called me a baby.  Whatever the case, I agreed to stay and walk back with them later.

So we leave that bar and go to BB Kings down the street.  Some customers are with us and I am the only completely sober person in the group.  Some people are so wasted I am pretty sure they don't know where they are.  I am very concerned when one woman stands up certain she is going to hit the floor every time.  At one point the bartender looked over at me and was giving me a sign that I interpreted as "she is cut off" and I made a sign I hoped he would interpret as "bring me the bill".  I pay the tab and we convince everyone to go outside.  My colleagues want to continue to one more bar where the owners of our company are rumored to be.  We put the drunks that can't make the walk down there in a cab to the hotel and head out.

This bar - I don't even remember the same - is LOUD and very crowded.  You are having close personal contact with anyone in your general vicinity.  Except for me because I step inside the door and plant myself right there, conveniently next to my boss.  The rest of the group disappears into the crowd.  The music is so loud I cannot hear my boss even though he is yelling in my ear.  I can feel my spleen vibrating in my body.  And suddenly I feel like I might cry.  So much so that I step outside for a moment to get ahold of myself.

I go back in and find the two ladies I started out with to tell them I am leaving.  They have just ordered a drink and say they will come with me when they are done.  I go back to my position by the door.  The feeling that I might burst into tears persists.  Fortunately I manage to hold it down and when they come out we, along with our boss, get in a cab to the hotel.  When I got to my hotel room I had it under control but all the next day it is right there on the surface.  Waiting for a chance.

Fortunately, the next night I am off the hook for bar hopping as I had been asked to go to the Ryman and agreed.

We are way up here but it isn't that big to start with.  And let me say that Larry Gatlin is funny.  He is the host of the show and he is good at his job.  And the Gatlins sound exactly the same as they did 20 years ago.  They came out and started Houston and I couldn't believe how good they sounded.  The seats are church pews and our little group is getting pretty cozy so when no one sat behind us, two of us moved back.

I really enjoyed that show.  One of the people I was with later said, "I only knew 2 songs".  I only didn't know 2 songs.  And as it turned out he didn't know 2 because when he started talking about the "Johnny Cash song" that no one sang, he had to take his number to 1.

The next morning, me and about 200 other people present ourselves in the ballroom where Jimmy Wayne is getting ready to do his thing.  He starts by singing the Hall & Oates song Sara Smile with just his guitar.  Good.  Safe.  Then he starts to talk.  Jimmy Wayne also wrote a book called Walk to Beautiful about his horrific childhood and later walking from Nashville to Phoenix to bring attention to kids aging out of the Foster Care system.  While he is talking about his drug addict mom, abusive grandfather and step father, not having any food when school let out on Friday until they went back on Monday, I start to feel a lump in my throat.  

Normally this kind of thing wouldn't get to me.  But as I get older I am finding my ability to control my emotions, sadness/tears in particular, is leaving as quickly my natural hair color.   And as I told my boss later, this story was a little too close to home.  If I had known what he was going to talk about I might have been okay.  Most of you that know me personally know why this is.  Those of you that don't, suffice it to say there is a child I wanted to spend time with and to do that, I had to go to a Child Protective Services office and be drug tested.  The child was under a protective order and without proof that I was drug-free, I couldn't be with that child unsupervised.  So I drove to their offices on a Friday and sat in a chair in the waiting room looking at the public service posters on the wall, the rug that was twisted that I wanted to get up and fix, the Lego table that was woefully lacking in Legos.  

When I first arrived I was the only person there.  As people came in and sat down, I believed they were thinking what I was thinking...why are YOU here?  I was called back and sat across the desk from a woman who handed me what kind of looks like a square white lollipop. You have to scrub it around in your mouth while she watches.  Behind your teeth, under your tongue, in front of your teeth, the roof of your mouth.  Scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing.  While I sit and scrub I am angry.  I am angry that I have to be here at all.  Angry about so many things that haven't been let go of.  Some that still haven't.  

And Jimmy Wayne just keeps on talking.  I am trying not to look at him.  I look everywhere else telling myself to SUCK IT UP.  DON'T YOU DARE CRY IN FRONT OF ALL OF THESE PEOPLE.  Some of these people have known me as long as I have worked at my company, others for less and some not at all.  The man sitting next to me is a new customer that I will be working with and this week was the first time we have ever met or talked.  I do NOT want to cry in front of him.  But 2 days of holding it in start to be too much and it comes.  At first, just a few tears here and there and I try to be all subtle in wiping them.  But Jimmy Wayne will not shut up and soon the tears are flowing and I am very concerned that I am going to make a noise.  Progress to a sob.  Thankfully he finished and I was determined to get the hell out of there as fast as I could.

I am on the third row.  As I am trying to escape up the far aisle a customer stops me to get a hug and I am about to completely lose it.  I do the fastest hug I can and race for the back.  There is a little alcove where I am going to try and hide because there is no way to get out of the room without being stopped a lot.  A woman that I don't know finds me and says, "I am glad I am not the only one he did that too."  Great.  I am working hard to get it together when one of my friends comes to talk to me and I had to say, "Nope" and walk away.  Not ready yet.

Later, I think I am okay and I am in the lobby with the lady that hugged me.  Jimmy Wayne walks into the lobby and they are trying to talk me into taking a picture with him.  ARE YOU INSANE?  No way.  I don't even want to look in his direction.  As soon as they start talking I can feel it right there on the surface again.  Fortunately it is time for me to go.  I have to go to the airport to pick up a rental car as 4 of us are staying the night but we have to change to a different hotel.

Later that night, me and my 3 girls have plans to do the General Jackson Showboat tour.  We head over a little early and they have drinks at TGI Friday across the way at the Opryland Mall.  I don't need to drink, I already feel wasted.  

L-R:  Marie, Kawiana, Marci, Me
These ladies know me well and keep telling me it was no big deal.  Makes me more human.  But they don't know what happens yet when I get really tired.  They are about to.

When I am tired, I laugh and I can't stop.  To the point of tears and stomachache I will keep laughing and I very literally cannot stop.  Over the dumbest things.  So I thought I was done crying but I wasn't.  But now, the tears are from laughter.  If my family had been there they would have been embarrassed and/or making fun of me.  They say I laugh like Mutley the dog.  For those of you who don't know who Mutley is he was Dick Dasterdly's dog on the Wacky Racers.  Here's a link to YouTube in case you need and audio reference:

For example, how did Kawiana manage to eat only the crust from the cheesecake but keep it correctly oriented on the plate?  I don't know but I find this hysterical.  Like Marie's ponytail.  Or the fact that the half-drunk lady next to Kawiana asked her a really stupid question and we had to tell Kawiana to control her face.  Or the big blonde girl in the show that was overselling everything.

So in one day I have run the gamut of emotions from sadness and anger (the most likely reason I will cry) to uncontrollable laughter.  I need a vacation.  These three ladies leave the next morning but I am staying for 3 more days with this lady:

Me and my cousin Dawn.  Can you tell we share a little genetic material?

Dawn and I have always been close and we don't see each other enough so this is just what the doctor ordered.  We have plans to go to the Grand Ole Opry that night to see Ricky Skaggs and several other acts.  I didn't enjoy this show as much as the Ryman to be truthful.  There are four 30 minute segments and a different person hosts each part.  None are as good as Larry Gatlin was.  Some of the acts I have heard of and some I have not.  But, as anyone who has ever gone to the Opry knows, they sometimes deviate from the published schedule.  So when the 2nd host announced Jimmy Wayne, I wanted to get up and leave.  HE IS NOT IN THE PROGRAM! I AM NOT READY!

First song, we are all good.  Do You Believe Me Now is about a girl leaving him for another man and how he had predicted that very thing. Very nice job (I have downloaded his music since retuning home)  But then.  Oh no.  No No NO NONONONO!  The second song is about a little boy that just wants his dad to love him.  And he stretches his arms out and says, "I love you this much".  HOLY COW.  I have to avert my eyes.  He is getting to me again.  I won't tell you how it ends, you can find it on iTunes, that is the title of the song.  Now I am crying in front of the entire Grand Ole Opry.  Thanks Jimmy Wayne.

When my girls were teenagers and you didn't know what mood they would be in for 5 minutes at a time, they would watch movies that would make them cry on purpose.  Our oldest especially.  She wouldn't take a shower for the whole weekend and would be all ripe in her bathrobe and say, "I'm going to go cry".  Rent did it every time.  Or The Notebook.  Or any of 100 others we had on hand.  Maybe she was on to something.  

Maybe the answer all along was to let go and have the cry.  That's what I should have done that first night.  Or maybe you are thinking, seriously lady, maybe you need pharmaceutical intervention.  Already done.  Sometimes it isn't enough.  The problem is that I have spent so many years of my life trying not to cry that it is hard to give that up.  I could be home alone and I would still avoid it.  Maybe the answer for me isn't the cry.  Maybe the answer for me is sleep deprivation so instead of unhappy tears I will cry from laughter at something random and ridiculous.  It may not make me more human to others but you know what they say...

Laughter is the best medicine.