Sunday, November 30, 2014

The National Funeral Museum: Houston, TX

When I mention that I have been to the National Funeral Museum, most people have the same question.  Why?  Actually, this museum had been on my radar for quite a while but my schedule never allowed me to visit.  They are open every day during the week but only until 4 PM.  They are also open weekends but since I despise going to Houston in the first place, being there over the weekend isn't really an option and usually I am still at work too late to make the 4 PM close.  However, on this trip one of my customers turned me loose early so I set out to find the museum.

The museum is in a sketchy part of town but since one of my customers this week had actually been here and recommended I check it out of possible, I go in. 

I beat the rush.  The funeral I am most concerned about right now is the one of the museum itself.  Admission is a totally reasonable $5 so with these kinds of crowds, I am not sure how they stay open. 
This museum proved to be more than expected from the outside.  It is a well thought out, surprisingly interesting place.  Get ready because this is going to be a picture heavy post.
You enter and exit through the gift shop which mainly contained religious items and t-shirts with puns about being dead.  There are three employees in here, including a security guard who, since I haven't seen anything else yet, seems unnecessary.  I had read earlier in the week that the museum was doing a display on Dracula (I was there the week leading up to Halloween) and that is my primary reason for coming.
If the Dracula display is any indication of how the rest of the museum will be, I am prepared to be disappointed.  There is a hearse (complete with a plastic vulture on top) and some other Halloweenish items in a small area right inside the turnstile.  Behind me was a board with more information about Dracula the person and some QR codes I could have scanned if I had been so inclined.  I wasn't.  There is also a table with some papers and clipboards that turn out to be a scavenger hunt (fitting right?) so I take one.
While looking at the Dracula exhibit there is an unmistakable sound of scraping against wood.  Like someone trying to claw their way out of a coffin.  At least, that is what you think when you are standing around all alone in a funeral museum next to Dracula's hearse.
It is actually a replica woodworkers shop showing what a coffin makers shop would have looked like.  When I went to investigate the sound, I get a glimpse of what is in the main room of the museum.
Lots of hearses.
LOTS of hearses.  Big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones, motorized ones, horse drawn ones,  ornate ones, plain ones.
Hearses for children (like the white one in the previous photo), hearses that carried famous people (they have the actual hearse that transported Grace Kelly), "bus" hearses (hearsi?) like this one that carried not only the deceased, but the entire family to the gravesite.  And...
LOTS of coffins.  Again, all shapes and sizes.
This one was made to fit 2 adults and a child.
The Money Casket once had $1000 in bills but after, no shock here - being broken into - it now only has $643.  It was used to market caskets with items encapsulated in acrylic in the 1970's.
Now I know that a "Basket Case" was someone carried around in a wicker basket after their legs had been amputated.  Not a term I frequently use but I might try to abstain completely in the future.
There are several rooms off the main area and each has a particular focus.
The presidential area contains newspapers, uniforms worn by pallbearers, and various other memorabilia from the funerals of various presidents.  Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan have the largest displays.  Here is Lincoln lying in his coffin.
I believe there was another sign that said this is a replica gun, not the actual gun, that killed Lincoln.
Next to his coffin they ask you to "Leave your Lincolns".  They are collecting pennies from all of the different years (sometimes more than one if there was a change).  I checked but the 4 pennies I had were already represented so I left them in the collection box next to this.
Another room was set up for military and police/fire.  There was information on the making of the Vietnam Memorial and an entire room devoted to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
In here I sat and watched a video about the tomb and how the guard is selected.  They go through rigorous training and it is a voluntary position  typically lasting 12-18 months that they can ask to leave at any time.  They take exactly 21 steps as they march and then turn to face the Tomb for another 21 seconds to represent the 21 gun salute.  The uniform (replica on the mannequin) must be returned when they move on to another assignment.
A section was devoted to funeral traditions including clothing, flowers, quilts and other items.
A Victorian era home set up for a viewing.  The mirror over the fireplace is covered as was the clock.  The strangest thing in this section was a series of photos of a woman modeling "funeral shrouds" available for purchase in the 1920s.  That would be an interesting addition to your resume:  Funeral Shroud Model.
Sections for celebrities and the movies. 
They had 3 large glass cases of funeral programs, like this one for Farrah Fawcett.
The crews of the Challenger and Columbia were in the celebrity section, not the military section.  I was a junior in high school watching on television at school when Challenger exploded.
You are encouraged to kiss this replica of Marilyn Monroe's crypt, which apparently really happens at her actual crypt in California.  I passed on that offer.
I did take this quiz on celebrities and did not get a single answer correct.  I should have called David, he would probably get them all right.  Right next to this was a list of epitaphs and a tombstone shaped piece of paper for you to write you own to leave behind.
The section on the History of Embalming was mainly focused on Egypt.
They also have a replica mummy in this area along with other artifacts and lots of information on the walls to read regarding mummification and embalming.  I have seen the movie "The Mummy" a couple of times so I bypass most of the reading.  (There was different area devoted to embalming from the Civil War over by the Victorian room.)
Finally a section devoted to traditions from around the world like this home decorated for the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico.  There was also a pimped out hearse from 1970s Japan and a whole bunch of unusual coffins.
And biographical information on Kane Quaye who was one of the dominant designers/makers of these unique caskets.
The museum also has rooms dedicated to a traveling exhibit which, at this time, is about The Pope (does the The in The Pope need to be capitalized or is the Pope okay?).  This is a very large exhibit taking up multiple rooms and it isn't just on funerals.  You learn how The Pope is elected, what their outfits are called, all about the Swiss Guard (you actually have to be Swiss by birth, you can't just be an American living in Switzerland for example) and there is even a replica Pope-mobile.
Much of the information is slanted towards Pope John Paul II, which I suppose makes sense due to his recentness and popularity.
He wouldn't wear the traditional red shoes of The Pope but they did bury him in them.  I wonder how he feels about that.  Personally, I will haunt the person(s) responsible for making me wear any kind of shoes when I am dead.  Or sleeves.
The scavenger hunt I picked up turned out to be completely about The Pope section.  I actually had to go through twice to find most of the answers and still had one I never found.  Because this is a funeral museum they do get into that here including how the Fisherman Ring is destroyed immediately with a special hammer (to prevent forged documents) and how the apartment where The Pope lives is sealed off with a wax seal until another Pope is elected.
I was shocked at the size of this room all to show how The Pope is set up for viewing.  And there was another this size just beyond with The Pope now in his coffin with a cardinal standing by and another kneeling in prayer.  In one of the hallways there is the actual recording of the news of the death of Pope John Paul II playing on a loop.
On the wall there is a lot more information including the names of all past Popes and the dates they served (is that the right word?), what the colors mean (cardinal, bishop, etc.) and of course, information about the coffins of The Pope.  That's right...coffins, as in more than one.  The Pope is buried in 3 separate coffins.  The first is made of cypress and tied with three red silk ribbons.  That casket is placed in a solid lead casket and then that is placed in another made of Douglas fir.  The lead and fir caskets have a bronze plate with identical information on them including the name, length of life and length of service as Pope.  All written in Latin, of course.
I was inside about a hour and a half and outside, not much changed.  I didn't see the van owners inside but since this place is much bigger than you think it is going to be with lots of separate rooms, that doesn't really surprise me.
I am glad I finally went to this museum.  I would recommend it to anyone in the area who expressed even a mild interest.  It was much more interesting and serious than I ever imagined.  I really expected something more kitschy, along the lines of the Dracula display.  There was a lot more to see than I covered here especially in the form of documents and smaller items like medical equipment used for embalming.  I could have easily spent another hour and still not seen or read it all.
I don't know how I could come out of there and not think about what I want to have happen when it is my time.  David and I have discussed this in the past and there is little we can agree on other than the fact that if he outlives me, he can do what he wants, I won't be here to object anyway.  For example, I want to be cremated, which he seems fine with, but I don't want him to take possession of my ashes afterwards.  Just leave them there, let them dispose of them however.  Those ashes are not me and spreading them somewhere or keeping them won't change that.  He just cannot wrap his mind around this part.  I get that, I really do. 
But what he (or my children, my grandchildren, my parents - whomever ends up in charge at that point) better remember is the part about the shoes and the sleeves.  It doesn't matter that I am being cremated.  Once I am deceased, NO ONE better put me in a top that has sleeves (a form of torture as far as I am concerned) or shoes ever again.  If that happens, Meriam won't be the only ghost making trouble around here.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Shootout!: Missoula, MT

Last year on the day before Thanksgiving, I was in the crossfire during a drug buy gone bad.  I don't have an photos from that day so I will borrow my visual aids from satellite maps on MapQuest and Google Earth and fill in the details.

First let me say it would make a lot more sense to me if I was writing this story about one of the many cities I have been to with a reputation for violence:  Pittsburg, where I saw the "Stop Shooting, We Love You" sign; Baltimore; Oakland; Miami; Chicago; Stockton, CA - listed as one of the "Most Dangerous Cities in the US"; Los Angeles or even Dallas, where I came here from.  But that isn't the case.  This shooting happened right down the road in Missoula.  And I gotta say, I never expected in a million years for this to happen there.

So it is the day before Thanksgiving.  I work from home when I am not on the road so I am sitting in my home office, alone, watching a file I am working on chug away on my computer, bored out of my mind.  This is going to take a while.  It is a BIG file.  I make the ill-fated decision to leave and go to Missoula, thinking (incorrectly it turns out), that I can run this one errand and that by the time I get back, the file will be done and I can move on.

Here is the layout of the crime scene:

Remember, this isn't a photo of that day, this is a fixed satellite image taken at some point.  You can partly tell because in November in Missoula there is likely to be some white stuff where that grass is and the grass would definitely not be green either way.
I am parked between Gold's Gym and the Credit Union.  Even though these are *not the actual vehicles, they are in exactly the right places and are even parked in the right direction.  The "Bad Guys" Car was facing towards the top of the photo and I am facing them.
I come out of the building where Gold's Gym is (they aren't the only business in that building) and walk directly to my car.  I sit in the driver's seat and look down to check my work email on my cell phone when...
BANG, BANG.  Two shots, in rapid succession.  And let me just say right now there was never a time when I thought the bangs were anything other than gunfire.  I didn't think it was fireworks or a car backfiring or a tire popping.  Definite gunshots.
As I look up, a man bails out of the passenger side of the car - which is the side facing me - dropping a pistol on the ground as he goes. 

He follows this red line which is taking him behind the grocery store.  As he runs the man in the driver's seat of that car gets out and begins shooting over the top of his car trying to hit the guy running away (he does, we will come back to that).
Referring to the map you can see that if the guy is shooting at the man running away, he is pointing his weapon in my direction.  So I make the decision TO GET OUT OF MY CAR.  I know, I know.  Everyone I have told this story to says WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!  I wasn't but I hope I was thinking subconsciously that I wanted something more between me and him than the windshield.  I go behind my car which has as a spare tire mounted to the back.  But as I do that, the guy from the driver's side has moved to the back of his car and he is laying on the ground.
"I'm shot in the leg, I'm shot in the leg", he is yelling.
I go around my car and am going towards him trying to call 9-1-1 as I go.  I am almost to him and am telling him I am calling for help when another car drives up, grabs the guy who is shot off the ground and they speed away.  I am sure if anyone had taken my picture right then I would have been standing there with my mouth open.  I couldn't believe it.  AND I realized I could not have told you a single thing about that car other than it wasn't a truck.  Not the color, make, model, etc. (it was a green minivan I learned later). 
While I am still in shock over that development another man runs up carrying a rifle in the crook of his elbow and he says, "Which way did he go?"  Some other bystanders point behind the grocery store and that guy takes off.  My only thought is "This is about to get a lot worse."  Thankfully, it doesn't. 
I still haven't managed to dial 9-1-1 and I realize it is because I keep dialing it on the password screen of my iPhone.  But as I look up a policeman is coming with his lights and sirens running.  Then a LOT more show up very quickly, some in uniform and some not.  And that's when I learn what has really happened.  The guy that got shot in the leg was an undercover cop.  So were the people that grabbed him and rushed him to the hospital.  So was the guy with the rifle.  He comes back leading the drug dealer who was the first shooter - the cop hit him in the leg.  I am never clear if that happened in the car or when the guy was running away.  They handcuff him and load him in an ambulance.  By this time, cops are everywhere and they are setting up a crime scene, complete with me and my car on the inside of the tape.
A young girl who worked at the grocery store was outside smoking and she saw all of this go down from the side.  She comes over to me and says, "I was thinking oh my god they are going to shoot that woman sitting in her car!"  I told her I had the same thought.  She asked if she could hug me and though I am not a hugger, both she and I are shaking really bad and I let her.  She is the only other person who really saw the whole thing go down.  She is also the only other one the cops are interested in talking to.  But that didn't stop lots of other bystanders from coming over and wanting to tell what they saw (mostly nothing). 
I had to call David and he had to leave work and come get me (after waiting to give my statement, probably over an hour and half later).  I cannot take my car.  They are setting up a tent and "command center" and they tell me it will be the next day before I can get my car.  This will be true for people in the gym and they don't even know it yet. 
I learned a couple of lessons from all of this I want to share with you:
  • Don't sneak out of work to run errands.  If you do, don't assume it will go as planned.
  • I am a terrible eyewitness.  When they took my statement they asked me how many people I saw and to describe them.  I only saw the shooter and the cop.  I never saw the other man in the parking lot who was with the drug dealer but not in the car.  I couldn't describe the shooter other than to say he was "white" which, in Montana, is about as helpful as saying he was human.  I had no idea what he was wearing, his size, hair color, etc.
  • You do not know what you will do in a situation until you are in it.  I have already had some lessons in this one but it was a big reminder.  Some people panic (my daughter for example), some people don't.  I am not panicky.  That doesn't mean I think about what I am doing first, I am just reacting but I don't run away or cry or freak out.  I got out of the car without really thinking about it or planning to.  I went towards the cop before I knew he was a cop and I would have gone all the way to him and tried to help if he hadn't been grabbed up. 
  • You can't always know who the good guys are or if there are any good guys at all.  Several people later said it was too bad I wasn't "carrying".  I am so grateful I wasn't.  In this scenario, the likeliest thing for me to have done was to point my gun at the cop.  I didn't know he was a cop and he never identified himself as such.  He was in plain clothes in a regular car.  He was the only one pointing a gun in my direction, the other guy dropped his (in fact, I had to point it out when the cavalry arrived because it was still laying on the ground, possibly still loaded).  The cop has no idea who I am.  I could be involved with the drug dealers for all he knows.  He could have shot me or I could have shot him or someone else on accident.  All bad outcomes.
  • During a crisis, time slows WAY down.  This all took maybe 3-4 minutes from the first bang to the cops showing up with lights and sirens blaring.  It felt like a lot longer.
  • Don't assume you will be in danger when called to testify against the drug dealers.  After my initial statement given at the scene, I never heard from anyone again.  Not the police, not the district attorney, not the defense lawyers, no one.
I tried to find out what happened to those involved but that has proved difficult.  I had already heard that this was a Meth buy and that there were 4 people, 2 men and 2 women, that conspired to rob the cop (of course they didn't know he was a cop...yet).  One of the women plead guilt and received a 10 year sentence, 5 of that suspended.  I couldn't find anything on the others but I did hear that one of the 3 was given just probation.
My next door neighbor is a sheriff's deputy and since this was a joint task force, I asked him one day if he knew what happened to the cop that got shot.  He said the guy had some nerve damage and that he has had a very difficult recovery, even to the point of putting his marriage in jeopardy.  When I asked for another update this week, my neighbor said that he is suddenly doing a lot better and for that I am definitely thankful.
This year I am also thankful for many other things - my husband, my family, my friends, that I live in a beautiful place like Montana (no place is immune to drugs), my job that allows me some flexibility in my schedule.  But I can make one guarantee right now: on the day before Thanksgiving this year, if you need me, I will be in my home office, right where I belong.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Skyline Trapeze: Addison, TX

Marci asked me how I even knew this place existed and the answer was that, truthfully, I don't remember.  But it does exist and I found it somehow so I started trying to talk my colleagues into joining me.  When you say, "Would you be interested in paying $50 to jump off a platform while holding a trapeze bar?" some of them will think you are crazy. 

At the home office of my company near Dallas, Texas, there are 6 of us in a group that work on a product together:  Me, Kawiana, Marci, Marie, Linda and Tim.  Marie was an instant "absolutely not", Tim, Linda and Marci were all on the fence but Marci seemed more likely to respond to a little arm twisting.  Kawiana was the only one that was all in from the start.  She was also the one that ultimately got Marci on board after she went by the place and took a video.

I called Skyline Trapeze quite a while back to get some information on how they do things.  He assured me that first-timers are safety harnessed at all times, even when climbing the ladder.  He also mentioned that roughly half of the people that come think they aren't scared of heights only to find out that they are when they reach the top of the platform.

Here is the best picture of the "rig" I could take in the fading light.  The platform we will leap from is on the far left in the picture and there is someone standing on it.  It is a little hard to see the net in this shot but it is below that tree line.
At some point it becomes pretty clear that it will be just me, Kawiana and Marci so Kawiana (the only one of the 3 of us that works at the home office) asks if she can extend the invitation around.  I have something of a reputation of being a "fun sucker" at the office (once in a group I said I knew they thought this and a girl replied, "only one person calls you that out loud").  I am trying really hard to resolve that and to generally take myself less seriously so I tell Kawiana yes.  The more people there to witness what could be a very embarrassing moment for me, the better.
L-R:  Kawiana, Marci, Katie (who I know), Kelli (who I don't), me.
This picture is out of order, it was taken after we were done.  But it is important for you to see this now before I go too much further.  Marci doesn't look it in this photo but she is the same height as me (5'10") or maybe slightly taller.  But she easily weighs 50 lbs less than me.  The other girls are all quite a bit short and much lighter.
As are the employees.  The girl who is going to be responsible for keeping me from falling off the platform while reaching for the bar probably weighs about half as much as I do and is maybe 5' 5".  And I am not exaggerating.  I am sure they all took one look at me and wondered why no one told them it was Amazon night.  There are 3 employees:  one for the platform, and two on the ground.  One of these will manage your safety lines.  After seeing how the safety lines work, I am vaguely concerned that the person holding that line when I let go will be yanked off of the ground to the top of the pulley system before they know what happened.
The girl that will do most of the safety line management greets us and starts to give instructions.  We are so distracted by the "regulars" who have joined our class due to rain earlier in the week that she has to turn us around with our backs to the rig to get us to pay attention.  This is of course AFTER we have signed a waiver holding them harmless in the event of an injury or death.  At least that's what I assume it said because I just initialed it and signed.  I didn't want to freak myself out. 
We are put into our safety belts and shown how things will be done once we get to the platform.  But I can't think of anything else but:
Does this safety belt make me look fat?
That belt is on so tight I am pretty sure I will have bruises on my ribs the next day.  Every ounce of fat in my midsection is being unmercifully squeezed up or down or anywhere it can find a place to be.  The belt has D-rings on it that will be attached to the ladder and to the harness system once we are on the platform.   The safety girl shows us that we will hold on to a rope with our left hand and lean out to grab the bar with our right.  While you are leaning out (over the net far below), the girl on the platform has hold of you via your belt from behind.  But she is simply holding you by putting her hand through the belt and leaning back against your weight.  Again, in my case, probably double her own personal weight.  So you reach out with your right hand and grab the bar (which is wrapped in tape).  When she tells you to and not before (so she is ready to hold your weight because you are still leaning out) you reach with your left and get the bar.  She will say "ready" (bend your knees) and then "hup" or "hut" or something like that (jump off the platform).  They don't use "go" because it sounds too much like "no". 
I had agreed before that I would go first since I was the one who suggested this whole outing.  You climb up a ladder that you are sure is either going to collapse or fall back to get to the platform.  The ladder is a basic Home Depot construction ladder and there is a line going up next to it that you are attached to.  Marci is not fond of the ladder and points out that the line you are attached to isn't going to do anything if you fall.  She's right, it wouldn't stop you from falling but I think it is meant to stop you from falling back.  If you fall it would probably keep you upright so you have a chance to grab back on to the ladder or to the line or to break out all of your teeth as you hit every rung on the way down.
Here I go:
It is weird to watch this now.  I do not remember that guy (a regular named Andrew) even standing on the platform with me.  I am trying to not freak out and to listen to what the girl behind me is saying.  The guy on the ground who is giving me instructions wants me to lift my legs up and put them over the bar so I can hang upside down with no hands.  I could barely hear him and he kept talking to me on the forward swing (it seemed at the time) making it even harder. 
Truthfully, I didn't believe there was any way I was going to be able to pull my legs up.  Back on the ground, Andrew says that if I will listen to them and do it exactly when they say, I will be "weightless" at that time.  Somehow this seems unlikely.  I have a size 12 foot.  I am pretty sure my feet weigh more than some of these people and I definitely didn't ever feel weightless.  The next time I go up the girl is working the safety harness and she says to pull my legs up and my brain just flat out says NO.  I can't even begin to do it.  So for my third time she wants me to try something else, a backflip on the dismount.  Let me just say that letting go is one of the hardest parts.  Of course that is after being cinched down like a sausage in the belt, climbing the ladder of death and jumping off of a platform.  When they say "hup" to dismount, every part of my brain is saying DO NOT LET GO!
So on my third time I don't make the backflip and I am pretty sure my fourth time will be the last chance.  Before we get to that, let's see what it is supposed to look like because there was one person in the group who managed to do both the knee hang and the backflip on the same turn.
Kawiana...the Rock Star.
Kelli also managed to do the knee hang on her last try and Katie tried a couple of times which is more than I can say.  I did try the backflip again and this moment will forevermore be known as my Flip Failure.  Thank goodness no one was filming.
In Kawiana's video the instructor is telling her to "kick forward, kick backward, kick forward" and then you "hup"...let go.  The momentum of that last kick forward should take you into the back flip if you simply tuck and let it.  So, I kick as instructed and when I let go, I am very aware that I am not flipping at all but going head down toward the net in some sort of horrible swan dive, if swans were as graceful as grizzly bears.  I land on the net ON MY NECK.  At that point I finish the flip and end up on my stomach.  I am glad at this point that I played a lot of sports when I was younger so I know how to block out the crowd noise because I am sure that everyone is dying of laughter at this point.  Later, Marci said, "I wasn't laughing.  I was thinking, Flip Noelle FLIP!"  I told her I understood because I WAS THINKING THE SAME THING.
Everyone asks if I am okay but it didn't hurt my neck at all.  It twinged my back a little but mainly I am just embarrassed.  And tired.  The tape on the bar is very hard on your hands.  At the restaurant after I put my hand around my tea glass and it was so wonderful I had to put both hands on and tell Marci of my discovery  which she promptly copied.  After my sad flip attempt I knew I wouldn't go back up and they were trying to wind us down so the regulars could do a couple of rounds of catches.  I asked to have my safety belt removed and it felt so good that the only thing I ever remember feeling as good was having my water break while in labor.
Here is a note about the "regulars".  There are 4 of them, 3 girls and Andrew.  Some of them have progressed to the point where they are not required to wear a harness going up the ladder or while working on the trapeze.  Some of them are doing flips or straddle swings or splits while swinging and they swing high.  One two-hour session is $50 and Andrew tells us he has been coming twice a week for 3 months (and he still must wear the harness).  He said, "Its an expensive hobby".  Um, yeah. 
I am glad I did this but I probably won't feel compelled to do it again.  I can't tell you if I was sore or not because the day before this, Kawiana invited me to her gym to a tabata class and I was already sore in every part of my body from that.  Marci did text me today and say she is sore though so it could be a little of both for me.  In fact, by Friday when I flew home I was concerned about getting up from my seat after sitting on the plane without moving for 2 hours.  I was walking up the jet bridge thinking - ouch, ouch, ouch.
I took away two lessons from this experience.  One is that you shouldn't do tabata unless you are used to it the day before you decide to go swing from a trapeze for the first time.  The second is that I can do anything if I can only convince my mind it is possible.  I am sure I could have pulled my legs up had I only tried.  I might not have been able to hook them but now I will never know.  Now, if you will excuse me I have to go to WalMart to buy all of the Aspercreme they have in stock and then look up the information for the indoor skydiving facility near our office for my January trip. 
Update:  The owner of Skyline Trapeze came across this post and emailed me some questions about what I wrote here.  I will respond to him right after this but there is something I should have said in the beginning:  I personally never felt unsafe at any time.  Yes, the ladder was a little scary but after the first time and seeing how it was attached, I was fine.  And the staff conducted themselves professionally at all times and never made me feel like they had an issue with my size, those issues are all mine.  When I was up on the platform with the tiny girl, she conducted herself with total confidence so that is what I had - confidence.  None of them were rude or catty or did anything to make me feel self-conscience about my size.  At one point one of the "regulars" rolled her eyes at one of the people in my party (who didn't know and I won't be telling her) but that isn't the staffs fault and shame on her.  She is comparing herself to what was a first time for all of us.  Maybe she has forgotten her first time.  Or maybe she's just an asshole.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Haunted Hotel: Alabama & Amarillo

My mom will tell you that all of this is my own fault because I think about dead people too much.  At one time I had tons of pictures of them all over the walls of my dining room but I decided to do away with that some time ago.  Understand, these weren't random dead people but people in my family.  This story starts in Alabama with my grandma.

Here she is holding me circa 1969.

My grandmother (my dad's mom), Meriam, died on Halloween in 2000.  I don't remember how I was told which is kind of odd because I remember vividly how I found out when both of my grandfathers died but with Meriam - nothing.  I do remember that the decision was made for me to travel to Alabama with my parents to attend her funeral.  I had three kids and no money so mom and dad kindly let me stay in the same hotel room with them.

Before I go too far, let me back up a few years.  When my grandpa died in 1992, I also returned to Alabama for his funeral.  My son was a baby and my parents had business to attend to so they left me at my great-grandmother's house (Meriam's mother) for a while.  She told me stories about her mother and about how she met my great-grandfather.  Her stories stuck with me and were what ultimately got me interested in researching my family history.  By the time Meriam passed, I had been doing research, primarily on my dad's side of the family for quite a few years. I should also mention that Meriam herself was a little odd and had some weird habits regarding the dead.  She would routinely call the local funeral home "to see who was down there" so she would know if she needed to go take pictures.

So back to the trip.  We checked in to the hotel and while I unpacked, mom got in the shower and dad left the room.  I'm unloading my suitcase when the television comes on all by itself.  I had to search for the remote because none of us had picked it up at this point having just arrived.  I switched it off and went back to what I was doing.  I do remember thinking it was odd but explainable - a remote in another room could have done it through the wall (not an expensive hotel) or a timer was set.

The next morning, we get up to go to the funeral.  My shoes were lined up under the desk, three total pairs.  The pair in the middle are my "church shoes" and what I plan to wear but when I put my foot in the first shoe, it was completely filled with water.  It turned out that both of them were.  My other casual shoes, set on either side, were fine, dry as a bone.

That night, back at the hotel, we had been laying in the dark for a little while when the television came on again.  The timer thing now seems unlikely as we haven't watched TV in the time we have been here and the time of day is totally different than the first time it happened.  The next day, we go back to the cemetery and while standing by Meriam's grave we watch a dust devil going across the cotton field next door.  When it got to the fence between the field and the cemetery it kind of broke up and we all went back to what we were doing.  For me, that was taking pictures of headstones.  Some of you are probably thinking I am a total weirdo now but in my defense, I was only trying to document information for my family tree.  I am related to almost everyone in this cemetery in one way or another - or in some cases - more than one way (my dad is also my half great uncle but that is a story for another time).  As I am taking pictures, my cousin's daughter suddenly says, "Look out Noelle!" right as the dust devil comes back and goes right over/around/through me.  I quite literally felt my hair stand on end.  My family sees this happen too and they come over and ask if I'm okay.  Except for mom.  Mom helpfully says, "They were just marking you so they could find you later." 

Back at the hotel I am laying in the dark and I can't think of anything but dead people touching me when - you know what's coming - the TV comes on again.  Mom sits up in bed and says, "Stop it Meriam!"  But Meriam doesn't stop.  When I return back home to Texas, all sorts of weird things keep happening.  A knife flies off the middle of the kitchen table onto the floor when no one was in the kitchen (we heard it hit the tile floor); a lamp on a dimmer switch suddenly comes on full blast; David and I are talking about Meriam when a chair across the room swivels around to face us.  That kind of normal, every day stuff.  And David and I agree, there is a "presence" in the hallway at the top of the stairs.  So we get used to living with our ghost.

Meriam with my kids.

Fast forward to 2014 and I am in my hotel room in Amarillo. It is midnight and suddenly the television comes on, waking me.  Of course, I immediately think of Meriam.  I turn the TV off and go back to sleep.  The next morning when I am putting on my makeup, the clock radio alarm starts going off.  Again, some of you are thinking that could totally happen.  But the TV came on by itself again the next day after more than 24 hours and I had refused housekeeping so no one had touched it.  And I had verified that any alarm or timer was off.  As for the clock radio, it wasn't a normal one, it was an iPod docking station so the alarm was actually on my iPhone and I had not set it.

At this point I decide to do what any normal person with an iPhone would do and I download an app. Yes, there's an app for that.  I get the Ghost Observer app for free and fire it up.  It has a radar on it that will show you the location of your ghost. 

And there it is.  If I am at the center of the radar then the ghost is RIGHT NEXT TO ME.
Let me just say that even though I am not afraid of my ghost grandma, having the app say "Ghost Detected" in a creepy electronic voice when you are alone in a darkened hotel room can make it hard to sleep later.  I immediately turned off the app because, frankly, I don't need to know more.  Then I got the idea to take a picture in that general direction to see what happened.
I sent this picture to my son.  He did not appreciate this as he was also trying to get ready for bed. 
Later that week I changed to another hotel in Lubbock and had more "occurrences".  When my key card stopped working and I had to go to the front desk to have it fixed the guy said, "Huh, that's weird" and I said, "It's probably the ghost in my room."  He looked at me for a moment and then blinked once and said, "No, you probably just put it too close to your cell phone", like my statement was totally normal. 
Incidentally, I did fill out the survey sent to me by Holiday Inn Express in Amarillo and told them about the TV and the alarm clock and that I thought they had a ghost in that room but at this point, they have not responded.  I was kind of hoping for some free points out of the deal or something.  I'm going to have to have a talk with Meriam later.  If she is going to follow me around, she could at least make herself useful and get me some free stuff.
P.S.  I'm going back to Amarillo in December.  I may ask for the same room.
P.P.S.  A dust-devil for those of you who don't know, is a small tornado, made out of swirling dust.  And by dust I obviously mean the dust of my dead ancestors so they can find me later.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Color Run: Missoula, MT

Back in the fall of 2012, I got the distinct impression that the universe was trying to tell me to get up off my butt and start running.  The idea crept in on its own and then 3 times in as many days, something came up about 5k runs.  The first was on an airplane.  The airline magazine had an article about "fun runs" including The Color Run.  Normally I don't even read those magazines and I never take them with me but this time, I did both.  Then, the customer I was visiting told me how she was running in a 5k that weekend.  The third day I saw someone wearing a shirt from the Color Run.  And on it went, there were more subtle hints and I kept thinking about it so finally, I looked it up and The Color Run was coming to Dallas (where I still lived then) that next April.  So, I started training.

Then we moved.  By that January I was living in Montana and would not be in Dallas in April to make the run.  Some time passed where I didn't train after moving here...we were learning our area, buying a house, generally getting settled.  But the seed had been planted and the universe isn't one to be put off so easily so eventually I decided to go back to training.

I should preface this by saying that my "running" would be laugh to some.  First, I don't run non-stop, I do run/walk intervals.  I don't know how fast I am running either since I don't actually track that specific part at this point but I do something in the neighborhood of a 12-13 minute mile.  So, not fast.  If you want to get nitpicky about my definitions here, you can probably just stop reading now.

And for those of you worried that this is going to turn into a fitness blog or a sad weight loss tale, you should be okay after this paragraph.  I am overweight.  I have been for most of my 20s and all of my 30s and 40s (so far).  I gained after my 2nd daughter and let me just say:  IT IS ALL MY OWN FAULT.  I am not saying things like stress and life didn't contribute but I am the one who ate what I ate and I am the one that didn't make time to exercise.  I was thin and fit all through my teens and into my 20s and have played lots of sports including at various time:  volleyball, softball, basketball and major league rules women's amateur baseball.  I played a year of soccer.  I threw shot put for the track team.  I ran the 2nd leg of the 4x440 relay.  But even back then, I HATED running long distances.  When the coaches would send us to the track to run sprints or bleachers or lines, I would be happy to lead the way.  If they said, "ya'll go run a mile", I would be the last one dragging in.  So I'm not sure if the universe really knows what it is doing at this point.

The Color Run didn't turn out to be my first 5k the way I thought it would be.  After I had been training (for no particular race at that time) about a month by myself, David decided to start joining me.  And "joining me" is a loose term since we start together and ride back together but don't really stay together the rest of the time.  I do my thing, he does his.  I walk faster, he runs faster.  The company he works for offered to pay for its employees to do the Missoula 5k which was part of the Missoula Marathon weekend.  So he signed himself up and after he mentioned this to me and I asked why he didn't sign me up, he signed me up too.  (Sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious to David.)

But The Color Run is still out there and I decided to look it up and see about doing it in DC or Philadelphia where I could go and see if my daughter would meet me there.  When I went online though, there was a star in Western Montana that had to be Missoula.  They have not had The Color Run here before (they have had other similar races).  So I immediately signed up.  My cousin was planning to come here for a visit at that time so she also signed up but the universe decided it wasn't in the cards for her and so we transferred her registration to David a few weeks before the race.

Here we are pre-race.  The race is being held at the University of Montana and they suggested you get there early as parking could be a problem.  We got there at 7:30 for an 8:30 start.  We could probably have arrived at 8:15 with no problem.  It is cold out, probably in the low 50s, before the race starts.
To help get people warmed up, the girl in the pink on the stage is doing a Zumba style routine for people to follow along to.  We weren't that cold.
People are dressed in all manner of things including lots of tutus...
even the men.
This guy who ran the race in a black suit.  They encourage, but don't require, participants to wear white as much as possible.  The bag that woman has was one of the giveaways along with a t-shirt, a headband (the group in the next photo are all wearing them), and some temporary tattoos.
There were lots of crazy socks and we saw a handful of people in full bunny costumes.
They do a conga line over to the starting line and the emcee gets everyone to sing "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus.  I think everyone but David knew the words.  They have multiple bubble machines going and people are cheering and, like me, taking lots of pictures.  I put an arrow over the emcees head so you could see where he is in relation to me before I tell you what happened next.
The Color Run's mascot is this unicorn.  He comes up right in front of us and starts dancing, trying to get either David or the teenage boy next to us to boogie with him but he is SO barking up the wrong trees.  While I am taking his picture - WHAM - I get hit right in the face with something.  The emcee, from the distance he was at - hit me right in the face with a bandana in a plastic sleeve.  He had been throwing things into the crowd before this but I never expected him to get things out this far, much less hit me right in the face.  The bandana fell over the barrier we are standing at and a kid picked it up and carried it off.  I think someone must have said something to him because he came back and gave it to me.  Normally I would have let him keep it but I was still out of sorts from being hit at all so I still have it.
They said "run on the left, walk on the right" but that was all pretty quickly abandoned.  David and I got stuck behind this one family a couple of times.  There were so many of them together (in matching family shirts) that they stretched across the whole road and you couldn't get around them on the narrow parts of the trail.  As you go along, there are "color zones" like the blue one here in the photo.  As you go through, they squirt dry color powder on you from bottles.  The color is dye in a cornstarch base and most of the workers aim at your chest or lower.  The only time that didn't happen was in blue when the guy threw it right at my face making me glad I had on sunglasses.  David made it through pink, blue and yellow with barely any color at all other than on his back.  I got a little of each but am really not overly covered at this point.  We both got more in the purple zone than anywhere else until...
at the finish line they hand you a color packet to use at the "after party".  We got turquoise, not a color that was also a zone.
So as you will see from these after pictures, we did more damage to each other than anyone else did.  David poured most of his packet down the back of my hair and shirt.  The next day, I still had color coming out of my hair when I washed it.

I took a couple of pictures of the after party but remember the guy in the black suit?  I bet his pictures are better than mine.  He brought a drone.
The Color Run claims to be the Happiest 5k on the Planet and people were definitely happy.  There were a lot of people in fun outfits, there in groups, laughing and having a great time. 
Because Missoula is about 30 minutes from our house and we need stuff from the store, we decide to go there before going home.  Some people know right away what we have been doing and others just stare at us like we are really strange.  In the first store a woman says to me "looks like fun" and I told her it was.  At WalMart someone took my picture (they thought I didn't know) so I may end up on the People of Walmart website (though I have to say a little color on my face doesn't seem like much compared to what I have seen on there). 
Another woman who sees me stops and says, "you look amazing!"  And do you know what?  I feel amazing too.
PS.  The color mostly came out of the clothes in one wash.  The skin was a little tougher.  I tried using makeup wipes on my face but just ended up looking like a smurf.  We both had to scrub pretty vigorously with a loofa to get it off.  Even then some of the places where we got sweaty, like around the bracelet we were required to wear, didn't come all of the way off the first time.  Even yesterday, David had some transfer back to his skin from a necklace he wore during the race that was over a week ago now.  So The Color Run may be over, but it will be with us for a while.