the 7th circle

For Pete's sake.

Y'all, I can't even.

Where to begin?

The following narrative is completely true and factual. I am imaginative, but could definitely not make this stuff up. For what it's worth, please enjoy a laugh at my expense as I tell you about my time on a business trip this week, otherwise known as my time in the seventh circle of hell.

My kids are out of town this week, visiting the happiest place on earth with their dad and future stepmom and stepsister. I planned ahead, thinking this would be a great time to do some needed business travel without impacting them and their expectations of lazy summer days where I'm available to do their bidding. I had two clinics due for an audit and a visit with the staff, so I made arrangements for traveling to Opelika and Prattville, both in south Alabama. And silly me, I even kind of imagined that once I concluded my business responsibilities in Opelika, I could enjoy an evening in a hotel room with no house to clean, no dishes to wash, no one who needed me for anything. The next morning I'd be up and out the door to head to Prattville.

My first indication that this was NOT going to be a day that went smoothly came early.

Upon return after walking my dog, I was greeted by this little fellow wandering around in my garage:

**in keeping with the theme of this trip, I can't get the photos to rotate, so you get to view it sideways. Ironically appropriate, don't you think? **

I've never seen this pooch before. No tags. My dog, who loathes and despises other canines, was going bananas so I put her in the house. Knowing I was pressed for time and needed to pick up my rental car to head out of town, I scooped him up and walked to a couple different neighbors' houses where I knew I'd seen small dogs, hoping maybe one of them would be the owner.

Nope. Long story short, I finally found a guy walking around the neighborhood, obviously looking for a dog. Problem solved and I'd done my good deed for the day (and it wasn't even 8am!).

Upon arrival at the rental car place, I remember thinking that the young man helping me didn't seem quite as professional as I'm accustomed to at this location, but he was young and pleasant, so I didn't think much more about it. All I needed him to do was find my reservation and get me on the road. He started the car to check the mileage, got out and had me sign some forms, and a few minutes later, I was starting out on my 4-hour drive to Opelika, Alabama (which is also known as God's country because of it's close proximity to Auburn).

40 miles outside of my destination, I decided to stop and get some fuel and take a quick driving break. It was only then that I began to more closely examine my rental car. Oh, it doesn't use keys in the ignition. It's one of those cars you just push a button to turn the engine on and off. Those are fun, I thought.

Before I pushed the button to turn off the car, I began looking around just to be sure I knew where the key was. That's when I realized it. That's when a knot of dread began forming in my stomach. That's when I knew.

The young man back in Huntsville had not given me the key to the car.

Oh, good grief.

Knowing I didn't have enough fuel to make it 40 more miles to Opelika, I was forced to turn off the car, effectively stranding myself at an Exxon station in some little town called Kellyton, AL. I immediately began making calls to the rental car company and after quite some time of explaining the situation and being passed from person to person, I was assured that another rental car would be on its way within the hour.

I'd like to take stop now to publicly thank my new friend, Billy the gas station attendant, for being so hospitable and allowing me to loiter at his place of business for the next two hours. I learned all kinds of fun trivia about Billy, a super nice guy and retired army soldier. And I have to say, he handled the drunk African American man who wobbled his way into the gas station quite smoothly. I was also entertained by the man who walked in with more tattoos than actual remaining real estate on his body.

After the first hour passed, I called the rental company again to see what was going on. I mean, I was having a great time hanging with Billy and people watching, but I did have a job to do, after all. A car is coming soon, I was told. Again.

Eventually, a car did show up. Except it wasn't a rental and it wasn't a car. It was a truck. A tow truck, to be exact, and I was informed that I was to ride in said truck to a place 45 minutes away called Sylacauga. Small little detail that this was the OPPOSITE direction of where I was trying to get (which you will remember was just 40 miles away).

I'd like to take this moment to also say thank you to my other new pal, Charlie the tow truck driver.

We spent a lot of time together, Charlie and I. Almost 2.5 hours after it was all said and done, which is nearly the amount of time it took me to get all the dog hair off my clothes after riding in that truck.

Girls, here I am in a skirt and heels, now bumping along the highway in a huge tow truck, my rental car gleaming like an impossible dream behind me. So close, yet so far away.

But fine. No use crying over spilled milk, right? I made the best of it, enjoyed small talk with Charlie, and we arrived at the next location of the rental company.

It's never a good sign when you walk into a place of business and the one person working doesn't acknowledge you even though there are no other customers around. I began to understand what it would be like to be invisible. However, she finally looked up, seemed to have no idea who I was or why I was there, and told me very casually that she was sorry, but that she didn't have any available cars for me that day. None. Not a single one.

Y'all, is it just me, or is this somewhat like an ice cream store running out of ice cream? What do you mean you don't have any cars? I was told that you had one waiting, which is why Charlie drove me here in the first place!

Skipping thru more standing around and more calls and my favorite, when Charlie the tow truck driver began getting upset, telling this woman that, "y'all need to fix this and get this poor woman where she needs to be!" the bottom line is that I was now being sent to yet another rental location. This time in a place called Anniston, Al., another 1.5 hours from where we were and TWO hours in the wrong direction from the hotel room which was now becoming just a distant dream. A paradise I could never quite get to.

It was like one of those dreams where you're running a race, and just when the finish line comes into view, the course changes and suddenly you have miles remaining. Is it just me that has that dream? Oh. I'm sure it means something deep about my subconscious. Whatever.

Back in the tow truck with Charlie. Back to the benchseat covered in dog hair. Except as an added bonus, we were now soaking wet because of the torrential, Noah-like downpour that was happening as we tried to climb into the truck. Charlie tried to help me, warning me that the step-up into the cab of the truck gets slippery when wet, but I nearly slipped and fell, anyway. Stupid heels. I grabbed onto a handle just in time and saved myself a very humiliating and potentially hazardous fall. Poor Charlie would likely have quit if he had to take me to the ER on top of everything else.

1.5 hours (and two u-turns later when Charlie got lost), we arrived in Anniston at last. I never thought I'd say this, but in that moment, Anniston was a place of beauty to this travel weary girl. The nearby Wal-Mart sparkled. The Sonic was like a view of heaven. The first glimpse of the rental company like the glistening white beaches of the Caribbean. At last, I was nearing the end of this leg of the journey.

I was just sure they'd be rolling out the red carpet for me, falling all over themselves to make this right. Offering me a glass of wine (well, maybe not...they do rent people vehicles, after all) and some flowers. Getting me behind the wheel of some fantastic luxury car.

Not exactly.

Again with the waiting and the having to go thru the whole ugly story again. Again with the manager who moved like a sloth and wasn't the least bit concerned with expediting the rental process given the day I'd had. It was actually a vivid reminder of my children because the more I tried to explain that I'd really like to get on the road and actually head in the right direction, it seemed like she had a harder time moving quickly. I've seen fossils formed faster.

The first car she tried to give me was a no go. Cracked windshield. The second car? A winner. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I couldn't believe it. At last, at last, I was making progress.

However, my plans and meetings for the day had long since been shot to pieces and were completely out of the question. And I hadn't eaten anything all day but some peanuts I bought from Billy at the gas station just before the drunk man came in wanting to talk politics with us.

I don't even like Applebee's all that much, but I was hungry and it was right there, so I pulled in for dinner.

I needed a few minutes out of a car, away from dog hair and frustrating circumstances. I just wanted to chill out for a little bit before making the two hour drive to my hotel. Just some peace and quiet.

That wasn't in the cards.

After informing the host that no, I did not want to sit at the bar, he seated me in a corner booth and I sat with my back to the couple of fellows at the nearby bar. Sinking into the cushioned seat, I thanked my lucky stars that I could have this time gather my composure and mentally work out my new plan for this trip.

"I never do this. Really. But you're really pretty. Can I sit down?" a deep voice next to me said, pulling me from my weary thoughts.

And before I knew what was even happening, a man was sitting opposite me in the booth, talking a mile a minute. Showing me pictures of his two sons and telling me he'd been divorced for eight months. Telling me about the furniture he'd bought and given to his ex-wife and kids. After declining to give him my number, he gave up and walked back to his buddy at the bar. I paid my bill and prepared to leave, but as I was walking by, his buddy handed me his phone number and asked if I'd like to go to a movie.

For the love of all things good and holy.

At this point I've sat in a gas station for two hours with Billy. I smell faintly of cigarette smoke thanks to the patrons of said gas station. I've ridden all over south Alabama with Charlie. I've been soaked thru and have the lovely air-dried hairstyle going on. My make-up is a distant memory. My clothes are wrinkled and unkempt.

It was as if I had somehow unknowingly entered the only Applebee's in America where no other woman has ever been. I suspect that I could've had my lip sticking out with a big wad of tobacco in my mouth and I would've been hit on by these fellows. I had to double check to be sure I wasn't at some sleazy bar at midnight instead of Applebee's at 6pm on a Tuesday.

Shockingly, I turned down the movie invitation and set out for Opelika. I was in a car. With a key. Life was back on track.

Not quite. This rental car had less than 1/4 tank of gas and Siri seemed to be taking me thru back woods and abandoned two-lane roads, so I decided to stop at the first place I came to for gas. And because this was just in keeping with the day I'd had, it happened to be a very run down looking gas station. No option to pay outside at the pump, either. At least it wasn't crowded and I didn't have to wait for an available pump, I tried to tell myself.

Wait. It isn't crowded at all. In fact, there's only one other car anywhere to be seen. And it has seen better days except for the brand new looking phrase across the back window: "PLAYBOY" It looked a lot like this:


I wished in that moment that my new friend, Billy the gas station attendant who packs heat, was with me. But alas, it was just me and I marched in there, kept my eyes down, and paid for my fuel with no incident to report

Fast forward nearly two hours. I unlock the hotel room. It was like the pinnacle of delight to be there at last. The wifi didn't work but I wasn't about to complain.

I'm happy to report that I was able to get an early start and pack everything into the next day. I love my job, I really do. It's fabulous.

Not so fabulous? The facebook message request from someone I didn't know the next morning. Who is that, I wondered, as I clicked on the message?

Oh. Charlie the tow truck driver who has facebook stalked me and is now offering to take me to dinner the next time I'm in Sylacauga.

Great balls of fire. This was one jacked up business trip. Ladies, if you're interested, I can put you in touch with some available bachelors (at least I hope they're bachelors) and recommend an awesome place to rent a car.

Til next time...over and out.


Mike Smith said…
My deepest condolences - talk about the business trip from hell!! What folks will do to earn a buck!!
Kim Kunkle said…
Wow, I hope you follow up with the rental company. They owe you a free car, a day in a spa and a good bottle of wine!

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