Thursday, October 8, 2015

They're Going to Send You to Milledgeville

"They're going to send you to Milledgeville." This phrase used to be synonymous with "you're crazy" or "they're going to send you to the loony bin!" Milledgeville, GA is home to the Central State Hospital, which was once the world's largest mental institution. In the mid-1800s it was officially called the State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum. The hospital closed in 2010 although I believe a few wings are still up and running. Many southeastern residents today can still remember when saying, "You're going to Milledgeville," meant you were so far off your rocker that it was time you were locked up. This past week I felt like I had truly "been sent to Milledgeville."

A month ago I hosted two friends at my apartment and bought a queen-sized mattress from Walmart to accommodate them. Sometime after 2 a.m. and many bottles of wine we learned that I had mistakenly purchased an air mattress without a pump. Obviously the purchase was a bust and I went back to Walmart a few days later to return the air mattress. The girl at Customer Service told me that I could not return the mattress since the box had been opened. "But it wasn't used," I said, "I basically opened it, realized the mistake, and put it back in."

"All I can offer you is an exchange," the clerk responded.

"For another air mattress?"

"For this same mattress or one at a higher price."

I let this information sink in. "So I can just return this air mattress for the exact same air mattress, but in an unopened box?"


"Or one of a higher price?"

"From the same maker."

"So still leaving me with the problem of not having an air pump."


"Even though I don't want this air mattress or any other air mattress at all?"


I did not understand the point of that policy so I took the mattress back with me. Mildly upset, I called my boyfriend who told me to simply return the opened box for an unopened one. Then I could return the unopened air mattress. I realized this was cheating the system, but then I also remembered that Walmart sucks and what do I care if I pull a fast one on a company that used to lock its employees inside so they couldn't leave during Inventory.

This is also a time to mention that, although I have grown up in many small towns, I consider myself a city person. I thrive off the hustle and bustle and anonymity that living in a large city affords you. I love walking down a sidewalk and cramming into a subway car with hundreds of other people - way too many to constantly make eye contact with and greet. Returning or exchanging an item makes me feel uncomfortable because I feel like I'm doing something wrong, but in a city I don't care so much because I know the probability of seeing those clerks again, or being recognized by them, is very low. Who cares if I've decided the dress I bought was too small! I can exchange it at one Target and then shop at another one for the next month until I've decided my embarrassment has finally subsided.

Because Milledgeville is a small, rural town, I waited a week to make my exchange. I didn't want the same clerk to see me and possibly figure out what I was doing. So, a few weeks ago I went into Walmart and exchanged the opened air mattress for an unopened one. I wore a baseball hat because it somehow made me feel more anonymous. Thankfully, there was a new woman behind the counter. She told me to go get the new air mattress off the shelf and didn't even question why I was swapping out the exact same items. She stapled my exchange receipt to my old receipt and sent me on my way. I put the new mattress in my car and left it there for another week, again waiting until a time when both clerks would hopefully not be there. I left the store feeling devious, accomplished, and a tad insane.

Yesterday, after waiting another full week, I finally set out to return the offending air mattress. By now you may be thinking, "Why don't you just keep the air mattress? Or give/sell it to someone? This seems like a lot of work for $50." Well you would be correct. This is a lot of effort to go through just to get $50 back, but I am a poor grad student and a normal grocery bill for three weeks worth of produce is usually around $50. Also, I'm stubborn and decided that I did not want the air mattress and I'll be damned if I will not get Walmart to take it back!

Thinking Walmart would not return an item I had already exchanged I ripped the original receipt from the exchange receipt. Clerk #2 had stapled both receipts together in the middle of the paper and I assumed this was some sort of Walmart code to warn Customer Service of people trying to dupe the system, like me. So like the true crazy person I have become I set about disguising the original receipt to make it look like it had gone through Receipt Hell: I tore the top half, crumpled the paper in my hand multiple times, and then I actually licked the edge. That's right! I licked the receipt as a way to detract from the tiny staple holes that I took to be some sort of covert Walmart code.

With my air mattress and mangled receipt in hand, I strode confidently into Walmart. I waited in line at Customer Service as some woman returned two opened boxes of Family Sized Cheerios. Thankfully there was yet another new clerk behind the service desk so I didn't feel the need to don my baseball cap, which was squished into my purse. Cheerios Lady received a full cash refund and left. I stepped up to the counter, placed the air mattress in front of me and handed over the receipt. Clerk #3 scanned the receipt multiple times before looking up at me and saying, "It says you've already returned this."

My heart dropped. I had heard once that some people buy things from a store, return it, then go back to the store and grab the exact item they returned from the shelf and try to return it all over again - thus making money off an illegitimate return. My palms immediately began to sweat as I realized I looked like one of these people. Instead of confessing to having exchanged the original opened item, I let my blond hair shine brightly and feigned pure ignorance.

"Have you already been to Customer Service before?" the woman asked.

"I don't think so?" I said, wondering how weird it would look if I simply grabbed the air mattress and ran, "Not at this Walmart at least."

"I'm going to have to call a manager. Please step to the side."

I moved everything down the counter and casually pretended to text someone. Inside my head I was freaking out: It looks like I stole this! It looks like I took this off the shelf and am trying to make money off of it. Oh my god I am going to get arrested at Walmart. I played images in my head of being escorted to the holding room that stores reserve for shoplifters. Will they cuff me?, I thought, Or will they just keep the air mattress and insist that I must have taken it off the shelf? I looked around the check-out lanes that faced Customer Service. In such a rural area, I felt there was an 80% chance that someone I knew was in the store right now, ready to witness my shame as I was carted out of the building. The thought of being banned from Walmart also worried me as that would severely limit my shopping options for the next two years of my graduate school career (Milledgeville has a Kroger, two Piggly Wigglys, and a Food Depot - where will I get anything other than food if I'm banned from Walmart?!).

Finally the manager appeared. I thanked my lucky stars that she wasn't either of the first two clerks I had dealt with. If she had been, I was sure I would find myself trudging the long Walk of Shame out of the building with two Walmart security people holding my arms. Clerk #3 explained the situation. The manager and I went through the exact same exchange where I decided to continue lying instead of simply admitting that I had exchanged the opened air mattress for the unopened one and now I was trying to return the unopened one, thus finding a loophole in their system. I made my eyes wider, hoping the Dumb Blonde card would work and they'd take pity on this seemingly doe-eyed, clueless girl.

The manager turned and walked to a framed picture that I hadn't noticed before. The paper inside the frame read: AIR MATTRESS RETURN POLICY.


The manager turned back to me and handed over my receipt. "We can't return this," she said, "we have a 15 day return policy on air mattresses and it's been too long." I wanted to say, "But I actually haven't had this air mattress for 15 days! I exchanged it and this specific one has only been in my car for a week!" But obviously I couldn't. Defeated, I took my mangled receipt and air mattress and walked back to my car.

The mattress is currently still in my car where it will remain until I decide what to do next. Why don't I just suck it up and keep the damn thing? Or sell it or give it away? Or, better yet, buy a bloody air pump? Because clearly there is something in the water in Milledgeville. The aura from the Central State Hospital has spread throughout the town, making all those that move here evolve into crazy, irrational people. Or maybe I was always this loony and thus destined for Milledgeville. Either way, it's clear I need to get out of town soon and I guess my air mattress will have to come with me.

Monday, July 27, 2015

James the Racist

Since my last post, I have left Colorado and come back to Georgia a month earlier than expected. I'm sure it's apparent from my last few entries about the Elk Inn, but the summer seasonal job proved to be more infuriating than relaxing. I finally had to make the decision that graduate school is stressful enough and I just wanted a real vacation. I also realized that I wasn't doing one of the most important things I should have been doing this summer: writing.

I am not one to quit jobs easily - especially without a valid excuse like "I'm moving to Georgia for grad school" or "I was offered a great opportunity in Chicago. See ya!" I typed up my resignation letter for the Elk Inn, but kept it in my purse for about four days. I went back and forth between I should do this, I shouldn't do this, It's what's best for me, It's shitty to break your contract. This internal flip-flopping came to an abrupt halt as soon as I met the Elk Inn's newest front desk employee: James.

The first time I worked with James (a little over two weeks before my final day at work) I helped him with a reservation he was trying to make over the phone. He was sitting in the office to the side of the front desk where we have our lockers, storage, and it's basically where the front desk staff can take a moment to sit down outside of the view of guests. James waved me over to him and put down the phone receiver. "I'm trying to make this reservation and the computer won't let me," he said. I had already caught onto the fact that James was not the brightest crayon in the crayon box so I took the mouse and tried to click "reserve" on the computer screen. When that didn't work I looked at the screen and saw that he was trying to book nine people into one room.

"James," I said, "you've told the computer that you want to put nine people into one room."

"Yeah. So?"

"None of our rooms can do that. That's why the computer won't let you do anything."

"Well they're Asian. They can compact." He smirked at me, proud of his joke.

Had James said this to any of my other coworkers they possibly would have laughed or just rolled their eyes. However, I was a flaming-uber-politically-correct-liberal who was finally getting tired of hearing off-coloured jokes that summer.

"That is racist as shit," I snapped at him before shoving him out of the way and changing the reservation on the computer screen. Once the computer realized that it needed two rooms for about four people each it pulled up a slew of options. James picked up the phone and started talking and I stared in horror as I realized that the phone had never been put on hold. The call lasted only a few seconds before whoever was on the other end practically hung-up on James. He looked blankly at the receiver for a moment, as if he couldn't fathom why they suddenly hung-up. Then he turned to me and put on a stereotypical Asian accent, "She say, 'ohhh we so sowy we no stay der.'"

That night, a group of us from the hotel went out to a local bar and James joined us. He had been living in the hotel for a few days until his drug test cleared and this was to be his first night in the dormitory with everyone. Originally from Alaska, James had spent the past seven years on the coast of Florida. He had already experienced some altitude sickness because he didn't know that breathing at 7,000+ ft is different than 7 ft and I wondered if he knew that drinking was different, too. Apparently not because he downed 5-6 pints of Guinness in about two hours and the night ended with me finding him sprawled out on his bare mattress in a puddle of his own vomit. I told him to stand up so that he wouldn't choke to death. He stumbled over to me and pointed at my chest. "Just because I paid your bar tab," he slurred, "doesn't mean you have to act like you care."

It was pretty obvious that James and I were not going to get along. We had worked one shift together and in that short eight hour period he had not only shocked me with incredibly ignorant remarks, but he had also told me that I looked "much older" than 26, and regaled me with the lengthy list of why he hates Chicago (even though he's never been there). With a little over two weeks left at the Elk Inn I was finally no longer flip-flopping between should I stay or should I go? Now it was: I have to leave before I physically harm this person.

James and I worked another eight hour shift together the day after I picked him out of his own vomit. I talked to him only when it was necessary for work and mostly just stood at the front desk, staring out the lobby windows and thinking about what I was going to do during my upcoming trip to Chicago, my trip back across the country, and a mental list of what needed to be done before classes started back up. At one point I heard James talking to one of the other front desk agents, Boris, a guy from Turkey:

"Where are you from?" Boris asked.


"All Americans sound the same to me. I cannot guess."

"Ah-ha, well that's where you're wrong," I could hear James making the same smirk he did when he joked about fitting nine people into one room. "I'm not an American. I'm a foreigner just like you." I turned around slowly. James and Boris were in the side office, sitting in chairs that faced one another. James had his back to me and Boris looked at me questioningly. I tried to give my best "WTF" face and made an A with my arms.

"Alabama?" Boris asked.

"Alaska," James responded.

Boris looked from James to me. "That is in America, no?"

"Not if you ask anyone from Alaska, it's not."

I'm going to take a moment here because I know that Alaska was officially made a state in 1959 and there are still people alive who were born/raised in Alaska before it was an official state and clearly these people may share this opinion. Also, after repeating this story to several people, I have learned that there are those who wish Alaska was a territory and not a state and therefore prefer to identify as Alaskan before saying they are American. As someone with their own confused view of citizenship, I can totally understand that view. However, James is 22 years old (i.e. born 34 years after Alaska was made an official U.S. state) and was completely serious when explaining to Boris that they were equal in their alien status. Boris asked James if he needed a green card, too, but mercifully the phone rang and I answered it so I couldn't listen to the response.

That night, James and I had about three hours to ourselves. I continued to not engage him in conversation because I figured it would lead to nowhere good. James talked at me anytime there were no guests at the front desk. He told me about working for a Papa John's in Florida and how he came to Colorado for a change in scenery, but was thinking of going back to Alaska to work for a coal/gold mine. Somehow that led to him talking about his disdain for school and how he flunked out of his community college because he was "too smart" for the classes.

"I had this one teacher," he said, "that I liked to argue with a lot. She was a U.S. History teacher and she was Black, go figure."

For the first time in nearly an hour I spoke to him. "Why go figure?" He looked at me like he didn't understand my confusion. "Why," I clarified, "did you say 'she was Black, go figure'?"

"Umm...because she was teaching a U.S. History course?" He spoke slowly. Like he was talking to a child.

Even knowing that his mind leans towards racist stereotypes, I couldn't fathom where he was going with this. "Was she from Zimbabwe?" I asked, thinking maybe he found it odd that a non-native American was teaching U.S. History.

"No," he said, "you know how those people are when they talk about U.S. history. All they want to talk about is Civil Rights and the Civil War and, I mean, that stuff just isn't applicable anymore."

I stared at him for what felt like ages. That "stuff" isn't pertinent anymore? "Those people"?! I remembered what he had looked like, less than 24 hours earlier, sprawled out on his mattress covered in puke. For a split second I regretted making him stand up.

I took a deep breath. "That stuff isn't applicable? Have you been watching the news lately? It's not a bunch of unarmed white guys being shot by cops. And what about what happened yesterday? It wasn't a bunch of white people at a church who were gunned down --" (This was the day after the Charleston shooting.)

"Oh please," James cut me off and rolled his eyes. "That has nothing to do with race. Racism doesn't exist in this country! It's all about economics."

I'm pretty sure my rage made me blackout at this moment because I can't remember what James said except that there is no racism in the U.S. and the real problem is that African Americans do not have father figures to look up to. Also, Black people are "catered to" too much in society and giving "too many free passes." As James started to tell me how the string of police shootings could have easily happened to white men, too, I stopped him. "We are done talking about this," I told him. "We are standing at the front desk, there are guests in the lobby, and this is wildly inappropriate to be talking about at work."

"Why? It's just economics."

"No," I said, trying to keep my voice and anger down, "it's definitely not and it's clear that you and I are on two totally different political spectrums. For the sake of our working relationship we are done talking about anything other than work."

"Geez. Why are you getting so worked up?"

I told him he needed to stop talking and the rest of the night was spent with him trying to talk at me about "economics" again. My face was burning and my hands were shaking. I couldn't tell who I was angrier at: him or me. There I was a self proclaimed down-with-the-religious-right-I-will-kick-intolerance-in-the-ass liberal and yet I was letting this guy say the most heinous things without really holding him accountable. Sure, I was making my anger known and called him out on what he was saying, but I still wasn't doing it with the adamant vigor and righteous telling off that I knew he deserved.

The truth is I had never come face-to-face with this kind of blatant racism before. In fact, a lot of what was said around me in Colorado was new: "Indian people smell like curry," "I don't like Muslims," "stupid foreigners," and those were being said by people that I genuinely liked and considered friends. I grew up in the Bible Belt in a state that was one of the last few holdouts for marriage equality; a state that up until 2014 still had a school with a segregated prom; and a state that only dropped the Confederate flag image from its official state flag in 2003 (the more infamous one at least, not the official Confederate National Flag -- sneaky sneaky state of Georgia). Yes, I grew up in state that was certainly more red than blue and yet somehow I had only ever surrounded myself with fellow like-minded liberal people. I had missed having to confront racism head-on (can we say, "white privilege?"). And now here I was standing behind the front desk of a Colorado hotel with someone who was so ignorant as to say "those people" and all I could respond was basically "shut up." In my head I berated myself for being so cowardly and letting myself down. 

A few nights later, James and I had our last significant interaction in which all I could say was, again, "shut up." My roommate and I went out to a local bar because we knew some Irish guys from our hotel would be there. My roommate hit it off with one of the men and I found out the other one used to write for Lonely Planet so I fan-girled all over him while my roomie and Irish #1 left the bar. Irish #2 and I continued to talk about what it takes to be a travel writer when James stumbled over. As usual, James was wasted and he swayed a little as he stood next to the table. I introduced the Irish man as one of our hotel guests hoping that that little bit of information would force James to reign in the asshole-ness. No such luck. James began telling Irish #2 that Ireland had "sold out" for joining the European Union and had "lost their Irishness." Irish #2 was being polite and sipping his beer while James got more and more passionate. The customer service person in me kicked in and I tried to distract James from the poor guest by asking him what he thought about Greece possibly having to leave the E.U. His response was fairly incoherent and his eyelids drooped a little. I heard the word "citizenship" and decided I wanted to poke the bear a bit. I asked, "I heard you telling Boris the other day that you're not an American citizen."

"No I'm not," he spat with each syllable.

"So what about your passport?" This was the guy who originally came to the Elk Inn and told everyone he had never been out of the country and then later told a guest that he had traveled extensively through China, mainland Europe, and Cuba.

"I burned it," he said.

"You burned it?"

"Yeah! I burned that fucker right up. I don't need no government telling me what the fuck to do."

I was sitting sideways on a bar stool using the restaurant's large window as a back. James was standing directly in front of me, swaying so that every now and then he bumped my knees. Irish #2 stood behind James, slowly sipping his beer and staring at this drunken fool with a mix of awe and horror.

"How are you going to travel?" I asked.

"I'm going to hop on a boat. I'm going to be a stowaway."

"That's a great idea post-9/11."

"You know what?" James raised his finger like he was about to make a significant point. "From the moment I met you I knew I was not going to like you."

"Well that feeling was mutual."

"And you know why?"


He swayed and I momentarily worried he was going to vomit on me. "Because from the moment I met you I knew you were one of those fucked up liberal people."

I crossed my arms, "I think it's pretty obvious that you and I are very different."

"You're one of those fucked up liberal people with those fucked up views about feminism and shit and gay rights. That shit is sick, man. It's fucking sick and the government should have no say in trying to force that fucked up shit on the states." He lifted both his hands up and pumped them at me. "If we weren't in public," he said, "I would hit you."

In one swift move Irish #2 downed the rest of his beer, slammed it on the table, and reached his hand out to me. "Shall I walk you back to the hotel?" he asked. I agreed and jumped from the bar stool, knocking James out of the way. Irish #2 and I left without a word to James.

As we walked back, Irish #2 warned me of the dangers women face for being too polite. I agreed and nodded, but what I wanted to do was stop in the middle of the sidewalk, throw my hands into the air, and exclaim, "I get it! I am a spineless coward! I have let this asshole say the worst things possible and I haven't done shit except to blatantly tell him I don't like him and watch him flounder at work. I get that I should be doing more, but being tight-lipped and polite has been so ingrained in me that I just don't know how to."

There was also a part of me that was no longer angry at James. I felt sorry for him. I know this will sound like I'm just saying it out of spite, but this guy was not bright, he was not attractive, and he was just an outright asshole to everyone (I am not alone in my feelings towards this guy). He is twenty-two years old, seemingly friend-less, and has the conservative, twisted, Fox-like views of Donald Trump. Every night he went to a bar by himself and got so wasted that he had to hold himself up against a wall in order to walk. I hated him and I not-so-secretly wanted a mamma elk to trample him, but I felt bad for him. To be so young and full of such ignorant hate -- that is a pretty sad life to lead.

I am still ashamed that I never outright berated or yelled at or sought any sort of justice from James for the things he said. My only real act of defiance was going to the HR Manager and the General Manager of the hotel and telling them everything James had done/said at the front desk (including telling a little old man asking for directions to a church that the Catholic religion was just a "doughnut factory") and his threat to hit me. This, unsurprisingly, did nothing except to make the HR Manager confess that he never liked James and would fire him if it were up to him. Unfortunately, the decision to fire a front desk agent rested in the hands of my supervisor, a man who would let an employee beat up a guest before ever succumbing to a face-to-face confrontation.

I feel like I should end this post on some sort of positive note like "And now I will never let a racist go unpunished!" or "This taught me to be more vocal about what I believe to be right and wrong." While those two things are true, my brief time with James the Racist has actually made me realize that changing what's wrong with our society will take more than just telling someone to "shut up." I know in school we're always taught "every little bit helps," but I honestly never took that to heart when it came to anything major. To me, changing anything really big meant there were protests and marches and banners and yelling and teargas. In fact, when I was little, it was my dream to be teargassed because I believed that that was the only real sign of having tried to make a difference. Instead, nearly three decades into my life, I now understand that our teachers were right: every little bit helps. Sure, berating James and explaining to him why he's wrong and his views are racist will not solve what's broken in our society, but it has the possibility of maybe changing his mind (way, wayyyyyy down the road). And, if anything, it would also just make me feel really really good.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why the Banned Should Stay Banned

For those of you that have kept up with this blog over the past few years, you know that I have run into my fair share of crazy situations, especially when I have worked at hotels. Well last night I found myself in the midst of a situation that I feel may have topped all of my past crazy-hotel-stories -- it even tops that time a couple was having sex on the break-wall by my Mackinac hotel.

For the past two days, an ex-employee of the Elk Inn has been staying at the hotel. Before I go any further, let me tell you about this individual. His nickname is RT*. If I were to list his real name and you were to type it into Google, you would find an arrest record in which RT was banned from Colorado State University's campus for sending his ex-girlfriend over 200 text messages in one day. Here's a little snippet from the article: "according to police, [RT] said he was planning to take money out of the bank, buy a gun at a pawnshop, and then kill her if she didn't call him back. 'Either you call me right now or I'm ending your life,' reads one message included in police arrest report. 'If you're at the library I'm going to find you, what do you think is gonna happen, someone there gonna protect you.'"

When I first heard RT was coming to stay at the hotel, all of the other front desk agents groaned and rolled their eyes. They showed me the article about his arrest, recounted stories of his quick temper and blatant sexism towards women, how he threatened "to put a woman in a body bag" while working at the Elk Inn's front desk, and how he was fired shortly after that. RT has also sent my roommate, who he has never met before and randomly found on Facebook, text messages asking to see naked photos and continually asks if she'd like to come to his cabin. After being fired from the Elk Inn, RT was hired by another hotel, attempted to woo a female guest and when she declined his advances he "kicked down her door" (this was relayed to me by someone who worked at that hotel with him at the time). After kicking down this woman's door, RT was kicked out of that hotel, came to the bar at the Elk Inn, started a fight with someone, and was thrown out of the Elk Inn and told he was no longer allowed on the property.

Why then, you may ask, was he staying at the Elk Inn the past two nights? Because the Rooms Manager of the hotel, Hans, thinks RT is awesome and made a "secret" reservation for him.

And thus brings us to what happened yesterday:

After already staying in the hotel/visiting Estes for an unknown reason the day before, Hans gave RT another super discounted room last night. Around 4pm, RT checked-in with a very petite girl, who Apple and I could immediately tell was drugged out. We had RT's credit card information for incidentals from the previous stay (he paid cash on the room) and he had the obviously twitching girl put her debit card down to pay for this new room. They then went off and weren't seen again except for a brief moment when I walked by them during my break.

Around 9:30pm a guest on the fourth floor called the front desk asking for new batteries for his TV remote. I called our maintenance department and asked Doug to bring up some batteries. About ten minutes later Doug radioed the front desk and said that the Manager on Duty, Cookie, needed to come to the fourth floor right away. Before he even made it up there, Doug told Cookie that they needed to call 911. Apple and I stayed at the front desk wondering what was happening. We hypothesized that the man who wanted the new batteries was either throwing a fit or he was having a heart attack. A few minutes later, Doug came down to the front desk and asked who was in Room 410. I pulled up the record in the computer: RT.

"RT?!" Doug said (he was the one who worked with RT when he kicked down the door), "what the fuck is he doing here?"

"Hans let him in," Apple said.

"He's not allowed in this hotel," Doug said. Elk Inn's bartender was walking through the lobby and asked what the commotion was about. "RT is in the hotel and he and his friend our tripping on acid and just beat the shit out of each other," Doug explained. The bartender also exclaimed his disgust and shock that RT was in the hotel. Apple told him that Hans had been letting RT stay at the hotel for a super discounted rate.

"So what's going on?" the bartender asked.

"They've destroyed that room," Doug said, "there's blood everywhere, there's a hole in the wall, the other guy's face is all bashed in."

"Where's RT?"

"He ran."

"Probably because he knows he's going to get arrested," Apple chimed in.

Doug said Cookie had already called the cops. He and the bartender went back up to the fourth floor to see what they should do before the cops arrived.

Apple and I knew that this was not only Hans's fault for letting RT into the hotel, but we also knew that Hans was currently living in the hotel because he recently sold his house and doesn't have a new one yet. Apple texted Hans to let him know what was going on. I answered the desk phone and found a very annoyed Room 408 saying that someone was banging on their door, trying to get inside. I told him that there was a fight in Rm 410, we were aware of the situation, and that the cops were on the way. As soon as I hung up the phone, three cops strolled into the lobby. I showed them how to get to the fourth floor and they went separate directions to try to head off anyone who may try to flee the scene.

Radio-less, Apple and I stood at the front desk and waited for some news. An ambulance arrived and I told the EMTs how to get to the fourth floor. Following the protocol of the Front Desk Test Apple and I recently had to take, we decided to call the General Manager and let him know what was going on. While Apple called him, I took another front desk call, this time from Room 419. The woman sounded panicked and asked if the people that were causing the disturbance were going to stay in the hotel. She said that she and her husband had a baby with them and were worried about their safety. I told them that I was fairly sure that the people in 410 were all going to be escorted off the property, but that I would call them back once I knew for sure. No sooner had I hung up the phone than it rang again and this time it was one of the servers from our restaurant. She was in the employee housing behind the hotel and said that RT was there and was trying to hide in one of the rooms. "He's covered in blood," she said. Apple called Cookie and told him to send the cops to our dorms ASAP.

Guests continued to come to the front desk and ask if everything was okay. One couple said that there was blood on the outside of 410's door and said they hoped everyone was well. "They sort of brought this on themselves," Apple said.

By 10:30pm, RT's "friend" had been loaded into an ambulance and the twitchy girl had been sent to the police station to detox. Apple walked one of the officers back up to the room so that he could take photos of the damage. While she was gone, I watched another officer walk RT to the front of the building and sit him down on a bench right outside our automatic doors. I tried to see he if he was handcuffed, but couldn't tell. Doug came back to the front desk and said that RT was getting off with a warning. The cops were making him wait outside for a friend to pick him up.

Let's just take a moment to point out that RT, although a psychotic, messed-up individual with an arrest record, is an attractive white man. He drops acid, beats a guy with a hotel lamp (yes - he did not just hit his "friend" with his fists, but actually took a lamp to the guy's face), destroys a hotel room, trespasses on private property (he's not allowed in the employee housing), and walks off with just a warning. Do you think a Black or Hispanic man would have walked off sans handcuffs? Doubtful. 

Also, Hans never responded to Apple's text message. Cookie called Hans from the fourth floor before the cops arrived and Hans said, "I'm not dealing with this." Hans, the only person out of 20+ employees to let an ex-felon/ex-fired employee - a man with a history of violent acts - back into the hotel, did not want to deal with the mess he had created...

Right before 11pm, the Night Auditor arrived and we filled her in and everything that had happened. Cookie encouraged her and I, the only two people who had not seen 410's damage, to go up to the room to see what had happened.

Maybe I should have worked for the hotel that inspired The Shining. Evil spirits and REDRUM aren't looking half bad right now.

*Name is changed because this boy is psychotic.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Where's Norman Bates When I Need Him?

The Elk Inn is a drug-free workplace. Before I could start my first day of work I had to be tested and was told that I couldn't work until the results came back. Right before I arrived in Colorado, three housekeepers were let-go for testing positive for marijuana. Now, I get that companies do not want their employees showing up stoned to work, but I think testing positive for pot in a state where weed is legal is just ridiculous. First off, weed is different than alcohol in that you do not have to be actively high to test positive. You don't even need to have smoked in the past 24 hours! In order to test positive for marijuana on a drug test you have to have smoked sometime in the past week or two (depending on the type of test they administer). As someone who does not smoke (because every time I do I think I'm going to die -- yep, I'm one of those people), I think this is grossly unfair to the workers here because they are not breaking any laws by smoking and they are not necessarily smoking before coming into work. Maybe they have a joint before bed! What's the harm in that? Hell, weed is safer than alcohol and yet I could drink 3 bottles of wine today and be tested next week and nothing would happen. If I smoke one joint today, however, and am tested next week then I am out of a job.

I get that this company is trying to maintain a professional workplace and that this is a corporate policy, but this is also Colorado. This is a summer seasonal workplace in Colorado. Pot is legal here. I pass a dispensary every time I drive up and down the mountain! This company needs to make some accommodations or else they are going to be hiring and firing staff every single week. (Also, pot isn't legal in Michigan and yet more than half of my Mackinac hotel's staff smoked daily. Did the management drug test everyone? No, because then they would have lost their entire restaurant staff.)

So this little tirade brings me to yesterday: the Elk Inn is hosting a three-day Letter Carriers conference (yes -- postal workers) and had 100+ check-outs and 100+ check-ins...and four housekeepers...Needless to say, it was mass chaos. Most of the letter carriers arrived between 1 and 4pm. Everyone who has ever stayed at a hotel knows that your room will not technically be ready until check-in time, but more often than not it is ready earlier than that. However, the rooms at the Elk Inn were not finished until 5pm. 5 P.M. Even I will admit that this is unacceptable. I get that there were only four housekeepers and I am not blaming them. Those poor people were completely overworked yesterday! However, had the drug test policy not been in place, the Elk Inn would have had 7 housekeepers, plus one manager helping out, and that would have doubled the speed.

I got to work at 2:30pm and was met with a crowded lobby and grumpy guests. It was my second day on the job. Thankfully I am already familiar with the hotel's reservation system, but I am two-years out of practice so there is still a learning curve. For example, my Mackinac hotel preassigned every room. The Elk Inn does that for certain rooms, but not others ( I have no idea why). When a room would finally be marked as 'clean' I would try to put a guest in there, but the system would tell me it was reserved for someone else. Another new guy was working with me and not only was this his second day on the job as well, but it was his second day working for any hotel in general. My roommate, who we will call Apple, was also checking people in, but basically all the three of us could do was apologize to guests, get their cellphone number, and tell them we would call as soon as their room was ready.

Now, these Letter Carriers were here for a conference. The conference starts today, but there was a little reception for everyone who checked in yesterday. We had a conference room full of goodies and a hotel room reserved for everyone to relax in, leave their stuff, and eat and drink. I understood that everyone checking in was unhappy not to have a room ready, but it also wasn't like they had no where to go. There were also certain reservations that were being held under one name and paid for by a company credit card. This was a tad confusing because Group A was being held under the name Batman (not really) and Batman's card was paying for everything, but we still needed a credit card from each guest for incidentals. Group B was being held under Superman, but Superman was not paying for the rooms so we needed to swipe each person's card and charge it.

This brings us to Mrs. Bitch (I know I usually make up a more clever name, but this is more accurate). Mrs. Bitch was with Group A. Mrs. Bitch showed up sometime around 2:30pm and was told we did not have a room ready for her. At 4:45pm I was FINALLY able to get Mrs. Bitch and her husband into a room. Mrs. Bitch was clearly unhappy and I understood her frustration. I asked for a credit card for incidentals. She was a bit taken aback and I explained that the card would not be charged (I wasn't even swiping it into the computer for god's sake -- I was simply copying the numbers into her reservation) unless she and her husband ordered something, put something on their room bill, etc etc. I gave them their keys and sent them on their way. I forgot to click "check-in" until they were gone and when I did, Batman's credit card (the card that was paying for the room) declined. Oh shit. I told my supervisor, Cookie, and we found that Batman's card was only authorizing on 3 of his 10 reservations. The other 7 were declining. Cookie told me to go ahead and authorize Mrs. Bitch's card until Batman arrived and could provide a new form of payment. I went back into the reservation and found, to my horror, that, when the card declined, I had closed out the screen without saving my changes. Thus, Mrs. Bitch's credit card was not saved in her reservation and there was no payment for the room. Cookie told me we would deal with it whenever Batman arrived.

The rest of the afternoon remained this chaotic. People tried to check-in, we tried to get them into rooms, and it was just all very sloppy and made me miss the efficiency of my old hotel. Around 6pm Mrs. Bitch came up to the front desk, making a beeline for me. Her eyebrows were pinched together, her mouth was tight, and you could feel the hatred pouring out of her.

She motioned to a group of Letter Carriers sitting in the lobby. "That woman says you didn't take her card at check-in and I want to know why you took mine."

"That was just for incidentals," I said, "your card will not actually be charged unless you put something on the room."

"But why was mine taken and hers wasn't?"

"Every reservation is different. I promise that your card is not going to be charged. I didn't even swipe it into the computer."


Now, I'm just going to take a moment and say that my tolerance for being bullied is at an all time low. The shit I have gone through at graduate school this past year has made me very sensitive and a bit bitter at feeling like I'm being jerked around or walked on and, let's face it, I don't need this summer job. Thus, I was a bit more casual (and in the end: snippy) with Mrs. Bitch than I ever would have been at my Mackinac hotel (Cindy, if you're reading this, I'm sorry).

I leaned over the counter to look at the group of Letter Carriers. "What woman are you talking about?" I asked.

"That woman." She pointed to a lady with red hair.

"Honestly," I said, feeling a bit fed-up, "I did not check her in. Out of the people under Batman's name I only checked you in so no, I did not take her card because I did not check her in. We are supposed to take a credit card for incidentals and I cannot help it if whoever checked her in did not do that."

"Well that's just really bad management. You should all be doing the same thing!"

"I absolutely agree. We should all be doing the same thing and I am really sorry that we aren't. Two of us are brand new -- it's our second day -- and we're still learning. I am really sorry that it's all been so chaotic."

"I just want to let you know how angry I am," No shit, Sherlock. "I have never seen a place so disorganized."

"I agree with you. This has been really awful."

"You shouldn't take my card unless you're taking EVERYONE'S card."

I leaned towards her. "Look," I said, "I am going to be honest with you. I messed up. Batman's card declined while I was trying to check you in and when it did that, I should have hit 'save,' but I didn't, and your card was wiped from our system. You card is not in our computer at all."

"And yet you took MY card and not her's?!"

"Again, I did not check her in. And your card is not in our computer whatsoever."

"I am really angry about this. ALL OF THIS."

"I totally get that and I think you should be because the way everything was handled today just sucks. I can offer you a voucher for two free drinks in our restaurant -- actual alcohol, not just like a coke or something. I am really sorry, but this is literally all I can give you and we're actually not even supposed to give these out."

The woman took the drink ticket and stared at me. It was clear she was calculating something behind her beady little eyes, but I couldn't figure out what. I had just told her that her card information wasn't saved so there was no way she was getting charged for the room. Even if she was charged (which she couldn't be without handing over a credit card again), her company would obviously pay her back so it wasn't like she was losing any money on this. I was giving her coveted free drink tickets and sincerely agreeing with her in her anger. What more did she want??

She studied the drink tickets. "If it were up to me," she said, "I wouldn't stay here."

"I don't blame you," I replied.

"I am going to recommend that we never stay here again."

"As you should."

"The check-in process was awful."

"I agree with you 120%."

"If it were up to me, I would leave tonight."

At this point, my tolerance meter exploded and I just wanted her gone before my anger began to match hers. "I get that," I said, "and again, I am really sorry, but I have done everything in my power to make you happy. Obviously nothing is going to work so I have nothing else to say to you." And then I turned away from her and waited on another guest.

I was shaking at this point. This woman's anger had gotten under my skin so much that all I could think was Screw this. I don't need this job. I can just leave and have an actual summer break. I don't need this. I don't need to be treated like this. I'm unhappy at grad school, so why be unhappy even when I'm not there? Screw these people.

Luckily, I didn't exactly abandon ship immediately and felt a bit better as I hung out with my coworkers and met some nicer guests (although, I won't lie, the ratio was about 70:30 for cranky vs nice). Cookie told me that the craziness of today -- being short staffed in housekeeping, not having rooms ready on time, and having disgruntled guests -- is not unusual for this property or for Estes Park in general. So that's...not encouraging.

Later that night, Cookie took me on a tour of the property. We walked through the kitchen, the storage area, accounting, the conference center, etc. The Elk Inn is made up of three buildings: two buildings of rooms and the conference center. Cookie and I entered on the first floor of Building 2 and started to walk down the hallway towards a group of people when suddenly I heard, "And she took MY card for incidentals, but not anyone else's." I froze and whispered to Cookie, "That's the bitch." We both stood there for a moment, unseen by Mrs. Bitch as she repeated, "She took MY card, but no one else's!" I struggled between wanting to turn around and run or walk up and say, "Hey! That's a lie, just FYI, and you know it. Also, it was your husband's credit card, not your own, because you're one of those women whose only identity is through their husband, which I know because when I asked for your name at check-in you said 'Mrs. Kenneth Rotolo*,' which is clearly not your name. So, if you have a problem, let's do this RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. SO HELP ME I WILL PUSH YOU INTO A HERD OF ELK."

Instead, Cookie and I turned around and went out the back door. We went to Building 3 and entered on the basement level. He showed me the hotel rooms where a few employees had to live last summer when the dorms became too crowded. We started to go up a set of stairs when we heard voices. It was Mrs. Bitch again. She was still complaining about me, about the hotel, and just about life in general because she is clearly a sorry, bitter woman who has nothing better to do. I know that may make me sound bitter, but it's just true. Any sane human being knows that the person behind a desk is usually not the one with the power, or the one who is making your day harder than it should be. Instead, that person behind the desk is doing their job, they are trying to appease you as much as possible, and, basically, they are a face for you to yell at. Also, this woman was easily 50 years old. Grow up and find something else to talk about.

Cookie and I stayed at the bottom of the stairs and listened to Mrs. Bitch say how we gave her the "round around," how we had "manipulated" her, and then she said she was going to break something inside the hotel room and "just say that I found it that way. How would they know?" The person who was with her said, "Yeah, but they have your credit card on file so I wouldn't risk it," and Mrs. Bitch responded sadly, "Damn. I know. I forgot about that." Yeah -- and you also forgot that I told you I didn't save your card information. MAYBE IF YOU WOULD LISTEN TO OTHER PEOPLE INSTEAD OF ONLY LISTENING TO YOURSELF YOU WOULD REMEMBER THAT.

After listening to this woman for about five minutes, my anger subsided slightly. Hearing that woman fabricate my conversation with her (she claims that she asked to check into her room and I said, "Absolutely not!") and bitch over and over about the hotel and the front desk staff -- I began to feel sorry for her. What a horrible and lonely life she must have to get so angry about a sloppy check-in process. No one got hurt. Her bank account wasn't drained. She wasn't sent outside to wait in the cold for hours. In fact, she was offered a room with her "friends" and given free booze and a fruit parfait. She was even given two vouchers for free drinks AND she wasn't even paying for her hotel room (also, she's from Colorado Springs, so it's not like she flew here or traveled a great distance). And yet, a sloppy check-in process ruined her entire day and I am going to go ahead and assume her entire week. In fact, I bet she will talk about this for the next year or any time someone mentions Estes Park. What a truly sad and angry life she must lead. On top of all of that, her face looks like an angry emu. 

Sorry. I couldn't resist! 

By the end of the night, everyone had felt Mrs. Bitch's wrath. Before Cookie and I ran into her in the hallway/stairwell, Mrs. Bitch had been in the lobby yelling to her friends, "Fuck this hotel! This hotel is the worst! I will never stay here again!" Batman, who had finally showed up, told her to calm down and that everything would be fixed in the morning. He explained that he had forgotten to up the credit limit on their company card and that that was why his card declined. According to Apple, Batman said, "You won't be charged for the room. I will fix it all in the morning and the front desk staff has been helping me out." Mrs. Bitch responded, "Fuck. This. Hotel. We will never stay here again!" That's fine with us, Mrs. Bitch. Your presence will not be missed!

*People who are super mean and ugly do not get the liberty of having their name changed in this blog.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Summer 2015: Pigs, Balls, and Elk

Hello dear readers! After an almost a six month hiatus I am back! Back on the road, back in a National Park, and back to blogging. I'm sorry I took such a long break. I won't go into too much detail, but basically grad school threw a few unexpected roadblocks my way (which have yet to be unblocked) and I found myself stretched very thin between that unexpected problem, keeping up with schoolwork, and trying to stay on-task with my freelance writing. That being said -- now it is summertime and the living is easy! Or, rather, easy-ish since I still have to deal with that damn roadblock, but oh well. Now is no time to think about that! Instead, let's jump right into the new trials and tribulations of this nomadic twentysomething year old.

I left the state of Georgia two days ago with my father, a packed Odysseus (my car), and two Garmin GPS systems. Did you know that most GPS systems only contain maps for half of the country? My dad's had the eastern United States in it and mine had the western. My dad's GPS could not fathom anything past the Mississippi River and mine just floated in space while I drove through Atlanta, trying to make sure I made the correct turns. Dad and I went north of GA a little ways and then headed straight west to Estes Park, Colorado, where I will be working as a Front Desk Clerk at a hotel we will call the Elk Inn (and just to throw this out there now -- that is not a code name for the famous Stanley Hotel).

Our drive went pretty well until we hit Kansas and, while beautiful, I found myself missing the cornfields and random mosque sightings of Indiana. Kansas was sunny and warm -- about seventy degrees. By the time we reached Colorado the temperature had dropped a bit and I felt silly in my flip flops and running shorts, but not totally insane. The next morning it was almost forty degrees...and sleeting...

Colorado has not quite been what I was expecting. For starters, there is snow -- everywhere. Estes park is a little over 7,500 ft high. I hear it "snows all summer" at 8,000 ft, but that Estes can get a sprinkling here and there. My leg sank calf-deep in a snow bank today and word on the elk-lined street is that we are supposed to get a foot of snow tonight. This is a sprinkling?! I feel like the two kids from that YouTube video: It's raining. No, it's sprinkling. No, it is actually snowing.

When dad and I arrived at the Elk Inn I checked-in with my new boss and was given a very brief rundown of the next few days: I will be sleeping in a room in the hotel until I clear my drug test on Monday. My boss pointed to numbered squares on a map of the hotel. "You're going to be in this building," he said, drawing a blue highlighter circle around a rectangular building that was adjacent to the rest. "It's empty right now so it'll just be you in that building." I wanted to look at him and ask, "Have you learned nothing from The Shining??" Nevertheless, I accepted the key and went to check it out.

After this brief check-in, Dad and I drove around the corner to the employee housing. The housing is a long, narrow, rectangular building. There is a small sitting room and afterthought kitchen by the entrance and then rows of doors leading to bedrooms. I found my bedroom, knocked (because I have a roommate who has already been here for a month), and let myself in. The only word I can think to describe the room is "ramshackle." First off, the doorknob just hangs from its hole in the door. It's not actually functional. There were two double beds, but it was hard to tell which one was currently being used and which was not. The room was dark except for a small, dim lamp on a tiny table between the two beds. The bathroom fan was on even though no switch was thrown and the whole place was just dark, dingy, and looked like the kind of hotel room where drug rings are busted. My heart immediately sank and I started to think, This may not work out. On my way out of Drug Ring Central I ran into three other seasonal employees, two of which will be working at the front desk with me.

My housing! Just kidding. This is the condemned building behind the hotel that I thought was my housing and even tried to get into one of the rooms. Luckily, my actual housing is behind this building, but I am not sure which looks shabbier. 

Not wanting to waste our day, Dad and I grabbed some lunch and then headed into Rocky Mountain National Park. It started to snow as we pulled up outside the Visitor Center. Dad laughed and said, "Isn't this great?" I scowled and mentally calculated how long I would have to stay in Colorado in order to tell people, "See? I tried! It just didn't work out. Darn."

Although snow-covered and feeling like the middle of winter, the Rockies are beautiful. We saw some elk, drove to about 9,000 ft, and felt the impact of the altitude after climbing up a small hill.

Some photos from Rocky Mountains Trip #1
After driving around winding roads for a few hours, Dad and I headed back to the hotel to rest a while before dinner. I decided to explore the hotel a bit and began following signs to the Fitness Center, but somehow missed it and ended up in the front lobby. This was fortuitous because two of the three people I had met earlier were working and I was able to chat with them. The guy asked me what I thought about the housing. I hesitated, trying to think of something nice to say, and the girl finally spoke for me: "It sucks, doesn't it?" I breathed a sigh of relief, happy that if I am going to be miserable, at least I can commiserate this misery with others. 

Also, brief side note -- while talking to my boyfriend on the phone, I stood at the end of the hotel's second floor hallway and watched people walking in and out of the hotel. The Elk Inn accepts pets and I watched this walk inside:

 Apparently this is a therapy animal: Ziggy the Piggy.

Dad and I ate at the Elk Inn's restaurant for dinner. I am allowed one meal during every shift that I work this summer so I was anxious to see what my options would be. Turns out they are fairly limited, but the food wasn't bad. Our waitress, also a new employee, was from Minnesota and asked if we would like the fried Rocky Mountain oyster appetizer that was on special. Islanders who are not known to pass up seafood, Dad and I said yes, but regretted this decision as the oysters tasted horrendous. Each bite was chewy and bitter and had an odd burnt flavour to it. Obviously, being over 900 miles away from the nearest ocean, we didn't expect much, but these were just plain weird. Still, they didn't taste like they had gone bad and we were compelled to finish the ten between us because a) who wastes oysters? and b) we didn't want to be rude (although I'll admit the islander in me was going, How did you mess these up so egregiously?). When the waitress asked how they were my dad responded, "Were those actually oysters?" The girl look confused. "I think so," she said. "Did they not taste like oysters?"

"They were a little strange," I admitted.

"And they were flat," Dad said, "oysters are normally thicker."

The girl nodded. "I've never actually had oysters before so I wouldn't know."

"Are they supposed to be fresh?" I asked, genuinely curious as to whether there were salt water refineries in Colorado. I remembered a couple sitting behind us at the restaurant from the previous night (our first night in Colorado) eating oysters on the half-shell. Maybe Colorado was trying to reap the benefits of expensive seafood.

The girl said she found the concept of Rocky Mountain oysters strange, too, but assumed they came out of the ocean and were frozen.

Dad and I then headed over to a grocery store to pick up some things for breakfast. We ran into the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine and by the time we headed back to the hotel it was snowing...again. The predication was a foot of snow by 4 a.m.

Before bed, I called my boyfriend again and told him about the rest of the day. I started to tell him about the Rocky Mountain oysters and he stopped me: "You didn't eat those, did you?"

"I know, I know," I said, knowing he's as much of a seafood snob as I am (basically meaning, if you're not within an hour of the ocean then you can't call it "fresh"), "we thought we'd give it a shot."

"Those aren't oysters."

"Not fresh oysters. They were probably frozen beforehand --"

"No. Those are not oysters."

"...what are they?"


After much "what? no they're not!" I looked it up on Google and found the horrendous truth: Rocky Mountain oysters are fried bull, goat, or cow testicles, depending on what's on hand.

OH. MY. GOD. First, let's talk about how strange it is to eat something so disgusting, and be aware as you are eating it that it is disgusting, and yet you still eat it because you don't realize what it actually is (sort of like a placebo effect, but much more nauseating). Also, WHY were the testicles served with a traditional horseradish cocktail sauce? The kind you always see served with shrimp? That was clearly put there to fake out Colorado tourists and newbies into thinking that these are actual from-the-ocean, out-of-a-hard-shell, pearl-producing oysters.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. My first day in Estes Park and I have learned that I will be living in a crack house, there's snow on the ground and I am still wearing flip flops, there are pigs in my hotel, and I have had more balls in my mouth than I ever preferred to. Do I hear the faint sounds of Blue Ridge banjo plucking?

Feeling super unsure and super cold outside of Estes.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Let's Talk About Weather

One night during my senior year at Kalamazoo College in Michigan I drove a few friends home after Half-Off Long Island Night at a bar. Most of the people lived within walking distance of the bar, but it started to pour so I snaked my way up and down one-way streets to get my passengers home safely. The last person I needed to drop off was Mark, a guy who I was semi-dating at the time. As I pulled away from campus and onto Main Street the rain became a monsoon. I could hardly see in front of me and was grateful there were no other vehicles on the road so that I could drive at 5 mph. A siren started to sound from behind me, but the rain was too dense to see where the ambulance or fire truck was coming from. Luckily I was near Mark's street so I kept driving.

Parked in Mark's driveway, we sat and listened to the rain and sirens for a while. I'm not sure what Mark was waiting for, but I was biding my time hoping he would invite me inside. Mark was not the most "physical" guy I had ever dated, but he was a sweet man and just what I needed after my boyfriend of three years had stomped on my heart the previous summer. Any action I got from Mark was initiated by me, but I had never been ballsy enough to invite myself inside Mark's home.

We started to comment on the weather, the lightning illuminating the sky, and we gradually approached the subject of "us". Somewhere in this conversation I received a text from one of my housemates: Where are you? I replied: In my car with Mark. What's up? Immediately my phone rang. "What do you mean you're in your car?" Laura snapped.

"Uhh I was driving people home after drinking at Roadhouse and now Mark and I are in my car?" I tried to send Laura telepathic messages saying, I am trying to make a move here and you're cramping my style. Unfortunately, our telepathic language is normally relayed in wide eyes and eyebrow movements so she wasn't picking up on my message.

"Don't you hear the siren?"

"You hear it too?" I said, looking back to the road. Mark lived one street over from my house so it was possible that I could hear the ambulance if it was near my roommates. "It's moving really slowly. Oh my god!" Suddenly I wondered if the ambulance wasn't moving. What if it was stopped because it was tending to whoever was hurt? What if it was stopped at my house? "Is everyone okay?"

"That is a tornado siren," Laura said, "there is a tornado in the area."

The brief panic I felt that one of my housemates may be injured deflated. "Oh," I said, turning to look at Mark. I'm from the coast of Georgia. I wasn't sure if I had ever heard an active there's a tornado seek shelter now tornado siren. I had heard the ones they tested in Kalamazoo from time to time, but the unending siren I was hearing that night hadn't registered as the same sort of siren. Mark was from Michigan, however. What was his excuse? "Should we get out of the car?" I asked more hesitantly than I should have.

"YES GET OUT OF THE CAR. We're all in the laundry room."   

I relayed all of this information to Mark. We went inside his house. The tornado never came to our street or our college, but I was grateful for the sudden temperamental weather because it got me what I wanted -- and invitation inside. 

I was reminded of this night in my car with Mark when I woke up this morning to tornado sirens in Milledgeville, Georgia. Having grown up on a small island off the coast of Georgia, I forget that there are areas of the state where tornadoes can actually form and cause some damage. It was 9:30am when the sound of the siren woke me up. After a fever-and-sore-throat fueled night kept me from getting much sleep I felt delirious and thought, "I don't remember hearing them test the sirens before. Oh well. Maybe they test them once a month and I never paid attention." I pulled my comforter over my head to go back to sleep. On a typical Monday, I would have already been at my assistantship for an hour and a half at this time, but when 1:30am rolled around and I was still tossing and turning I emailed my advisor telling her I was too sick to come in. Before I shut my eyes I instinctively checked my phone. My daily TimeHop app was waiting for me to view it, I had a few texts from some MFA friends, and a weather alert: Tornado Warning in effect until 10:15 a.m. Seek shelter now.

I sat up and took out my earplugs. The siren was still blaring and it was pouring. My cat, Belmont, stretched on the body pillow on the floor and looked at me sleepily. I couldn't remember the difference between a warning and a watch so I called one of my old housemates, Christine, from Kalamazoo. When she didn't pick up I checked my texts from my classmates. They were from Penny and Kera asking if we were all going to meet at the local coffee shop at noon for our Monday writing date. I responded to the group text: I'm not going to make it out today because I am super sick and it hurts to swallow. I had to call in sick :( Btw, is there a tornado warning?

Kera responded: Yes - we're all downstairs taking cover! Stay away from windows. She asked if I needed any medicine and offered to pick some up later. Then she added: Also, tornado is actually heading in our direction from Macon, so this is no joke!

I stood up and reached for Belmont. My cat gets scared if I move too quickly and she darted from my grasp. I chased her into the second bedroom, picked her up, and dropped her when she dug her claws into my chest. Instead I grabbed my laptop, told Belmont she was on her own, and went into the bathroom. 

This seemed humourous to me -- four years out of college, living on my own, having dealt with a few harrowing storms during my time in Chicago and yet I was still relying on friends to tell me what to do during a tornado. Tornadoes are one of  two natural disasters I just don't think about because they're never been huge threats in places where I lived (the other is earthquakes). On the southeastern coast we get tornadoes with hurricanes, but usually you're more worried about the hurricane as a whole rather than the tornadoes that come with it. And truth be told, hurricanes in coastal Georgia were awesome because we would always have the threat of the storm, schools would be closed, and sometimes we had to evacuate, but the hurricanes never actually hit the Golden Isles. They would get close enough to make businesses board-up and then suddenly they would catch the Gulf Stream and ride it straight into the Carolinas. My memories of Hurricane Season include eating at Chic-fil-a with friends after school was closed in the middle of the day, driving through flooded areas in golf carts, and sitting on the beach watching the Atlantic ocean waves battle each other. My family and I wouldn't even evacuate until it was mandatory. When it came to hurricanes, I did the minimal amount of preparation required. Tornadoes, however, are so unfamiliar that I will do whatever people tell me to do. Seek shelter? Done. Sit in a door frame? Got it. Pull my mattress into the bathroom and create a bunker out of my bathtub? I'm already there.

I did not bring my mattress into the bathroom, but I did spend the next hour sitting on the floor with my back against the tub texting storm updates with Kera. She was being fed information by the people at the college and I was telling her what I was hearing outside -- rain, the siren, and possibly hail at one point when suddenly the rain was so loud that I thought a window may have flown open. Penny reported that everyone in the library was also taken to a basement area. Jeanette began texting me and told me how to duck-and-cover should a tornado actually pass over my apartment. A tornado entered south Baldwin County, the rain became so deafening that I could no longer hear the siren and then suddenly it all seemed to stop. A voice replaced the siren, but I couldn't understand it. By the time I left the bathroom the voice had stopped and there was a series of low honks, a sound that I learned during a snow emergency in Chicago meant "all clear." I started to text Kera when the voice spoke again and said, "All clear. The emergency is over."

As I left the bathroom I noticed blood on my hand. I looked down and saw a bright red streak where Belmont had sunk her claws into my chest. "You little bitch," I said to Belmont, who I knew was still hiding under my bed, "I was just trying to save your life." I had to use the last bandaid in my apartment to cover the small hole. I guess if Belmont and I are going to go through this for the next three years I'll have to get more bandaids.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Milledgeville Update

Hello, dear readers! You would think being in an MFA writing program would mean I would write blog posts more often. Sadly, that seems to not be the case. Since coming to Milledgeville I have been writing a lot, but not for this blog. Part of it is because I am trying to perfect my writing for class, another part is that I am writing for freelance gigs, and the last part is that I just have not had much to write about.

It has now been almost two months since I left Chicago and I am desperately homesick. The smallest thing can remind me of the Windy City and God help me if I am even slightly inebriated when this happens because it is instant beer-tears. I am trying to "make do" here. I am inviting people over to my apartment to hangout or watch a movie, I accept EVERY invitation that I get, I am going to the gym whenever I feel sad (thank god because I also can't stop eating comfort food), and I got a cat. The cat's name is Belmont (named after a Chicago L stop -- big help when trying not to have anything remind me of Chitown) and while she is still a bit skittish around me I think we are becoming friends. She has now learned that there is not a horrible monster atop my bed and that if she jumps up there then she will be scratched and pet. It's a slow learning process, but I think we'll make some significant progress by December -- just in time for me to take her to St. Simons for the month-long Christmas break, thus freaking her out again. Hooray!

Good Things About Milledgeville 
(because listing thing always makes me feel more positive)

  1. Food and drink is cheap. Two mixed drinks will cost you less than $8 (together, not each) and when the Braces play, the one "happening" bar in town marks everything half-off. I never thought I would care about when the Braves played until now!
  2. There is just one panhandler in Milledgeville, which is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you aren't passing a minimum of ten people asking you for money everyday, but on the other hand you get a bit tired of the same man approaching you over and over. My boyfriend gave this man money once, but didn't a second time. After this second time, the panhandler stomped off and overturned a trash can lid because he was so angry. Surprisingly, that has never happened to me in Chicago. At least I know who to avoid on the street!
  3. Being surrounded by other writers has influenced me to write more and seek-out freelance jobs. I am fortunate to have scored a few paying gigs and even wrote an article that ended up being published on the Huffington Post! That definitely would not have happened if I was still in Chicago.
  4. "Free" gym membership at my college's Wellness Center. I realize that my Student Fees technically pay for me to use the gym, but that money was taken out of my financial aid before I ever saw it so it feels like it is free.

Okay that's all I've got for now. Maybe I'll become gradually more appreciative of this town as time goes on. When people ask me, "How are you liking Milledgeville?" I answer, "The school is nice and my classmates are nice, but I hate the town." That pretty much sums up my current sentiments.

Fun fact: Flannery O'Connor, Milledgeville and Georgia College's claim to fame, hated Milledgeville too. What a smart lady!