U.F.O.’s, WTF?

area51
“U.F.O.’s, and aliens, and alternate universes, oh my!”

The first time I explored “Alien Territory”, both literally as a region of the U.S. I’d not previously been to and figuratively as the area of North America best known for  U.F.O. intrigue, a’la Roswell and Area 51, my senses and “alien radar” were abuzz!  Though I’m skeptical regarding abductions I don’t rule them out completely and I’m just happy to say I can’t speak from personal experience (and I’d like to keep it that way).  End of the day, I’m a believer, and have even made the mecca to the U.F.O. museum in Roswell, New Mexico from S.E. Florida twice, a destination only reached through purposeful intent due to its remote location.

On an extended road-trip through the southwestern United States, my friend & I knew we had officially entered X-Files domain when we passed an electrical box on a busy street corner that was currently doubling as a canvas for an amateurish but passionate painting of a large alien head and U.F.O. that dominated a background of night sky.  Accompanying this imagery were the brush-stroked and thought provoking words, “Do you believe?”.  This random but clear welcome to “Alienville” demanded a brief filming & photo op that we obliged by pulling over in the bustling intersection, unashamed & unapologetic, giggling, tourists.

Many miles to go to that days destination, the sunlight slowly disappeared until it winked goodbye on the western horizon.  With its departure there was no civilization present as far as the eye could see to offer even the faintest glow to cut the pitch black, desert, darkness as we navigated our rental car onward.  Traveling the dark and barren landscape, vehicles passed us and visa-versa only at noticeably extended intervals.  Fortunately, as good friends do, we had no trouble amusing ourselves as the hours and the miles ticked by, aliens naturally being a discussed and revisited topic of conversation along the way.  Until……suddenly……

”WHAT WAS THAT?”, I yelled out in alarm and excitement, leaning over her to get a better look out her driver’s side window.  “What?  WHAT?”, she loudly responded, uncertain whether to be alarmed or intrigued.

Me:  (Stammering and exclaiming) “I SWEAR, I just saw a light going across the sky and it just DISAPPEARED!”

Her (again):  “Where?  WHERE?”

Me:  “It was right out your window……”

(nervous giggles while she drove and I continued gazing intently)

Me:  “THERE IT IS AGAIN but IN A DIFFERENT PART OF THE SKY!”

Her:  “Where?  WHERE?  Oh my god! Where?”  (obviously working with limited dialogue under the circumstances)

Me:  “I swear, I’m not kidding you! I just saw it again but in a different part of the sky!”

No other cars in sight, it was just us, the desert, and the aliens.

I rapidly began fumbling in the darkness of our car for the video camera we had brought along to film our journey for future Memory Lane viewing.  This *obviously* deserved inclusion as part of our vacation experience and, more importantly, documentation for official, scientific review!  Despite my amateur filming skills and our mutually distracting squeals of excitement, disbelief, and shock, I managed to get the video camera out and the lens into focus.  I directed the camera towards, and recorded, out the front of the windshield into the void of the empty sky as we waited for our next Visitor From Beyond to make their presence known….and we were not disappointed!  This time BOTH of us saw it – “Oh my god!  Oh my god!  Oh my god!”

Her:  “I saw it!  I saw it!  Ohmygod!”

Me:  “I told you!  Ohmygod!  Pull over!  PULL OVER!”

(Insert ear piercing, extended, exclamations, merged together in a non-sensical, audio train-wreck.)

Then…..silence.

Too entranced to pull over, to do anything other than gaze with hypnotized wonder into the ebony infinity above, we saw yet another, this time clearly a different light that was much closer though which disappeared just as quickly as its companions.  Then, just a moment later, it played its role in this extraterrestrial game of “Simon Says” as it too reappeared.  A little bit longer and….AGAIN!  Same thing, different place in vast sky.  They…were…EVERYWHERE!  We were absolutely beside ourselves and it truly was one of the most exciting and intriguing moments of my life until…….

Her:  “Oh my god.  They’re PLANES!”

Me:  “Noooooo.”

Her:  “Yes!  Look!  You can barely see them because it’s so dark but there are clouds in the sky!  Every time we see a light it’s a plane and when it disappears it is going behind a cloud and then comes out the other side!”

Me:  (Gazing intently, the car loud with silence)

****There it is AGAIN!****

…..and now I see the damn cloud around it’s lights.

(Insert sound of deflating balloon *here*)

And so the road trip, us, and life moved on with one new item, a helluva’ entertaining vacation video segment, and one remaining item:

I still believe!

mork

The Trucker & the Damsel in Distress

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Filing under “Strange but True” facts, I went to Quaker boarding school my senior year of high school.  No, my family was not Quaker nor affiliated in any way and I chalk my parent’s selection to send me to that particular education location based on a combination of relative affordability and its incredibly remote location in B.F.E. Ohio.   Despite my bucking bronco arrival & drop off at the school it ultimately resulted in cherished life-long friends and memories

Fast forward to one year later and the commencement/graduation of the class below mine.  Let it be noted that when you live in an isolated environment for an entire school year with only 50 peers you get to know one another pretty well, for good or for bad (though mostly good).  Living just one state away at the time of the following year’s commencement, it was an obvious choice to make the journey to attend this production starring a cast of many friends.

I set off on the approximate seven-hour road-trip dressed, excited, and ready for a happy reunion and a weekend of celebration.  Wearing a full length, white, fitted skirt, a thoughtfully accessorized upper half, and white dress flats on my feet, I settled into my dad’s orange, Datsun B-210 for the solo road trip, my permed 80’s hair standing at attention through a cloud of suffocating hair spray that occupied the remainder of the vehicle.

I don’t recall how far along into the trip I was when an emotional recipe made from ingredients of alarm and concern began baking but I do recall that, when it happened, I was, literally, in the middle of nowhere.  With several hours ahead to my final destination, my tiny, orange vessel began making it clear that it was not happy as it went from a comfortable cruise to coughs, sputters, and jolts increasing in frequency the further I went.  Desperate for an exit there was none to be had while I hoped for the best until…….

D is for Datsun

AND

D is for DEAD

The car coming to a violent, dismissal regarding any further road travel as it came to a complete & uncooperative halt.  I managed to veer it off to the side of the road just as mysterious and unfriendly smoke began billowing out from under the hood.  Seeming the logical next step, I exited the vehicle in this No Man’s Land, pulling the hood lever as it responded with an audible and noticeable “pop” to allow me to look under the hood.  Upon hoisting it I was welcomed with heat and more smoke as I gazed upon a maze of mechanics to which I had no compass. I had arrived at the Deli of the Road, served up one very large & sour pickle.

I scanned my surroundings, a long and empty road with miles of equally empty landscape.  No cell phones back then, there were absolutely zero alternatives to simply beginning to walk.  With the lone beacon of civilization being a farmhouse on a far away hill, a good 3-4 miles ahead of where I stood and a significant way off of the main road, my brutally coifed 80’s hair, ankle length skirt, and dress flats, began the long trek in that direction.  As I fought tears and fears I had only clocked about half a mile on foot towards the Fateful Farmhouse when a large, tractor trailer rumbled by, one of the only vehicles I had seen since greeted with my major dilemma.  Striking my heart with relief that was overpowered by ice cold fear, I watched as the monster truck hit its breaks and purposefully pulled over to my side of the road.  So this is how it ends!  A crazy, substance addled, trucker, dragging me into his cab or, alternatively, the endless field that lay all around, 50/50 odds on the table regarding where I would meet the Grim Reaper, equally unpleasant and unpredicted, distinct possibilities

I froze in my tracks, a spiral permed, blonde deer in the brake lights, as the side door opened and the driver hopped down to the asphalt and walked towards me.  But wait…..he wasn’t just walking towards me….there was a bit of a lurch and deliberation to his stride.  Still frozen as I rode the teeter-totter of gratitude and concern, I came to the sudden realization that the trucker only had one leg, his unique gait the product of a prosthetic leg.  Though clearly not “politically correct”, my survival instincts assessed the situation for themselves, breathing a tentative but audible sigh of relieve with the realization that, should he offer a ride and I needed to bail to salvage my life, my odds of outrunning him were very, very, high, despite my ankle length, albatross skirt that I had come to curse more & more with each step.

Very aware and sensitive to my damsel in distress predicament, the trucker stopped with a bit of distance remaining between us, asking the obvious – did I need help?  Rapidly scanning the landscape once again it was clear that taking my chances with a one-legged, hopefully well-intentioned trucker trumped walking an additional 3+ miles to a remote farmhouse with unknown occupants, assuming that it was occupied at all.  So with pounding heart, I grabbed on to the handles to hoist myself up into the cab of this “King of the Road”, intimidating, steel beast.

He climbed back in on his side and eased into the driver’s seat as he asked me my name and inquired about how I found myself in this unfortunate situation.  As he shifted into drive and we began picking up steam in the vibrating cab, I began sharing my plight as I snuggled against my passenger door, hand firmly rested on the handle in a manner I hoped was not obvious, ready to throw myself out the door and onto the mercy of the asphalt should it be necessary.

The trucker confirmed that I was, indeed, in the middle of nowhere while sincerely sympathizing with both my situation and understood concern.  With a slow moving but large tidal wave of relief, he convincingly told me that I was safe as pictures of his two small children, a boy & a girl, smiled with reassurance from the dashboard, a dangling & swaying crucifix nodding in agreement.  In proper, stereo-typical, trucker fashion, he clicked the button to bring his C.B. to life, networking with his fellow 18-wheelers to find out where the nearest garage was, ultimately leading us to a small one about 20 miles down the road.

We slipped into casual and friendly conversation until our exit arrived and he delivered me to a One Horse Town with a mechanic and tow truck.  After I placed a collect phone call to my father I found myself being the one to reassure my Knight in Shining Steel that I would be fine, expressing my immeasurable gratitude to the extent that words would allow. I settled into an uncomfortable, plastic chair for the long wait ahead as his truck rumbled away in one direction, the tow truck in the other.

My orange carcass of a car rolled into the front of the garage some time later, riding bitch to the hulking tow truck.  Upon untangling the chains and locks of the mechanical beast, the mechanic disappeared to take an (educated) look under the hood, returning wearing an expression that did not indicate good news.  Apparently – and pay attention here – it’s a good idea to check and add oil before setting out on an extended road trip.  Who knew?  Well, apparently not me as I had “thrown a rod” due to an empty oil tank and the car, based on it’s current value, was officially pronounced dead.  A rental car was eventually delivered to the doorstep of the garage where I transferred my belongings from one vehicle to another before continuing my onward journey with an additional item packed, a lifelong memory and appreciation for prosthetic wearing truckers with hearts of gold.

Lived To Tell, Part 2 (The Granddaddy Hole)

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Easin’ on down the road (cue Diana Ross), next stop – The GRAND Canyon!  Also referred to upon our arrival as “The Granddaddy Hole” and “The Hole to End All Holes”.  Though our preferred names for this world re-known attraction may not be as widely known I’m certain that they are equally documented terms for this impressive, unique, and potentially dangerous destination.  That said, in this “Bennifer” and “Brangelina” world perhaps “G-Can” is better suited now. Call it what you will, the weather greeted us with double dose of beauty and calm, clear skies as we eased into our parking spot to embrace & appreciate our introduction to this natural wonder.

When we first arrived we were appropriately awestruck.  Numerous, defined sunbeams provided special lighting appropriate to such a spectacular stage.  If ever you wish to feel humbled regarding your individual existence you need only go to the Grand Canyon.  One cannot stand before it and not gain new and appreciative understanding of how vast & spectacular our world truly is.

We arrived just an hour or so before sunset.  Perfect, actually, as our research had emphasized that this Grand Canyon Goodnight Kiss was a spectacle not to be missed.  Mother Nature, however, was ready to test our commitment.

Fast forward about 30 minutes with darkening skies and scattering tourists.

Nope.  We’re not going anywhere.  You can’t scare us, Mother Nature!  Well, maybe a little bit…but we’re still not leaving!

As long as there was some sun to be seen, by God, we were going to see it set!  That determination fully in check, we did logically opt to wait in the car as the drizzle converted to rain and the rain converted to a wind-whipped downpour.  Fortunately, we’d had the foresight to have ponchos handy for our Wild West adventure so it was just a matter of biding our time until the spectacle deemed worthy of donning our unfashionable but functional rain gear.  As we passed the time in the dry confines of our rental car we listened to the local, a.m., information station for the state park.  As Mother Nature seemed to be embracing and exhibiting ever escalating PMS (Potentially Massive Storm with accompanying behavior suitable to the more commonly know definition of this acronym) there was little comfort to be had by listening to our radio station of choice.  Tales and warnings of Tourist’s Last Stands taken place over the past 24 hours were seriously conveyed, caution & warning emphasized.  Particular reports of note included the visitor who chose to disregard the restricted areas, subsequently resuting in a memorable departure from this earth via a long fall into the canyon, and another party who had a tree fall on their tent the night before.  FYI – the fact that we were tent camping for the first time on our trip that night and that the wind had picked up to kite shredding levels was not lost on us.  (Note to selves:  If our assigned tent site is near a giant tree we are sleeping in the car.)  Still we listened to the voices and the rain, mixing together into our mental cauldron of concern, dismay, intrigue, and defiance.

Should we leave?  YES!
Were we going to leave?  NO!
We were at The Granddaddy Hole and our mamas didn’t raise no wimps (though I’m fairly certain that they would not have sanctioned this choice).

Okay, here it is – the time is NOW! Sunset has taken the stage, the headline performer.  Suiting up in what is best described as blue, human tents with armholes, we burst open the car doors with determination and headed once again to the unobstructed and thinly railed lookout point, this time in gale force winds and blinding rain, plenty of elbow room now available on the previously crowded lookout as everyone with common sense had left.

So you know when there’s a massive hurricane hitting somewhere and the “low reporter on the totem pole” is standing out in death defying winds & rain (hopefully with hazard pay) to let us know how crappy & dangerous the weather there truly is (serving as a human exclamation point)?  Yep – like that.  But we saw the sunset, dammit, and it was STUNNING!

Mother Nature may have had PMS but so did we.  Our PMS stood for Pre-determined Mission Success.  We’ll never forget it….

AND we LIVED TO TELL!

Lived to Tell, Part 1 (The Teepee Turnaway)

route66Upon our winged arrival into Albuquerque, our wild west adventure was off to a winning start as we excitedly chattered in our modest but comfortable rental car bound for Santa Fe.  One problem.  Just over an hour into our drive we took notice of a mileage sign indicating our rapidly approaching proximity to the Arizona border.  For those unfamiliar with the geography of the southwest U.S. let it be known that Santa Fe is in the *opposite* direction from Albuquerque.  As I said, we were off to a winning start.

After a couple of nights in Santa Fe we headed towards the Arizona border, this time intentionally.  The agenda for the day was to drive through the Petrified Forest & Painted Desert and then stay the night at one of only two , old school, Route 66 heydey era, concrete teepee hotels.  Our stay at the Wigwam Hotel was at the top of my bucket list on this road trip.  Little did I know that the list that night would include no teepee but definitely included a bucket (if you count scraping the bottom of an accommodations one).  After a long and full day of driving and adventure we pulled up to the entrance of my coveted, eagerly anticipated, cheesy accommodation to discover it was CLOSED FOR THE NIGHT!

Oh….it hurts!
It HURTS!

This was a “one night only” engagement with no wiggle room for itinerary adjustment.  Simply put, we were S.O.L. – the Wigwam was WigWRONG.  No teepee fo’ you.

Now, as they say, we find ourselves in a quandary.  Holbrook, Arizona, where this gem was located, is not exactly a hotbed of activity nor accommodation options and the desert sun was rapidly bidding us adieu.  Cell phones were still a thing of the future so we were left to seek out alternate, after dark accommodations on a wing & a prayer.  Let it be known that budget was a MAJOR factor on this youngblood adventure though with the appropriately corresponding, lowbrow needs & expectations that youth provides.  We began navigating the area to pinpoint a hotel that looked friendly to our limited funds and, boy, did we find it!  Have you ever paid $15 for a HOTEL ROOM?  Well, WE HAVE but I can’t say I recommend it.  Let me also remind you the title of this blog is “Lived to Tell”.

We came across a “no tell motel” in this deserted desert dwelling and went in to inquire about price and availability.  As we stood at the front desk a highly “unusual” looking gentleman shuffled out from the office to greet us.  Now, I am not trying to be cruel or unkind, only factual.  He literally had the appearance of a lab creation, akin to Frankenstein’s monster (though not as handsome).  Despite our initial intimidation due to his shock of spastic, black hair, half-lidded bug eyes, and enormous height & girth, he exuded helpfulness as he listened to our plight, quickly morphing into a presence more akin to Andre the Giant, a la Princess Bride.  Escalating even higher on the endearment scale, not only did he confirm he had a room available but that we could have it for the low, low price of FIFTEEN BUCKS if we would just give him a half hour to fix the shower.  With hungry bellies and a restaurant across the street to fill the time we were SOLD!

After we’d had our fill of mediocre food we returned and got our room key.  While thrilled to have secured a place for the night that was to be the only “security” had as we discovered that the parking lot directly outside of our room had morphed into a party for vagrants.  Justifiably feeling like lambs to the slaughter, we quickly grabbed our belongings out of the car and scurried inside our room and…….

Oh myyyyyyyyyyy.

In case you are wondering, here is what a $15 a night hotel room provides:

1.  Said, drunken vagrants partying in the immediate parking lot.
2.  A t.v. stand on the wall with no t.v.
3.  A plant hanger hook on the ceiling with no plant but there was an actual, lone, clothes hanger dangling from it.  Viva la ambiance!
4.  A shower (and shower curtain) that were coated with enough black mold to consider ourselves fortunate to get out sans a previously undiscovered virus.
5.  Visible stains on the comforters (we never bothered to look at the sheets – TMI).
6.  BONUS!  A bug crawling across the bed.  Happy trails, roomie!

Suffice it say that both safety and sanitation were of obvious concern.  We quickly addressed the first issue by collectively pushing the large, long, wooden dresser to the front of the door to serve as a barricade.  We weren’t going down without a fight!  The sanitation issue was addressed to the best of our ability by cocooning ourselves in sleeping bags that we’d brought along for planned camping portions of our trip though we obviously had not envisioned using them in a hotel room.  That said, we were grateful to have them as there was likely a larger threat of intrusive critters in that hotel room than at a campground.  Champagne wishes & caviar dreams!

As we committed to our cause our nervous laughter eventually evolved into slumber until we awoke at the rooster hour with gratitude for living to see another sunrise firmly in check.  As we made our rapid exodus, the hotel disappearing in our rearview mirror, I came up with this spontaneous poem (best said rapidly for emphasis):

“Hanger on the ceiling,
bug on the bed.
If we don’t block the door
we’ll all be dead!”

We came.
We saw.
We LIVED TO TELL.

Get your kicks on Route 66!