My visit to the Twilight Zone - er, Oklahoma
Now that I've laid bare my angst over remote learning, let's chat about my wacky trip to Oklahoma. Is it a weird time to travel? Yes. Did I go anyway? Also yes. My youngest sister and her family already had COVID so visiting them didn't feel super risky (to either party). I was also visiting my mom and stad, which was certainly scarier. They confirmed that they definitely wanted me to come, with my mom saying, "Well, you gotta drop dead sometime." I think we've all developed this sort of gallows humor now.
I boarded a flight at the crack of dawn on October 21st, "enjoyed" an extended layover in Denver, and then arrived in Oklahoma City by mid-afternoon. My flights were fine (it's nice that Southwest is keeping middle seats open at the moment), though I definitely developed a new appreciation for people who have to wear a mask all day at jobs and such. When I landed in OK, it was roughly forty degrees warmer than the weather I'd left that morning. I'd dressed in layers so that I could start disrobing upon my arrival. My parents had booked a hotel room for me (I needed to work while I was there, so having reliable wifi was a must) so I checked in and then promptly jumped into my rental car to head 40 minutes west. I wanted to get to my sister's house because it was my nephew's 12th birthday. When I arrived, his older brother was the only one home. The dogs lost their minds once they saw a car (and! OMG! a person!) they didn't recognize.
My nephew let me in and then told me about all the theories he'd instantly developed about a car pulling up to their very rural homestead. "I thought maybe someone was coming to steal my dad's truck!" he said. A few minutes later: "Or maybe a meth addict trying to figure out how to get in!" They live on a road with no name and no neighbors anywhere close but sure, meth addicts probably wander by quite a bit. You know, casing the joint. Plus, who doesn't want to rob a house with seven large dogs in it?
Soon, my sister arrived with my other nephews and before long, my brother-in-law was on the scene, too. We had dinner (my sister is a great cook) and chocolate cake. I left right after nightfall to stop at my parents' house for a quick visit. Those rural roads are something else after dark, let me tell you. No street lights for miles and miles. On the way back to my hotel, I grabbed a few groceries (my room had a microwave and refrigerator) and then settled in for the night.
The next few days were great. I got some work done and spent lots of time with family. I spent an afternoon with my mom, scanning old photos. With COVID still so prevalent, I didn't "do" a lot on my trip except to hang out in various locations. I enjoyed spending a lot of time with my nephews. My sister made some great vegan meals and even made a second birthday cake after the boys scarfed down the first one within hours.
After three days in the first hotel, I moved to a small motel in Cordell for the weekend. This put me 15-20 minutes away from my sister instead of 40. I knew what I was getting with this place. It's very old, and the vibe is somewhere between "nostalgic" and "ew, this carpet." The bathroom featured pink and green tile and you sort of had to sit under the sink to use the toilet. #quaint
The middle nephew (the one who'd just celebrated a birthday) stayed with me Saturday night. I'd booked a double because I figured one of the boys would want to get away from his brothers for a minute. I warned him that I have to take my wig off at night and that it would be on a wig stand in the bathroom. That didn't stop him from promptly forgetting and then scaring the shit out of himself when he walked into the bathroom right before bedtime.
On Sunday, my last night in OK, the eight of us met at a Mexican restaurant in Clinton for one final hurrah. After that, I headed back to my motel room to prepare for my trip back to Oklahoma City the next morning. Early Monday, my sister sent me a text warning me that the roads were icy and school had been canceled. I hadn't looked outside, so I appreciated the warning. I had a 90-minute drive to the airport so I made sure to get moving a little faster.
My rental car was fully encased in ice. No scraper. I ran the defrost at full blast and tried to figure out how to get the ice off. The rental office was closed until 10 so that was a no-go. Out of desperation I scraped the windows with my daughter's library card because God knows she does not use it. One of the owners must have noticed my predicament; he came out and handed me a scraper. Soon, I was on my way to the airport at a slow and steady pace.
I was about a mile from the airport when my phone dinged with a new text. It was Southwest Airlines letting me know that my flight had been canceled. I had been re-booked on a flight for Tuesday. I pulled over into an empty lot. "Okay, I can handle this," I thought. I called Budget and extended my car for another day (to the tune of $60). My brother-in-law was kind enough to use some of his Hilton points to book me at a Double Tree hotel near the airport. No sooner had these new plans been made when another text came through from Southwest. Tuesday's flight had also been canceled. Son of a biscuit! I had been re-booked for Wednesday.
Here's where the trip goes downhill a bit. Since I now had time to kill and couldn't check into my hotel, I took myself out to lunch at a great place called The Red Cup. Then I drove to an Old Navy to grab some leggings and a jersey dress. I had a few unworn clothing items in my suitcase but they were for warmer weather, which was now long gone. I checked into the hotel room that had been booked for me. It was very nice! I started hatching a plan to get home sooner than later. Just then, the power went out. And stayed out. I decided to cancel the Wednesday flight and book a flight out of St. Louis on Tuesday afternoon. Was I crazy? I'd have to drive 7.5 hours. Next, I called Budget to see if I could return my rental car at STL instead of OKC. The chick puts me on hold for a moment and then came back to inform me that I would need to pay over $600 to return the car to a different city. This exorbitant rate included a "one-way penalty" because you know, they can't have rental cars MOVING ALL OVER THE COUNTRY. "No thanks!" I said.
I then used the Priceline app on my phone to book a rental car with Alamo. It was $140, which was nearly $500 less than Budget's nonsense. I drove over to the airport and returned the car to Budget. Then, I walked over to Alamo and picked up a white Nissan to replace the white Hyundai I'd been driving. I felt like I was stuck in a bad sitcom.
Before heading back to my hotel, I stopped at a Del Taco to grab some dinner. I'd heard of Del Taco but had never eaten at one. The drive-through menu display was covered in ice so I couldn't see it. However, I'd looked online and knew they had an Impossible (plant-based) burrito on the menu. So, I ordered that and took it back to my hotel to eat it. You'll be shocked to hear that the burrito had none of the Impossible "meat" on it. It was just beans, tomato, and lettuce. And I'd been charged roughly $8.00 for it. If not for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all.
Meanwhile, the sun had set and various forms of precipitation continued to fall. I decided to say in my hotel room and get everything set up to leave in the wee hours. I tell you, my phone's flashlight has never had such a work-out. I set my alarm for 2:45 a.m. and climbed into bed at around 8. My bestie called me and we chatted for a while. I couldn't watch TV or read a book so I figured I may as well sleep. Since the heat was out, the temperature in my room was dropping. Fortunately, I'd brought a hoodie and slept with that over my pajamas. My alarm screamed to life at 2:45 (the alarm sound is Crackity Jones by the Pixies and if that won't get you moving, I don't know what will). I fired up my flashlight again and got my act together (well, as well as I could, anyway). I brushed my teeth in the dark and didn't really attempt any make-up.
Here's the scary part. I'd half-expected the lights to come on in the middle of the night or something like that. They had not. I opened the door to my room and headed into a dark hallway. I mean to tell you it was pitch black. Even the exit signs had given up and had gone dark. The elevator was not an option, of course. So, I found my way to the stairwell and clunked down the stairs with my suitcase in tow. I am not one to get spooked easily but being in a strange place, alone, with no lights? It was a little frightening. I found my way to the front desk to check out. They had some emergency lights running. I handed over the key card. The front desk person pulled it up on her computer (not sure how that was working). "Thank you for being a Diamond member," she said to me. Then she handed me a breakfast-to-go box that I wouldn't be able to eat and I left. I kinda thought there might be some kind of "sorry you slept in a cold, dark room" but she was fully committed to the "business as usual" thing.
Once again, my rental car was encased in solid ice. And once again there was no scraper. The library card was pressed into hard labor once more time. It took a while to get the car into a condition that felt safe to drive, so it was close to 4 a.m. by the time I pulled out into the still-dark street. I realize that it may seem like this was a foolhardy (and maybe even dangerous) endeavor but I knew that if I could just get out of Oklahoma City, the ice would give way to rain and that it shouldn't be too bad. I drove verrrry carefully and before too long I was closing in on Tulsa. By then, the roads were no longer icy and the drive felt less harrowing. I was able to drive the speed limit and made my way through Oklahoma and then Missouri. I regretted that I didn't have time to stop at any of the tourist traps. I passed a festive spot called Uranus, which is apparently known for its fudge (the billboards say things like "The best fudge comes from Uranus!"). As I was driving northeast on highway 44, I saw a terrible back-up on the westbound lanes. There was a car-be-que complete with smoke billowing into the sky. I hope no one was injured. I felt bad for those folks but also fortunate that it wasn't on my side of the highway. I realized it wouldn't take much to keep me from boarding that flight.
I made it to the airport with about an hour to spare. I had only stopped once during the long drive; I was starvin' marvin. I grabbed a bite to eat before boarding my flight. The flight went smoothly (had the row to myself) and landed safely at my local airport about an hour later. I was home by dinnertime.
Was I crazy to drive from OKC to STL? It seemed like a wacky idea at the time, but honestly, I'm very glad I took the chance. I am on a couple of prescriptions and had not brought extras. I was out of clothes, underwear, etc. Sure, I could have stayed at my hotel but I wouldn't have been able to work (or do anything, really). The bad weather story continued for the Okies. My sister lost power on Monday and didn't get it back until Friday. It all seems a little surreal but all's well that ends well.
One of my favorite clients called me yesterday to ask about the trip. "Oh, C!" she said. "I told you not to go!" I don't remember her telling me that but there is something in my DNA that prevents me from NOT doing something once I've said I'll do it (even if that something is dangerous, ill-advised, whatever). Seeing my people, even during these scary times? Priceless.
|Me and my sissy (circa 1984). One of the old photos I scanned.|
The motel in Cordell is conveniently located in 1978.
|One nephew plus my parents.|
|The birthday boy. Is that . . . a halo???|