Going away for my birthday was not really a consideration until a week beforehand. The past few years have been rather traditional. Coffee at Mozart's café, by the river, followed by returning to the condo and an afternoon by the pool. The evening has generally included dinner with friends (whomever was in town), and then Samantha and I would head downtown to watch the fireworks. However, this year the city was the one to change the routine a few weeks before I was told I could be whisked away for the long weekend. The fireworks were going to be moved, for one year only, due to construction, to the Circuit of the America's racetrack. After our last experience of getting to, and from COTA, I was unsure as to whether I would attend!
As we were travelling East, the flights outbound were not really conducive with anything. Dana thought it would be a much better option to leave on the Friday morning. We were going to fly into Charleston, West Virginia, and take in Ohio and Kentucky. As the fourth was on a Friday, many people chose to leave town on Wednesday or Thursday, and we experienced the slowdown at work around midday on the latter. It was, perhaps, more fortunate for our clients that we did not pack up shop early, as the usual last minute, 'must be done this afternoon' papers started to flood in around five.
Having left the office a little before seven, with no pressure to fight traffic, or queues, we arrived home, had something to eat, and packed our bags. As our flight was at five minutes past the hour of eight, we would have to leave home before 7am. Samantha had expressed a preference not to rise early enough to take us, and Dana had said we could leave the car at the airport. It was when he suggested that we did not have to leave the house until 6:45am, that I realized Samantha was going to 'surprise' me by foregoing her chance to have an extra few hours of sleep. I heard the door open a little after 6:30am, and a quadruped, tail wagging furiously, bounded into my bedroom to wish me a happy birthday. Dana was unsure how he let the 'cat out of the bag', as he had been most careful not to announce Samantha's intentions. I assured him that, as a mother, I knew my daughter too well, and I did not think she would let me go without a birthday hug on the day! I believe he was satisfied that he had not failed!
The airport was not particularly busy, and I flashed my 'preferred' customer card at the security agent to allow us to jump the not so long queue. We collected our bags from the x-ray machine, and made our way to the gate, where we were given the news that our flight was delayed, slightly, which allowed us to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. The chicken and waffles were delicious!
I thought it might be rude to suggest that the stewardess turn her frown upside-down, but it would have made for a more pleasant experience. When she threw water all over Dana, and failed to apologise, I thought perhaps she could read my mind! As he sat dripping from head to toe, she continued on her way, without so much as offering him a paper towel. I smiled bravely, hoping this would not be the shape of things to come on our three day weekend.
We arrived in Charleston, West Virginia, after a much more pleasant experience during the flight from Atlanta, where our obligatory 'layover' had not been too long. The car rental facility was located within the main terminal, and we loaded up the rather brightly coloured upgraded Nissan Sentra. The directions out of the airport were very clear, although there was only one way to go, and that was down the winding hill. Once at the bottom, the choices were more vast, but Dana was ready with his homemade brochure, which he carefully compiles before one of our jaunts. The exit was very clearly marked on the map, but unfortunately, those on the road failed to have the same amount of detail, and after about twenty minutes of driving along the Interstate, we came to the conclusion that we had gone too far. However, not to be deterred, and as the hour had just past two in the afternoon, we took advantage of the headway and decided to keep on driving. The mission was to take in two states on Friday, and perhaps take a ride into Virginia on Saturday.
It did not take long to get to the Ohio border, although perhaps the word 'border' is not the correct term, as it happens mid-bridge. The large overhead sign was almost missed by me, as we drove over the green metal structure, and another sign was not posted as we reached solid ground. We drove for a couple of miles and it was not long before I spotted a trusty Walmart. In the absence of gift shops, Walmart's souvenir stand, although often not offering much variety, does have a selection of fridge magnets, and a smattering of state t-shirts. The young salesperson, who was managing the self-check out section, looked rather blankly as I asked if they had any souvenirs, and suggested I try the stationery aisle. Dana joined me on the walk through the store. Unaware of the extent of my loss of hearing, due to the cabin pressure on the flight from Georgia, I directed Dana to the restroom, suggesting that he use it while I was searching for my wares. It is not often that I see my husband embarrassed, but he stopped in his tracks, and suggested that the rest of the store did not need to know his requirements. Unlike the frowning air steward, I offered an apology, albeit with laughter. As I made my way along the aisles, alone, as Dana had followed my loud instruction, I came upon an assistant manager. What he lacked in information, he made up for in teeth. At first I thought he may be a promotional representative of Colgate, but the badge pinned to his shirt definitely defined his position. Once again, I posed the question as to whether his store had any Ohio souvenirs. The gleam was almost blinding, but fortunately the enamel separated, and the words, 'not this store', came out before they shut tight again, and the brightness resumed. I saw Dana coming from the area of the restrooms, and signalled that our trip had been in vain. We left the vicinity of the store, and resumed our travels.
My father gave me a very sound piece of advice when I started driving. If stopped by a policeman for any reason, do not argue. Although I passed this on to my children, I did not think it necessary to say anything to my husband! As he asked whether I had seen a speed sign, I noticed the 55 miles per hour limit posted in front of us. At the same time, the blue and red lights were seen flashing behind us. It was not the suggestion of speeding that Dana refruted, but the number of speed signs that were purported to be on the side of the road. 'I didn't see one', he said, as the policeman asked if he knew the limit. As the young patrol officer told him that there were several along the road, Dana reitterated that he had not seen any. With the center consol in the way, I was unable to kick him, and (unlike the water-splashing stewardess) his mind reading skills were non-existent. The explanation that we were from out of state, on a three day trip, collecting states, seemed to settle the young man, and as he checked Dana's license and insurance documents, he let us know that he was going to issue a warning, this time! I thanked him profusely, as he took all the paperwork back to his vehicle to check that there were no outstanding warrants for Dana's incaceration, I suggested, in no uncertain terms, that it was not a good idea to disagree with the officer, nor to suggest that he did not see the obviously abundant amount of signs! Our documents were returned and we continued along to another painted metal bridge.
Kentucky, my 46th state, was entered as we reached the middle of the bridge, but there was a sign on the edge of the road as we cruised to the other side. We drove for several miles before we found a trusty Walmart. The assistant manager had perhaps never heard of Colgate, or any other dental products, but was most helpful in directing me to the souvenir stand. There were several t-shirts from which we could take our pick, and we left the store quite satisfied.
Apart from having to cross a river to enter any of the tri-state trio, from within the trio, it was not possible for us to cross back into West Virginia without passing, or stopping at, a Welcome Center. Obviously very proud of their state, the facilities were full of leaflets, information, and one had a gift shop! Walmart watch out! We bought the required items and headed back along the Interstate. Dana called the hotel once we reached the outskirts of Charleston, and asked which exit would lead us to their accommodation. It was very easy to find, once we knew where it was!
Our room was very nice, clean and of a reasonable size. After I had cleaned the spotless room, (old habits die hard,) we watched the end of the soccer match and got ready to go out for a celebrationary birthday dinner. The restaurant that we had picked, as there were several that were closed for the holiday, was more expensive than those we would frequent in Austin, but it complimented the meal of a birthday-ee, including dessert! I assumed, wrongly, that the dress code would smartish, or at the very least casual, but not beachwear, which would be a reasonable assumption as West Virginia is landlocked! Dana wore a pair of smart trousers and a shirt, but did not wear a tie, which was a shame, as he could have tied it round his head and fitted in quite well! I wore my (age appropriate) little black number, which would not look out of place at a cocktail party. Unfortunately, there was not a cocktail party to be found!
As we drove into town, we realised our mistake. The multi-storey car park was beginning to fill up, as we realised the open top floor was probably the place to be to watch the fireworks, if you did not want to risk driving too near to the exhibition ground, and find it overcrowded. We entered the elevator, with young man who could not afford needle and thread. The holes in his trousers were beyond the fashionable rip! However, I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard him say he was on his way to work, as I concluded that he would soon be able to buy himself a new set of garments! The closing of the door was halted by three people. They entered, speaking a mixture of English and obscenities, with the latter being more prevalent. We were all going down one floor, and I wondered why we had not looked for the stairs. I didn't start to panic immediately upon realising the doors were not going to open. I started to panic when the young girl said that this was not the first time she had been stuck in this particular elevator, and dwelling on past experiences suggested that we were going to spend 'all night' waiting to be rescued. I didn't start to feel as if the walls were closing in and the air was becoming thinner immediately. I started to feel the oxygen deprivation when another member of the trapped nation commented on how hot it was getting, and how it was a good thing none of us were claustrophobic. The young man in the torn garments was the only one who appeared to have his wits about him and pressed the emergency button. The first question, 'Where are you?', was not rhetorical. This did nothing to calm my nerves. The second question sent me spiralling to the floor. 'Which elevator?' Fortunately, I was struck dumb with fear, but my internal voice was screaming, 'The one from which the shouts of 'help' are coming!' There were, after all, only two options, and they were next to each other! The eternity was in reality only about five minutes, and finally we heard a voice from above asking, 'are you in this one?' I did not run out of the lift, but walked very slowly and then started to shake, uncontrollably. Dana was amazed. He had assumed that my squeezing the life out of his hand was because we were sharing space with some uncouth youths! Once composed, I assured him that I did not have a problem with the youngsters, the quivering was due to anxiety! I wondered if he had been 'swapped out' at some time during our marriage, and started to look for 'distinguishing marks', when he said he had no idea that I had an issue with confined spaces!
Dinner helped put things into perspective. The meal was delicious, including the dessert! It is not often that a Greek salad is an alternative to a 'house' or 'ceasar', but it was ordered and enjoyed. It was just as well that I was dressed like I was on a royal visit, as I ate like a king!
The walk back to the car helped to digest some of the feast, and I bravely entered the elevator, as Dana had seemed to, once again, forget that I had any form of aversion! We did not stay downtown for the fireworks, but had a grand view from our room, and as the capital city lit up, we sipped our complimentary cup of tea.
Saturday morning started with breakfast in the lounge, with a few friendly residents. There was not a queue for the waffle machine, as no one was sure how to use it! Although my attire was more casual, I became queen with all my subjects keenly watching on, as I poured the batter into the 'iron', closed the top and flipped it over. The clock started to count down, and when the bell rang, I was almost expecting a round of applause. The 'ooh's, and 'ahh's, were sufficient!
It was a fairly long drive across the state to cross over into Virginia. We had been to the 'Commonwealth' on our trip to Washington DC, but decided to see it from another angle. We were greeted very kindly, and politely, by the lady at the tollgate, on the West Virginia Turnpike, and Dana commented that he appreciated her sunny disposition, or words to that effect. As he told her we were from Texas, he intimated that the toll booth employees in Austin are not always particularly congenial. She laughed and looked across at me. 'Do we all talk funny here?' She laughed even louder when I answered, 'I think the whole country talks funny. I'm from England'. Seemingly unaware of the queue forming behind us, she continued with the conversation and asked me to 'keep talking. I just love the way you talk'.
We were greeted with peanuts at the Virginia Welcome Center, and were advised that we could help ourselves to brochures and stickers. The slogan 'Virginia is for lovers', appeared to be on virtually everything. I was going to ask if it was compulsory, but thought the irony may be lost! We thanked the lady for our small kernel snack, and headed back to the car. The adventure into the 'Mother of States', (I apologise. I laughed!) was not terribly long, and we headed back across the border into the mountain state. Another day, another border, another 'Welcome Center'! We drove for several miles, admiring the beautiful scenery, and rolling hills. As we had not managed to find a place to stop to capture the obligatory 'I have entered Ohio' picture, the Buckeye state was added to our route. Once again, the only way into the territory was by bridge, and once again there was no sign on flat ground.
The riverside properties were not particularly luxurious, nor well maintained. We noticed that the river was a murky brown, and assumed that was the reason for the lack of people. The tell tale sign of a giant chimney stack, and the signs on the wall, 'Safety is our priority', made us slightly uneasy As we drove under a form of tubing that joined the plant, which was on both sides of the road, we saw a cooling tower, and automatically held our breath, as if it could save us from impending doom. The highlight of the weekend it was not. Whether we will 'highlight' in the dark remains to be seen!
I decided to dress down on Saturday night. Although not too casual, the more sophistacted cocktail party giver may have frowned. The restaurant was a little more formal. Men wore ties, and ladies wore shawls around their strapless shoulders. We did not order a salad, as the main courses looked enormous. The menu was rather clever. I have not encountered an electronic menu before, but I selected an entrée, and as I clicked, an image appeared. The vegetables were extra but family size, quite literally! With the basket of bread and potatoes au gratin, we needed neither appetiser, nor dessert. It was fortunate that we had decided to walk through the mall, after parking the car, and taking the escalator, as we needed the exercise even more than the previous night! Dana's twenty-two ounce cowboy steak was served on an elongated plate that was of insufficient girth! My veal chop was cooked to perfection! Another birthday dinner, but alas not gratis.
A leisurely breakfast was enjoyed on Sunday morning, before the trip back to the airport. The lady at the desk was most pleasant, and printed out our tickets for the second leg of the journey home, as the printer at the hotel had suffered a severe breakdown and refused to work. Our flight was on time. The flight attendant had a twin. It was the only explanation I could find for being on a flight with an equally unhappy member of staff. Around the same age, height, hair colour and attitude, as the one on our flight out of Austin, our stewardess would, it appeared, rather be anywhere else but on the plane from Charleston to Atlanta. I didn't actually want pretzels with my coffee, but apparently they were not optional! Dana was happy to consume the contents of the tiny bag, to avoid me being put on the 'naughty wing'! (I don't think the plane had a 'step'.)
By the time we got to Atlanta, I was quite ready to get home! Perhaps it is the grouch within me that has a problem with unattended kids! From the distasteful look I received from the parent of the child whom steered the empty pushchair into my case, and then into another passenger's ankle, as father and mother watched from afar, I am in the minority when making the decision that their offspring is not 'oh so cute'! In my opinion, humble though it may be, and presumably very out there, if the toddler does not 'come here', when called, especially after the fourth time, he is not going to 'come here'. Three bruised feet and four scratched legs later, daddy finally came to retrieve the stroller, leaving the child to attempt to drag a bag, belonging to someone not in his party, along the floor. Why we were not all laughing and clapping, was a mystery to the parents. They were definitely not contenders for my market research sessions, when promoting my book, 'how children should behave at airports!'
On time, our plane took off for the Lone Star state, and we sat, comfortably, in our exit row seats. The crew were delighful and had a great sense of humour. Dana enjoyed the view from his window seat, and I was given instructions on how to take out my tray from the armrest, how to adjust the airflow, and turn on the light, from the gentleman sitting in the seat on the other side of the set of three. I was gracious, and even thanked him when the education extended to the workings of a seatbelt!
We were greeted by balloons and flowers at the gate, attached to a very thoughtful and loving daughter! Samantha had parked the car so that she could welcome us home, and continue the birthday celebrations that I had denied her two days previously. The drive home was incident free, and we arrived at the condo at around 4pm. As Dana went to check the post at the office, Samantha and I headed for the pool, where two neighbours were enjoying the sun. The party grew to six shortly thereafter, all of whom were football fans, and the discussion of which nation would win the current World Cup, ensued.
Another wonderful, extended birthday came to an end, and a new week was looming, with the possibility of our first 100 degree temperature day to which we could look forward, and they say in these parts of the planet, another day, another dollar, and as has become customery, no doubt ..... another story.