A Long Trip Home

It’s funny how a dreadful event can refocus your perspective very quickly.

Our travel home from Alabama went a little bit sideways, leaving me grateful for everything that didn’t go wrong.

As background, the easiest way to get to Auburn, Alabama, is through Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. (It’s such a big airport that even Roanoke’s little airfield offers direct flights!) From there, you rent a car and drive straight down I-85 for an hour and a half. Once you cross the Chattahoochee River you know you’re almost there.

Jim, Cora, and I had managed to book our flights home separately but all ended up on the same flight home to Roanoke, an afternoon flight that allowed us to get out of town in a leisurely fashion. The rest of the family had earlier flights, so they scooted out of town with dispatch. As we finished up our breakfast, I got a call from an Atlanta number.

Was I ever surprised to hear one of my favorite voices on the other end: my sister, Sarah. She started the conversation with, “Anne? Everything is okay, but…”

And with those four words, your heart skips because you know that everything is not okay. And it wasn’t. She had stopped off of I-85 in Union City, just south of Atlanta, to refill her gas tank. While doing so, another car drove up to the pump next to hers (as they do). When she turned around to attend to the gas pump, someone got out of that car and into hers and sped off. With all of her possessions.

With a presence of mind that I can only aspire to, she ran into the gas station, called 9-1-1, borrowed a phone, and got in touch with her family, including me. Suddenly grateful to be packed up a little early, we jumped in the car and made our way to Union City. By the time we got there, Sarah had spoken with the police and made a report.

And we had formulated a plan. We picked her up and drove with her to Hartsfield-Jackson. Jim and Cora flew home, but Sarah and I stepped up to the National Rent-a-Car counter and drove ourselves to the airport in Roanoke (me: “Sarah, Sarah, look! It’s Fancy Gap!”). We were met there by her husband, who had spent the afternoon cancelling credit cards, acquiring a new phone for my sis (at the Apple store in mid-December), and driving the four hours from northern Virginia.

She wrote about the experience on social media, making the cautionary point that YOU SHOULD ALWAYS TAKE YOUR KEYS WITH YOU WHEN YOU FILL UP YOUR CAR, but also expressing her great relief that things worked out much better than they could have.

That’s some relief that I share.

Fear? What Fear?

Come on and take a ride with me.

If you’re going to drive anywhere near our house, you can expect some roads that are pretty narrow and twisty.

They can get a little scary for this suburban gal.

In fact, fear is something I really had to overcome when we moved down here. The roads are generally two lanes (or a little less) without wide shoulders to pull onto. There isn’t much traffic, allowing you to move quite quickly. For the first month or so, I was pretty convinced that there were deer just waiting to pop out in front of the car (knock on wood, I’ve only had rabbits do that so far!), so I tended to hold up whatever traffic we had.

I’ve seen a lot of Ford Super Duty f250 grilles in my rear view mirror, let’s put it that way.

One day, I was rolling up to an intersection with a four-way stop and saw that a van had turned in my direction, but had turned wide and was coming right at me in my lane.

He was right about where that minivan is. But coming towards me in my lane.

In that instant, as I was trying to figure out how I was going to get out of the ditch that I was going to need to drive into to avoid that guy, the van righted itself and all worked out fine. But I was shook up enough to go home and Google “How do people live in scary circumstances?” Because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.

What I found was a TED talk from Col. Chris Hadfield; you should watch it if you have a minute because he describes exquisitely how it feels to blast off into space, which is undeniably dangerous. For him, though, the apprehension was worth it because by facing that danger he was achieving the goal he’d had since childhood, of becoming an astronaut.

Truly, I am not aiming so high.

But here’s the takeaway that I got. If you can separate the perceived danger (getting run off the road by a country driver) from actual danger (this most likely will not happen), you can achieve an objective that you want.

And my objective is to learn how to live here. We live here. Jim’s job is here. There are many, many cool things about our new home.

Hadfield concluded his talk by speaking about “taking that ability to adapt, and ability to understand, and the ability to take our own self perception into a new place.” That’s enough inspiration for me to keep getting out on the road.

And then he sang David Bowie’s Major Tom, which is pretty darned brave, too.