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.

Star of the Show

Today is a travel day so instead of writing much I’ll share the grand finale of Auburn’s graduation yesterday.

After the platform party processed out, the new grads stayed in their seats. The band launched into the fight song. Aubie, the finest mascot in SEC, bounded onto the stage and motioned for all of the graduates to toss their hats. It was the perfect end to the celebration.

Brush with Fame

This is Michael O’Neill (a pic I snagged from IMDB) — he’s an actor who’s been in lots of things, and he is also an Auburn alum. Notably, he will be the speaker at today’s graduation ceremony.

I didn’t realize any of this as he was just sitting at the table next to me in the lobby coffee shop of the Auburn University Hotel. Another coffee lover did recognize him, which gave me the intel to write this post.

Coffee Tastes the Same (Good) in Alabama

The town next to Auburn is called Opelika (it’s fun to say, give it a try!).

It is much easier to get a hotel in Opelika than in Auburn on busy weekends (fun fact: this is also true for the SEC football refs, as we learned during a stay at the Opelika Hampton Inn a couple of years ago). The Opelika hotels surround a shopping center known as TigerTown, which may indicate its proximity to the Auburn campus.

A certain soon-to-be college graduate, I have found, doesn’t want to meet up with her mom until 9 a.m. Since I get up early, I have learned that the TigerTown Target opens at 7 (perfect for picking up waterproof mascara).

I love you, Target. I love you, TigerTown.

And on this early morning, I’m enjoying the warmth of the TigerTown Starbucks as I listen to the salty-sweet accents of the older gents at the next table, sorting out the worlds problems…

… and happily getting a text from Jim to let me know that he succeeded in navigating a Roanoke ice storm to get to the airport for his flight down here this morning.

The family starts arriving this afternoon. But first the grad-to-be and I will get one last walk around campus. A well fortified walk.

Football Culture in a Southern Town

One of my favorite things to do while visiting Auburn, Alabama, is to walk with our girl through the neighborhoods surrounding the university. They have winding streets and bungalow houses that were mainly built in the 1930s and are, for the most part, beautifully restored.

Or you can find some tiny student-housing communities that are nicer than anything I ever lived in while in college

They seem to be populated with former Auburn students who stuck around after graduation, judging from the number of university insignias or Aubie tigers in the front yards.

Poor Aubie. Poor Santa. A rough night downtown, evidently
On the other hand, here is a backyard with its own goalpost and Auburn end zone

We have been here to visit mainly during various football seasons, and it is an astonishing experience with the crowds and the tailgate parties. It’s kind of cool being here in the off season now and getting a glimpse of a quieter time.

A Warm Farewell, Warm Welcomes

A trip out of town to a far-away place gives me more reason to appreciate the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport. It is the chillest airport you may ever visit.

Jim dropped me off on his way to his office; the airport is about a five minute drive from downtown so I don’t even feel bad for hitting him up for a lift.

There was no line to check my bag, and plenty of time to have a conversation with the lady at the counter about her beautifully-manicured fingernails. They had a tiny gold Louis Vuitton motif; she explained that she has a funeral in her near future where she will be wearing a Louis Vuitton ensemble and her manicurist crafted a coordinating nail look. I wished her well and told her I would offer a prayer for her loved one, which she appreciated. All this before my second cup of coffee.

I got that second cup in the tiny coffee shop/bar in the departure part of the airport. I think that we have eight gates. The lady serving coffee told me that I’d missed the big rush, which is usually around seven a.m. They had just made fresh coffee, luckily for me.

Breakfast with a view

Our plane was a bit late coming in, and I got to hear the Delta agents at the desk enthusiastically welcoming everyone who stepped off the flight. Some of them seemed a little surprised at such a warm welcome but if they’re in the area for more than a couple of minutes, they’ll pick up that this is just the way this place is.

My People

I am extremely lucky when it comes to my line of work. I can do most of it from our dining room table, tapping away at my laptop. It’s an introvert’s dream, even if it can feel a little isolating from time to time on the occasion when one isn’t feeling quite so quiet.

So today, before I got started with work projects, I went to mail a care package to our boy – a college student who has exams next week – and decided to shop local on the way.

It’s always coffee time

While in CJ’s, the gentleman in line behind me struck up a conversation about his recent travels in Italy, where his grown-up kids joined him for a decidedly non-traditional Thanksgiving. Me: I see your Italian vacation and raise you a daughter graduating from college in three days, ha HA! One of his buds came in and asked if Tom (the Italian vacation guy) was bothering me. No, I assured him, to which he replied, “Just give him time!”

It’s a jokey crowd around the lake.

I moved on out to the parking lot with a smile on my face. Parked next to me was a vehicle belonging to the marine service company that had fixed our neighbors’ boat this fall. I mentioned to driver how pleased my neighbors were and he introduced himself (Josh) and gave me his card. Now I know whom to call to look at our non-working little boat in the spring.

At the UPS store, the lady behind the counter and I talked about the holiday rush, the stress of college exams, and of course, how I have a daughter graduating from college in three days BECAUSE WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH ME? And then we talked about how quickly kids grow up we both cried a little.

Things move slower in this part of Virginia. I’ve happened into CJ’s when it’s unusually busy and the proprietor has straight-up told me, nah, you’re not getting your coffee for awhile. And when we had trees removed from our back yard this fall, once the tree company guy ascertained that they weren’t immediately imperiling our roof, he told me he’d see us in oh, three weeks.

But even though I still feel like a bit of a newbie here, mornings like this make me feel right at home.

Santa is Watching Everywhere. And I Mean Everywhere.

I mentioned yesterday that we joined a new gym this summer. We have been very pleased.

Not only did I run into an old friend from Fairfax (at the lake, visiting her parents!) during my first visit, but they are connected with the local health care systems, so there is a helicopter out in the parking lot, in case a workout goes very, very badly.

And they even have an elf on a shelf (or water fountain, as the case may be) to keep you in line during the holiday season.

EOAS: Not just for the Santa crowd

I got on a piece of equipment this morning and almost got popped by that elf.

I mean, yikes, right?

This gym is so nice that some people seem to spend their whole mornings there. This is not how I roll, because I like to be at my computer by 8:30 or so, but it’s nice to know that’s an option. At least until the elf kicks you out.

I Can’t Feel My Legs

It’s Sunday afternoon and for the second week in a row, I’m wiped out. And that’s a good thing and I’ll tell you why.

Last week, I strolled into the gym (there are two gyms in Wirtz; we switched from one to the other this summer) hoping to take a swim. Instead, I ran into Shine Runner Jennifer (one of the folks who can walk faster than I can run), who is also a fitness instructor. Don’t swim, she said. Come join us for a new cycle class starting in half an hour.

Can do! And even though I was so tired afterwards that I found myself involuntarily moaning for the rest of the afternoon (all through the Rocky Mount Walmart with Jim), having a fun cycle class is a joy. It was a class full of fun people and this week, there were even snacks.

Music in the Valley: The Roanoke Symphony Rocks the Holidays

Last night was the Holiday Pops concert for the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, and I have now gotten there two-for-two years in a row.

This is a wonderful show, the largest holiday show in the Commonwealth of Virginia, according to the symphony’s executive director, David Crane. Who doesn’t want to be part of that?

The crowd in the Salem Civic Center loves it, particularly the sing-along portion. And yeah, we all did the wave at one part (the chorus started it).

I enjoyed the evening with our friends, the Marstons, and their family. They introduced Jim and me to the symphony; they know of all the good things to do in town, I’m pretty sure.

Terrific folks who treated us to bbq delicacies from Wildwood Smokehouse before the show. BBQ+friends+symphony = fantastic.

The line-up included the Roanoke Symphony Chorus, the Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir, the Hollins University Choir, and choirs from three local high schools. The show also featured a guitar playing elf…

And the Radford University Highlanders Pipes & Drums.

Also the knockout musical talents of Adrienne Danrich, an accomplished soprano whose stage presence and powerful voice were stunning.

The music director and conductor, David Stewart Wiley, has me convinced that no one loves their job more than he does. He is wholly a part of every joyful moment. And his silver jacket is to die for, am I right?

Spending the evening immersed in music has got me thoroughly in the holiday spirit, enough to get working (finally) on decorating the house for Christmas. That’s powerful!