Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's Not the Heat; It's the Humiliation

I find myself in central Louisiana tonight--swampy, humid, flat Louisisana--preparing for a series of teacher training sessions in some smallish towns near this smallish city into which I flew. The airport here is a former air force base that was closed several years ago. A native on my flight in said this was the "prototype of what military base closures could be." I'm not sure about that, but it's a nice enough airport. The problems begin once you leave the airport.

I had mapquest directions leading me from the airport to the hotel--a trek of no more than three miles. And I know, I know--mapquest is problematic sometimes. But the problem here wasn't mapquest; the problem was that none of the streets were marked.

I know I'm prone to exaggeration for effect, but seriously, people, none of the streets were marked. I drove and drove, hoping to find a street sign at some point, somewhere, at some godforsaken intersection. After turning around and changing plans twice, I found the hotel completely by accident. It was, after all, only three miles from the airport.

The hotel looks brand new and nearly empty. I think it probably serves airline pilots and flight attendants exclusively, since, honestly, who the hell else would ever fly here, unless they lived here?

Other than me, of course.

The guy at the desk was very helpful--chatty, even. When he saw my colorful Arizona driver's license, he pulled out his own, drabber, Louisiana license to show me and told me all about how he used to be a limo driver. The guy was desperate for conversation.

After unpacking, I set back out on the road to pick up some training materials from a Kinko's to which I had emailed files the previous day. The guy at the front desk gave me a map and some seemingly clear instructions. Once again, however, I found myself plunged into chaos.

The interstate, of course, was clearly marked. And I got off at the exit I was told to choose. But then...then all hell broke loose. I exited the highway onto a main road, with service-type-roads on both sides. Nothing was marked. One had to take the service roads to access any of the stores. I couldn't find street numbers anywhere, so I didn't know which side to look on, or whether or not I was close. The roads bent and curved, feeding into other roads and, perhaps, turning into other roads. There were crazy roundabouts from time to time. I had no idea where I was.

Somehow, magically (but not quickly or easily), I was able to turn myself around, get back on the highway, and retreat back to the safety of my hotel parking lot. I called the Kinko's and discovered that even they didn't know where they were ("Well, you're either two miles away or twelve miles away--I can't tell which").

Eventually, the nice Kinko's lady and I formulated a game plan, in which I would head five exits further south than before and then loop back up the road I needed, hoping to catch the store that way. And it worked. Of course, once I had picked up my stuff, it became impossible to go back the way I had come. I ended up going around and around a roundabout, losing all sense of direction, and getting thrown off on wrong roads (but of course I didn't know that right away since they're not marked). Somehow, magically (but, again, not quickly or easily), I was able to turn myself around, get back on the highway, and retreat back to the safety of my hotel parking lot.

It was now 7:00, and I was hungry. Too frightened to try these hideous roads again--in the dark--I had to settle for the one restaurant that was within sight: a Cracker Barrel. I ate chicken-flavored dumplings, with a side of potatoes and hush-puppy casserole (what?). Some green beans were involved as well, but not many. But I did get both corn bread and a biscuit on the side.

Now it's raining--or perhaps it's hailing. Whatever it's doing, it's enough to knock out my TV signal. Thank God "House" is over.

Can a tornado be far behind?

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