EVERY BOOK IS A VACATION

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LUNCHTIME
SHORT STORIES
BEFORE  TWILIGHT

             I pulled the cell phone from my raincoat, and someone over my shoulder whispered: “You still carry that thing around with you?” I turned and laughed along with the man," I guess it is just a habit now. I was looking for the time. You got the time?" "Yeah, yeah, almost time for the bus. Funny, I stopped memorizing things like a bus schedule when I could just save it to my phone,  now we are back to reading a schedule again." Said the man with a slight smile on his face. We watched the bus come around the corner and seeing the bus had its headlights on, I knew I would get home just before twilight.
               As I predicted, when I got home, it was nearly dark. I had to do things quickly now, there would only be a few hours of electricity. I hated to rush to the kitchen and make something to eat but the process was long now. I picked up the can of Sterno, the LP gas alternative, so when it got dark, I could still eat. I walked past the window and watched everyone cooking, using their rationed electricity. I did not have to rush, I could watch some TV first and take off my work clothes. Work was harder these days but more gratifying. The digital age was behind us, and for us, it was back to the jobs of the turn of the century.
            I knew I would have to take a shower, but I decided to waste the electricity just to hear the news on the TV and not really look at it.  It was a quick shower, time was going fast. The tick-tock of the wind-up clock reminded me of that. The news was the same, nothing had changed since they had put the new laws into motion. Our electric grid had not been updated or refurbished to beat any threat to the security to our country. No one thought any country would be able to attack The US Grid and the World Wide Grid. No one thought the EMP (Electronic Magnetic Pulse) was a reality. Now electricity was rationed to only 15 hours a month--if we were lucky.
             We had reverted back to the time of old. In some ways, it was better. There now were more jobs. Typists were typing again. Click, clacking away on manual typewriters. Accountants were real number crunches again and they did not rely on computers to do their dirty work for them. Bus drivers were driving again and did not have to rely on computers to assist them. They had to carry change again. Train engineers actually drove a train again. Fewer accidents now, no cell phones, or texting to preoccupy them with mundane messages to and from people they would never bother to talk to in person.
            I had to quit daydreaming and get things ready for the morning. Morning would come quickly, I needed to get ready for another day of sewing seams at the factory. We thought manufacturing was over for us, we went to the best schools to learn all the new trades that would keep America and the world competitive. Computer Programmers, Computer games, everything made for the damn electrical grids that managed to crisscross the United States and they were all obsolete now.
         Who would have ever thought, rich kids had to walk to school and their mommies and daddies had to take the bus to work every day, every fuckin’ day. They also had to work in a go-nowhere job and make $2.50 a day. No play time for them. Their computerized boats and fancy cars were useless. The boats were beached, and the cars sat in the driveway. Even if they could afford the gas, their cars would not run without the benefit of the computer that ran every inch of the motorized monsters or should I say computerized monsters. From the ignition to the steering wheel and to the brakes everything was computerized. If they did not know how to row a boat or could get a car with no computers on it and could afford the gas, well they walked or took a bus. I was kind of lucky, I did not have much, to begin with, my kids were grown and I just had me to worry about. My kids were self-reliant for the most part, they knew how to survive in this new world of wind-up clocks and analog devices.
             My car was old, no computers ran it, and I was too poor to have or waste gas.  So for me, I was comfortable and content. For me, there was no letdown, no throwing away of toys that did not work anymore. I already lived that life. That  1% of the world that was all about money and wealth was forced to live like me now.  Their money and their servants were gone now, the servants were busy trying to survive as well.
            The money was almost useless, and most of us were reduced to bartering. Poverty was the new standard.  The electricity was gone now except for a few hours a week and the hint of light coming from wax candles. I ignited my can of Sterno and cooked my can of soup. I thought to myself perhaps they should have taken North Korea more seriously when it said it would rule the world. Nobody believed that fat, little man would launch all 20 of his carefully made H bombs and plunged us all back into the 18th century again.
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THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE REVISITED

 
            I was coming from Tishomingo using Hwy 7 that day, it was around the same time I always hit the road, but today I decided to stop and get me a beer.  Why? Just because I could.  The day was in the fall, just the right temperature.  You know that type of day, no air conditioner or heater, just a beautiful fall day.  I decided to drive slow, sipping my, ice cold beer, since beer only taste good when it is cold. The colors of the trees went from green to gold to yellow alerting the world that winter would soon be here.  The road contained gentle but constant hills and would remain in that pattern for at least the next seven miles before coming to a long straightaway and then a curve.  My speed was slow but so what, the road was empty, and I was enjoying the show that the fall foliage was putting on for me while sipping my beer.
            I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a car coming up behind me, it seemed annoyed at my speed, so I decided to speed up just to the speed limit but not wanting to speed, cruising 55 on both the hills and the valleys of the road. I took my foot off the accelerator to keep the steady pace.   The red car decided it wanted to pass me, so I obliged him by letting him go around my car.  Slowing down, I waved him on to let him know it was safe to pass.  He met my driver side door and mimed “did I want to race?” I waved him on, and he passed me.  I thought he would be gone in a split second, but instead, he held on right in front of me, waving me on.  I looked at the red car and looked at the beer and thought, “Hell, I never get a chance to finish a nice cold beer.”  I decided to pass him and put my speed up about five miles over the limit to give him room.  Before I knew it, he was behind me again begging to pass me at a little faster speed than my own.  We jockeyed for position going faster and faster at each hill until it was my turn to pass him, by this time, we were both doing a bit better than eighty.  I checked the road, I thought to myself, “I have time,” and I looked at the clock in the car and said to myself “I have time.”  I passed him one more time going about eighty-five.  He had to be doing close to ninety when he overtook me.
 I slowed down, watching my speed go from eighty-five to below the speed limit.  He had already topped the final hill and was heading for the straightaway.  I had time, so I slowed down to forty-five and finished my beer.  When I hit the straightaway, he had disappeared from my vision. 
            I had now finished my cold beer and went back to enjoying the ever-changing foliage on the Oklahoma road, and further down the straightaway, I then saw my little racing opponent pulled off on the side of the road and behind him was a black and white car with red and blue lights.  I looked at the clock in my car and said, “Yep, right on time.”  I looked over at him, and could not resist waving, he looked at me and smiled and waved back.
 
  
   
  
THE HURRICANE THAT WASN’T UNTIL IT WAS

               I stood at the counter of the one-star hotel where I was working at the time.  The hotel I affectionately called the Hell Hotel, instead of the commercial name that was on the marquee.
“Ok Harold, let me go clear out the pool it is a few minutes before 10 PM, and I hope to be back at the desk by 10.”  Harold looked at Amy as she headed toward the back door, knowing it would take more than ten minutes to get the pool cleared, and went back to reading the paper. 
            Long before I got to the pool area, I could hear a fight between two hotel patrons, and the crash of glass.  I hurried my steps until I reached the pool area. “Ok, everybody it is 10 o’clock, the pool is closing so everyone out of the pool area except you two.” I pointed to the two patrons that had stopped fighting the moment I entered the gate.  The rest of the people started to clear out, and I was directing their steps, making sure no one stepped on the brown colored glass that now spread over a good portion of the pool’s deck.  I looked into the pool and notice, a piece of brown glass that was on the bottom and thought, “ maintenance will think that looks like a turd at the bottom of the pool and end up draining it tomorrow.” 
       “George, Bob, you are both in trouble for this.  I don’t care if you do rent the rooms for the month. You two are always causing mischief for the rest of the patrons. I swear you two are worse than children.  I’ll let the manager know this is your fault.  I hope he throws both of you out.” I hurried back to the back door of the hotel locking it behind me.  “I am sorry Harold, George, and Bob caused a bit of a mess at the pool and…” “Tell me about it tomorrow,” Harold said, folding the paper under his arm and unlocking the front door. “It is all yours, Amy.  Don’t forget to lock-up after I leave.”
            I walked toward the front door and obeyed Harold’s command.  I knew I did not want to leave the front door open for too long The Hell Hotel kept its doors shut at night.  That way no one would come in and sleep in the lobby for the night without being noticed.  I was one step above those poor souls.  I migrated to Florida from Oklahoma at the urging of my Aunt Margaret, to find a good paying job after leaving a position I had overseas. The problem was, as nice as the weather is, good paying jobs in Florida are few and far between.  Florida was an excellent place to live as long as you could afford it and not all the citizens of Florida had the status to live well here.    
            I gathered my supplies to clean the lobby and the bathrooms making sure the lobby would be clean for the morning shift.  A pretty simple task, it also kept me busy until I had to do the night audit at two in the morning.  The dead of the night was a perfect time to contemplate how I would get another job that paid well enough for me to have my place.  Right now, I was living with my aunt Margaret, a sweet woman, but she had her son living with her.  She did not need anyone to stay with her, but she was in her eighties and eventually would need some help, and her son, Reggie would keep her safe. 
            During the day, I hunted jobs on the computer at the library and filled out applications for jobs in Florida and contemplated taking another position overseas. I wanted to go back abroad and work.  The money overseas was good, and most of the money would go to a bank account.  I stopped mopping the floor of the lobby and leaned on the mop and found myself talking not to myself so much, as admonishing God for my lot in life.  How dare he allow me to go through four years of college and get the job overseas that I wanted and let me quit after just a few years.  I was angry now,  so mad I dared God to give me another chance at a job overseas, one that I would not forsake for any reason.  I then realized I had some nerve hollering at God for my actions of quitting the job of a lifetime.
            I finished the lobby floor and did my other duties of a night auditor. I thought to myself how silly and wrong I was to try to tell God how he screwed my life. I had forgotten the whole thing by morning and got ready to go home.


                                  ********************************** 
                “Margaret, I got a job in Kuwait!” I said with the biggest smile on my face.  “Kuwait—is that over there?” Aunt Margaret said as she pointed her finger toward the east.  “I don’t believe you. Are you just saying that because of your cousin, Reggie wants you to leave?  You know, this is my house, not my son’s.  I invited you to come here to Florida to find a  job, and there was no time limit on that.  Reggie is upset because you are using his ‘caveman room.’ But even that place belongs to me!  Don’t go back to Oklahoma there are no jobs there.
“Aunt Margaret, I did find a job here as a night auditor, but that is not what I went to college to learn. I am telling you the truth I got a job in Kuwait, and I must be able to take the plane from Dallas.  Oklahoma is my place of residence I must go back home. Besides, I couldn’t leave my old car in your driveway for a year, Reggie would lose his mind having an old car in his beautiful driveway.  That is not his driveway; it is my driveway. Margaret nodded and said, “Your right though, he would not like that one bit.” “So I have no choice I have to drive back to Oklahoma,” I said. “Right now, I have to renew my passport here in Florida.  I won’t have time once I get to my state.  I hate to drive in this rain.  Are we looking at a storm coming?”  I asked Margaret as a way to change the conversation. 
         “They are saying there is a low out in the Gulf that is causing all the rain.  Perhaps you should wait.” Margaret said hoping I would change my mind about going on my trip. I smiled and told her I had to start getting ready for my road trip and that the next day would be a good time for me to leave.  I thought it strange how it would rain heavy, and the skies stayed cloudy, normally the skies would clear, and the sun would come out after a summer/fall rain.
            The passport would be ready by tomorrow, and I had planned to leave tomorrow, so I got ready for bed.  I put on the weather channel and thought to myself, even with the rain, it was not a bad trip, I would take Hwy 19 to I-10 go to I-12, go past New Orleans and back on 1-10 to Texas and 69-75 to Oklahoma.  Margaret said there was a low out in the Gulf, but it was nothing because lows formed out in the Mexican Gulf often during the late summer months. I drifted off to sleep thinking of maps of the road and the weather. 
            I woke up to skies that were clear, and I started packing my suitcase and packing the car for the trip.  Margaret was sitting in the kitchen saying that the low in the Gulf may be turning into a Tropical Storm. 
“Margaret, my dear, the quicker I get on the road, the quicker I can back to Oklahoma and then on to my new job in Kuwait,” and I hugged her.
       The weatherman was predicting typical August weather for Florida, “chances fifty percent rain this afternoon and a high in the mid-nineties.” I had to believe him and thought to myself that the Hillsborough and Pasco Counties afternoon storms would be in my rear view mirror by the time I left and they would not hurt my trip.
            Leaving the passport place, I felt the first drop of rain and looked at the sky and thought the heavens were pretty dark for a shower; it was barely 10 AM and too early for daytime heating.  It was time to get back to Margaret’s place and finish loading the car with my belongings and say my goodbyes to everyone.  I went to Karol’s first and told her I would be alright and not to worry and shared some last minute stories and hugs.  It would be awhile before I would be back in Florida.  I wanted my cousin to know I would miss her till we met again.
            I hated leaving Margaret; I gave her a big hug, and during our hug, she showed me some folded money and said “here save this, it will come in handy later during the trip, and she slipped it into my pant’s pocket, and we said goodbye.  Reggie and I shook hands and parted with smiles.  It would be an eight-hour drive to Sliddel, and I wanted that to be my first stop. As I drove the first leg of the trip, on and off were those annoying showers.  The rain was a bit heavier than before, but it was still easy to drive through, and the rain continued to come at intervals.  Highway 19 was still a 55 MPH, two-lane road so I lost time on that road.  Shortly after leaving Jacksonville, I went on to the interstate.
            It was getting late, and I had to get gas for the car and get something to eat.  A lady entered the store asking about the weather saying that the rainstorm here was not as bad as it was further west.  The cashier stated that they believed that the storm in the Gulf was turning into a tropical storm, but there had been no announcement that that was the case. I knew it would be better for me to get back on the road since the rain was getting worse in the direction that I was going.  During my drive, I noticed cars were starting to slow down and I figured that it was probably a Gulf tropical storm I was driving through, but there was no mention of it on the radio.  Sliddel was not that far ahead, and I was sure I would get there right after nightfall. 
            It was raining when I got to Sliddel and stopped at a motel for the night. I asked if it had it been raining hard for very long, and he answered it started getting bad right after his shift started.
“Will you be here all night?” I asked as I watched the rain hit the lobby window.  “Do you need a wake-up call?” He said.  “Yes,” I said, “for six in the morning but can you do me a favor?”  This rain is looking a bit rough, if it should get worse in the middle of the night can you give me a call and let me know, I may want to leave earlier than six.”
“I have to agree with you; the weather looks like it can turn on a dime. Sure, I’ll call you if it gets bad.” The young man said as he looked out to see the driving rain hitting the large window that was behind him in the lobby.  I went to my room, and turned on the weather channel and took a shower before going to bed, just in case I did have to leave ahead of schedule.  As I fell off to sleep, I heard in the background, “possible heavy thunderstorms in the area going into tomorrow..”
            The shrill ring of the phone nearly shook me out of bed.  “Mrs. Carter, this is Brad at the front desk, it is 2 AM, but you told me to call if the weather started to get worse.  The television is saying that the showers are just heavy storms passing through the area, but I have lived in Louisiana all my life, and to me, they look like feeder bands from a hurricane. The Weather Channel is not calling it a hurricane..well --you might get stuck in Slidell for a few days; the rain is coming down hard, and I think you should leave now.
            His message was starting to sink into my still sleepy brain, and I thanked him for the information and hung up the phone.  “Feeder bands?” I said to myself.  My mind still half asleep was trying to remember the definition of feeder bands.  Feeder bands are the spiraling lines of thunderstorms which extend outward from a hurricane's center. The rain before a hurricane hit but they are not saying it is a hurricane.  I shook myself awake and went and washed my face thinking to myself, “This is August 29, 2005, you would think by now a weatherman  would know if it is a hurricane or not.”  I finished dressing and went to the car.  I decided I better get gas since I did not want to stop again till I made it out of this ‘maybe’ hurricane. 
          “Jesus, what a place to pick to get gas the water is almost up to my ankles,”  I said to myself as I looked around and noticed there was a lot of water in the streets thinking drainage must be pretty bad on this side of town.
I went to the convenience store to pay for the gas and grabbed a cup of coffee, and the cashier said that would be twenty dollars and I handed him my credit card.  “Sorry miss, the card machine is not working right now because of all the rain.” Said the cashier.  “I did not see a sign saying that when I was filling up the gas tank,”  I said.
“I didn’t go outside to put the sign up because it's raining, you know.” the cashier said with an attitude.
“How do you expect me to pay for the gas or do you want me to siphon it back out of the tank?”  I said sarcastically.
“Well, you will just have to wait for my manager he should be here around 4 AM.”
            I shoved my hand into my pocket out of disgust and looked at my watch, and it was only 2:30 Am.  I felt the money Margaret had put in my pants,  I look at the bills not knowing how much it was, I unfolded the money, and it was a twenty dollar bill. I looked up for a second as said, “Thank you, God.” “Yes, Margaret gave me the money, but something gave her the idea to give it to me,” I said to myself.  I gave it the cashier and told him, “next time put up a damn sign” and left, with the coffee in hand and a full tank of gas. The on-ramp was a split, one sign said  I-10 the other I-12, I knew one was a closer route than the other was, but I could not remember which was which they both headed west and so I slowed down hoping I would recall the map I had read earlier. A semi-truck with Texas plates jumped in front of me because I had slowed down, and  I decided he would take the shorter route and decided to follow him. I ended up on I-10 the road going out of Sliddel, the pavement started to have a sheen to it, and I knew the interstate was beginning to hold too much of the water from the storm. The rain was creating standing pools of water and was not rolling off the highway like it was supposed to do.  My standard AM-FM car radio was mostly static, and I just prayed I made the right choice to follow the truck.
            I wondered why it was still raining so hard; it was not a localized storm.  I followed the semi, the rain coming from the tires of the truck covered my car like I was going through a car wash. I had to back off from his vehicle, but I had to stay close enough to use the pathway his tires made to clear the standing rain from the road.  I tried to look and see where I was on the road.  I could hear the water lapping up at the low bridges we had to transverse to get through the state of Louisianna. My headlights were not bright enough for me to see but I could hear the water hitting the metal on the bottom of the car and worried that it could make the car hydroplane or float off the low bridges.  At times, I was sure the truck driver knew I was using him as a guide because he would adjust his speed so I could catch up to his pace. I was starting to give up hope of the storm ever ending, and although I had filled the car up in Slidell we had been traveling about four hours, and the gas tank was going to start getting low soon, and my bladder was starting to fill up.  I hoped my truck escort knew a rest stop out of this rain and soon. 
            I was able to see a sign on the interstate that said, Beaumont, TX. 10 miles.  The fact that I could see the sign meant the pouring rain was beginning to become a drizzle. I, also realized I should have taken the I-12 to be closer to my destination but I did not care, the storm was now breaking.  The semi-truck I had been following put on his turn signal for the “Love’s Truck Stop,” and I knew I was in Texas.  I followed his lead and continued to drive to the truck side of parking lot.  I waited for the truck driver to climb down from his truck and called to him as his foot hit the pavement.  He looked back first at me and then beyond me to the car and greeted me with an outstretched hand. 
“So you were my tail from Louisiana.  I am glad to meet you, Pete is the name. I figured out that storm was too big for your little car and you were going to be in trouble in those low lying areas of Louisianna without a guide. What kind of car is that anyway, it looks pretty – he hesitated, seasoned?  Do you know what we just drove through to get to Texas?” 
            “Amy is my name and no I hadn't a clue. When I left Florida, the radio said, it was a tropical storm, but when I got to Louisianna, the hotel clerk insisted it was more than that.”
Pete said, “we just drove through a hurricane! I am not sure what they are going to call it, but we were lucky to be leaving the area. The messages I was getting on the CB was if we had not left when we did we would be underwater now with no way out of the city.  Those people are stuck there, God, you think they would have given more warning of the storm like that.  I guess, if your vehicle had stayed there it would not have never left Slidell. What kind of car is it ?”
“That car, why that is a Toyota Corolla Stationwagon, 1993.  It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” I said with a smile. “Thank you, again for being my guide,” I said.  “Well, your welcome but God is the one you should be thanking, he got us through this storm and considering the age of that car – you should be thanking God.” I went back to the car and pulled around to the pumps and filled up with gas.  I got breakfast and stretch my legs and watch the sun come up in Beaumont, Texas.  I thought about the people in Louisianna and hoped the morning’s dawn would help them be safe.
            I decided I better check the map since I-10 was the longer route, but it ended up being the smarter move, so I thanked Pete, in my mind for appearing on the highway when I needed him to be there.  I put the map away after seeing that Highway 69 goes to 69-75 and straight up to Atoka, Oklahoma only ten more hours on the road, counting breaks, of course.
                                                                      ****************************
            I left the States on September 4th  and arrived in Kuwait on September 5th, 2005.   It was hot, about 120 degrees, and humid.  A  woman greeted me and gave me the impression that she was in charge of the unit.  According to her, since I was new to the installation and although I live outside the base, it was my duty to know everything about the base.  “Amy, tonight you will stay late and do the perimeter with security just so you know how big this place is,” said Joanne.  “You do realize I have been here since 5:30 this morning,” I said.  “Yes,” Joanne said, “but you must learn everything there is to know about this base.”  “I was under the impression this was a six in the morning until five at night job was I wrong on that?” “That is correct,” Joanne said, “but you have to learn it all you know.”  Sargeant James will be on the perimeter, and he will show you what you need to know.  I am going home now, and someone will be by to take you to your apartment at eleven tonight.”
The Sargeant and I watched her walk away, and he pointed to the jeep. He got in at the driver's side and said, “you do realize that was a load of crap she just handed you right?”
            I nodded, and we drove around the base and talked, and Sargeant James explained that there was not much he did that I needed to know. Toward the end of the evening, the Sargeant said to me, “I have to check on the commissary and make sure the doors are locked.  It would be a help if you would take these keys and go to the pool and let the guys know it is time for the pool to close.” I smiled, and took the keys from the sergeant and went to the pool area. The sound of the pool let me know that there was a fight in the area.  I hurried my steps and the two young men that were fighting stopped immediately.  “Ok, everybody out of the pool.” I thought to myself, “how many people get to say that more than once in one lifetime.” Everyone left the pool, and I locked up it up for the night.
            The sergeant and I drove to the compound where a man in a vehicle waited to take me to my new residence; I told Sargeant James how similar the pool scene was to the one that was at the hell hotel and we laughed about it. The drive to my new home gave me time to think of the past few weeks. I remembered how I had admonished God for making me work at the Hell Hotel before I got this position.  I thought about all the twist and turns, and what could have happened to me in Slidell If I had stayed until morning. I thought to myself it was time to thank God for getting me through all my mishaps, God got me to where I wanted to be but not before I drove through the storm they finally named Hurricane Katrina.