Honestly, I still haven’t got a handle on what just happened, but will attempt to write out my recollections while they are fresh in my mind to ensure that A REPEAT OF THIS DAY NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN! You didn’t answer your home or cell phone, forcing me to resort to emailing you in a feeble attempt to A) appear occupiedoops, I mean busy, as I sit at a table in the food court of the CNN Center; B) avoid the curious (and sometimes pitying) glances of onlookers silently wondering why I am surrounded by four Atlanta Police officers finishing up my paperwork, and lastly, C) anxiously await the call from my tow truck guy. “Atlanta Police?” you ask. “Tow truck guy?” you query. Sit back Di, as I give you a tutorial in Lisa Love’s Life Lessons Learned the Hard Way, or No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.
Where do I begin? This Friday actually got off to a rather great start. David, Jann and I met with a prospective client for lunch; since the guy had just arrived in Atlanta from Ohio (code word: Yankee), your suggestion of Mary Mac’s Tea Room was right on the money. As you said, “Nothing says Welcome to the South quite like Mary Mac’s on Ponce.” You know, it had been years since I last stepped foot in the placemy bad. From the minute we entered the door, we were greeted with such warmth and genuine friendliness that it served to remind me why it’s been an Atlanta landmark for almost 70 years. Today, one of the waitresses, Flo, was retiring after 39 years serving at Mary Mac’s; we couldn’t have chosen a more perfect day to be theresuch a spirit of celebration. And the food...oh yes, the food! Sweet tea, mac and cheese, collard greens and banana puddingso fine you want to slap your mama! (Actually my lunch consisted of salad and unsweetened tea. Though a Southern sacrilege, it would have made Dr. Atkins proudwell, proud if he hadn’t been dead for about ten years, due to a probable massive coronary blockage! Yeah, “they” say he died from a fall; don’t go trying to confuse me with facts!) Our prospect seemed thoroughly enchanted with both our business acumen and a good dose of Southern hospitality; I declared lunch an unofficial hit.
After lunch, we all went our separate waysDavid and Jann headed back to finish the proposal for aforementioned prospect, while I headed downtown to the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children on Ethel Street. Oh my, they do such great work there. I don’t know if I mentioned them to you before, but it’s been around since 1984, and the shelter helps get homeless women and children back on their feet, offering food, clothing, and training. They bless over 5000 people a year, and the ladies of my church and I gathered gently-used clothes together to donate; we jam-packed my largest rolling suitcase with clothes for me to drop off this afternoon.
On my way to the shelter, a light rain began to fall. You know how I detest driving in the rain; I reminded myself it’s all for a good cause. When I turned onto Tech Parkway, my fretting officially became abject fear. The road was blocked, and detour signs were posted. On my best of days, I’m directionally challenged and find it difficult to navigate Atlanta roadsa plethora of one way streets and pot hole-ridden roads, not to mention about 100 different Peachtree Streets (with nary a single peach tree to be found!) And today of all days, I was heading to an unfamiliar destination in the rain, facing road blocks, detours AND, no GPSlet my sister borrow it. Excellent! I decided to just follow the cars in front of me (what are the chances that they too were going to the Shelter? Nil, I know, I know!) After obeying about three consecutive detour signs, I got all twisted and turned around into complete disorientation. I think I ended up on Marietta Street, perhaps? I also noticed that traffic was becoming more and more congested.
Then as the bottom fell out on the storm, I hit the most atrocious bumper-to-bumper traffic I’d ever had the undiluted pleasure to be in. This was not just your average Friday afternoon, trying to get home from work, heading out of the city trafficthis was gridlock. Now for the cherry on the top of this cakewhile I pondered the cause of this traffic jam, the Highlandermy very first brand new car everstalled on me. Di, do you think the lemon law is applicable after two years? Yep, it went belly up; dead as a doornaileven the steering wheel locked. With heart pounding and fear escalating, I unsuccessfully tried to ignore the honking of angry motorists behind me. HEY, I’M SORRY! What should I do? Thank God for cell phones!
I dialed information and asked for Triple A (I specifically said TRIPLE A to the operator, ’cause with the way my day was unfolding, chances were just as good that AA might send me out two recovering alcoholics with a screwdriver and jumper cables). AAA said they’d get me in touch with a local towing company to come haul my hunk of...I mean the Highlander, to the place of my choosing. My sweet Highlanderalways reliable. Always dependable. Oh how I had loved her. Till then. Once beloved SUV, our love affair officially ended the minute you broke my heart by dying on me, during a torrential rainfall. Oh, and did I mention, I WAS LOST? When the tow guy called, he let me know there would be a substantial wait time, due to rerouting of streets by Atlanta Police to accommodate the Occupy protesters this weekendhe calculated that it might take upwards of four hours to reach me. Ah, the reason for gridlock was discovered! Reason number 143 to despise the Occupy Movement! I told said tow guy that I would just call a friend to come get me; hequite logicallytold me that they too would not be able to get here any quicker, due to the road blocks and grid lock. I was past caring at this point, Di. I told him where he could put the carI mean where he could tow it. He said he’d call me when he was near the location of my stall.
I thought I’d just sit in my car and wait for him, but gave up on that idea, as it was growing increasingly impossible to hum loud enough to drown out the blaring car horns and angry insults hurled by the frustrated drivers I was blocking (though, Lord knows, NONE of us had moved in over 30 minutes, anyway!) I decided to brave the rain and make a dash forwell, anywhere, really. Maybe I’d find a coffee shop or restaurant to hide out in till SOMEONEANYONEcould find me in this week’s episode of “The Streets of Atlanta,” an Occupy Movement production.
The rain had slowed to just a sprinkle, and as there was no umbrella in the car, (well of course not!) this would be the optimal time to make my move. I checked what was needed to take with me to make my escapemy portfolio, laptop, I-pad. I had the brilliant idea to stash them in the rolling luggage, thus keeping them safe AND dry; I also didn’t want to leave all of those precious donated clothes in my abandoned (for now) vehicle. Okay, valuables stashed. When I opened the luggage, I saw a yellow rain slicker. Oh, that would have been perfect. But alassize two. Not in this lifetime. There was, however, a matching rain hat. Perfect, but what could I use to protect the rest of me? I thought and thought and thought. Dangerous, right? You better believe it, ’cause what I found under the passenger seat after a quick inspection was a black plastic garbage bag. Eureka! I tore two holes for my arms and one at the bottom for my head. Pulling the yellow vinyl rain hat firmly over my hair and donning my homemade rain coat, I grabbed the rolling luggage and made a dash for the curbamid much honking and finger gestures. Road rage is hell! Safely on the sidewalk, I turned to the angry mob behind me and yelled a quick “I’m so sorry, but my car is dead and the steering wheel is locked, so what on earth do you want me to do?” What are the odds that it’ll have wheels on it when I return?
Scurrying down the street to dodge the rain dropswell, as best you can scurry, rolling a 40 pound suitcaseI swore I heard drum beatsnative, tribal drum beats. The closer I got to Centennial Olympic Park, the more loudly and distinctive the curious sounds grew. When I drew within 100 yards or so of the park, I realized I wasn’t hearing drum beats, but the sound of human chanting. It dawned on methis must be Ground Zero for the Occupy Protests. In the distance, on a platform, I could see a man with a megaphone. He would shout a phrase or two to the seemingly jubilant crowd; the enraptured throng would then scream it back at him. I stopped at my vantage point across the street and stared; the chanting was so rhythmic it was almost hypnotic. I stood there, in the rain, transfixed; perhaps 15 minutes passed as I intently studied the protest and the protesters. What I recall most as I write this, were the smellsa pungent, almost nauseating combination of rain, sweat, urine, and marijuana. Yeah, some in there were partying a wee bit more than they were protesting.
As I scanned the group, mostly young college kids, it occurred to me that I could swing a cat by the tail in their midst, let it go, and not hit a single soul with gainful employment. Cynical? Judgemental? Definitely. Guilty on both counts, but I was cold, wet, tired, hungry, frustrated and car-less. I’d put the blame of this dreadful day firmly at Occupy Atlanta’s feet. I could have been home had it not been for roadblocks and detours and traffic. I blame you, Entitlement Generation! Stand back, Diane, Mama’s preaching now! I’m tired of the perpetual whining of coddled kids who scoff at paying back college loans and personal responsibility. They were holding up banners decrying the evil corporations while with my own eyes, I watched them “protesting” as they clutched their Starbucks iced mocha lattes in one hand and their I-Phone in the other, all the while Nike, Aeropostale and Abercrombie and Fitch were emblazoned across their sweatshirts. Look in the mirror, kids. You may see the enemy and he just might be you. Oh Di, I went off on a tangent didn’t I? I’m absolutely worn out. Bad day. Sorry.
I’d had all I could stomach of this gathering (and by the way, if you’re pro-Occupy, that’s fine by me. What is so great about this country is our cherished right to have differing opinionsthough, honestly, you’d be really whacked if you agreed with those people. Just sayin’.) I continued walking on my journey to find dry shelter. As I rolled my luggage along the sidewalk, I noticed glancesnot just a quick glance, but sometimes a double or triple takefrom people passing by me. Yeah, I looked weird in my impromptu rain gear, but my mama would have been so proud of me ’cause I just stood straighter, held my head higher and plastered a big old fake grin across my face. I even daydreamed for a minute that I was walking a red carpet runway of a movie premiere, and Ryan Seacrest stopped to ask me, “Lisa Love, who are you wearing?” Proudly I would reply, “Hefty Glad Bag, Ryan. Fall Collection 2011.”
After walking two more blocks, the lightning and thunder began. I was scared. I crouched down in a doorway of an office building, huddling behind my suitcase for a modicum of protection. Here is where my last thread of good humor evaporated. I started balling my eyes out. Minutes passed as I cowered, sobbing in that doorway. Then I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. A beautifully dressed lady was bending over me and she whispered, “Things will look up, Honey. Here’s a little something for you. There’s a food court up ahead in the CNN building. You have just as much right as the next person to go in there and get a bite. Now go on. You’ll be fine.” She left as quickly as she came, without giving me a chance to respond. I looked down at my hand and saw a folded five-dollar bill. Oh my word. She thought I was destitute; part of me was humiliated. I cried harder. However, in the midst of my tears, a small voice in the back of my headI call her my evil twinwhispered that this could be a really cushy gig. I could probably bring in a pretty penny if I came down here once or twice a week and...no, stop it Lisa! There but for the grace of God, go I. As mortified as I was, it did my heart good to have such a great personal reminder that there are good, decent people in the world. And when these people perceive a need, they still selflessly step in to help. God bless you, my beautifully-dressed phantom lady. You are my hero.
Well, she did give me a grand idea. I decided to splash my way down to the CNN Center. I know, it’s like walking into enemy territory for me (I’m a Fox News gal) but ya know the saying, Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Truth told, they’re not exactly my enemies, just left-leaning, a tad misguided and a smidge ill-informed. However, most importantly, there was a food court to be considered. My Mary Mac salad and unsweetened tea were but a distant memory at this point; I was so hungry, my teeth were crying! Putting aside my frustrations of the daydead car and being dreadfully lost and rain soakedand I marched purposefully towards the CNN Center, a woman on a mission. When I got closer, I stopped and gazed at the building. Wow, I had forgotten how massive this complex was.
I smiled to myself as I flashed back 30 or so years to a time when I would come here regularly with family and friends (always chauffeured by parents, safely ensconced in the backseat, oblivious to street signsNEVER LOST OR ALONE IN DOWNTOWN ATLANTA!). The CNN Center used to be the Omni Hotel Complex, and I actually stayed here a night or two with my family for Amway conferences Mama attended. (Yes, I said Amway! But they did make some fine soap and NO, you don’t have to come to the meeting!) As a little girl, I remember being enthralled with the Atriumstanding in the hallway outside our hotel room on the 8th floor and leaning over the balcony railing, wondering if I jumped would I survive the fall? I have always been slightly twisted. Diane, do ya remember the ice skating rink in the center of the complex? And the movie theater? We saw Gone With the Wind 20 times! And Sid and Marty Croft productions? It seems a lifetime agosuch great memories!
Before I entered the lobby, I attempted to brush off the rain droplets from my “coat” and luggage, then took a second to assess my situation. You know how I love a good plan. First off, MUST. FIND. FOOD! Secondly, wait out the rain in CNNin, what I noticed through the glass doors, was relative splendor, girlfriend! I figured I’d just stake out my claim on a table in the food court till my tow man swooped in for the save. Standing there, I placed a quick call to tow guy for his ETA. He told me he was still at least two hours from getting to me. It was officialthere was gonna be some major time to kill here.
I walked into the building and was awestruck by the crowd; thank goodness the place was vast, or it would have been bursting at the seams. I headed for the food court with my suitcase rolling along faithfully beside mecome to think of it, this luggage had become my travel buddy for the adventure; clocking in at over an hour and a half so far, we had been joined at the hip! My constant companionfaithful and true (kinda like a really docile German Shepherd on a leash). Should I name it? I wondered. Yes! I would call him Samsonite! Obviously, at this point, my blood sugar was dangerously low, and I was getting a tad looped! Standing in the middle of the food court, I did a complete 360 degree rotation, studying all of my choices. Ah, I spied a Chik-fila, and I almost broke out in song. Hallelujah, Hallelujah! I’LL GET ME SOME CHIK-FIL-A! Samsonite and I made our way to the rather long queue at the counter. I studied the menu, but heck, I knew what I wantedan original sandwich and waffle fries, YUM!
As I waited my turn to order, I took the opportunity to truly observe the Atrium. It was awesomethe glass elevator, rising eight storiesso grand. If I remember my facts correctly, it is in the Guinness Book as the largest free standing elevator in the world, having supports at only the top and bottom. I was so taken with it, that I pulled out my cell and started snapping pics. I took tons of shotsI will forward them to you. Breathtaking. While I was pulling amateur photography duty on the elevator and its surroundings, I overheard the girl in front of me (said girl, by the way, had poured her size 14 bottom into a size 4 jeansI swear she was overflowing those suckers like a popped can of Pillsbury biscuits!) boast to her friend that she had just been promoted to greeter at Longhorn’s. She whispered, rather loudly, that she’d had to “date” the owner for this new position. Oh my, Diane. That really does put the “ho” in hostess, doesn’t it?
I needed something to eatfast. I was getting snarky. Judge much, Lisa? Honestly, who was I to critique her fashion choices, as I was wearing a yellow plastic rain hat and black garbage bag! Sheesh! Finally, I got my food and located a table with a terrific view of the entire food court Atrium. For the next couple of hours, I was just going to quit worrying about the things I couldn’t control (traffic, dead cars and tow guys) and take full advantage of a couple of hours of down time in my otherwise crazy life’s schedule. Yup, I planned to savor my chicken sandwich with unlimited free refills of Diet Pepsi, and capture some shots of this fine architecture (I told yaI loved this building!) Before one bite of delicious chicken had reached my lips, tow guy called. “Just want to let you know, I’m still 10 miles from you. Traffic is at a stand-still. It’s gonna be another couple of hours or more, lady.” I was fit to be tied (low blood sugar had reared its ugly head). My voice rising, I told him to forget the whole thing. “I’ll just blow up the Highlander and make CNN my permanent residence.” I hung up on him, then realized I didn’t really want to live at CNN, so I immediately called him back, apologized profusely and told him I’d be waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
I ate. I people-watched. I refilled my Pepsi cup three times. I cleaned out my purse. I made a grocery shopping list. I gave Samsonite a fry. (Nah, just wanted to see if you were still with me.) After I dumped my trash in the container (tray in one hand, Samsonite in the other !), I strolled around the Center, walking to stretch out the kinks I’d gotten from having been sitting at the table for so long. How long? Checking my cell, it had been over two hours since I ate humble pie with tow boy. Oh well, he promised to call when he was near. Samsonite and I kept walking; I was fascinated with the crowdso many people. I assumed some were from Occupy, but I also heard many talking about getting a bite before going to a basketball game at Phillips Arena later tonight. People were scurrying about, coming and goinglike they actually had somewhere to beas opposed to me, strolling aimlessly, just killing time.
Killing time? At this point, I had darn near slaughtered the poor thing. For amusement, Samsonite and I rode the elevator, over and over again. Up and down, Up and down. When people got on, I started asking, “What floor, please?” and then pushed the buttons for them. When that ceased to entertain me, I decided to go back to my table. A problem had arisen. It seemed that although my Glad bagwhich yes, I was still wearing!had kept my clothes dry, my socks had gotten damp, and my feet were beginning to freeze. I planned to go get to a table, open Samsonite and see if perhaps some sweet lady had donated a pair of socks or two for the Atlanta Day Shelter. Remember them? Trying to get there was how this whole fiasco started. Not their fault, of courseOccupy Atlanta was to blame! Anyway, I navigated my way back to the food court and spotted an empty table. By the way, with all that walking, it appeared that Samsonite had injured his back pawI mean, wheel. It started sticking rather badly, not wanting to roll. Well, he had served me well all day...hold on old boy, just a bit longer, I told him. (After all we’d been through together, it would be a pity to have him put down!) When I got to the table, I tried to open the luggage, but it was just too cumbersome to do in the amount of space I had. I tried undoing the zipper a bit and sticking my hand in, but I couldn’t really see anything that I was grabbing for. I decided to head for the restroom and go through Samsonbesides the four 32-ounce Pepsi’s were calling!
Hold. On. One. Minute. DIANE! This fascinating narrative of my day is being interrupted so that I can forward to you a pic I just snapped of the girl sitting at the table next to me. She is the dirty blonde in the torn “I’m the 99%” T-shirt. OMGoodness! I swear I was not trying to eavesdrop, but it couldn’t be avoided as Agent 99 was SCREECHING into her cell phone. I heard her bellow, “Look, I don’t know what your problem is. I hunted up and down that aisle and all I could find were Kotex and Always with Wings and Stayfree Maxi’s. I even bought you Tampax. Well excuse the heck out of me, BUT THEY DIDN’T HAVE ANY S.O.S. PADS!!” I kid you not, Pepsi, flew out of my nose. Hey Agent 99, your IQ test results are in; they came back negative. She put her cell down, looked at her equally disheveled companion and said, “Come on Tiffany, let’s get back to the protest. We’re going to make history.”
And that, Diane, is a glimpse into the future. Best case scenario, these are the people who will be deciding what nursing home we get put into in our old agea nice one with carpet and parquet flooring or the one with urine-soaked linoleum. Worst case scenario, they will be sitting on our death panels. Shivers.
I wheeled Samson into the ladies room and chose the middle stall. I maneuvered his unwieldiness in there with me, sat down and unzipped him. I gingerly placed my laptop and I-Pad in my lap as I tried to sift through the contents of the case. YAY! I saw socks! I stripped off my shoes and pulled on the donated ones. So much better. I repacked the bag, putting everything in nicely and then wrapping my laptop in a sweatshirt before placing it in Sam. Footsteps came and went. The door to the rest room opened and closed repeatedly. A knock on my stall door almost jolted me out of my new gently-used socks. “Occupied,” I said loudly. Then proceeded to finish up my businessPepsi’s, ya know. Another knock on my stall. Come on, there were ten toilets in there and half of them were empty when I went in. I saw the top of a pair of black pumps peeking at me from under my stall’s door (over-active bladder issue?). “This stall is Occupied,” I said once again, exasperatedly.
As I was getting ready to unlock the door and exit my stall, a third even louder knock. COME ON! I swung open the door, wheeling Samsonite out with me. I was now face-to-face with the over-active bladder lady. And beside her on a leash, was a German Shepherd. A real one! Honestly, he could have been Samson’s long lost twin. Ohhhh, Diane you know how I am about puppy dogseven fake ones; they melt my heart. Deciding to forget how rude and impatient his owner had been, I knelt down to pet him. She jerked his leash back. It dawned on me that this lady must have special needs and this was her service dog. Why else would CNN let a dog into its facilities? I immediately apologized. “I’m so sorry. He’s a service dog isn’t he, and I should have known better. You aren’t supposed to interact with service dogs. Forgive me.” She just gave me a curt nodher only acknowledgement that I had even spoken. On that note, I straightened back up to leave. Her dog started sniffing Samsoniteokay, okay, my suitcaseup a storm. She didn’t pull him back from the luggage, or correct him in any way. I decided to just get the heck out of Dodge, so I marched to the restroom door and pulled it open. HUH??!!???
There, in front of me, were four Atlanta police officers with their hands on their guns yelling at me to get down. “Get down on the ground now,” they yelled. I dropped like my life depended on it. Actually, it did! Just then the lady with the dog came to my side and told the officers to “Stand down.” She offered me her hand and helped me to my feet. WHAT IS GOING ON?? She turned to the officers and said, “Her luggage is clean. He didn’t hit on it.” My head was swirling. As with many other times in my life, I wonder if I am on Candid Camera. Or being Punk’d?
There, in the hallway by the restrooms at CNN Center, the undercover female detective asks if she can see my cell phone and the notes I’d been writing all day. What? Too scared to argue or question, I immediately handed them over. She asked me to follow her to a windowless office about 100 yards down the corridor. I walked after her in a Zombie like trance. After she motioned for me to sit, she scrolled through my texts and my photo files and then looked over my grocery shopping list. She called the other officers into the office and they huddled in a corner, while I shook. I heard snatches of their whispered conversation...words here and there floated across the room to my ears. “Bomb.” “Threatening.” “Blow up.” “Suitcase.” “Scouting location with a camera.” “Suspicious.” You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me!!! I wasn’t just terrified at this point; I was ANGRY, as well. I sat. I seethed. I waited. Twenty minutes later, with a sheepish smile on her face, she leaned over and whispered to me that I would more than likely be free to go as soon as the officers did a little more follow-up on me. The officers stared at me. Undercover police over-active bladder lady stared me down and asked/demanded I explain my peculiar actions of the day to her.
EXPLAIN? PECULIAR? Briefly, the day flashed before my eyesthe clothes, the shelter, the traffic jam, the stalled car, the storms and the beautifully dressed phantom lady. How could I explain all that to these stone-faced human statues?
And then my anger boiled. I stood to my feet, trembling, and faced them. I thought of what I wanted to say, noYELLat them. YOU THINK I LOOK SUSPICIOUS? PECULIAR? Oh really? Not 200 yards from here there were HUNDREDS of pot-smoking, flag-burning kids peeing on cars and spitting on authority. In this very Atrium, there was a girl who would go as far as prostituting herself to be a hostess at Longhorns! And I didn’t want to mention this, for fear of being crassbut since they thought I was a danger to civilization anywayI would love to tell them that the ladies room at the CNN Center had smelled like a bucket of carp that had been left out in the hot summer sun all day at a Willie Nelson concert. SO THERE!!! I imagined this was going to be my finest Norma Rae moment...standing on a desk, demanding I be heard. Demanding my rights! But then...a flashback. I remembered the quick glimpse of my reflection in the ladies room mirror as I stood up from trying to pet the German Shepherd less than a half hour before. In my mind’s eye, I clearly saw the yellow rain slicker hat, the glad bag rain coat, the mascara puddled under my eyes like a rabid raccoon as I clutched my pretend dog/suitcase. Hmmmm. Nevermind. I sat back down, folded my hands in my lap and talked. And talked. And talked.
An hour later, theyFour Officers and a Lady (a Disney production coming soon to a theater near you!)walked me back to a table in the food court. I had, using every last bit of Southern charm and manners I had in me, politely enlightened them on all my “peculiar” actions of the day (I even explained away my pretending to be the new CNN elevator operator girlthat one made undercover bladder lady laugh and prompted her to admit that I would probably be a hoot to hang with. If she only knew, right? A HOOT INDEED!)
While the officers finished up their paperwork that would release me, I thought about the totality of the day, and one thing struck me. Never one to leave well enough alone, I felt compelled to share my final observation with the female cop and the officers. “You know, this would have NEVER happened to me at FOX News Center. Just sayin’.”
And so, Diane, that’s why, with good behavior, I will probably be out in 3 to 5. But, not to worryme and my cellmate, Big Doris, are putting the finishing touches on an absolutely brilliant plan for an Occupy the Rec Room movement scheduled for this Tuesday. If anything, I’m a quick learner.
Lisa Love, a talented and insightful writer with a skewed sense of humor, looks for, and often finds the absurd masquerading as the mundane.
©Copyright 2012 Bridgital/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.