It started out as an innocent attempt at "dinner and a movie" on a Saturday night. It turned into… Tara’s nightmare! Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that bad, but still…
We had dinner at Schlotzsky’s, each of us ordering one of their 8" "personal" pizzas. Tara got her usual barbecue chicken. I tried something new: the so-called Thai chicken pizza. It was okay, but there was nothing particularly "Thai" about it. Yes, we like chicken pizza. Some people find that strange. I’m used to people thinking I’m strange. Tara’s having to get used to it herself. Oh, she’s known that I’m strange for a while now. What she’s still not used to is having people think she’s strange by association.
From there, we drove to the theater on the other end of the parking lot — the "strip mall" Nipper’s Corner, for those familiar with Nashville — to catch the 7 o’clock showing of "Cast Away" with Tom Hanks; co-starring Helen Hunt, who seems to be co-starring in everything these days. The movie was good. And I think the actor playing the part of "Wilson" should win an Oscar. He was great!
Two and a half hours later as we filed out to the lobby with the rest of the audience, Tara started looking for her car keys since she was the one who drove. We stopped so Tara could set her purse on a nearby railing and dig for the keys. "I can’t find my keys," she said, concerned. I thought nothing of it. She’s forever unable to "find her keys," only to find them a few seconds later at the bottom of her purse. That purse, by the way, as small as it is, has an incredible tendency to bury whatever you need the most somewhere in its depths.
Tara does have a bad habit of locking her keys in the car, or the house, or wherever it’s most inconvenient. I guess that’s why she reacts with such concern every time she doesn’t immediately find her keys. Knowing this about herself, she went to the trouble of having extra sets made a few months prior. Having these made was a long, drawn-out misadventure all its own — like this story — taking her to several dealerships and hardware store locksmiths before her cousin Ronica’s husband Jayson, a locksmith among other talents, created two duplicate sets of car keys. One set was to remain in our house; the other to be put on my key chain.
I never did get around to putting those keys on my key chain, probably because I subscribe to the "fewest keys possible" theory. I just don’t like a bulky set of keys. You’ll never find me wearing one of those "janitor-style" belt-mounted key-chain-on-a-string things that are so popular. To me, it just makes you look like a janitor. And is that really a good thing? No offense meant against janitors, but it’s not generally the look I’m going for.
Anyway, as feared, she did lock her keys in the car. Walking out to the car just to make sure, she said, "I thought you were gonna put that extra set on your key chain?"
"I… uh… never did," is all I could say.
We could’ve easily gotten into an argument about it, blaming each other for our predicament. Plenty of couples would’ve been at each other’s throats the rest of the evening. Tara and I aren’t that sort of couple. We both realize you can’t undo what’s been done, and arguing about it gets you nowhere. Worse than that, it only causes unnecessary stress, friction, anger, frustration and any other negative emotion you’d like to add. Don’t argue about it, just deal with it.
"I guess we’ll just call a cab," I said. So we went back into the theater to use the pay phone. I dialed 4-1-1. Rather, like so many things in Tennessee, it’s not the same as everywhere else in the country. You have to put a 1 in front of that. The woman who came on the line after the computer voice was done talking to me, recited several cab company names. I told her to give me what I guessed would be the closest one, Brentwood Taxi. I called, and a man answered the phone, "Music City Taxi."
Whatever. "Yeah," I said. "Could you send a cab to Regal Cinemas at Nipper’s Corner?"
"I gotta be honest wit’ ya," the man said. "I won’t be able to get anyone over there sooner than 45 minutes to an hour." Before I could even ask, however, he offered up, "But I can give you the number of a couple other cab companies."
I called the next one, and they said basically the same as the first. No one in the general vicinity. Calling our third option, Allied, the woman dispatcher said cheerfully that she could have a driver to us in 15 minutes. "Great," I said, and hung up.
We waited and waited and waited. After her "15 minutes" turned to 50 minutes, I called her back and asked whatever happened to our cab. "Lord," she exclaimed, "let me see if I can get ‘aholt’ of somebody for ya," slamming the phone down. I wasn’t sure if she put me on hold or had hung up.
"She hung up on you," Tara said. "I could hear it clear over here."
I wasn’t so sure, so I stayed on the line. When the phone started ringing in my ear again and the taped operator voice came on the line with, "If you would like to make a call…" I finally hung up. As usual in most of our little "arguments," Tara was right.
Tara called the same woman, or at least the same cab company, back a few minutes later and asked politely, "Can you tell me if a cab was sent to Regal Theater at Nipper’s Corner?"
The woman replied with a nasty tone, "I’ve got 500 people I’m trying to pick up!"
Hanging up, Tara said, "Well, that was the rudest woman I’ve ever talked to." She started calling family and friends, looking for someone to pick us up. No luck. No one home, or at least not answering the phone at this late hour.
Finally, disgusted with our predicament, I said to Tara, "Look, I’m just gonna walk home. You wait here." It was only three miles. "I’ll find the extra keys and drive back here." But Tara didn’t want to wait, here or anywhere. I’m not sure if it was because she was afraid to be left alone, waiting, or because she didn’t appreciate my assumption that she wasn’t up to walking home with me. Probably the latter. She can hang tough when she feels the need.
By then, the off-duty policeman/theater security guard had stopped by to talk to us. He was probably just sick of looking at us as he had been this entire time while making his "rounds" through the theater. He wanted to find out what we were up to.
"Yer ride forgit about ya?" he asked.
"No," I said, "she locked the keys in the car," conveniently placing the blame on Tara. "And we’ve been trying to get a cab to pick us up."
"Tried gettin’ a hold of any of yer neighbors?"
"No, we don’t really associate with our neighbors much," I said. At first, I thought his was a strange idea. But in the South, people actually do tend to know and interact with their neighbors.
"Our one neighbor doesn’t live there anymore," Tara added.
I explained,"Yeah, she’s never home."
Tara further added, for some reason with a hint of disapproval, "She’s shacked-up with her boyfriend." I looked at her, thinking, "What’s the relevance of that? Besides, isn’t that what we’re doing?"
"I would just walk home and get my car and her extra set of keys," I explained to the policeman. You know how people tend to unnecessarily explain things to police officers? Well, I do this, anyway. "But it’s an awfully long, cold walk." It was literally below freezing outside. "Besides, I don’t want to leave her alone." This last comment was a lie. It just seemed like the proper thing to say, for some reason. I was actually completely confident in her ability to sit there waiting.
No cabs ever showed up and we never did get a hold of any family or friends to pick us up. I probably could’ve called my brother Don and his wife Diane, but it was late, they lived at least ten miles away, and they were normally the "early to bed, early to rise" types, so I’d probably be waking them up if I called. Besides, I hate asking anyone for help. Is that a strength or a character flaw?
We ended up walking. Three miles, late at night in the freezing cold. Yes, we could’ve called a locksmith. Her cousin’s husband, for instance. Only problem there was that they live forty miles away. Not only that, but, as we found out the next day, they were in the middle of their own emergency. (Ronica’s father had broken his leg and had to be taken to the hospital.) A locksmith would’ve cost at least $50, and I’m just too cheap.
But what about Tara, you ask? Have you no decency? All I can say is, the way I figured it, I could just walk home and get my car and extra keys while Tara waited for me at the theater. That way, she’d remain safe and warm while I played hero. She didn’t want to do that. So there you go.
It was the longest three miles we ever walked. (No, this story isn’t over yet!) Even worse than that trek in San Francisco a couple years earlier. As "cold" as San Francisco gets, it’s nothing compared to a real winter night pretty much anywhere outside of the Pacific coastal states. We froze our butts off this night, traversing the hills between Nipper’s Corner and home. For some reason, Tara didn’t put her gloves on until after I asked her. Less than a mile into our hike, she scared me when she stopped and said, "I can’t feel my legs!" I was afraid she was injured, pinched a nerve, or something. It turned out she was "only" saying her legs were numb from the cold. My face was already getting numb. I had to work my jaw open and closed just to generate heat in my face. I was surprised Tara wasn’t complaining, other than that one time. As I’ve said, though, she’s tough.
About half way home, I suggested that she stop and wait inside the church up ahead, if they were even open. She said no. They weren’t open, anyway. Down that hill, up another one, and coming down the final hill less than a mile from home, a couple of hoodlum-looking boys started coming toward us from the other direction up the sidewalk. "Great," she said. "Now we’re gonna get mugged."
"No," I said. "Just walk close behind me." I focused on them as we got closer. I walked confidently, hoping to convey strength, basically. I know it sounds melodramatic, but that’s just something guys do when confronted with other males, possibly hostile, walking the streets at night. I sensed, somehow through their body language, I guess, that they were just as worried about us as we were them. When we finally crossed paths, I realized why. They were fairly young boys; mid teens, probably, and quite a bit smaller than me. Tara probably could’ve "taken" them herself.
Once past the "dangerous" boys, we walked past an anomaly of a nightclub that I’ve noticed before but never have gotten a "handle" on. It’s completely unmarked, only seems to be open on weekends, and is situated in the crotch of the L-shaped little strip mall, between the Japanese restaurant and the paint store. Tonight, a fair number of youths were milling about in front of the place. Two young couples several yards away walked in the same direction as us as they returned to their car. I wasn’t worried about them. A little further away but also walking our way were a couple of young guys whom I felt were keeping an eye on us. Maybe I was overly-cautious, paranoid. I turned to look at them, just to let them know that I knew they were there. If they noticed me at all, I don’t know. They disappeared quietly somewhere into the depths of the parking lot.
Walking up to the intersection of Nolensville and Old Hickory Boulevard, I suggested that Tara stop and get warm at the all-night Wal-Mart there. Our house was just another third of a mile away, a little behind the shopping center. I was thinking she could get warmer sooner if she stopped in there. Again, she said no, and we trudged onward.
Maybe it was because we were so close to home now and my "toughing it out, surviving the wild" mental state was wearing off, but, as we walked the final distance through the Hickory Valley Condominiums little mini-neighborhood in which our condo sits, it seemed to be getting even colder. The aches and pains started to hurt a little more.
Once we finally set foot in the house, I let out a huge sigh of relief as its warmth enveloped us. It was good to be home. I never appreciated its shelter as much as I did that night. Tara didn’t say anything. Her jaws were probably frozen shut. The first thing I did was find those extra keys and put them on my key chain.
The cat, Myca, came sauntering down the stairs to meet us, yawning and stretching. We had apparently awakened him from one of his interminable cat naps. He couldn’t have cared less what we’d just been through. He wanted out. He’s convinced the only thing we’re good for is letting him in and out. It was near midnight now, and I don’t usually let him out after 9. I let him out anyway, since Tara and I would be picking up her car in a minute and we could let him back in when we returned. I didn’t have to wait that long. He wasn’t out more than two minutes before he realized it was way too cold to be outside.
Coming back in, he meowed incessantly at us, probably saying, "What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you know it’s freezing out there? Why haven’t you been home and in bed with me?" A short while later after retrieving her car, we were.