You know how your mother always told you to never get in a car with a stranger? Yeah, well, after a little adventure in Hershey last weekend, I officially apologize to my mother for not heeding her advice 40-some years after she gave it.
As you know from my previous blog entry, I was in Hershey last weekend attending a Nickelback concert with two friends. We stayed in a motel about three miles from Hershey Park where the concert was held. None of us wanted to drive, but there is no taxi service in Hershey. It went out of business a few years ago and the nearest taxi service is in Harrisburg 10 miles away. Hershey’s “public” transportation is a little trolley that rolls up and down the main drag lined with Hershey Kiss topped street lights and stopped well before our motel.
Rather than fret, Ann told Dana and I she had a plan. Why not ask the motel owner if we could hire him to drive us to the concert venue and pick us up when it was done?
“That’s a perfect idea!” Dana and I exclaimed. Count us in for twenty a piece. Well worth the not driving thing.
Apparently transportation is a major issue for people staying at the Milton Motel, as Ann found out, because the owner gave her the phone number of someone who does this sort of thing “all the time.” Clara. Who drives a silver Hyundai Elantra. Excellent.
Ann called Clara and she agreed to pick us up at 5:45, plenty of time to drive three miles, even in traffic, to the stadium, grab a beer and find our seats before Daughtry took the stage at 6:30. She said she’d pick us up outside the motel office. No problem.
Confidant our transportation woes were no more, we chilled by the pool, drank some wine and got ready for the concert. At 5:35 we walked down to the motel office and sat on a bench near the parking lot to wait for Clara. The sun had swung around to that side of the building and was shining hot on my legs so I went into the video game/ice machine/spare roll-out bed room down the way and sat on the stairs to wait. And wait. And wait. Dana called Clara at 6:10 and Clara apologized and said she was on her way back from taking a few other people from our motel to the concert. She’d be there in 5-7 minutes. Still giddy, still thinking we’d get there in just the nick of time, we waited a little longer and sure enough, a few minutes later, a little silver Hyundai pulled into the parking lot.
I’m sure one of us asked if she was Clara, but maybe we didn’t. There were empty wine bottles on the floor of the back seat where Dana and I piled in. Clara explained that the people she dropped off before us had a “good time” on their way to the concert. Hmmm… We hoped they hadn’t shared with Clara. Hershey Park was northwest of our motel and instead of taking a logical right out the parking lot to go toward the park, Clara took a left and drove east, assuring us that the way she had in mind was faster because traffic to the park was really congested. At that moment the three of us were delighted with our find – a local who knew the back roads, like a little coup, one leg up on the other 30,000 concert goers. Suckers.
After five minutes we were still heading east and we saw signs for Allentown. Being the polite 40-something women we are, we didn’t say anything. Clara kept assuring us that the traffic was horrible and that this way was going to cut our time to the park by 10 minutes. ‘Shouldn’t a three-mile trip to the park from our motel only take 10 minutes?’ I thought, but I kept quiet.
About 10 minutes after we left the Milton, Clara took a left and drove north. And drove. And drove. We passed dairy farms and more diary farms. We were several miles from Hershey and I started to wonder if Clara thought we were attending a concert in Reading or if she was really an ax murderer. That’s when Clara got a phone call from a couple staying at the Milton, honeymooners who needed a ride to the concert like we did and had booked a ride with Clara earlier in the day. Clara was confused. She didn’t remember three different parties calling needing rides. Who were we, she wondered, like we were some rogue hitchhikers scamming rides off women in Hyundais.
Ann assured Clara that she had talked to her around 2:00 and that Clara said she’d pick us up at 5:45. Clara didn’t remember. She rummaged through bits of paper scattered around the dashboard, mumbling, blessing the people on the phone and thanking them for their forgiveness, all the while navigating twisty turning roads through the backwoods of southeast Pennsylvania with Dana and I trying hard not to get sick in the back seat.
Clara was frantic. So was I. I took out a deposit slip and wrote on the back of it, “I don’t want to die” and handed it to Dana. Dana’s eyes were wide, scared like me, and Ann was in the front seat, jaw set, feeling the same way. Where the hell were we going? Finally Clara ended her conversation with the honeymooners saying, “God bless you for your forgiveness. Thank you for understanding. Yes, I’ll be there by 7:15. God bless you.” That’s when I spied the leather-bound Bible tucked in with a large atlas in the pouch attached to the back of the passenger seat. I love God as much as the next guy, but we were in a car being driven by a crazy Jesus lady, a much different breed than us run-of-the-mill God fearers. I now feared Clara.
Clara fussed and rambled on about the mix-up and the traffic and finally Dana asked her how much longer it would be, five, ten minutes?
“Oh, about 15, 20,” said Clara.
Yikes! We’d already been in the car 15 minutes. Where the hell were we? Then Clara started talking about the “view” she wanted to show us. What view? This wasn’t a Pennsylvania Dutch tour. What view was she talking about? A cemetery? The secret place in the woods she kept dead bodies?
“You have to see this view,” she kept saying.
I was at risk of losing that salad I ate earlier. Dana was torn between laughing hysterically and staring eyes wide open out her window. Ann was composed in the front seat, but I was sure she had some plan running through her head to save us. At least I clung to hope that she did. Then Clara announced she didn’t like police and that’s why she drove at or below the speed limit. Apparently this rule didn’t apply on curves, but it made me think that perhaps Clara didn’t have a valid driver’s license. Oh dear God.
After one large nauseating curve, Clara announced, “Here’s the view!” We were above the park. ‘So what?’ I thought, but I dared not say it out loud for fear she’d beat me with her Bible.
“Look at the traffic!” Clara exclaimed.
Um, Clara? That’s a parking lot. The “traffic” was moving smoothly and was “piled up” only three deep at a stoplight. We drove 20 freaking miles out of our way for THIS? I was ready to beat her with her Bible. Did she not know Chris Daughtry was on stage as I sat in the back of her silver Hyundai? Daughtry, The Bald One, my favorite American Idol EVER? But I sat quiet, still afraid she might be packing a machete under her seat, ready to spew a lecture at us on the dangers of rock music.
We drove past the Red Robin restaurant we had agreed she’d meet us at 11:45 to take us back to the motel, but did she stop and drop us off? Heck no! She took a right and started driving AWAY from the park! This seriously scared me. I’d never wanted out of a car so badly as I did at that moment and I’ve been in some seriously bizarre car situations in my life. She drove us around to another entrance to the park because she wanted to drop us off closer to the stadium. That is, until she saw the cops. They scared her, remember? Finally she pulled over along the road and wisely, Ann paid Clara for her services, even though Clara insisted we didn’t have to pay until we got back to the motel.
Problem is, the car was still moving as we got out of the car and Clara damn near ran over Ann.
“Oh my GOD!” said Dana when we found our feet and started walking to the stadium. The look on her face was that of fear and relief, decidedly confused about what she’d just experienced.
“I thought we’d stepped into a Flannery O’Conner novel!”
What a perfect summation. Thank God we had a happier ending, though, than Grandmother in “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.”
And it was in remembering Grandmother that we decided there was no way were we getting back in Clara’s car. So during the break between Daughtry and Staind, I flirted my way into information about transportation back to our hotel. I found us a cab who’d pick us up at the Red Robin at 11:00. Whew! Now I could finish the concert in peace.
Fast forward two hours. The concert’s over, we’re laughing, happy and walking toward Red Robin. At least we thought we were. Traffic was slow getting out of the parking lot so I walked up to a woman riding in an SUV and asked her where the Red Robin was. She pointed us in the right direction and I thanked her.
We walked on, watching the fireworks and enjoying the warm air. A minute later the SUV pulled up next to us and beeped.
“Do you want a ride to Red Robin?” the man driving the SUV asked us.
Without hesitation, Dana, Ann and I said “Sure!” and we jumped in the back seat.
Did we learn nothing? Hadn’t God just saved us from an ax murderer earlier in the night? Just because someone points their finger in the direction of a Red Robin does not mean they’re sane.
I guess a crazy ride with Clara could not squelch our inherent belief that most people are good, and the short jaunt to Red Robin proved we were right. A nice gesture from strangers breathed life into our wary subconscious, as did the ride back to our motel with the bona fide, license-carrying taxi driver who picked us up promptly at 11.
God love Clara, but be wary if you’re ever in Hershey and need a ride somewhere. Don’t completely heed your mother’s advice about accepting rides from strangers, but don’t be too quick to jump in the back of a silver Hyundai.