The Ghost of Christmas Present – 2015

27 12 2015

The following is about 90% true. Names and locations have been changed to protect the innocent, and the locations with bad food and worse service.

I’ll tell this in order, and in first person, because that’s how I think and write.

Christmas Eve, 2015: My Wife and daughter get in my car to drive North to Washington DC. The family Christmas party is up there, and so is my daughter’s car. She dropped it off with family, to fly home a week ago. Lots of boring logistics (I worry for a living, and PLAN everything), create this plan. I am supposed to fly North tomorrow, they’ll sleep in a hotel on the way, and pick me up in Richmond, VA so we can all go to the family party, and I drive one of the cars home with them.

Christmas Morn: I wake up on time, having decided to skip the MARTA (Atlanta Metro Area Rail Transit), because it doesn’t open until 8am, and I have a 10am flight. MARTA is on holiday schedule, and while it will be nice to not pay for aiport parking (I have paid parking at work), I don’t want to risk missing a train, and missing my flight. So, I set my alarm to give me an hour to get to the airport, and another hour to get through security (TSA Pre-Check!).
I pre-packed everything except for my “morning stuff” the night before, so I grab my shower bag, and head out to the Tundra ahead of schedule. My wife, Susan, usually drives it on her 2 mile commute, while I drive a Hyundai to get 30 my 30 miles to downtown Atlanta, but they had the long road trip this time, and my daughter won’t drive the “Bubba” the Tundra.

Yesterday afternoon, after work, I went to my favorite place – the Governors Gun Club. It’s my social club, as I’m not much of a religious man. Spiritual? Sure. Very Spiritual, but I haven’t found a team to root for yet. The closest I have is Taoism (Yin and Yang, Karma, etc.).

So, I spent Xmas eve at the club and had a great time sighting in my Christmas present (Reflex sight).  Anyway, I drove home and it was pouring. Like, Thunderstorms in Georgia in December pouring. I had 2 guns with me, and when I got home, I made a mad dash for the porch. I was trying hard not to get my 2 favorite guns too wet.  The guns were dry, but it turns out that the truck door wasn’t closed all the way.

So, Merry Christmas morning. I go out to the truck with my backpack (always travel light) ready to go, and notice a very dim dome light. Houston, we have a problem! I get in, turn the key, and nothing but a noise that sounds like our smallest dog sounds like when she REALLY doesn’t want to give up a treat to the other big dogs. Dead battery.

No problem. I’m an OCD planner and, some would say, a big worrier. I have 2 generators, and I used to charge my dead tractor battery with the battery clips that came with the small Genny. I head out to the shed, and find the big Genny, but can’t find the small one. I have a vage recollection of loaning it to a neighbor, but bottom line: I’m So Outta Luck.

By the time all this happens, I’m one hour from departure, and 40 minutes from the airport, assuming no traffic. I text my wife, and tell her that I’m going to have to bail. No way I’m getting to the airport, and if I can’t make the party, then I’m not going to try to make the rest of the trip. She generously says that she and my daughter will each drive separately back, one in each car, so I don’t have to fly up just to help shuttle vehicles back (look back to the logistics plan, but it’s not germane to this story).

Morning Text Message:

From Elaine (sister): So glad you got our package in time! We got your crab cakes, and you rock! I miss you but I feel the love shining from you!

Me: This love is a little grumpy today. The Truck would not start and I missed my flight to DC for the family party. The girls drove up yesterday, so I’m home alone with the dogs.   I guess I’ll binge watch a movie or something. Merry Xmas and much love to you and the family, Sis!

Elaine: That sucks! However there may be a reason that your guardian Angels are keeping you safe at home

Me: Could be, at that! Much love, Sis.

About Noon, I remember these silly little devices that my wife bought. They’re for dead batteries. They’re square, and about the size of those big ole police flashlights – the ones that the cops can use to hit a perp over the head if they misbehave. You know, the “happy slappers”. There are a lot of cops (AKA LEO’s – Law Enforcement Officers) at the Gun club, and many of them I’m proud to call friends. Just like anywhere else, others are jerks. I saw the demographics of America both in the Army, and in the Corporate world. Why wouldn’t the LEO world be any different?

So, this battery thingie is as dead as the arguments of the climate change deniers, but it’s got promise. Our neighbors out for the holiday. I know this because we’ve arranged to watch their dogs. I pulled in to a narrow driveway in the tsunami yesterday, so no change for a jump-start, without a long-ass jumper cable, so I latch onto this plan C! I bring it in the house, and plug it in, and let it charge for an hour. After the hour is up, the damn thing works!!! Sorry Honey, you were right! Your gizmo was brilliant. While it only gave the truck an extra URRR, it was enough to spin the flywheel enough to to pump & spark the fuel, and BUBBA LIVES!!!

So, now I’ve got a running Tundra, and I have a full tank of gas. Time to see what’s really open on Xmas day. I know I have to drive a long time to re-charge the battery, and the new Star Wars movie is out, so I run back inside to see if any movie theaters are open. BINGO! My favorite cinema draft house is open. Star Wars is sold out, except for those cheap seats in the front row, but I know they have a bar, and I can get some food cooked for me. If I don’t find a place closer, that’s a good half hour drive, and the battery should be good to go by then.

I drive through all the local places in my part of West Cobb County (Marietta, also called “Corn Cobb” by the rich people on the East side). Nothing but Waffle houses (on every corner) and a few Starbucks open. So, I meander my way over to the draft house. Truck sounds good, I’m feeling better. Movie or not, I’m good. Either way, I can get some food and a glass of wine.

The Draft House is has a PACKED parking lot. I go to the guys up front, and Star Wars is sold out. I ask about Point Break, and they show me the front row, so I say “No Thanks”, I’ll just get something to eat at the Bar.

As I’m sitting down, I get a text Message from Liz, the widow of one of my best friends. Ron killed himself this past summer, because they had a rough patch in their marriage – and I’m still trying to help raise his boys. I had promised to take them to Dave & Busters, and then to Star Wars. I’ve already taken his older son Salmon Fishing with our gang of 40 this past fall, and it’s time to bring in his younger son.

Liz: Sorry you had to cancel taking the boys to Star Wars up here. I’m feeling so Sad.

Me: The first Christmas is usually the worst – It should get easier a little bit more every day.

Liz: I hope so. His birthday is on Tuesday.

Me: You got to be there for the kids, and do to that with your head right, you got to start healing by forgiving yourself… and Him. U know better than anyone how short life is, and that every sunrise is a blessing.

I got no response for a few minutes, so I ordered a glass of wine, and asked for the menu.  I get on my phone, and realize that the Fandango App must somehow have better intel than the peons at the front, because it shows several seats open for Point Break.  I order one, and I’ve got an hour to burn.

At this time, a pretty young lady, African American and my guess is late 20’s, tapped my shoulder, and asked if the bar stool next to me was free. The whole side of the bar had free stools, and I wondered a bit about her getting in my (understood social norm) personal space, but I said, sure.

Young lady asked the bartender to change the channel from Soccer (Futbol, to me, but you know) to the Bulls game. I may have looked a little annoyed, but I didn’t care about either team, so I was polite.

I order a refill, and then the bartender asks the young lady how her holiday is, and she says “Terrible. I came here because you’re the only bar open in the area. What’s your strongest drink?”

Bartender suggests a rum punch drink, with 4 kinds of rum in it, and goes about his business. I had asked him for a wine refill before she sat down, but he’s on a mission, and I don’t blame him. He brings the drink back, and she sucks down half of it.

I ordered my refill first, and the bartender is over making drinks for some ladies.  I tilt my head to the side, and say “I guess I can’t complain about the service here… there is none.”  This gets me a little smile.

As a conversation opener, I point at the TV, and say “That Joaquim Noah has never been a pretty man, but that caterpillar he has on his face is one of the uglier looks I’ve seen.”

She says “That’s not Noah, he’s on the Bulls, and that guy is on the other team. “

I Google him, and yesterday’s news says that he’s been on the trading block, but I don’t see anything about an executed trade, but I’ve got time, and money, and want to know more about her.

“I don’t know, I’m pretty good with faces, and it looks like him. How about this – I’ll bet your our drinks that I’m right.”

She looks at me and points out that she’d be happy to drink on me.

Now that the door is open, I ask, “Did you lose someone recently, because I’m texting with a friend who is going through the same thing. Her husband just died, and I’m trying to help.”

“No, I missed a flight this morning, and now my new family is down in Florida, and I’m stuck here for both Christmas AND My Birthday!” she wails

I’m getting a little creeped out now, but I ask her “So, when’s your Birthday?”

She says “This Tuesday”. And I immediately get goosebumps up my arm.

I say “I know this is crazy, but you’re name’s not Ron, right?”, Laughing as I say it.

“No, but you’re close, it’s Ronda, without the ‘h’.”

Now the creepy crawlies are going down my back. She asks if I’m OK. I just unlock my phone, and say “This is my last conversation with Liz.”, and point to the fact that Ron’s Birthday is on Tuesday.

Her Eyes get really big, and we lock eyes. I tell her that whether or not I win the bet, her drink is on me. She says that if I lose the bet, then her second drink “Bartender, what’s stronger than this?”, she says, is on me.

We both eat (and the food is so-so at best), and I ask her about her second family. She says that she’s engaged, and that she was supposed to be with her fiancé and his kids with his family in Fort Lauderdale, but she missed her flight, and her car is a piece of shit, and she couldn’t afford gas anyway.

With the price of gas today, I’m willing to bet that most cars could get to Ft. Lauderdale on what she was probably going to spend at the bar tonight, but I’m not one to point out stuff like that to a lady.

I tell her my story about my missed plane, and a story about Ron, and we talk and get to know each other a little better. She’s a good kid, and cries every time she talks about missing the party.  I pay for her drinks without caring about the bet.  “Gotta go, Merry Christmas & Happy Birthday Ronda!”

It’s about time for my movie. I have to say, if you’re going to watch one movie in 3D this year, Point Break is an amazing piece of cinematography. As I watched, I thought about my bar neighbor, and decided that if she was still out there, I’d drive her to Fort Lauderdale. My truck was fine, and I could afford the gas. Why not wake up with my toes in the Atlantic surf. The ocean has always humbled me, and I think of it as my own church.

The movie ends, and I walk through the lobby, hoping that she went home, but tittilated with the chance that maybe she didn’t. She’s still there, in her blue hoodie, drinking another rum drink! I walk over, and the bartender catches my eye, and he’s a little scared.  She’s sloshed.   Blotto!

“Ronda, I got this freakish text from an old army buddy. He’s down in Miami, and is having a tough time. Would you be so kind as to trust me enough to accompany me, at least as far as Fort Lauderdale?”  I hold out my phone, but her eyes can’t focus on it.  She’s smiling, though!

She slurs a bit “How do I know you’re not shome short of pervert?”

I give her my drivers license, and say “Text that to your fiancée and tell him if anything happens to you, it’s me that did it.” She does this.

Then I ask the bartender to take a photo of both of us. If either shows up on the news, he should call the authorities. He does so.

I help her out to my truck and ask her for an address to put in my GPS. She does, and I see that it’s about a 9 hour drive. No problem, I think, I’ve pulled double all nighter’s in the Army. I can do this with my music loud enough, and the windows open. After all, it’s a 70 degree Christmas in Atlanta, for Gosshakes!

I am going to redeem my soul, or at least take a few years of of whatever my own purgatory is. So, I crank up the tunes, and we head to Florida.  she’s snoring and drooling on my upholstery (I don’t give a shit – I have 3 dogs who do it all the time).

We both die in a fiery blaze at the Georgia, Florida state line. I wish I could say that the Semi drifted into me, but I think it’s my fault. I wonder if intentions got me more years off of Purgatory than my actions.

OK, I’m just busting your balls (or ovaries). We got her there fine. After a few bathroom breaks, and (yes) a Waffle House breakfast, I delivered her to the doorstep of the house. They invited me in, but I begged off, as I had a “friend” in Miami waiting for me. I didn’t want to be in the house. My work here was done.

And that’s how I walked into the Surf of Fort Lauderdale Beach, and swam out like the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders.

It’s also why the day after Christmas is my favorite day of the year… ever… forever.  I went to a nice beach bar, and ordered S.O.S, an Irish Coffee, and an Orange Juice.  When I left, the Irish Coffee was cold, and still full.

Thank you Ron, and Ronda, for you visit on Christmas Present. Here’s to making Chicken Salad out of Chicken Shit.

Authors Note: The 90% True part I mentioned at the beginning is true. Here’s the other 10%: 5%: Names and locations. 5%: Ronda wasn’t at the bar when I left my movie, and I cried all the way home (then brain-dumped this). Carpe Jugulum, people, because miracles may pass you by if you don’t.

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