Have I ever told you about the time I got to ride in a police car in Tallahassee?
It was 2002 and our hurricane data collection team was staying at a Holiday Inn (stayin' at the Holiday Innnnnn) in Tallahassee waiting for Tropical Storm Isidore to get her (his?) act together and make landfall already. We spent our days fixing our towers in the parking lot of the hotel and our nights eating at Outback Steakhouse with our $40/day university per diem. We also spent a lot of time lying around eating garbage and watching The Weather Channel. Those were heady times!
We had been there for a week and I started to become anxious about the coursework I was missing back home (this was during undergrad when coursework actually had a due date, as opposed to graduate school, which was more fluid and ultimately I think that is why it took me six years to get my PhD). Thanks to a marvelous new development called "email", I was able to stay in touch with my professors and answer questions like "Where the hell have you been?" and "Are you coming back?"
I think my professors were starting to question the scientific merit of this "field project" I kept going on that almost always resulted in me returning to class with a great tan and natural highlights.
So that I could stay in my professors' good graces, and graduate on time, thus securing several more years of cheap labor out of me in the form of a graduate assistantship, the future Dr. Advisor faxed an entire chapter of my Controls textbook to me so I could complete some homework assignments and prepare for an exam (THAT was a tense fifteen minutes in the lobby of the Holiday Inn, as we all stared at the fax machine waiting for it to finally finish printing all forty pages).
So I did my Control Theory homework in my room at the Holiday Inn and when it was finished, I needed to scan it in so I could send it back to my professor. Several team members were headed over to FSU to use the library's computers (no wifi at the hotel, CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE?) to check on that deadbeat hurricane we were supposed to be monitoring, so I hitched a ride. They were to drop me off at the Kinko's right by the school where I could use a scanner and submit my homework, then they were supposed to pick me up in thirty to forty-five minutes.
Best laid plans, right?
Important to know is that I was wearing sneakers, athletic shorts, a tshirt with the name of our field project on it, and had only my wallet and my homework assignment.
I did not have my cell phone. I don't know if I even had a cell phone at that point.
And it was nine o'clock at night.
And the whole time I was at Kinko's I could feel the floor vibrating with the bass beat of the music coming from the SKETCHY NIGHTCLUB DOWNSTAIRS.
In about twenty minutes I was finished sending my homework and the rest of the team had not yet come back to get me, so I walked across the parking lot to a McDonalds, ordered an ice cream cone, and sat down to wait by a window (so that I could see if they were coming)(They were not).
After waiting for a while, I went back to Kinko's to check the time and was HORRIFIED to learn that it was TEN THIRTY. I asked the cashier if he'd noticed a guy in a red tshirt come in here asking for me. He had not. I stomped out of the store and stood on the sidewalk, wondering if somehow I'd missed him, or if something terrible had happened.
Finally, around eleven, I used my credit card and a pay phone to call the guy who was supposed to be picking me up, we'll call him Tom (not his real name), and got sent straight to voicemail.
I evaluated my position. I was in a strange city, standing in the parking lot of a very sketchy-looking nightclub/McDonald's/Kinko's in the middle of the night armed with only a wallet and a five-page engineering homework assignment. Raucous club goers were spilling out of the bar into the parking lot and the whole thing was starting to seem really scary.
Conveniently, there was a policeman standing nearby (I CAN'T IMAGINE WHY!), so I approached him and tried to maintain calm as I explained my situation. I failed. As I opened my mouth to ask if he would call a cab for me he reached up and pushed the button on his walkie-talkie.
"I'm transporting a twenty-one year old white female from [I have no idea] Street to the Holiday Inn on [not a clue] Avenue."
"10-4" came the reply.
And then he escorted me to his patrol car and (Thank God) opened the passenger door for me. Once we were safely inside and headed toward the hotel he said "You know, this is a really dangerous area, you really need to be more careful."
I, slightly more calmly this time, explained my predicament and thanked him for helping me. I'm not sure if he believed my story until we pulled into the hotel parking lot and he saw the thirty-foot instrumented towers and Honey-I-Shrunk-the-Kids car parked nearby.
I pounded on the door to my room until my friend let me in and then laid awake for over an hour, shaking with fury, until "Tom" knocked on the door (sometime around 12:30) to make sure I was home safely.
Apparently he'd been quite worried when I wasn't at Kinko's when he went back to get me (God knows when) and the cashier told him "You're looking for Becca? She left. And she was PISSED." Indeed.