I had just gotten to the hotel and the first thing I did was jump into a very long and very hot bath. I wasn’t only washing off the 6 hour trip. I was delighting in the luxury of uninterrupted leisure. The business I’d traveled to attend wouldn’t start until the next morning.
At only five o’clock in the evening, my long range plan for the rest of the night was to sink delicately into some too-soft hotel pillows, either stretch out or curl up on a too-hard bed, and channel surf on a too-big-for-the-room television until I fell asleep.
As I was drying off the last of the bath water, the hotel room’s telephone began to ring. It was one of my associates. Three of us were there for the same business meeting the following day. The fourth was an accompanying wife we all knew well.
It would be the last night that all four of us would remain friends.
It’s hard to have a telephone conversation with a friend and colleague while standing in a strange hotel room, many miles from home, hair still dripping just a little, and naked.
I really hate that question. Maybe I’ll write about it in a separate post, but for now, I’ll just have to let it go, like I did when he asked it.
“Not a lot; what’s up?”
“We all wanna go out to dinner. Wanna go?”
“Sure, but I’ll need a few minutes. Where are we going?”
“Someplace that’s not a McDonald’s or Burger King.”
And that’s how the rest of the evening for me began. Ambiguous, mysterious, and just a little exciting.
I got dressed thinking we were going to a Bonanza or Ponderosa, something not too expensive yet doesn’t have a drive-thru. I wouldn’t have to go all out, but shorts and a t-shirt were probably out of the question. I did wear my jeans and sneakers though.
This was almost fifteen years ago, so the twenty I put in my jeans pocket should have covered any expense wherever we went, right?
That’s what I thought, too.
I should’ve known better than to leave my purse in my room. Although there were times during the well-traveled evening that I was glad I’d left it. It was less to keep track of.
We had two vehicles from which to choose. The couple had driven up together and the other friend and I had doubled up in my car. I wasn’t comfortable driving, and the husband seemed to know where we were going and how to get there, so we all piled into his car.
And then we drove.
And then we drove some more.
We were both on an interstate and then alternately on a state highway. An hour and a half and 76 miles later, we were finally looking for a parking space. Only there were no restaurants in the area. There were only more parking areas, parking buildings, and sidewalks.
I was starting to get a little miffed that we still had not reached our final destination. That morning I was at home in Charleston WV. I had driven to Hagerstown MD. And now we were parking a car in Baltimore.
The sun had already begun to set and with it a cool breeze had been released, making me wish I’d brought a jacket. I couldn’t be too hard on myself, though. In my defense, I thought we were only going to stray a few blocks from the hotel, have dinner, and then return long before it got cold enough for a jacket.
We left the car behind us in the parking lot and for a really long time we walked. My friend and I hung back from the couple a few paces, just long enough to quietly question our location. Neither of us knew. All we knew was that the last visible sign from the highway had informed us we were in Baltimore.
A little movie began to play in my head. It was full of tragedy and an ultimate need to call the police. I imagined the conversation would go something like:
“What’s your emergency?”
“I need an ambulance!”
“Where are you?”
We descended a long set of stairs down into the ground and there were a lot of people scurrying past each other, really bad lighting, and locked turnstiles through which it required two quarters each for us to pass.
I had a twenty dollar bill in my pocket. I looked to my buddy. He only shrugged. Our combination host and kidnapper obligingly pulled a fist full of quarters out of his pocket and, with what I’ll always remember as a slightly evil grin, paid our way through the turnstiles.
We followed him to the platform and then waited quite some time before we could board a train. We took seats close together, carefully avoiding the scattered debris. It was only then that one of us asked the couple about our final destination.
“Don’t worry! You’ll love it!”
“Do you often travel two hours by means of different types of transportation just to eat a specific meal?”
“We’ve been known to drive three hours for a really good cup of coffee.” Husband chuckled like this was a nothing trip, just par for the same old course, an average and dull experience.
It was my first time on the subway.