Believe me when I say I’ve suffered through a lot of embarrassing moments in my life. Two that immediately come to mind are when I went to work at a new job and was in such a rush to arrive on time, I showed up with a hair curler (a pink foam one) still in the back of my hair. And then there was the time I slipped on the stairs in Woolworth’s and slid down them on my back, landing at the bottom with my skirt up over my face – as a group of people stood and stared at my underwear.
Well, the other night I was able to add another embarrassing moment to my forever-growing list.
During hot, humid weather, I don’t take the dogs for their usual walks because they’re big animals and don’t cope well with the heat. So during the recent hot spell, they were really restless – pacing, whining, standing near where I hang their leashes and looking longingly at them.
It was nearly 8:00 one night when their restlessness finally drove me so crazy, I decided to take them for a ride. They are like kids. If I ride them around in the car for a while, they usually doze off. I grabbed my driver’s license and my car keys, then put the dogs into the car and drove next door to Bear Brook State Park. I figured we’d take a quick ride up Podunk Road, which goes uphill through the woods, and then come back.
I hadn’t driven up Podunk Road in quite a while. When I came to the little booth near the beginning of it, I saw a man walking along the side of the road – a late hiker, I thought. I continued driving up the road and noticed some changes. Some areas had been cleared of trees, and in one of the newly cleared areas, a marker had been erected saying there was the body of an unknown Civil War soldier buried there.
I had walked over that spot many times – never knowing there was an old body lying under there somewhere. In the daylight, I might have found this new information interesting, but it was starting to get dark, so I thought it was, well… kind of creepy.
The dogs started to calm down and were looking relaxed, so after only about 10 minutes, I turned around and headed back home. That’s when I came to a locked gate all the way across the road. I stopped the car and sat there for a few minutes as the situation sank in. I was trapped on a road in the middle of the woods. I also was thinking, “Well, Sally, now what are you going to do?”
Visions of having to spend the night in a car with two dogs or walking home in the dark, brought to mind every horror movie I’d ever seen. Suddenly, every bush became a potential hiding place for everything from werewolves to gigantic alien spiders.
I didn’t have my cell phone, so I figured I’d better get out and start walking toward the houses at the beginning of Podunk Road. I left the dogs in the car and headed off.
I didn’t have to go very far. The guy I had seen walking along the side of the road when I drove up came walking toward me. Let’s just say his expression pretty much told me he didn’t exactly think I was a Rhodes scholar. He turned out to be the park manager.
“Didn’t you see me locking the gate when you drove in?” he asked.
I was pretty sure that if I had, I wouldn’t have continued to drive up the road. I said, “No…I’m really sorry.”
“I thought you were part of the group staying up at Spruce Pond,” he said.
“They must all have keys?” I asked. Either that, or they had really early curfews.
He sighed and frowned. “Now I have to walk all the way back and get the key and unlock the gate.”
I was surprised he didn’t have the key with him. I hung my head and again said I was sorry. I suddenly remembered what it felt like to be a little kid being scolded for doing something really dumb.
“I’ve been walking up here for over 40 years,” I said to him, “and the only time this road has been gated was during the winter (because it’s not plowed). When did they start locking the gate every night?”
“About a year-and-a-half ago,” he said.
That pretty much explained why I didn’t know about it.
He stared at me for a few seconds, then said, “Remember me? I used to live in the little red house over by the nature center. I live over here now.”
Back when I lived on the other side of Bear Brook, I used to walk my dogs at night over by the nature center – only because it was the only area with street lights, so I could walk there after dark. The road was posted with “no unauthorized admittance,” but I figured no one even would notice me there.
Well, not only did the police notice me one night and come to investigate, so did Greg, the park manager, who came out of the little red house to ask me what I was doing there.
Both the police and Greg turned out be really nice guys when they found out I wasn’t about to rob the supply depot or dump my trash there. And not only was I allowed to still take my nightly walks (as long as the dogs and I behaved, and I picked up after them), if Greg was outside in his yard at the time, we always chatted. I hadn’t, however, seen him in years.
“Oh, so they’ve moved you into the ‘big house’ now?” I asked.
As it turned out, Greg and I had a nice conversation and briefly caught up on what was new since we’d last talked. Then he got the key and unlocked the gate for me.
Once again, I apologized. “But,” I added, “it was good to see you again. If you hadn’t locked me in here, I wouldn’t have had the chance to talk to you.”
He smiled and nodded, but somehow I got the feeling he’d much rather have been sitting in his living room and watching TV than unlocking a gate for some clueless woman who couldn’t read the “gate closes at 8 p.m.” sign posted right along the side of the road.
Oh well, at least by the time I got back home, my dogs were sound asleep.