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Mishaps, misadventures and mayhem on the road

Late-night fire alarms, wicked ice storms, and convention attendees celebrating with wild abandon, are some of Melanie Thomas' less joyful road memories.

We’ve had some wild and woolly adventures while on the road. Some are so absurd they’re unbelievable. Others, well, not so much. I hope you agree that truth sometimes is really stranger than fiction.

Fire Alarm Fun

The first time we attended the Lexington, Kentucky military show was in the winter. I cannot remember the month (I’m going back 20+ years), but I do remember lots of ice on the roads and piled up alongside curbs. We stayed at a large, convention-center type of hotel, again I don’t remember where exactly, but it was nice. It was a grueling drive after an 8 hour day at the shop, and we arrived around 10 p.m., ready for something to eat and our bed. Both of us went out like the proverbial lights, only to be rudely awakened to the sounds of the hotel’s fire alarm.

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Jay was first to come to; I was still comatose.

“Mel, get up, the fire alarm is on.” I rolled over.

Shaking my shoulder, he got louder. “Melanie, get UP!”

I opened my eyes to flashing blue and red strobe lights. Did I eat some bad fish?

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know but you’ve got to get up and put some clothes on.”

Tread Carefully

Evacuating into the stairwell, I was thankful we were only on the third floor. Everyone moved with a purpose and said little. I’m not sure the silence was due to shock or sleepiness.

Standing in the parking lot with the frigid blacktop penetrating my slippered feet, fire truck after fire truck pulled in, lights flashing and horns blaring. Good luck falling back to sleep after this, I thought.

Forty five minutes and ten numb toes later, we were given the all clear. Then the rumors rifled through the crowds. Some college kid had pulled the alarm as a joke. No, some drunk set his trashcan on fire but all was well. Wait, the concert goers on the other side of the hotel got too rowdy and an irritated guest pulled the alarm in an attempt to shut them up.

Driven by Disgruntled State

All of these conjectures were almost right. The infamous Ozzy Osbourne had performed that night (the guy that bites birds’ heads off) and one of his disgruntled fans pulled the alarm because Osbourne only did one encore.

One brat ruined a whole lot of people’s sleep.

Then there was the time we decided to escape the Pennsylvania cold and head to southern Georgia, specifically Savannah. Just as we were leaving, a wicked winter storm was predicted to strike the mid-Atlantic coast with heavy snow predicted for New Jersey and New York. Counting our blessings that we were getting away just in time, we wound up ice-bound near Appomattox, Virginia.

Eyeing Appomattox

Trying to make lemonade out of lemons, I said, “We’re Civil War dealers and we’ve never been to Appomattox. I think we can kill two birds with one stone here.”

Jay just looked at me. My husband hates winter, especially ice and snow. Appomattox seemed to be a nice, picturesque place, at least what little we saw of it. There just wasn’t much to see.
And by nothing, I mean nothing. Two hotels flanked the town. I will call them Roach Motel 1 and Roach Motel 2. Roach Motel 1 wouldn’t allow us to bring in our dog, Sparky, a very well-behaved Jack Russell terrier, so our only option was Roach Motel 2.

Have you ever stayed in a place where you were afraid to put your luggage down? I stripped the bed searching for creepy crawlies, cursing the weather. Normally in this situation I’d drive to the nearest store and buy bleach and any other cleaners the situation called for, but the roads were so bad at this point I was afraid to drive.

Dining at a Dive

And we might have been able to tolerate the hair balls, stickiness and mildew if we had had a decent meal in us but decent meals are hard to come by in the middle of an ice storm in rural Virginia. At least they were back then. There was a Mexican place that had ptomaine written all over it and another nondescript dive named something like “Skippers” or “Scooters.” The dive won the coin toss and thankfully, the food was only terrible. No digestive repercussions resulted.

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Hunkering down for the night, the wind whipped through the ill-fitting door making it 15 degrees colder on that side of the room. The bathroom was the warmest and we gave serious thought to putting the mattress inside the bathtub. We stuffed dingy, grey towels into the door jam in a feeble attempt to stave off the draft. All the while, the room’s heater was cranked on high, putting out lukewarm air at best. I don’t think it ever reached 50 degrees in the room.

The next morning, preparing to get the heck out of Dodge, we dismantled the door’s blockade to discover 3 inches of snow blanketing the ice from the day before.

Unexpected Mayhem on the Road

We were stuck, iced in, with no idea how long the frigid temperatures would hold us hostage.
Three miserable days later, we left Appomattox, never to return. We still haven’t seen the Courthouse where Lee surrendered because for the first time in the history of this national park, it was closed for three straight days. Timing really is everything.

Maybe someday we’ll go back, in August.

But perhaps the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to us really isn’t or shouldn’t be shocking in this day and age, but in the mid-1990s, it was pretty mind blowing.

I honestly can’t remember where we were. Jay and I argue about this still. I think we were somewhere in the Midwest, Indiana or Illinois perhaps. Jay says no, we were in Arkansas, but it doesn’t matter where, what matters is the “what.”

Sharing Hotel Space

We were checking into the hotel and stood in a long line behind little people. At least that’s what I think is the politically correct way to refer to people with dwarfism, I don’t know. The hotel had even supplied a step stool so they could sign in at the high counter. They were a boisterous group, running around hugging each other with lots of back slapping and laughter. I enjoyed watching their high energy and obvious joy in being together.

I said something about the crowd to the hotel clerk and she rolled her eyes.
“They’re having a convention,” she said.

Fast forward about 7 hours, bringing us to about 2 a.m. Lots of noise in the hallway, name calling, thumping, and shouting woke us both up. We called the front desk. The attendant sounded exhausted.

“Yes, Mrs. Thomas, we’re aware of the problem and doing the best we can, but it’s happening on all three floors.”

Beware of Opening Doors

Being me, I decided to take matters into my own hands with Jay in agreement. We opened our

Jay and Melanie Thomas

Jay and Melanie Thomas, seasoned dealers in Civil War artifacts, other antiques and collectibles.

room’s door prepared to yell at a couple of little people but our jaws hit the floor instead and we slammed our door shut.

We were not prepared for what we saw.

Lots of naked bodies, running up and down the hall throwing footballs, tackling each other and er, let’s call it playing slap and tickle. Those who weren’t playing “ball” were standing around with alcoholic beverages in hand waiting for their “turn.” And yes they, too, were wearing only their birthday suits.

Too shocked to say anything, we both crawled back into bed and soon the revelers dispersed, but we laid in bed wide awake. Neither one of us will ever forget the sight of all those naked bodies rolling around on the floor, forever ensconced in our family lore.

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