As I drove cautiously along a deserted road in the Virginia-North Carolina countryside, the passing scenery reminded me of the forest scene from "Deliverance." To add to the negative atmosphere, my least favorite Realtor office colleague sat next to me. The stillness on this Saturday night made me feel like a solo mortician closing up shop after the last mourner following the wake of the least popular crotchety old man in the neighborhood.
My fellow Realtor, Jill McIntyre, had a voice that would attack your nerves like fingernails scraping on an old-school chalkboard. Also, if you had the unfortunate luck to come out on what Jill considered the “losing” side of an argument with her, her buzzsaw-like comments could leave you feeling like a worthless piece of sawdust inside of a minute.
I had drawn the short straw as part of our office’s two-person team slated to give our Realtor Week presentation in Wilmington, NC—a nearly seven-hour drive from our Ocean City, MD home base.
Of course, my own sales talent also had landed me in this position—I had wound up just below Wunderkind Jill on the top sales production checklist.
The Road Trip from Hell had started just like every other of the few business trips I had the misfortune to “experince”, with Jill in the past. No sooner had we hit the road than we launched into a loud debate over the most effective route from downtown Ocean City heading toward Virginia.
Turned out I had the best idea, but we followed Miss Perfection’s route—along beach traffic-jammed Route 90--earning us a two-mile-backup in Ocean Pines, MD and stone cold silence from Jill throughout the next two hours of our trip.
We didn’t reach the three-quarter marker for our trip--Richmond--until lunchtime.
Of course, this resulted in another verbal skirmish, because I favored an Italian place I knew well from my Army days near Richmond and Jill’s “only worthwhile choice” for us, a local Mexican restaurant she “loved because of its ambience.”
Jill reluctantly gave in because of the location of my choice,“Cici Mama,” only two blocks from the exit of the interstate.
To add to the wonderment of this fantastic adventure, we came out of lunch to find our minivan with a flat tire. I didn’t feel like changing a tire in my business clothes, so I called the local AAA-affiliated gas station.
After we sat sweating for an hour in the hot Virginia sun, the tow truck finally arrived. Following another 10 minutes of fumbling with our tire, the operator presented us with the wonderful news that our tire “couldn’t be repaired” and, since we didn’t have a usable spare, he’d have to tow us into his station so he could outfit us with a new tire.
That trip took us another hour, and the station was in the country about a half hour from the entrance to US 58 West.
After the side trip to the service station, and finally on our way back to 58, we got lost on a back-country road as darkness began to close in like the lid closing on a coffin.
It looked like not only would we miss our own presentation, but we might have to chuck the whole Realtors’ convention.
As my "crack navigator" informed me, however, after driving around in a maze for fwo hours, the interstate was “just ahead.” We finally saw signs for the entrance to Route 58--a mile ahead.
However, before we got to the entrance a strange green light on the road blinded us..
An eight-foot creature emerged from the light and approached our car. From what we could make out from his gibberish, he had come down to Earth on an "exploratory mission from Mars of the future" seeking a place on Earth to colonize for his people, whose area had been destroyed in an intergalactic nuclear storm.
"I have the ability," the creature said, "to tap into your minds and gather everything I need to merge into earth as an ordinary human. Then I will transmit this information back to my home planet and my fellow Martians will come down to take over your earth, with neither you nor your leaders knowing the difference. Of course, once I complete my transformation you both will be dead."
Jill and I both struggled to get out of our minivan, but we found ourselves unable to move.
It looked like the Road Trip from Hell would turn into the final road trip of our lives.
However, I used what little brainpower I had left during the Martian Transformation to replay the last few hours and try to figure a way out of this mess.
As I attempted to work out an escape plan with my very unhappy and extremely uncooperative colleague, we figured out that this whole scenario didn’t seem to add up. Why had the Martian picked our vehicle from all the traffic on the far reaches of this countryside, just off a major interstate highway, rather than trying to make contact with far more important government officials in Richmond, the capital of Virginia?
And why did he choose to stop our nondescript minivan with two people in it rather than a family car carrying several more potential “subjects” for his potential takeover?
After an hour of plotting ways to get out of what seemed like a life-ending situation, we found ourselves sitting alone in the dark, no longer prisoners in a bizarre intergalactic plot.
Turns out our “sidetrip” to meet the “Martian” had not really happened. Our friendly tow truck operator, while we got our tire changed, had offered us a few sips of his "local brew" moonshine. The last few hours had merely been booze-induced dreams--or should I say nightmares?
After we woke up we found our way to Route 58 and continued our journey.
Although we missed our presentation and the home office had to fly in a second team to pitch-hit for us, we did arrive in Wilmington in time for the concluding award ceremony to accept Ace Achiever Awards for being the most productive team on the Eastern Seaboard.