Always Be Prepared
The Boy Scouts may have made this pledge their own but it’s not a bad piece of advice for any of us. Over the years, I’ve often been asked if I’m afraid to live alone (particularly in inner-city Baltimore), to be on the road so much, or to travel by myself to foreign lands (especially ones where the perceived safety is questionable). The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that while I refuse to live in fear, I also strive to live intelligently—I’m aware of my surroundings, I don’t take unnecessary risks, and I try not to call too much attention to myself. 😉
Because I’ve now got decades (yes, it’s plural!) of living this way under my belt, it’s all sort of become second nature. When I enter a large crowd, I instantly turn my purse around so that the easy-to-access pouch faces in instead of out. When I get out of my car I automatically affix The Club to my steering wheel, no matter where in the country I am. And as soon as I enter my house or hotel room, without thinking, I lock the door.
Last August I had back-to-back gigs in the Chicago area. For one of them, I stayed in a hotel located in the heart of a thriving urban neighborhood. As soon as I entered my room, of course, I locked up for the night. Around 3:00 a.m. I was awakened by the sound of someone trying to open the door. It became clear pretty quickly that the woman was drunk. She was calling through the door trying to get her male companion—who was apparently in her room—to open it from the inside because she was obviously having no luck from the outside. More than a little perturbed, I called out, “You’ve got the wrong room!” Hearing a female voice, and one she didn’t recognize, she immediately realized her mistake and, to her credit, started to apologize profusely. I heard her mumbling to a friend that they must be on the wrong floor and, thinking the problem was solved, I tried to go back to sleep.
Moments later, I again heard someone trying to get into my room. From the mumblings, I knew it was the same woman (she was REALLY drunk!) and when she knocked on the door I snarled from the bed, “WHAT?!?!” Realizing her double mistake, she apologized even more profusely and (finally!) stumbled down the hall to the elevators. Was I annoyed? Absolutely. Was I scared to be awakened in the middle of the night while sleeping in a hotel in the heart of a big city? Not really. Why? Because even if that drunk woman’s key card had managed somehow to open my door, I’d also used the “tuning fork-looking” lock which was added protection (and would have also bought me some extra time to figure out what to do next if it had come to that!). Always be prepared.
The next day I had a different gig about 30 minutes north of the city at a Catholic seminary that had converted part of its bucolic campus into a conference center. My room was in an older, clean but spartan dorm that did include a private bathroom, so I had what I needed. Upon settling in for the night I went into autopilot locking myself in. This door also had one of those tuning-fork locks and I did actually hesitate about using it. After all, I was way out in the ‘burbs, in a lovely serene setting at a conference center. Was this overkill? Perhaps it was due to the “excitement” from the night before … or the fact that I figured—despite the “safer” setting—the powers that be had included that kind of lock on the door for SOME reason … regardless, I used both locks that night. Always be prepared, right?
I’ve always been a sound sleeper, someone who could sleep well in most any bed (thankfully, considering all the beds I sleep in during a given year), and who enjoys sleep so much almost never wakes up before the alarm goes off. Well, some of that began to change last summer when I started having hot flashes. I’m grateful at this point that they’re really more “warm waves” and certainly not the extreme “bed sweats” I know some women endure. But they were warm enough to wake me up in some discomfort. The funny thing is, I think I was having these for a couple of weeks before I even realized what they were. Remember, Baltimore (like many areas) had record-breaking heat last summer and even under “normal” conditions, Baltimore summers are not particularly pleasant. This is why for the last decade or so I’ve simply left town for most of July and August.
Well, last year my schedule didn’t cooperate and I found myself in my uncomfortable, non-AC, third-floor home during some of the hottest days of July. So I finally broke down and bought a portable AC unit to cool my office during the day and my bedroom at night. The first time I was awakened by a hot flash, I just thought the AC wasn’t working very well. After all, we were having record-breaking heat, even in the wee hours of the morning. (The fact that the AC unit was RIGHT next to my bed and blowing directly on my leg, to the point where icicles were starting to form, wasn’t enough to alert me to the fact that maybe something else was going on!) I did eventually realize that I was having hot flashes and thus “prepared” for them the only way I knew how—to continue to sleep in the nude. (This is something I’ve done forever, never really seeing the need to wear pajamas, especially when living alone.)
So late last August, while sleeping in my bare little seminary-based conference center room on the peaceful outskirts of Chicago, I was awakened about 30 minutes before my alarm went off due to the discomfort of a hot flash. I kicked off the covers and lay there, in all my glory, waiting for it to pass. It was at that exact moment that I heard a key in the lock and the door to my room opened. Well, it opened as far as the “tuning fork” would let it. Obviously, as the lock indicated, the room was occupied so the door immediately closed and was relocked.
Had I not put that second lock on the door, I’m not sure who would have been more startled: me, or the intruder. But considering the fact that I later found out the intruder was a meek and mild, work-study seminarian making sure the room was clean and ready for the person he thought was to move in later that day, I’m guessing him. Regardless, let’s just say that it was a good thing I “prepared” by putting that second lock on—as overkill as it seemed—because, I must confess, while I do try to “always be prepared,” I wasn’t really prepared to have my hot, sweaty, naked middle-aged body be the topic of his next confession … or nightmare!