Before I moved to central Arkansas, I worked for a program called Upward Bound in the southwest corner of the state. We helped prepare high school students to be the first in their family to go to college. It’s a fairly rural area, and even though I grew up there I only knew the path from my house in DeQueen to Texarkana, where I went to go shoe shopping or watch movies or eat at fancy restaurants like Applebee’s. When my boss told me she wanted me to do a recruiting presentation at the school in Saratoga, my first question was, “Where exactly is Saratoga?”
I asked everyone in my office, and they all said the same thing: “Okay, so you know how you’re leaving Mineral Springs and you’re headed towards Tollette…” One of them also added as an aside that some people refer to Tollette as “toilet,” which I could have guessed since they have similar pronunciations and also because I was once a third grader myself.
None of them noticed my blank stare at their explanation, though, so I finally stopped my coworker, Tina, and said, “Why would I be driving toward Tollette? Am I lost in this scenario?” I finally learned that Tollette is near the community of Schaal (pronounced “shawl”) and halfway between Mineral Springs (a city with a population of about 1,500) and Saratoga, which is more or less a suburb of that thriving metropolis.
I’m a city girl. Even when I’m not living in a big city, that’s where I want to be, and I try not to drift too far from the beaten path. Nature’s nice and all, but I don’t want to live in it or even visit, really.
At work, we have a Page-A-Day calendar in the bathroom. Last year it was 365 days of great books, but this year it’s one of those survival handbooks. I always thought those were meant to be a joke. Like, their tips for how to avoid being bitten by a shark would be limited to things people learned from watching all the Jaws movies back to back, and the number one tip would involve Roy Scheider somehow. But they’re actual tips for surviving really dangerous situations.
That could still be kind of interesting. One of the days featured ways to escape a wild cab ride. This, by the way, would have come in very handy when I was in Italy or that one time in Austin, when our cab driver made us wait in the car ten blocks from our house to conduct some business that I’m fairly sure was drug related. (“Look! Look! I’m turning the meter off!” he said, when Regina and I protested. That’s not much comfort if we’re hanging around while you commit a felony, dude.) The best suggestions to get out of a bad cab ride were to announce that you have no money and threatening to throw up.
But most of the tips are decidedly useless because they are preparing me for disasters SO UNLIKELY, that if I find myself facing them, they will happen in the context of a whole host of other problems. I’ve read about how to cross a piranha infested river, how to survive a trip over a waterfall (minus a boat), and escaping from a pack of stampeding elephants. Much like my hypothetical drive to Tollette, I can’t help but wonder why I’m I in this situation? What sort of “I should have taken that left turn in Albuquerque” problem have I run into where there are elephants? For that to happen, I would have to have been kidnapped, dragged to an airport, flown to another continent–I’m guessing I was probably stowed in the cargo hold or overhead bin of some tiny plane because if my abductors had to listen to me bitch, they’d have let me go long before we crossed an ocean–escaped and now be on the run from my captors. At that point, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to recall the wisdom I learned from a disposable calendar.
I’d rather learn how to deal with situations that are a little more applicable to my life. What to do when you really have to pee in a filthy public bathroom where the dirtiest thing in the room is the soap? How should you respond when you’re on the bus and the obese woman next to you tries to create a little more room by slipping her arm around your shoulders, inadvertently clutching you to her heaving bosom? What’s the best way to keep the drunken Canadian you stupidly made out with and now can’t get rid of from getting into a bar fight? When peace is restored, how can you successfully ditch said Canadian? That’s the kind of survival guide I need.