Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lessons Learned From the Buddy System From Hell

As you know, I live my life by certain rules.  Some of them are meant to be broken, some of them are bendable if the occasion calls for it and some of them stand hard and fast against the sands of time.  I’ve had a lot of lessons in my twenty-nine years (snort) and the least I can do is learn from them. 

Although it is the credo of a Southern Belle to behave impeccably at all times in all situations, I think we all know that I’m not there yet.  I’ve got too much on my plate right now to be unflappable, so the best I can do it just avoid situations where I know that my tolerance meter will climb to the red zone.  You know:  No church on Easter Day, avoid Chuck E. Cheese like the Black Plague, do not set foot in a post office at Christmas, forget that Wal-Mart even exists and shun as many Azalea Festival activities as your Baby Belles will allow.

So which one are we talking about today?  Well, boys and belles, I am referring to the Ashley Culbreth Council Life Rule Number 3,285:  Never, ever travel with an airhead.   

I know that some of my rules may sound a touch peculiar and arbitrary on occasion, but I assure you that—when it comes to ACC Life Rules—I have very good reasons.  This particular rule was born in 1992 during a trip to the United Kingdom. 

I was one of a group of Peace College students who received a scholarship to attend a summer term at Cambridge University.  I have no idea what the criteria was for the scholarship because a more motley band of individuals could not be found.  At the risk of sounding like The Breakfast Club, we had nerds, artsy fartsies, jocks, princesses, stoners and everything else in our little troop.  (For the record, I was a nerd with a touch of princess sprinkled in for flavor.)

I can’t remember how many of us there were, but we were assigned a travel buddy before we took off from Atlanta.  I was responsible for keeping up with my buddy and vice versa—I think it was so the utterly useless “chaperone” had less work to do.  We actually received demerits if we didn’t know where our buddy was at all times.  Were we allowed to pick our companions?  Well, of course not because that would have made sense.  No, our buddies were assigned to us and the assignments were just as random as the group itself.  I got a very, very, very, painfully perky girl named...let’s see...”Bambi” fits nicely. 

I didn’t know Bambi very well, but she was plenty nice enough.  If Peace College actually had cheerleaders, Bambi would have been the captain of the squad.  I honestly don’t think that she girl had a mean bone in her body and that reason is the only thing that kept me from killing her on our little international adventure. 

When we first got stuck together, I focused on the silver lining that we weren’t rooming together.  Yeah, I was rooming with a chain smoking pessimist—my kind of people.  My roomie would balance out the perk nicely.

In retrospect, I had no clue as to what was in store for me, but there were a few signs here and there.  While still at the international concourse, in Atlanta, many of us decided to hit the shops to buy sodas, candy and magazines for the flight.  I took my eyes off of my buddy for one instant only to come back to her while she was attempting to pay the Atlanta cashier in British pounds.  Bambi’s argument was that we were in the international terminal, so paying with foreign currency made sense.

When we boarded the plane, Bambi asked if she could have the window seat because she liked to pretend that she was flying.  I acquiesced while my roommate whispered that the only reason I was being so nice was that I could push Bambi out first if the plane crashed.  Little did she know that I always take the aisle seat as a result of crushing and hysterical claustrophobia...so ha.  Bambi furthermore expressed surprise during the flight attendant safety demo when she learned that we might actually need flotation devices because she didn’t know that we were going to flying over the Atlantic Ocean.  I kid you not.

Before I took enough Benadryl to induce an in-flight coma, I slipped a couple of rows back in order to get the 411 on Bambi.  I talked to some of the girls who knew my new buddy better and they all assured me that she didn’t have a mean bone in her body and that she was brilliant.

Now, you might wonder at that last statement, but I was familiar with the scenario.  There is a true circumstance where one can have an I.Q. that is off the charts, but not have one lick of common sense.  I went to the 7th grade with a girl who was so gifted that she started school a year early and was still so advanced that she had to skip one more grade.  Just for the hell of it, she took the SAT when she was twelve years old and scored a perfect 1600.  Bless her heart, but the poor thing couldn’t figure out how to tie her shoes until she was fifteen years old.

Okay...so, crazy brilliant.  I could deal with that.

We finally landed in London and then boarded a bus to take us to Cambridge.  Even though most of us managed to sleep on the plane, we were still beat.  All of us dozed off before we even got out of the London city limits.  I don’t know where we were or how long I’d been asleep, but we all jumped awake at Bambi’s shrill scream, “Oh my God!  There’s nobody driving that car!

We all looked toward where my buddy was pointing in horror and it certainly appeared as though nobody was at the wheel...had we been in the United States.  The thing was—as I hope you already know—that British rules dictate driving on the left side of the road rather than the right.  Consequently, British cars place the driver on the right side of the car so—no—there wasn’t anyone on the left side of the car, but there was a driver on the right.

Lord have mercy.

Bambi really was extremely nice and she good naturedly ribbed herself about her amazing lack of common sense.  Normally, I would have been tearing my hair out in frustration, but she was kind of like a little puppy—so adorable that you can’t even fuss at them when they poop on the floor.  Yep, she was so damned cute that I could only roll my eyes when she took a rowboat out in the Cambridge Channel without an oar and got stuck in a turnstile in the London underground.

There was one tense episode that occurred at the college where we stayed.  The English are deadly serious about their lawns.  The quad in front of her dormitory had a lush green lawn with a stern warning posted:  “DO NOT WALK ON GRASS.”  Bambi didn’t think it would be a problem if she took her shoes off and walked with her bare feet.  I swear, the second she stepped a toe onto the lawn, the whole place lit up like a Christmas tree with sirens blaring.

The last...challenge...occurred when me and my buddy navigated British Security in order to get on the plane that would take us home. 

I was so ready to go home.  I was homesick and super tired and—I’ll be honest—I wanted to eat some damned grits.  In spite of Bambi’s niceness, my fuse was running short.  British Security is notorious for its seriousness and toughness.  The British have been dealing with the IRA long before Al Quaida was a ripple in the water.  British Airport Security is not a place where you want to be glib because they have absolutely no sense of humor.  Still, the task before us wasn’t too complicated:  Answer questions and GET.  ON.  THE.  DAMN.  PLANE.

So...we got the famous question, “Is there anything in either your carry-on baggage or checked baggage that could be used as a weapon?”

“No sir.”

“No sir.”

We kept a straight face as we navigated the waters.  We answered all of our questions just like we were supposed to and, seconds before the agent stamped his approval on our documents, Bambi said, “Wait.”

The Customs Officer stopped with his stamp hanging in midair and my stomach turned to ice.  There was no way that anything she had to say was going to be helpful and she wasn’t picking up on the not-so-subtle hand signals that she should shut the hell up.

“I have a curling iron.”

“Pardon?” the Customs Office and I said in unison.

She wiped her bangs out of her eyes and I’d come to learn that little move was never a good sign.  “Well, I got to thinking [oh shit] about when you asked whether or not I had anything that could be used as a weapon and I just now thought of my curling iron.”

“Pardon?” again said in unison.

She had the nerve to look at us as though we were slow on the uptake.  She huffed out a breath and said, “Well, it’s not on, so it won’t burn you or anything.”

The office stepped arched and eyebrow and said, “Please step to the side and wait.”

That was it.  “The People” were coming for us and I would never see my bed with its ironic gnome comforter ever again.  I could have happily committed murder right there in the Gatwick terminal and—after several months of togetherness—I had the feeling that several of my classmates would have joined in the fun.  As usual, Bambi was oblivious to the chaos she’d caused as the rest of our crew passed through without delay.  The one positive thing our useless chaperone did for the entire trip?  She talked to the officer on our behalf. 

I managed to recover my wits enough during the plane ride to smile and hug her goodbye.  Last I heard, she was a plan administrator for an HMO. 

You can’t make this shit up.

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