Saturday, March 12, 2022

Trapped in a Kwik Star with Nothing but Ice Beyond the Door, but Rescued by a Library

In which the happy, adventuresome itinerant interpreter comes face to face with a near-ditch experience, seeks shelter in the first option available, and is rescued, once again, by a community resource, this time, The Maquoketa Public Library.

The First Place Available

As I left home

Courthouse in Dallas County, Iowa, a "normal day in the life"


Well, Susana, oh, what can I say? When I left, the weather it was dry. True, rain was predicted, but it has been warmer of late and this was not surprising. What began as rain had become a "wintry mix" thirty miles from home. My husband called, concerned. I saw nothing, but out of respect for how worried I would be in his place, I stopped for a coffee refill and to make sure my court of destination had not decided to switch to a video hearing today. I took the next ramp promising "food and gas" and that was almost my last move of the day; at 8:30 am. 

This library! Maquoketa Public Library

While the highway itself had been clear and on the dry side, the exit ramp, as I slowed, lost all sense of stability. My snow tires were glass, the road was an ice rink and the ballet of my movement on it clumsy, spinny, and desperate. I kept my calm, winter weather is home territory, no palm trees in a cyclone, earthquakes or tsunamis, in the strictest sense and at a speed I had no business driving today.

At the bottom of this endless hill, I had the choice between exactly two places to park; the Big W or the gas station. Hot coffee and individual doughnuts won that competition and I eased into the sludgy, crunchy parking lot, marveling at all of the available parking spots (every single one of them was free), and I parked, gratefully yet a little doubtful. I did need to be somewhere today in a certain number of hours, and it was not here. Again, it was in deference to my concerned husband that I agreed to exercise a little more caution, not from any natural aversion to driving in all kinds of weather.

In the twenty-four inches between my car and the front door I almost ended up on my tush. I grasped the handle to open the front door, my hand slipped and it escaped. The glass and the door handle were coated in ice already. What was I doing? I guess I could get some work done here for a little while. Doughnut and coffee purchased, I found a tiny table in front of a large screen and opened up my computer. 

That large screen really was a distraction. Well, I could check my email, tidy up a few loose ends. Already, the question looming in the back of my mind was; "And THEN what?" By then, meaning in the next ten minutes, I would be on my way, roads salted and normal. Workers walked back and forth, doors opened and shelves were restocked. My focus was un-stellar. I did give a deal of thought to offering some sisterly advice to a woman with pretty blue eyes, a shy demeanor and a hairdo that looked like she had set it with her grandmother's rollers. It was a shame, it made her look an entire two generations older. But I desisted. 

I sought some other sort of meaningful work that could be done in the moment.

I checked and rechecked phone and computer screens for weather and road updates is what I did. Then I tried to write, but my mind was tizzied and on its way somewhere else, anywhere else, forward to Black Hawk County, still almost two hours away, or back home, three-quarters of an hour behind me with good road conditions.

I attempted the compiling of a pick-up order at the drug store. They had sent out a 20% off coupon for the day, probably in anticipation of absolutely no one in their right mind leaving home without a little incentive, but I could not think, beyond bandages, which we always need, what else we might conceivably require from this store to which one of us is constantly running. My brain was mush, or rather, very busy, calculating mush functioning with the single-mindedness of bacteria. Bacteria needs to reproduce, I needed to move. 

In the interim, the weather was on a roll, it was one enormous ball of freezing, frozen, awful stuff coming down in drops, sheets and droves. 

I could stand back and see that my attitude was silly. This was not so bad. There were no toddlers in diapers to change, children to keep in check, entertain, feed. I was alone and my time was my own. It was almost paradise, except for the distinct lack of exotic dancers, quality cuisine and beach view. 

I tried to make myself see reason. This is really quite fortunate, you can refill that coffee mug indefinitely and there is even a ladies' room right there. I went back to the counter for a snack. I purchased a gallon-sized bucket of soda and a square plastic bucket of potato salad, just the thing to boost one's moral, but when I turned back to my table, I was aghast, a couple had come in and stolen my spot. Just-off-highway robbery. The other table in this tiny haven was occupied by a truck driver who said he had been there for two days. His English was slightly lacking in clarity, but he did not appear to be going anywhere else.

I tried to leave again, maybe I would take the call in my car, appropriate background be damned for today.* But on the way out, I spied a half table and two stools up against the wall of the vestibule, although that is rather a grand word for the freezing cold space between two sets of doors, covered in small piles of green salt that served this function. I sat, soda, salad, straw and plastic fork. I could not see out the window because it was entirely covered in ice bumps. I scooped out a spoonful of the potatoes and tried it. Too cold. Too sweet. Might as well enjoy another doughnut instead.

I checked my phone again, idly, for the latest cloud movement. A break in the pattern? Could it be? Was it going to be big enough for me to get back home? Perhaps...I turned my phone sideways and upside down and in doing so, I noticed the time. I was out of this last. I could, if it was close, get to the library downtown. I thought it might be, but my famous sense of direction now failed me, so I had to check. It was a 6-minute drive. I had twenty-five. I dialed the number hoping...yes, they were open, yes, they could let me borrow a room for an hour. MERCI! 

I ditched the soda, tossed the potato salad on the floor of the passenger place and inched my way carefully to the library. The streets were covered in a hail-like mess, but not too slippery. The sidewalk proved to be more complicated, but again, there was a spot right in front of the library door, so the walk was brief. My mother always said that as I child, I was capable of the most daredevil climbing and other stunts, it was only in normal situations I ever injured myself. In my element on ice then, as it were.

The library welcome was warm and everyone was beyond kind. Downstairs in the children's department was a beautiful room we had once spent an afternoon as a family playing card games when a camping trip nearby had turned stormy and wet. (I wrote about it here.) Upstairs, a kind lady invited me to sit in a large room entirely surrounded in windows and reference books. I took my call in here, as stately a setting as any judge in her law library. I was offered a newspaper, any help needed and even, at the end of my long stay and much discussion, a library card. Of this last, I am pleased as punch. I have never had my own card in a town in which I do not live, it almost feels like an honorary degree in a college I never attended. Thanks, Maquoketa! Way to turn a bad day into an experience.

*In a remote (video) interpreting encounter, a professional interpreter will either have her video off, for simultaneous, or on, for consecutive, with a neutral (blank) background and excellent lighting. A steering wheel between your face and the camera makes a judge nervous and they may even stop the proceedings to inquire whether one is driving right now.