Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ghost Story

I have hesitated to write about this memory until now because I want to be able to give it the justice it deserves. This is one of the most hilarious and terrifying experiences of my life. I can promise you that it is 100% TRUE.


Growing up LDS (Mormon), it was not uncommon to have a foreign face in Sunday School. Our Young Women's class was often filled with granddaughters, cousins, and friends of other Church members who were dropped off while their mothers and grandmothers attended Relief Society. They were usually fairly quiet, polite, and enjoyable but rarely frequented and even more rarely, joined permanently. We were a very tight knit group of about 10 girls that had been friends since we were little sunbeams sporting our one-size-fits-all CTR rings at four years-old and we liked it that way.

I did not care much for this new girl. She was definitely stealing my thunder. She came out of nowhere and everyone seemed to know her and love her. I didn't go to the same school as my church friends yet no one had cared to introduce us. I felt it appropriate to ignore her and let her know that she was not yet significant enough for me to introduce myself. I felt pretty good about this. She would definitely know that these were my friends and that her presence here was of no consequence to me. 

Unfortunately, when we split into our Sunday school classes, we were forced to sit next to each other. I discovered that her name was Joan and that she went to school with the other girls but had come with Lyzz, a friend of mine who had recently joined the church. I had just gotten used to the idea of adding Lyzz's face to our entourage and I could tell that Joan was ready to join the ranks.

As Murphy's Law states: Anyone you find severely annoying will most definitely want to be best friends with you.

After you've made the informed decision to hate someone, everything they do from that point forward, is irritating. The fact that they are chewing gum, have their nails painted, or not painted, have curly hair, wear jean jackets (when normally you love jean jackets), somehow become deal breakers. I could feel myself being unreasonable but I didn't let it stop me. I was due for a good rant for some time now and this was proving to be the perfect outlet.

When the teacher asked for a volunteer to write things on the board, everyone's new favorite Sunday School guest was selected. That is when everything changed. She was left handed. Left handedness is a total tell for me. I love left handed people, all of them. 

I could tell that we were going to be very, very good friends.  

--------- ( Represents a major gap in time) ---------

Joan had recently purchased the Volvo which was amazing. It really did justice to that moment in everyone's life when they get to stop relying on their parents for rides. We had a car. But no money for gas.

I started working at an old western hamburger restaurant, Calamity Jane's, with my older brother, Mike shortly after I turned 15. I had moved to Sandy and was living with Grandma and Grandpa full time. Mike put in a good word for me and it landed  me a job washing dishes, side by side. I had always looked up to my brother so as far as I was concerned, this was the life. I'd never really made money on the regular and it was awesome. In addition to the largely rewarding $150 dollar paychecks every other week, I was walking out of work each day with a full tank's worth of tips. Life had never been sweeter.

There were many perks to being a Dishwasher, however there were a few set backs. Every night in the dish room was a triathlon. Lifting, Running, Swimming.  Speed and strength were key.

The burger joint we washed for used cast iron skillets and glass beer mugs to increase the authenticity of their western motif. After coming out of the sanitizer, we lifted each scalding pan into stacks of 10 to 15 and moved them to the shelf to dry. After 10 minutes or so, the Washer would move the stacks of 15 iron skillets through the kitchen, pass the servers station, lift the drawer and put the stack inside, pushing them forward for the cooks to use as serving dishes again. This was usually repeated about 10 times as quickly as possible to get back to the conveyor belt of mounting dishes.

Speed starts to play in when dishes fly into the backroom from the dining room. Scrub brushes and gloves only prove to be obstacles in your race against the clock. Plates of half eaten hamburgers, french fries, and piles of mashed potatoes and gravy were swept from plates by hand, sprayed with water, thrown in the rack and shoved through the sanitizer. To a trained eye, if you looked in at our dish room on a busy night with two experienced dishwashers, it was a beautifully organized assembly line of cleanliness.

If you were unlucky enough to land the closing shift, you were given a few extra tasks, only suited for the best Dishwashers. Unfortunately this night, I was the lucky one. Closing down the dish room consisted of washing all of the days pots, pans, and plastic food storage containers. It usually took around 30 minutes, elbow deep in dirty dishwater. Last, but not least, was The Broiler.

The Broiler was and big silver metal sheet that sat underneath the broiler and stretched about 3 feet long and 2 feet wide. It was afforded the task of catching the grease drippings from all the burgers of the day. On a Saturday, the entire tray was crusted with red and gray grease lumps stuck in every crevice. The best part was the mountain of grease piled up along the middle of the tray. It was usually about a foot long and 4 to 6 inches wide and piled 4 inches high. It is brought in at around 300 degrees F, still bubbling in the center. The Dishwasher must use the largest spatula possible to scoop the majority of the grease pile into the trash. When enough is removed to prevent the drain from clogging, it is sprayed down with scalding hot water. When the scent of burnt grease and stale burgers permeate the area in a cloud of steam, you know you're ready to start scrubbing. Only metal SOS pads will do. The crunchy parts along the side were usually the easiest to remove and were saved for last. After scraping off the last crispy beef remains and the water stops beading off the surface of the tray, it is returned to the kitchen and it is time to clean the floors and go home.

The mats in the kitchen are 5 feet long and 2 feet wide. They are big, heavy rubber mats with holes in them soaked in day old dish water. They must be rolled up to fit in the sanitizer and washed three times. After using the mop to mix some soapy water with the dirty water all over the floor already, they are returned to the floor, and you are done for the evening.

I called Joan late after I got off work. She was already on her way over. I desperately needed a shower. Greasy dishwater coated my hands and arms up to the elbows not dissimilar to what you would expect if you were attempting to make wax molds of your arms. My shirt was rigid as if it were a top made of plastic fitted for a manikin. By the time Joan showed up, I'd finished showering and the hot water had helped to melt the grease from my arms and hair and I scrubbed the left over food from face and neck. I was feeling pretty exhilarated. It was almost midnight but we were feeling pretty adventurous so we decided to do something...crazy. I had about $27 in tips so naturally the world was our oyster. There was only one thing standing in our way; the Volvo's radio hadn't been working for the last few weeks. I grabbed the boom box, 4 D size batteries, three of our favorite CD's, a roll of duct tape and we were on our way.

Carley was staying in The Dalles with a family friend while she worked on cherry farm for the summer. It was almost 1:00 when we called to tell her we were making the drive out there. She woke up her "foster parents" and they said it was cool if we came over. We strapped the boom box to the dashboard with the duct tape and hit the road. I-84 to The Dalles is long, straight, and not well lit. This late at night, there were absolutely no cars around. We flew through the night with the sunroof open letting in the cool Oregon summer night. Hands up to the stars, dancing and singing to our favorite tunes, nothing but the road and the radio, as Kenny would say.

We were cruising along in the left lane (which bothered me because I am a strong believer in only using the left lane to pass) for quite some time. We had calmed down a little and the initial thrill of the spontaneity of it all had worn off a touch. It was very dark and huge rock formations on the right hand side of the freeway cast a shadow, even in darkness of the summer night. It was only two lanes on both sides and on the left of the highway was the river. It was dark and calm, reflecting the moon light on a rarely clear night. The only light on the roadway were the Volvo's headlights beaming out in front of us. We both stared ahead, in silence, listening, thinking that maybe the road trip was a little hasty when everything changed.

The lanes are separated by a large concrete median. They are tall enough to stop a car but not tall enough to block your view of the opposing traffic lane. I squinted as an object began to appear in the headlights a few hundred feet ahead. My eyes opened in terror when I realized what I was seeing. At the same instant, even before I could make a sound, Joan slammed on her brakes, screeching to a halt and we both shrieked out loud.

"Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh!!!!" We screamed over each other before we could come to vocalize what we had seen. We instantly looked behind us, hoping to see some evidence that what we had just seen was real. There was nothing there. No animal, pot hole, no large rock, no nail, no piece of glass, no human.

"YOU JUST HIT A GUY!!!" I yelled. I knew even as I said it aloud that it wasn't true.

"You saw it too??" Joan asked, terrified. We knew what we had seen. But what we saw, could not be real. We began putting together the details of what happened.

Before when i narrowed my eyes more and more, I saw a man between 50-60 years old, he had white facial hair and wore a long gray jacket and hat. He looked straight ahead across the highway, climbed over the concrete median, and walked into traffic. It was the same instant when we drove right into him. Joan slammed on her breaks and we both braced ourselves for the impact of his body crunching against the front of the car. It never came.  We looked around us and behind us for any sign that there had been impact or a body but couldn't find anything. There was no damage to the front end of the Volvo. The craziest part was, before I could show any indication that I had seen the man walk in front of us, Joan had already slammed on her brakes and began to scream out at the horror that was about the befall us. She had seen the exact same man walking into the highway. I know exactly what I saw that night. The old man that walked out into the freeway was as clear a figure in the road as Joan was sitting next to me.

I will swear to the end of my life that this was the day we ran through a ghost.

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha, what a great story! I really loved how you described your first encounter with Joanie. I'm glad you are friends. She has always spoken very highly of you over the years.

    My favorite story about you two is when you were at camp. (I will probably get some of the details wrong, so bear with me.) As a prank, somebodies set out all of the girls' bras on the bed, in order of size from the tiniest little training bra to -- you guessed it-- yours and Joanie's bras at the end of the scale. Someone should have taken a picture! I thought this was extremely hilarious.