The Robbery

Recently I drove down to Tombstone, Arizona to work at a vaccine clinic for the day.  Tombstone is the location of the historic shootout at the O.K. Corral, which occurred in 1881 and is the most famous gunfight of the historic southwest.  It’s a tourist location and actually is quite interesting.   The drive to Tombstone is about 4 hours from Phoenix and generally is quite pleasant.  When I was driving to work at the vaccine clinic and I had  made it about halfway there I suddenly remembered what I would see along the way.  Ug.  Along the drive there is a billboard which advertises the city and tells you where to exit.  It has a person, probably supposed to be Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday, posing and pointing a gun directly forward.  

I hate that billboard.  I’ve passed it several times and it always gives me the creeps.  It always reminds me of the day I had a gun pointed at me.  It elicits many bad memories from a night where I was robbed at gunpoint.  

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The incident of which I write occurred in 2007, and it occurred at an animal hospital in Phoenix, where I worked as an overnight emergency veterinarian.  On November 19, 2007, at 1:45am a single gun-man robbed the hospital and held 5 employees hostage at gunpoint for about 40 minutes before they all were able to escape the building.  I was one of those employees.  

It’s funny how this has affected me over the past 6+ years.  It has had a large impact on my life.  It was a big deal.  Every year that passes since the event I feel more alone in my experience.  It seems that everyone else has forgotten about it.  I also get the feeling that everyone else assumes that it’s not something to be concerned with anymore.  I will admit that although the stresses and trauma from that night have lessened over time, that it is something that I will never forget.  It is something that I will never be truly “over.”  

Initially I kept in good touch with the other hostages from the incident of that night.  However now, I have all but lost touch with them.  They are the only people who I feel have a true understanding for what happened that night.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t really have anyone to talk to when I remember that night.  On every anniversary of the robbery, and every time I get reminded of the event I feel sad.  And grateful.  I’m sad because of what occurred, sad for the terror we all had to endure, and sad because for many terrifying moments I thought that I was going to die and I desperately did not want to.  But I also am grateful.  I’m grateful that all of us survived, and grateful that I have been given the chance to live my life.  I think about all that I have done in the past six years and it has been wonderful.  I have enjoyed these years, and I am glad I have had the chance to do that.  

A few months ago, on the sixth anniversary of the robbery, I was hiking “the narrows” in Zion National Park.  As I hiked, I remembered that night and realized it had been six years since I had a brush with death.  On that day as I hiked in the beautiful location I felt so happy and alive.   I was so glad that I got the chance to do it.  I am so grateful that my life did not end that night in 2007.  One of the lessons and goals I have had after the event was to live my life as though it is a second chance, to live as though I embrace every moment, and to be happy.  I strive to do this every day.  

Sometimes I feel a little alone in my thoughts on the subject.  I’ve encountered several people who care and who have concern for me regarding the fact that I survived a hostage situation.  Unfortunately, it seems that people always seem to feel awkward talking about it.  I like to talk about it.  I am not ashamed; I’m not going to break down and make people feel weird.  (well, maybe they will feel weird anyway, but I wish they wouldn’t.)  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that night, and I have come to realize that the only people who know the story of what really happened that night are me, Joey, Erick, Linda and CeCe.  We are the five people who were there that night; we were the hostages.  The story about the situation was aired on the news after the event.  The news reported many things incorrectly, including that the gunman voluntarily let us go, (which he didn’t,) and that the doctor in charge at the hospital was a man (um, no- it was ME!)  

Over the years several people have asked me to tell them the story, and I am happy to, but the story is long and inevitably people get bored, feel weird, or simply do not have enough time for the whole story. 

So, I’m going to tell it.  Right here.  Right now.  You can read it or not, but this is my story.  Keep in mind that this is my story, from my perspective.  I was not present for some very threatening events that occurred

with the other victims from that night.  I can comment on some things that I learned from them afterwards, but I cannot speak for them directly.  I do, however, know that it affected everyone involved profoundly.  

 

The story of the robbery of the EAC, Nov 19, 2007:

 

I was employed as a staff veterinarian and was working an overnight shift at the Emergency Animal Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona.  The shift runs from 6pm until 8am the next day.  It had been a relatively busy night.  The first part of the night two doctors were working, myself and a “midshift” doctor whose shift was from 6pm until 1am.  

The midshift doctor and I had been joking about the crappy neighborhood that the hospital is located in.  We had heard that 3 days ago another veterinary hospital in the area was robbed.  Our hospital management had made up flyers regarding the incident, warning employees to be careful and vigilant.  These flyers were posted throughout the building in the employee areas, including one on the door to the doctor’s office.  We joked that in the movie Blood Diamond people would say “T.I.A.” meaning “this is Africa” to chalk up any bad shit that occurred to the fact that bad shit just plain happens in Africa.  We joked about how bad shit seems to occur in and around this hospital a lot.  We could say “T.I.P.”, meaning “This is Phoenix” regarding incidents like robberies, like the crazy clients strung out on drugs, like clients just acting crazy, or other weird shit that commonly seemed to occur at this hospital.  We had specifically been discussing how some clients refuse all medical advise and recommended treatments for their sick pets and insist that they have a “hunch” their animal will be fine, and disregard what we tell them:  “T.I.P.”

At around 1am the midshift doctor went home after her shift. 1am was also a shift change time for technicians.  The midshift techs get to leave and the overnight techs come on duty.  I, of course, was in it for the long haul and was working all night.  Angel and Erick were the last two midshift techs and were planning to leave soon.  The overnight techs, Joey and Linda were already there and working by 1am.  An overnight receptionist, CeCe, was already up at the front desk.  

There were no clients in the building at 1am, there were 8 patients hospitalized with us that night.   One of the patients was a large dog who was hospitalized because she was having seizures, and we were attempting to get them under control.  The patient had been doing well and hadn’t had any recent seizures.  Another patient was a rabbit with pneumonia, it was being administered oxygen by way of an “oxygen kennel” that had oxygen pumped into the cage.  The rabbit was actually doing really well, and I had been weaning him off oxygen as the night went on, and continued to turn the oxygen down as long as his breathing was good.  At 1am I thought he was breathing so well that I turned his oxygen completely off, and decided to watch him closely to make sure he could tolerate being off oxygen.  Another patient was a dog who just had surgery to remove her infected uterus which had become life threatening.  She was recovering from anesthesia and was being treated with iv fluids, antibiotics and pain medication.  The surgery had went well and she seemed to be doing ok.  To be honest, I cannot remember the other patients very well.  I remember all of the patients except for one was on an iv fluid drip, and luckily none of the patients were in a very critical condition.

Shortly after 1am a client came in with his dog for emergency care.  His dog had an ear infection and the dog was shaking its head.  I remember being irritated.  It never failed that people would bring in their animals at odd hours for things that aren’t really emergencies.  I do not consider an ear infection an emergency, and I had plenty of other work to do, but here it was.  I spoke with the client and looked at the dog.  The dog’s ear was indeed sore and the client agreed to let me give some pain medication, then clean and medicate the ears.  The client left money at the front, then said he was going to drive up the road to Jack-in-the-box, a 24hr fast food chain, to get some food.  I instructed the technicians to give the dog a dose of morphine and acepromazine for pain and sedation, and once it took effect we would flush clean the infected ear and treat it with appropriate medications.  As the techs were administering the morphine and acepromazine I went into the doctor’s office to start typing the record.

The doctor’s office had a two small desks, a staff refrigerator and a small couch.  One entire side of the office is a large window that faces the side of the building, and it is easy to see inside of the office at night.  The window faces part of the client parking lot, sort of the client “overflow” parking.  Near that area is a gate that leads to a fenced-in employee parking lot.  The gate is visible from the doctor’s office window.  However at night, it was hard to see out into the darkness.  The employee parking lot is completely fenced in and its only access is through the gate which is kept locked.  The back door of the building is accessible from the employee parking lot and a combination code must be entered to open the door.  

As I sat at a desk in the office and was typing medical records, I heard the back gate open.  This was not unusual because it was the time of shift changing, and I knew that Angel and Erick were leaving.  Erick and Angel went out together to unlock the gate.  They unlocked it and Angel was the first to drive out.  Before Angel left he asked Erick if he wanted him to wait until he was ready to leave too.  Erick had brought his English Bulldog, Gorda, with him to work that night, and was just getting her into the car.  Erick told Angel that was leaving directly behind him and that he was fine, and that he didn’t need to stay, so Angel got in his truck and drove away.  As Erick was getting Gorda into the car, a man came into the back parking lot and approached him.  Erick was a little surprised but not initially concerned.  He told the man that this area was for employees of the animal hospital only asked him to leave.  The man then pulled out a glock handgun and pointed it at Erick.  He told Erick to get the dog in the car and away from him.  Erick raised his hands and did as he was told.  The man led Erick up to the back door of the building at gunpoint and made Erick let him into the back door of the hospital.

Of course at the time, I didn’t know any of that had happened, and my first realization that something was wrong was when, from the doctor’s office, I suddenly heard a lot of yelling.  I couldn’t pick out every word, but I heard:  “you will all die here tonight,” and “get down!” and “do as you’re told!”  I got up from the desk and stuck my head out of the doctor’s office and looked into the treatment area.  I saw Joey (who I actually thought was Angel,) laying face down on the floor with his hands above his head.  I could not see anyone else.  ‘Oh fuck, we are actually being robbed,’ I thought.  For some reason even with the knowledge that another clinic had been robbed earlier in the week, it had never entered my mind that it would actually happen to me and my hospital.  I quickly retreated to the office and shut the door as quietly as I could and locked it.  The door is similar to a bathroom door with a similar lock.  As I shut the door, I looked at the shoddy handle and lock, and also realized how crappy the door itself was constructed, and at that moment I knew that the gunman would be coming through that door after me.  I picked up the phone in the doctor’s office and dialed 911.  The dispatcher answered and I whispered: “send help now” and then set that phone down on the table.  I wasn’t certain if they needed time to trace the location.  After I set the phone down I stood in the middle of the office and looked around.  I wondered if bad guys were outside looking in the window at me.  The windows didn’t open and I couldn’t get out through them.  I frantically and desperately looked around the doctor’s office for a way out or a place to hide. 

Panic started to set in as I realized there was absolutely no place to hide and no place to go.  I could hear more yelling and threats from the gunman through the door.   I knew the gunman would likely find me there and I didn’t know my best approach for survival.  It seems apparent to me that the gunman wanted us to lie on the floor with our hands out, since that was what he was telling others to do in the back of the hospital, so I crawled under the desk and then laid with my face down and may hands outstretched.  I could hear the man yelling and threatening everyone.  I heard him ask several times where the doctor was.  I felt like such a coward.  I was hidden away from my staff who might die.  I was hiding in the office hoping to not be seen and I was leaving everyone else on their own.  I was frozen in terror and remorse. I could hear the robber yelling at the people in the back.  ‘Oh my god, we could all die here,’ I thought in terror.  I laid there and had clear visions of my lifeless body in this same position with a gaping gunshot wound through my head and a large puddle of blood oozing all over the floor.  One thought kept circulating through my head:  ‘I don’t want that, please I don’t want that.’  

I heard the robber bringing Linda to the front of the building.  He was demanding money.  He took her up to the receptionist and encountered CeCe, who was at the front desk and had not had time to flee.  I didn’t hear what he said, but I found out later that she told him that any money we had was previously dropped into a drop safe for which no one had the key.  CeCe was threatened and the robber had the gun held up to her head and face.  He threatened to kill her.  He told her that he was going to give her less than 5 minutes to get the money from the safe and that if she tried to leave, or tried to call the police, or didn’t get the money, that he would kill her. 

After that he walked with Linda at gunpoint away from reception and to the back of the hospital.  The door to the doctor’s office is directly along the way.  I could hear them coming back because he was yelling the entire time.  I got up very quietly and put the phone back on the receiver and laid back on the floor in my original position, I didn’t want him to find that I had called 911.  The phone lines were all ringing constantly, no one was answering them.  The robber and Linda stopped at the door.  He asked Linda what was behind the door.  She told him nothing was behind the door.  He didn’t believe her and she told him it was a storage unit.  He asked her where the doctor was.  She told him that she didn’t know, and that the doctor leaves sometimes and that she thinks he left the building.  I was laying there listening to this and was shocked, proud and frightened.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I was shocked that Linda had the balls to lie to this guy, and she actually sounded calm.  She was really trying to protect me.  I felt a surge of love for her as my friend, and also a surge of fear and anger for putting herself at risk.  I knew that the robber would find out she was lying.  Before another second passed, the robber attempted to open the door and found it was locked.  

He started kicking the door, he kicked it several times.  I heard the wood of the door splintering but I didn’t dare to look up at it.  My face was against the floor and my arms and hands stretched out in front of me, similar to a “chid’s pose” used in yoga.  I heard the man step into the room.  I didn’t move from my location and did not look up.  He entered the room and immediately yelled “Where is she?!!”  He didn’t see me immediately because my body was under the desk and only my arms were sticking out.  I responded “I’m right here, I’m right here!”  I wanted to cooperate with him in every way possible.  ‘where is she?’ I thought to myself.  So he had been watching me at the window before entering the building.  He knew I was in there.  He walked right up to me and yelled at me:  “did you call 911?” 

I felt something against the left side of my head, which I knew must be a gun.  I didn’t answer immediately because I didn’t know how to answer, I thought he would kill me either way.  

He jabbed the gun into the left side of my head hard.  “Did you call 911?”  

I had a brief fleeting thought: ‘so this is how I die’ – and I said “yes, yes I called 911”  

He screamed at me “LOOK AT ME!”  I looked up at him. 

The barrel of the gun was directly in front of my eyes.  His arm was outstretched and the gun was pointed directly at my face.  He was wearing a gray hoodie and the hood was up and there was a red bandana across his face.  Only his eyes were visible.  He was a young white male.  He looked like a teenager.  I was shocked, because I could see that he was scared and I didn’t expect him to appear that way.  He also looked crazy.  He looked so young, sort of like a scared kid who wasn’t sure what to do, what he had just gotten himself into.  

He yelled at me again.  “When did you call them”  

I reported that I had just called them and they didn’t have time to get here yet, and that he could get out.  Meanwhile, from the moment I had called 911, the phone lines had been ringing off the hook.  They were ringing as he was pointing the gun at my face.  He told me to stand up, and I did.  He never dropped the gun from my face and I never took my hands from the air.  He told me that I needed to pick up the phone and talk to 911, and that I needed to tell them that we called on accident, tell them everything is fine, and that it was a prank.

With the gun at the side of my head, I picked up the phone:  “Emergency Animal Clinic, May I help you?”  There was a lady on the line.  I cannot recall all that she said, but she asked me if we were being robbed.  (I remember thinking, how could she know that? – I never said that).   I told her that everything was fine and that calling 911 was a mistake.  I’m sure I sounded nervous.  The robber had his face next to mine and the gun was painfully jammed into my left temple.  I didn’t know if he could hear what the woman on the line was saying.  I desperately wanted to hang up the phone.  She asked me if the robber was still there.  ‘Actually lady, the robber is here, he is so close that he can probably hear you.’  I thought.  I took a breath and responded: “I’m sorry, calling 911 was a prank, we are all fine, I’m sorry to bother you”  She kept talking and I set the phone down on the receiver.  The gun moved to my forehead and the robber demanded to know what she said.  I told him that she believed me.  

“WHAT EXACTLY DID SHE SAY?!!” he screamed into my face and pressed the gun into my forehead.  

I said something to the effect of “she told me she was glad we were all safe, and that we need to be careful not to call 911 unless there is an emergency” but I started to stutter and I had a hard time having the words leave my mouth because it was difficult for me to think.  I glanced at Linda who was standing next to the robber, she appeared to feel sorry for me. 

He paused for just a moment.  “Are they coming?”  

“I don’t think so, but they are 911, and they probably need to make sure – so maybe”  

He dropped the gun from my face for just a moment and looked to the side, seemed to be thinking.  He said matter-of-factly “They are coming.”

I started talking a lot to him.  I told him that he could get out before they came, and that I could help him, he could take my car, he could go out the back door, I asked him what else he wanted.  He told me he wanted money.  I told him we couldn’t get into the safe, and I’d be happy to give him all the money I had.  

He told me “Yes, give me all your money.”

“It’s in my bag, right here” I pointed at my messenger bag that was sitting on the couch in the office.  I slowly moved toward it, the gun was pointed at me again.  I grabbed my wallet that I bring to work, which is only a crappy batman kids wallet that I got as a present from a technician.  I only ever carry a little cash and never any credit cards or anything else in it.  I opened it up and saw I only had two dollars in it.  I took it out and handed it to him.  I remember thinking that I wished I brought my other wallet, so he could have more.  I wanted him to get enough to make him happy so that he would leave and leave me alone.  I didn’t want him to get pissed and I was scared he would shoot me because I only had $2.  I again offered him my car.  I told him I was sorry I didn’t have more money, I asked him if there was anything else he wanted.  I told him that I could get him drugs.  

“Yes, give me all your ketamine!”  I hadn’t mentioned ketamine, specifically.  I just told him I had access to controlled drugs, but I remember being happy that I could get him something.  Ketamine is a tranquilizing anesthetic that is used just a small amount in small animal medicine, mostly it is used in large animals like horses.  It is a drug that is being used less and less in small animal hospitals and used a lot by the “old school” veterinarians in small animal practice.  At the time we had a lot of ketamine in the hospital because there were plenty of veterinarians who worked for this hospital who still used it.  I was so relieved.  I was thinking, ‘Oh good, he wants ketamine!  That is something I can give him.  You want ketamine, I’ll give you so much ketamine that you can’t move.’

I told him that the ketamine was in a lock box in the back treatment area, but I could get it for him.  I grabbed the lock box key and he allowed me to lead him to the treatment area, but held the gun in my back as I did.  Linda followed us.  I walked across the treatment room floor, past Erick, who was still lying there, and I opened the door to the lock box and pulled out 5 bottles of ketamine and gave them to him. 

He grabbed them with his free hand and put them in his pocket.  I offered him other drugs, but he wasn’t interested in any others.  I thought of offering him the apomorphine.  Apomorphine is a drug that causes extreme vomiting, it’s what we use to induce vomiting in dogs who eat toxins.  He didn’t seem in the mood for any more suggestions, and I decided not to offer him any apomorphine.  After he had the ketamine he told me he needed to find a way out of the building.

The robber turned and focused his attention to Erick.  Erick was still lying on the floor with his face down and his hands out.  I didn’t see Joey anywhere.  The robber started yelling at me and Linda, told us to go lock ourselves in the kennels in the back of the treatment area.  Linda and I went back to the kennels,  I walked into the only large dog run and shut the door behind myself.  I didn’t think at the time that maybe I should have let Linda in with me, or given her that one, because she has arthritis, but Linda just stood nearby anyway and didn’t get in a kennel.  

We watched the robber make demands of Erick.  He went up to Erick and pointed the gun down at him.  He told him that he had to get up and go outside to look for the police.  If the police were there, Erick was to tell them that there wasn’t a problem, he needed to get them to go away.  He screamed at Erick to get up, but Erick didn’t move.   Erick remained on the floor and he was shaking.  The robber became angry and grabbed Erick by the back of his shirt and pulled him up like a rag doll.  Erick’s whole body was shaking and he was crying.  I felt really sorry for him. 

I remember wanted to hug him, to tell him it was going to be okay.  It’s funny the random thoughts that I had because I also thought at that moment: ‘Geez, Erick is really freaking out and it isn’t even that big of a deal.’  Erick tried to walk and he could barely walk, because he was shaking so bad.  I have seen creatures in my life who are very terrified; I’ve worked with animals who were scared and thought I was trying to kill them.  I feel like I have seen terror in other creatures before, but Erick appeared entirely more terrified than I have ever seen anybody or any animal, and I felt very bad for him.  The robber yelled at him, told him he needed to act naturally, and that he needed to get out there.  He told Erick to wait for him in his car, because he would be coming out to leave with him in a moment.  He walked Erick to the back door of the building, and Erick left through the door.  I started to wonder ‘Where the hell are the police anyway?  Why aren’t they here yet?’  

The robber yelled at me and Linda and told us to stay where we are.  He walked through the treatment area and up to the front of the building.  When he was out of sight for a moment, to my surprise I heard Joey’s voice say “How much does this suck?”  I looked down to see Joey locked into a small dog kennel near the floor (the kind of kennel built into the wall with a small latching door.)  Joey was balled up sitting with his knees tucked up near his chest because the kennel was small.  I expressed by surprise and asked when he got put in there.  He told me before Linda was taken up front with him to try to get money from the reception area.  

Before we could talk any more, the robber walked back into the area and targeted the gun at us again.  He asked if there was another way out.  Before I could even think, and for no reason that I can think of, other than I’m likely an idiot, I volunteered to help the robber find a way out or hide.  I asked him if I could come out and help him, and that I wanted him to get out.  He came and got me, held the gun at me and told me to come with him.  I immediately regretted my stupidity but went with him.  

Together we walked up near the exam rooms.  He was looking up near at the drop ceilings and looking down the halls.  For the first time, he focused the gun elsewhere than one of us, and he pointed down the hall with it and asked me if there were a way out that way.  I told him I didn’t think so.  I told him that his best bet is to leave out the back door of the building and run behind the building and jump the fence.  It was obvious that he didn’t want to do that.  He started looking around.  He focused the gun back on me for a moment, then again took it off me and looked down another hallway.  He moved his hood down from the top of his head and removed the bandana from his face.  

He said “This is stupid,” and he asked me what my name was, I told him I was Melissa. He said “Hi Melissa, I’m Anthony.”  

I meekly just said “hi.”  I thought it would be rather stupid to say ‘nice to meet you.’  My thoughts reeled, why was he doing this?  Was he giving up and would he figure he just better shoot us now?  Again, I started to wonder:  ‘Where the fuck are the police??’

 I told him he could trust me and that I would try to get him out of here.  He told me that he would pay me $20,000 if I could get him out without being caught.  I told him I didn’t want any money, but I really just wanted him to be able to get out.  (In all honesty, I was telling the truth too.  At that moment I did not care if he got out and got away, as long as he got away from me and my staff.)  He told me to follow him and I did; he walked through the treatment area and took off his hoodie and put it in a box that was there, he said he was doing it to throw off the dogs police would bring in to track him.  Then he walked down the hall to the last exam room in the hallway.  He went inside and kept looking up at the ceiling.  It was fairly obvious that he was going to jump up on the exam table and crawl into the ceiling.  He emptied his pockets and took out the ketamine, he told me he didn’t want it anyway and he opened a drawer in the exam room and he put the ketamine in it.  He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and asked me if it was mine.  I said no, he put it back in his pocket. He pulled out all the money in his pocket which was folded up.  He handed it to me and told me it was $10,000.  He said I could have it, and he would give me another $10,000 if I got him out without being caught.  I looked down at the money and unfolded it and looked at it.  It was obvious it was less than $50 and I quickly looked back up at him, he had the gun back on me.  I said “ok.”  He told me that I needed to go back to the dog kennel and lock myself back in.  I needed to wait for the police to come and when they arrived to tell them that he got out and got away and is no longer around.  

I left the room.  I walked back to the treatment area quickly and quietly.  I walked past Joey and Linda and signaled for them to be quiet.  I walked past them to the back door of the building.  I thought to myself that I’d just poke my head out and see if it seemed safe, then motion for Joey and Linda to follow if it seemed ok.  

I slowly and quietly opened the door a little bit.  I stuck my head out a little and was immediately encountered with at least 6-8 guns in my face, I came out the rest of the way with my hands up.  The guns were all held by the police.  Several police were motioning for me to come away from the building.  I hesitated and tried to go back in, but the police yelled at me to not go back in.  One was waving me to come to him and was saying, “it’s ok, you’re safe now.”  

I looked around for a moment.   There was a line of police in full riot gear and shields who were along the side of the building.  I saw at least one police dog in the line of police and I noticed at least two helicopters circling above the building and lights were shining down at the building.   I ran to the police officer who motioned for me to come to him.  I told him two more people were just inside the back door in kennels and that the police could go get them.  I became upset when the policeman said they were not going in to get Joey and Linda.  I told him that the robber wasn’t nearby and he was either hiding or he got out, and Joey and Linda are “just right there!”  The police officer told me there was no way the robber got out, and that the place has been completely surrounded.  He was 100% sure that the robber was still in the building.  

He led me away from the building and I saw Erick.  Erick was not wearing a shirt.  Erick and I ran toward each other and hugged for a long time.  I was so happy to see him.  I asked him if he saw CeCe, he told me that she made it out.  A policeman told us that we were not allowed to talk to each other, that we had to be questioned individually and we could not discuss things, because it might change our stories.  He said we could still be nearby each other.   The policeman took us over to another area and CeCe was there, and so were Joey and Linda.  We all hugged each other and we were very, very relieved.  CeCe was crying.   

The next events took what seemed like forever.  The police spent long periods of time questioning us, and other policemen kept interrupting us to ask questions about the building and access to the building.  They were trying to figure out how best to get in and catch this guy.  Someone eventually brought Erick a shirt and he put it on.  The police made Erick draw a map of the entire building.  Erick was the one who knew the building the best.  The hospital is a large building with two floors and lots of offices and storage areas inside and Erick spent a long time detailing the layout with the police.  

Eventually the five of us were gathered together in an RV-like vehicle.  The police let us go escorted to the convenience store to use the bathroom and by some drinks and snacks.  We used the bathroom, but none of us really wanted snacks.  They asked more questions about the building.  They interviewed us more.  They asked over and over again how to get into the building.  Our answer every single time was “Just walk in, the front doors are always unlocked and they are automatic, they will just open when you walk up to them”  For some reason the police kept asking.

After a few hours, around 4am, a police officer came and told us that there was a car attempting to approach the building.  Inside were people and a dog; they wanted to see the vet, and the dog is sick.  I was not happy.  I did not want to see the dog, especially not out in the road with police all around.  Joey said he would go talk to them, and he pulled my stethoscope off my neck, which I had still had there and never had removed.  He went and talked to the people quickly assessed the dog.  The dog was in stable condition.  Joey told the people to go to another emergency facility.  

The police made ready a machine called “the bomb,” which was a robot that could enter the building.  This robot has a video camera so people could see what was going on.  The “bomb” was also set up to talk through, so that police could attempt to negotiate with a person by using it.   It was a little exciting to see the robot roll down the street and toward the building.  Once inside, the bomb didn’t find the robber, or any sight of him.

It was around 5am before anyone actually entered the building.  We heard reports every now and again from other police officers that they could not locate the robber.  I told them several times that he was likely in the ceiling.

A police man came and told us that a dog got out of the kennel and was walking around the building, they had locked it in a room.   Shortly after hearing about the loose dog, a police officer told me they were going to remove all the animals from the building and gas out the robber.  He asked me what the best plan for moving the animals was.  My heart sank.  All of us were already worrying about the welfare of the patients and moving them was definitely NOT in their best interest.  Police were not properly trained how to move sick or injured animals safely.  I told the police that moving them was a very bad idea and that it would be harmful to them, that there needs to be another way to get the robber.  He told me that was the decision that had been made and he told me that they were going to move the animals, and I needed to instruct them how to do it.  He asked me again how to move them.  I told him that iv catheter connections need to be dealt with properly, we have painful animals who could bite if moved improperly and that rabbits have to be handled carefully or they may break their backs and I advised against moving them at all.  Eventually he relented and agreed to not move them.

It was nearing waking hours and they still did not locate the robber.  The management of the hospital were notified and had come to the area.  Who knows what the owners of the patients were doing.  I just imagined the guy who went to Jack-in-the-box and had come back to a place surrounded by the police.  Eventually me and the other “victims” were allowed to talk to each other.  When we were allowed to talk I first asked if the dog with the ear infection was put into a kennel or if he was just wandering around in the hospital, as far as I knew, the robber may have encountered them in the middle of the pain injection they were supposed to give.  Joey and Linda told me that dog was put in a kennel.  I wondered which dog was found loose.  

We talked among ourselves for a little while about our experiences.  I learned a lot about what happened before the robber entered the doctor’s office.  I learned about how the robber encountered Erick and entered the building.  I found out that the robber had placed the gun to Linda’s head and began counting down from 5, threatening to shoot when the countdown was over.  I found out that CeCe had hit the panic button almost right away, and that she answered the phone when 911 was calling back and informed them we were being robbed.  I found out that the robber attempted to get Joey to give him his car keys and Joey had just gotten a new car and didn’t want to lose it and told the robber “I ride the bus,” and the robber kicked him in the ribs.  We laughed at Joey’s wit and quick thinking to tell the robber that he rides the bus, and we laughed because the robber didn’t even want my car when I offered it to him.  I found out that when Erick left out the door of the building, that the police thought that Erick was the robber.  When he came outside after being pushed out by the gunman, and he was immediately seized and stripped down and handcuffed, and that was why he wasn’t wearing a shirt when I next saw him.  I found out that CeCe sat up front scared shitless after she was told she had to get the money out of the drop safe.  She actually managed to get quite a bit of money out for the robber and laid it all out on the counter.  She sat there with it for a moment.  When she heard the robber kicking in the doctor’s office door, she actually thought the noises were gunshots and she thought we were all being killed.  She told us that she thought that she would surely be killed too, but she had to chance it, and she ran through the front lobby and out the door.  She said she felt so guilty for living when she thought we were all dying.  For some reason, this was the saddest thing to me and I was moved to tears for the first time.  

We had to sit in the RV vehicle for a long time while police worked on strategies.  We joked a little about other things, including how ironic it was that the robber kicked down the door that had a flyer on it about another vet clinic being robbed, and the flyer said that we should all be aware and prepared to call 911 if needed.

Around 7am we all got mug shots taken of ourselves which will identify the “victims” in the case file.  We also were told that two people could go into the building to help tend the animals.  We would be escorted.  The robber had not yet been found inside the building, but they felt they had secured the area around the animals.  I looked around me.  As far as they eye could see there was police and police vehicles.  They were there to protect us.  I had never been so happy to be a taxpaying citizen paying for police services in my life.  I volunteered to go into the hospital to work with the animals.  Linda also volunteered.  We went together.  We were escorted up to the building with the police officer.  A manager of the hospital, Sue, was there; she was called at home and came directly to the hospital.  She pulled me aside and told me she could come and help instead of Linda.  I told her I wanted Linda to come.  The truth is that I wanted Linda to come because she knew what I’d been through and I only wanted people there who understood what we just went through.  I didn’t want to answer any questions for Sue.  Before I went into the hospital, I stopped by Erick’s car and checked on his dog, Gorda.  She was still in there, and doing just fine.  Linda and went in to the hospital and there were many, maybe 10 police officers in elaborate outfits with bullet proof armor.  It didn’t go unnoticed by me that I didn’t have a bullet proof vest on.  There were 6 fluid pumps alarming and they were very loud.  I imagined that the police were driven somewhat insane from this noise over the past several hours.

The very first thing I did was shut off all of the alarming fluid pumps and when the last one was silenced, I saw a wave of relief fall over the police officers in the room.  I went from patient to patient, making sure they were stable.  The first one I checked was the bunny.  I had shut off his oxygen at 1am, and wasn’t sure if he could handle it at the time.  Well, it appeared that he could handle it.  He was running around in the kennel and looked just fine, so I was happy about that.  All of the other patients looked good, but the dog who had surgery to remove her infected uterus was not in her kennel.   Turns out she was the one who broke out of her kennel.  She ripped out her iv as she exited her kennel, and then took revenge upon the surgery room and bled from her iv site as she walked around the surgery suite.  The police shut the doors on her and locked her in there. I went to get her, she seemed scared.  I told her it would all be okay and I gently lifted her up and took her back to her kennel.   

Everyone’s kennel was a huge mess and Linda and I began cleaning them and later putting notes in records for each patient.  The police were searching the ceiling of the building, which was, I found out, a very complicated structure with plenty of hiding places.  The police would search and poke their heads into the ceiling, holding their guns out.  They would occasionally yell out and startle me.  They yelled things like “It’s ok, you can come out, we aren’t going to hurt you,”  “Come out now,”  “We are going to find you, you may as well come out now”, and “Get out here before I have to find you and kick your ass!”   My mood was on edge, and I was very upset in general.  The phones were ringing off the hook.  All four phone lines were ringing constantly and were also quite annoying.  Linda and I refused to answer the phone. 

Someone came and told me that my boss, Dr. Paster, was trying to reach me and that I needed to call her; she was working at the Scottsdale branch location and I should call her there.  I did, and when I got on the phone with her she was very concerned and relieved that we were all ok.  She asked me what I needed.  For some reason that set me off and I completely went off in a rage – not directed at her, exactly, just general frustration:  I  started yelling about how I wanted staff standing by to come in and relieve me and Linda as soon as police let them and they need to take over these patients because I was in no mood to continue working and cleaning up piss and re-setting iv catheters.  I told her there was no way in hell I was talking to any of the clients of any of the patients that were here because I would not be able to handle any questions anyone might have about the robbery.  And I told her that if, by the way, she was one of the people calling and making the phone lines ring off the hook to STOP CALLING, because me and Linda are NOT answering the phone and WE DON’T GIVE A FUUUCCCKKKK!!  My voice turned shrill and I was screaming into the phone by the end of my rant.  She paused for a moment and calmly and matter-of-factly replied: “Okay, I’ll get it all taken care of”  I hung up on her, slamming the phone down.  As upset as I was, I was very happy that she was my boss.

As we worked on the animals, we were interrupted several times to be asked more questions.  I showed the police where the robber hid his hoodie (which I had explained to them before) and I showed them the drawer with the ketamine in it (which I had also explained to them before.)   

It was around 9am when Linda and I were told that we had to leave the building because they found the robber.  He was actually hidden in the ceiling right above where I had been working on the animals, and he had wrapped himself in insulation, which explained why the police failed to find him with their heat seeking equipment.   

We got questioned more after the robber was apprehended.  We were all separated and questioned individually.  We had to see if we could identify the robber in a “photo lineup.”  All of us except Cece, who didn’t look at the robber at all, could identify him easily.   For some reason the police wouldn’t let the new staff come in to relieve us.  I had to stay and I waited to round the next doctor on the patients when the police eventually would let her in.   

The police did let the CEO of the company in, as well as some of the board members.   They walked these people around as me and Linda worked, the police let Joey in for a little bit to help also for a short time, but still weren’t letting in other staff so we still couldn’t go home.  I could hear the board members and the CEO walking around, they were getting a “tour” of the events.  I heard:  “Here’s where the doctor hid under the desk,”  “Here’s where the robber broke down the door,”  “Here’s where the staff were locked in kennels.”  The board members and the CEO responded “Oh my,” “Oh wow,” “Oh my goodness,” “Oh, how horrible.”   I was really pissed.  I just wanted to go home.  My terror was not a tour!  Especially not right in front of me, not while I still wasn’t allowed to go home.  

People kept approaching me with different issues.  Someone actually came up to me to tell me that the guy with the dog who had the ear infection was here.  I told the messenger that the dog was ok, but we didn’t get the chance to look at or treat the ear, but the dog is absolutely fine to leave with the owner and go somewhere else.   The messenger left and immediately came back to tell me that the dog’s owner had told the staff out front that he expected the dog to be examined and treated as promised, that we promised we would treat the ear and he expected us to do it now.   I was so pissed.  I yelled at the poor messenger who told me this, my face likely turning red and me spitting during the process of my shouting: “Oh no way is this guy telling me to look at his fucking dog’s ear infection right now after I almost got shot in the head!  I am absolutely NOT doing that.  If he wants to tell me to my face that I need to look at his dog’s ear you just go ahead and bring him back here and I’ll tell him to go straight to hell!  I am not looking at his dog’s ear and I GUARANTEE you that he does NOT want to discuss this with me right now!!”  I was screaming at this poor person.  This person then told me it would be taken care of, and I never heard about it again.  Good.   

The main shareholder and major board member of the company came to talk to me.  I had never met him before.  He asked me a bunch of questions and asked me how I was hanging in there.  I was annoyed and told him I was just concerned with the animals and wanted to make sure they were taken care of, and that I wanted to round them to the next doctor and I really wanted to just go home.  He told me that he was impressed with me, and that he understood that the police aren’t letting the next doctor in yet.  I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t at all impressed with him, and that isn’t he a doctor?  Isn’t this more his damn hospital than anybody’s and why isn’t he helping me with these patients?  Why isn’t he taking rounds from me and letting me leave?  

It was 1pm by the time the police allowed the next staff doctor to come in and take rounds and take over patient care and I went home.  It was a long night.  I spent the next week in a state of shock, intermittently thinking ‘Hey, I’m such a badass, look at what I went through,’ and then intermittently crying and holding my cat.  I spent long periods of time just staring into space.  

After the event several people called me.  My head boss, Dr. Plunkett, kept calling me over and over again and I kept letting it go to voicemail.  She didn’t stop calling and finally I got so sick of the phone ringing that I answered it.  She just wanted me to know that she cared and wanted to see if I needed anything.  I told her that I needed time and I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I was happy that she called.  So many people called, I only answered for a few, but I appreciated them all.  My friend Cathy called after she saw a report on the news even when she lived in California.  I didn’t answer initially and she left a message.  Her message said “I am just checking on you, I heard your hospital was robbed, I know that something like 30 vets works for your company, so it probably wasn’t you involved, but you work so damn much that maybe it was.  I want to know if you are ok.  Call me.”  I called her back and when she answered the phone all I could choke out through my tears was “Cathy, it was me.  It was me!” and we cried together on the phone for several minutes.  

There was a very long and drawn out sentencing process, but eventually the robber was sentenced to 5 years in prison and 5 years probation after that.   His info can be seen at the following website.

http://www.azcorrections.gov/inmate_datasearch/results_Minh.aspx?InmateNumber=235495&LastName=BASILE&FNMI=A&SearchType=SearchInet

I have been very grateful to everyone who cares about me and to everyone who lent me support after this happened.  Life is such a gift.  I intend to enjoy it and hope you will too.  

Thank you for reading if you made it this far.  I appreciate it.  

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Hot Yoga? People Actually Like This?

So I guess I unconsciously have a wish to torture myself.  Yesterday I ran my first 5k, and I did better than I expected and apparently didn’t suffer enough, so I imagine it was a subconscious effort to inflict torture upon myself when I agreed to take a hot yoga class today with my friend, Jordana.  Jordana has been telling me that she likes these classes and she has been encouraging me to try it.  “Eh, being hot and sweaty isn’t really my thing.”  I would tell her, and she insisted that she loved it.  So today I agreed to go.  

I have never taken a yoga class before, ever.  I tried a few yoga DVDs at home previously and have heard other people talk a lot about yoga and I’ve done some yoga moves with friends before.  I know a few of the moves.  I know “down dog” and “up dog.”  I know “child’s pose” and two of the “warrior” poses, but really that’s about it.   Overall I would say that I’m a beginner.  

I arrived at the class today and Jordana was waiting for me.  She helped me set up my mat and a towel to cover the mat (for the sweat.)  The room was quite hot and I commented on it.  The doors to the room were open and she said that it wasn’t hot yet, it’s going to get a lot hotter.  She had told me prior to class to wear a sports bra and shorts to class and I did, but I was wearing a shirt too, and she told me I’d probably want to take my shirt off.  I did as she suggested.  

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The class was very full, there were probably 20 women in the class and two men.  The instructor was a wiry looking blonde and she asked who was new to the class.  There were three newbies in the class including myself.  She announced to the class that with this many new people that she unfortunately could not heat up the room as hot as usual.  She told us that the goal of the class is to enjoy it, and if we start to feel dizzy or unwell that we should attempt to stay in the room, but if we needed to we should just lay down on our mat for a while.  The class was going to be 80 minutes long.  

The instructor closed the doors to the classroom and I could feel heaters in the room pouring heat onto my body.  It was like standing near three electric heaters set to high in a humid room.  The class did a series of sun salutations, which I did my best at, and I watched Jordana and the women in front of me so that I could learn how to do them.  I guess this wasn’t a beginning class, there was no explaining of the poses.  I started to sweat profusely.  By the end of the series of moves, sweat was dripping down my face and started to soak my towel.  In the moves where my head was upside down sweat actually dripped into my nose, and I thought that if I sweated much more I would drown.  

As the class went on it became harder for me to do the simplest things.  It was so hot.  There came a point where I was supposed to be stretching with my arms above my head while in a standing position that I thought I may pass out.  I became the first person in the class to lay down on my mat.  I laid there for a little while and tried to focus on breathing.  My whole body was drenched in sweat.  I have never sweated so much in my life.  I felt a tiny bit of cool air over my body and realized that the instructor opened the door slightly.  I almost immediately felt better.  

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In a little while I managed to get back up and try to do the moves with everyone else.  The women in this class were so hard core.  I watched them do all these crazy moves, balancing on one leg with the other in the air above their heads.  One lady actually did a handstand while doing some moves on the floor.  Everyone was sweating profusely.  The woman in front of me was a total beast, she was super muscular and doing incredible moves.  She was literally sweating a puddle on the floor.  I watched sweat drip off of her elbows as she held a balancing pose:  drip, drip, drip.  I felt like I was struggling just to survive in the heat.  I exerted supreme effort while attempting to achieve lame, mediocre versions of the poses the class was doing.  I honestly think that if my only task were to stand in one place for the duration of the class, that I would have had to lie down occasionally to keep from passing out.  I couldn’t believe these people could do challenging yoga poses in this heat and humidity.  

Throughout the class I alternated trying to do some of the yoga moves with laying on the floor and drinking ice water.  Occasionally, when I must have appeared to be near passing out, the instructor would open the door slightly for a moment, and even the slightest bit of cooler air caressing my body felt like a dream come true.  Jordana kept up with the class and never had to lie down like I had to.  I wasn’t the only one who had to lie down during the class, but I was the one who had to do it the most.  For a moment, when I was laying there, I glanced up at Jordana doing successive sun salutations and thought ‘Holy shit, I had no idea she was so hard core.‘  I had just gained newfound respect for my friend who I already thought was pretty bad ass.    

For the last 20 minutes of the class I did very little.  I was just hoping time would pass quickly.  The heat seemed to be bearing down on me from all directions.  It seemed like there were a thousand heaters in the room.  My yoga mat and towel were drenched and squishy.  My hair was soaking wet.  I laid there and tried to remember all the times in my life when I was hot.  There was never a time in my life when I had come even remotely close to sweating this much, and as much as I tried I couldn’t think of any other time when I was ever so hot.  I was the hottest and sweatiest that I have ever been in my entire life.  I felt as though I was again near the point of passing out.  I had no desire to move ever again.  I wondered it this is what it feels like to die.  I almost thought that death would be a welcome escape.  

Then the class was over.  The doors opened and cooler air washed over me.  I thought that maybe I would live after all.  I still didn’t move and stayed in my supine position.  Jordana asked me if I felt ok.  I think I mumbled something about maybe being ok in a minute, or maybe I told her I wanted to die.  I don’t remember.  She told me she would meet me outside the room.  I laid there long enough for everyone else to have packed up their mats.  I looked around the classroom and noticed smears of sweat, pools of sweat, and water condensation over the entire classroom floor.  I mustered up enough energy to gather my stuff, pick up my sopping wet towel from my yoga mat and roll up my mat. 

I met Jordana outside of the room.  She looked energized and excited.  She optimistically and expectantly asked me “So, what did you think?”  It was obvious that she loved it, she was happy, and she felt great.  I didn’t feel good.  I felt guilty for not loving it.  Maybe it would be great if it didn’t make me want to pass out from heat exhaustion.  I could probably even tolerate the sweating if I didn’t feel so lightheaded and short of breath.  I didn’t think I could ever become accustomed to the extreme heat.  I thought maybe I needed some time to reflect on the experience.  I told her I wasn’t sure yet how I felt about it, but I thought that it was an interesting experience.  

I have now had the rest of the day to think about.  I decided I didn’t like it.  

 

The Perfect ShitStorm

I have a problem dog whose name is Biscuit.  Biscuit has a great soul and a wonderful sweet, caring heart, but he also has a brain the size of a walnut that may only have two neurons that sometimes fizzle and pop when they try to send signals to each other.  I’m being kind when I tell you that Biscuit is not very smart.  He also has anxiety issues.  But I don’t love him for his brain.  I love him because he is sweet, and because he is cute.  In fact he is so cute that I’m convinced it may be the only reason he is still alive today.  

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 So one night in 2007 I went out for a few hours on a Saturday night to go dancing with some friends.  When I go out, I need to lock up my dogs because they are trouble makers.  I also had two cats at this time, but they weren’t much trouble and aren’t very relevant to this story.  At this time I had two dogs, Biscuit and Gravy (I still have them both and they are both alive and well and sleeping in the corner as I write this).  Gravy is crate trained and is easy to manage.   Biscuit will not tolerate a crate.  I tried to crate train him years before, and after months of trying to get him used to the crate, one day I left him alone in it for only an hour and in that time he completely destroyed the crate and also broke off his upper left canine tooth in the process, resulting in me paying for expensive oral surgery for him.  So, I gave up on the crate and have had to use other creative alternatives to prevent him from destroying my house.   I have found that if I lock Biscuit in the kitchen with some baby gates that he will remain confined to a small tiled area.  I also make him wear a diaper because of his separation anxiety and it prevents him from peeing on stuff in a freaked out and nervous fashion.  At first I thought a doggie diaper was an excessively stupid idea.  I put one on Gravy once, and he pulled it off immediately and looked at me with an expression that said “Are you crazy?  I’m not going to wear that.”   But with Biscuit, the diaper works well, apparently it never even crosses his mind that he would be able to take it off if he wanted to, and I’ve never even seen him try to.  The baby gate and diaper combination has worked well for Biscuit.  

 So, since I was only going to be gone a for only a few hours and since Gravy’s crate was already in the bedroom, I just put Gravy in his crate, slapped the diaper on Biscuit and left him in the bedroom too.  I hadn’t ever tried to lock Biscuit in the bedroom before, as opposed to the kitchen.  It didn’t seem like too big of a deal, how big of a difference could it be from the kitchen to the bedroom?  But deep down I had a creeping feeling that Biscuit doesn’t tolerate changes like this very well.  The thought crossed my mind briefly as I locked him in and ran out the door to meet my friends.  ‘It’s 11pm now and I’ll be home before 3am, he’ll probably just sleep the whole time, it’ll be fine,’ I thought.  

 When I came home I opened the bedroom door and was confronted by a horrible stench that nearly made me pass out.  Someone had horrible diarrhea everywhere.  It took me a minute to gather my bearings and figure it all out.  It was Biscuit.   He was still wearing his diaper and when I looked at it he had shit all over inside of it, shit was caked to his ass and his back half of his body, but the diaper didn’t cover his asshole very well, so he managed to shit all over my bedroom too. 

 There was shit blasted all over the bathroom and on the bathroom door and the wall and the floor.  There was a giant pile of shit on the carpet near the cat litter box.  There was shit blasted onto my night stand, and then to top it off there were shit footprints all over the bedroom carpet leading to my bed and shit on my bed and my blanket and all my pillows. The carpet near the door was also shredded apart and the bedroom door had the paint scratched off at the corner. 

 It was 2:30am and I stood there stupidly staring at the scene.  I nearly decided to say “fuck it all” and just shut the door on the nightmare and go sleep in the other room.  But as a reluctantly responsible adult and pet owner I ultimately decided that I better clean it up now.  I spent a few minutes staring at the scene.  I could piece a story of the night together as I looked around.  Near as I can figure it seemed like Biscuit spent the first several minutes after I had left clawing at the door and shredding the carpet at the base of the door.  I’m uncertain if he did this because he had to have diarrhea, or if he did this because he simply wanted out and then worked himself into so much of a frenzy that he ended up having diarrhea.  He clawed at the carpet near the door until it was ripped away in shreds and the subfloor was exposed and scratched up as well.  After that was accomplished he gave up trying to get out of the room because  his ass was about to blow.  He looked for somewhere acceptable to shit and he went to the bathroom (that’s where humans shit, so that must be ok, right?) and he shit all over the floor and wall, but then he decided that maybe a more appropriate location was near the litter box (that’s where cats shit, maybe that is better, right?) and so he decided to move over there, leaving a trail of shit along the walk over.  He left a large puddle of oozing shit near the cat box, at which point then he stepped all over in it, and walked over by the bed.   The nightstand near my bed had liquid shit splattered all along it’s front reminiscent of paintball splatters on its target, which then oozed down dripping onto the carpet.  The trail of shit then suggested that he then jumped onto the bed to try to lay down and feel better, walking in several circles before finding a comfortable position to lay in. 

 It took me over an hour to try to clean up the joint.  Biscuit stared at me with big innocent doe eyes as I scrubbed carpet and my comforter, confused as to why I wasn’t in a happy mood.  

 I had made up a little tune around 2005 for Biscuit and over the years I’ve been amazed at how it applies so well to every dog I’ve ever known.

 

Dogs are gross

They’re super gross

They’re the grossest grossest grossest animals around.

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Hitching a ride in Wales

Hitchhiking in Pont-y-Pant, Wales

Dual perspectives during a backpacking tour.  In 2011 my boyfriend, Rob, and I went backpacking through Europe for three and a half months.  We both kept journals.  It was about 1-2 months into the trip that we discovered we liked reading our journal entries side by side.

Here is an example of our journal entries:  This is one day along our journey when we were in Wales.

Rob’s Journal Entry:

Sunday, June 26

Wow, it’s hard to believe we’ve been traveling for over a month now!

We slept and didn’t start moving until 1045 this morning, it was worth it, we were really tired.  After a couple quick showers, some breakfast, and some tunes in the background, we head for the town of Pont-Y-Pant.  We stop at a small pub for a purple Moose Ale, some soup, and a sandwich, while we watch a little formula one racing on TV. The food was decent and the beer was OK. We then wander over to the little grocery store: SPAR.  With a meager selection of groceries and no dental floss, we scrounge up enough for dinner and lunches, along with a few breakfast items as well. It’s only ¾ mile or so back to our hostel: The Llader House.  The views alongside of the road are pleasant as its mostly sheep grazing along nice rolling hills that are lush and deep green in color. There are a ton of motorcycles whizzing by, as they should be, it is an unusually beautiful day, sunny and warm. We drop the groceries off  and decide to take a walk to Betws-Y-Coed ( pronounced Bettis E Coed), which is about 6-8 miles away. So after walking for a bit I suggest we try to hitch a ride into town. It’s the first time ever for the two of us to try this and after a mile or so of walking with our thumbs out, (and Melissa walking so she’s seen first) someone pulls over! It’s a man, maybe early 40’s with his young son in a car seat in the back. We jump in and he gladly takes us into town which is only a few miles up the road by now. He informs us about some of the local places to see and drops us off at a store where we can buy stamps. Wow, we both thought, that was really cool and nice of him to give us a ride! So off we go to do a little bit of sightseeing, then stop by the market to pick up some salami and mushrooms and then start walking back. So we walk back along a wooded side road and all along not one car passes so we stop for a quick pee break. Then when we hear a car coming we think to ourselves, fuck it, and we both put our thumbs out to hitch a ride. I take one good look at the car and I can’t believe it, it’s the same guy! Whoa! He gives us a lift back as he was on his way home from dropping his son off. So were driving along talking and he asks us if we’d be interested in coming back to his place for a cup of coffee. I’m thinking ahhh not really the soundest plan, and suggest we need to get back and cook dinner. Right about then, Melissa belts out, mmm ok! Hahaha! I think to myself, fuck it, its just a walk down the hill to our hostel, at the same time I’m also thinking this could be a bit sketchy.  So we drive up this narrow two track dirt road high up on the hill side above the railroad tracks and pass a few houses along the way and then pull into Adrian’s driveway. He said it was a pig sty but we hadn’t the slightest idea what we were in for. The place was all cluttered with shit everywhere! Just a bunch of random old useless junk, mostly old furnishings and decomposed wood…etc. He tells us he inherited the place from his father and that its over 300 years old!! While inside among the clutter we sit down and Adrian offers us some coffee. It’s a dark very old lonely place with random things scattered about, some drawings from his 7 year old little boy hanging from the wall catch my eye. The conversation is scattered talking about the schooling in Wales, Politics, and various legal battles he’s had with the state and his ex-wife.    After a while we’re thinking, ok, time to get going. Sensing this he offered to show us the garden (yard).  Much to our amazement, albeit a bit overgrown, it’s fucking amazing! The potential this place has to be as nice as it once was is incredible. His father had connections through the local quarry years ago and there were beautiful black stone spiraling staircases that led down to a pool which was also made out of the same smooth black stone. There was a little seating area, or cabana that was falling apart and it was in a state of disrepair, but I could really appreciate the beauty and all the amazing craftsmanship it once took to transform that place.  There were multiple tiers of the garden which led deep down into the lower wooded area by the train tracks. We say our goodbye’s out on the road by a youth camp of some sort and part ways. Melissa and I are thankful things went down peacefully and he wasn’t a crazy serial killer guy, hahaha! On the walk back to our hostel we talk about our thoughts when we were inside Adrian’s house and our tactical escape plans. We’re surprised that we shared similar thoughts!

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Melissa’s Journal Entry: 

Sunday 26.6.11  (Europe writes dates with the day first, then the month, then the year)

We are in Pont-y-Pant, Wales in Snowdonia National Park.  It’s sorta the middle of nowhere.  It took a long time to get here by train.  We had three connections and of course one train was late and we missed connections.  Pont-y-Pant is not even a normal train stop, it’s a “request stop” which meant that we had to ask the conductor to stop at it.  We were the only ones who got off at that stop.  We arrived and had a little bit of an issue finding the hostel.  The issue mostly involved that we got off the train and there is NOTHING nearby.  Only a small stream and sheep.  We had to walk several minutes to even find a building.  We ended up calling the place on the cell phone that our friend Laura gave us when we visited her in Bradford.   The hostel is called Lledr Bunk House and Rob and I are the only people staying here.  It’s run by a young couple with at least one small child living in an attached house.  The hostel part is upstairs and on the side of the couple’s house.  It’s huge and old and since Rob and I are the only people here, it makes it creepy.

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Last night we made some food in the kitchen that we had packed with us, we played on the internet (a computer and WiFi is available) and we watched T.V. (one of the few hostels with a T.V.)  We slept in this morning and it was really nice.  We walked to a small town father down the train track that starts with a “D”, I can’t remember.  Words here are funny.  Welsh appears to be a strange language.  It resembles English not at all.  Signs here are posted in Welsh and English and the Welsh looks as though a one-year-old child banged his hand on a keyboard.  Welsh seems to put together letters I wouldn’t even know how to pronounce.  Anyway I just looked up the town and it’s called Dolwyddelan.  There wasn’t a whole lot there.  We ate at a pub where the lady working seemed very flustered that she had more than two people to serve at the same time.  Lunch was ok, we had sandwiches and soup.  We had some local Welsh ales, which I didn’t like (too bitter).  We bought some groceries and carried them back to our hostel.

We later decided to walk up to the city in the other direction – which is 4 miles.  We walked a short distance and then decided to try hitchhiking.  Neither one of us have ever done it before.  It seems to be somewhat popular in Europe.  Our friend Simon from Bern who we couchsurfed with last month said he hosts people who hitchhike and that he also picks up hitchhikers himself.  So anyway we gave it a whirl.  We thumbed as we were walking and many cars went by.  Eventually a middle aged man with a small child in the backseat stopped and gave us a ride to the town (called Betws-y-Coed).  The man seemed really nice.  He said he lived in Wales for the past 25 years but didn’t speak Welsh well, but his son, Alex (sitting in the backseat) was learning Welsh and actually being taught largely in Welsh.  We told him we were from Arizona and he thought that was interesting.  The ride and conversation was pleasant.  We walked around Betws-y-Coed and got a few more groceries.  The store in this town was better stocked than in Dolwyddelan.  We looked here for dental floss, which we were quickly running out of, and they didn’t have at the last store.  Well, there was no dental floss there either.  They had toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash and dental cleaner – but no dental floss.  I began to wonder if Welsh people even floss their teeth.  In town we also hiked, I mean walked, (they call hiking “walking” around here,) around a park near the river and it was nice.

After spending some time in town we started walking back to Pont-y-Pant.  The first car we stuck our thumb up for looked very familiar.  Rob said “is that the same guy?” and I said “no way,” but sure as shit it was.  He stopped for us and he was laughing.  The kid wasn’t in the car and he said he was dropping his son off at his mother’s.  We laughed about the timing and talked a bit about where we came from, about his son and the Welsh education system.   He asked us if we’d like to come over for a cup of coffee.  He seemed genuinely amused about the timing of our trips and seemed nice and he did pick us up with his kid in the car earlier and that made me think he was a trusting and trustworthy person.  Rob said something about going to the hostel to make dinner, but I asked him where he lived and he said he lives near the train station in Pont-y-Pant and I replied that I thought we could come and have a cup of coffee.  The guy said his place was a pig sty.  We agreed to join him for some coffee.  He drove up near Pont-y-Pant’s train station and up a winding, pot-holed narrow lane and to a very very old giant house that appeared dark and spooky and looked entirely like it was haunted.

He parked his car in the driveway and introduced himself as Adrian.  He led us into his house.  Immediately I became uncomfortable as he opened the door into what looked like essentially an abandoned, old, dark, dusty barn with tons of old crap in it.  We walked in near darkness and followed Adrian around and through old washers and dryers, other appliances, old kid’s toys and other rubbish – through a door on the left into a living room absolutely bursting with old crappy furniture and junk.  There was a small dining room area with ancient cushioned chairs around a table that was cluttered with papers and orange juice boxes.  A small kitchen was nearby and was partitioned from the dining area by a ratty towel hanging in a small doorway.  Children’s board games and books were laying on every flat surface in the area.  A birthday card with a giraffe on it and a big number “7” and the word “Alex” across it was hanging from the wall.  Adrain was talking while making coffee, small talk, asking us what we did, talking about Arizona, etc.  Then he asked us if we have seen the movie “U-turn.”  We told him we hadn’t.  He said it was set in Arizona and starred Jennifer Lopez and Sean Penn and that it was one of his favorite movies and that he was thinking about it after he had given us a ride into Betws-y-Coed.  I asked him what it was about and his reply was “it’s about psycho killers,” then he grabbed a copy of the DVD and handed it to me.  Rob and I shared a nervous look as if we both were thinking the same thing….  “oh shit, this guy intends to kill us.”  Adrian set a pot of coffee on the table and handed me two cups.  I filled them both only half full and handed one to Rob.  I tried to appear relaxed and comfortable and sat on one of the ancient chairs and felt a spring in the cushion pop under my ass.

I looked over to my backpack which I had set on a different chair when we entered the room.  I thought about how quickly I may be able to reach Laura’s cell phone and reminded myself that in Britain people dial “999,” and not “911.”  Adrain, Rob and I discussed music, the public education system in Wales and the U.S. and reducing carbon footprints.  As we were talking a fly started buzzing and we all looked over at the window and saw a fly desperately trying to escape a spider’s web.   I tried to appear to be enjoying conversation, but was really wondering at what point Adrian was going to try to trap us in his old and creepy house and lock us up.  After our coffee was finished Adrian invited us to tour his garden (british version of the yard) and he reported that he could walk us down to the road from his back garden.  I was just happy to be led back out of the house.

The yard was green and large and lush.  He told us that the house was his fathers and that it was built 300 years ago with some add-ons and improvements done in the 1900’s.  There was a “pool” in the backyard which was overgrown with weeds and had plants growing in it – it looked more like a pond.  He walked us down a hill along super ancient and overgrown stone steps, down a trail that was long and steep moving away from his house into thick woods, the trail started as unkempt and unmaintained to almost non-existent.  The trail was quite slippery in regions and very steep and thick underbrush that I had to move aside while walking.  I tried to remember exactly the directions we came from and keep track of the way we were headed, in case I needed to try to run away quickly.  Visions from the movie “Hostel” filled my head.  Adrian seemed nice, still, but I was eyeing him up and convincing myself that Rob and I could take him down if we needed to.  Finally I was able to at least see train tracks and I felt a little better.  The “trail” led to a tunnel under the train tracks and I was very edgy and alert as Adrian led us into the tunnel.  We managed to make it through the tunnel uneventfully.  The tunnel came out and near a hotel and up a small path and finally I recognized that we were near the main road right near our hostel.  I said “oh” in a very surprised and relieved voice.  I turned to Adrain and shook his hand and said “thanks for the rides and for the coffee, it was nice meeting you – have a nice night”  Rob also did similar.  I wanted to say “thanks for not killing us.”  Rob and I walked over the bridge on the river to the main road and when out earshot Rob said “well, we are alive.”  We began to discuss how creepy it was.  Rob said that while we were in the house he was coming up with plans to defend himself and he had spotted a tire iron and was making exit strategies.  I felt really creeped out, but also guilty, because in my mind I believe that Adrian was probably just fine and a lonely guy and not a threat, he just happened to have one of the creepiest houses in the country.  However it also dawned on me that things can have potential to become dangerous quickly and I felt dumb for being naive and potentially getting us into a dangerous situation.  Rob and I talked about it and we decided that we should never go to a strangers house again (except couchsurfing).

We made a nice dinner of cooked vegetables and are getting ready for bed now.  So, we are alone again tonight in this creepy hostel and will probably sleep all cuddled up.

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I Vomited on a Shark!

Shark diving in South Africa – I gave my breakfast to a shark, and now I’ve got nothing to eat.   

Not far from Cape Town, South Africa, exists a place called “Shark Alley” it’s one of the few places that I know where tourists can get onto a boat and see great white sharks in the wild and it is also to get into a dive tank alongside the boat and see them from underwater.  In the summer of 2010 I decided to do this.  

My goal for the day started out: see a shark, maybe see one underwater. My new goal (after achieving the first two), was to puke on a great white shark. This goal was also achieved. 

Ok, ok, so I know I get sea sick. I KNOW this. I knew this ahead of time.  I also knew I really wanted to see sharks.  I also knew that Dramamine has helped in the past.  However, the key word here is in the past. Holy shit!  

I took two Dramamine before getting on the boat to head into the ocean. I felt pretty good, did fine for the entire ride out toward “shark alley,” but after arriving there, the boat was just sitting at seam rocking and lurching, then I started feeling green. 

While I focused on trying not to vomit, I was forced to ignore all instructions on how to get on the wet suit and how to jump into the shark cage.  Instead, I stared at the land, sucked on a lollipop (which is supposed to help with sea sickness but does not), and I had to sit for several minutes. 

The crew on the ship was a bunch of macho young men and they were very happy and throwing chum everywhere to attract sharks to the area. Within only a few minutes sharks appeared. It was really cool. I got to see them come near the boat and people were getting all suited up to dive into the cage and see them up close. I managed to take one picture of a shark fin protruding from the water and then had to sit down again. A really nice volunteer helper lady from England and another one from California basically dressed me in a wet suit, because I told them that I really wanted to see the sharks underwater even though I could barely stand up and function.  I laid on a bench like a small child and let them pull a wet suit over my body.  I handed them arms and legs as needed to achieve this.  I really thought that if I could just get into the tank in the water that I would not be as sea sick. 

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After being dressed by nice ladies, I had to spend several minutes deep breathing and fighting nausea.  I then managed to get into the cage and went down for a few moments at a time, the cage is near the surface of the water and one has to simply dive under the surface of the water with a mask on and look at sharks as they swim by.  Ok cool.  However I immediately realized that the sea sickness actually got worse in the cage.  I had a hard time breathing and felt as though I may drown.  Pumping adrenaline enabled me to manage to go under a few times and see some sharks.  It was really amazing.  One came right up near me and I looked into his huge black eye as he swam by. I felt safe in the cage and thought to myself that he looked just like sharks do on TV. He was very beautiful and amazing to see. But, after a few minutes I had to ask the crew to let me out; I was about to vomit in my mask.  It was a little nerve-wracking and scary to come out of the top of the tank right at the surface of the water with two very large great white sharks circling the cage. But I made it out, probably largely due to the fact that the crew pulled me out, I think.

Then, I had to suffer in my own personal hell for the next two hours.  It was  some of the longest hours of my life.   Ug, horrible horrible sea sickness that had no end. The lurching of the boat and the smell of chum and the young macho crew guys all screaming and shouting made me so sick.  I sat with my wet suit on, sitting in a pitching boat in the Atlantic ocean, freezing.  I managed to get my wetsuit halfway off and sat shivering and staring out at sea attempting to fight down the nausea.  It’s probably the first time in my life that I didn’t mind feeling as though I was freezing.  It didn’t bother me at all compared to the horrible nausea and waves of sickness.  In fact I wished I could only be freezing and not nauseated, freezing was so much better. 

Then the puking started.  I vomited over the edge of the boat, and all along side of the boat.  I’m pretty sure the macho crew men thought I was gross; I was gross.  I thought I would feel better puking, and I did, for about 5 minutes….  Then more puking.  Lots and lots of puking.  I saw a great white shark swim right under me.  I puked on him too.  Behind me I could hear the other passengers of the boat, they were so happy, they were so thrilled, they went on and on about how this was one of the most mind-blowing and amazing experiences of their lives…  It was one of the most gut-blowing experiences of mine.  The skipper handed me another lollipop, which I took one look and and vomited some more.  Then I tried to open it, oh why was it so god damned difficult to open, oohhhh, so frustrating.. more vomiting.  I managed to peel off my wet suit which was really bothering me at this time and I stood lurched over the deck of the boat in my bikini in the freezing Atlantic ocean barfing on sharks.  Small fish were eating my vomited breakfast.  Then I had nothing more to puke and was simply making disgusting retching noises and basically crying.  The lady volunteers were really nice.  The macho crew men sometimes stared at me in disgust and pity.  The nice English lady and the California lady tried to comfort me and they both told me that I wasn’t the only one to ever do this on the boat.  I didn’t really care or find that very comforting. I just wanted to get a few more pictures of the sharks or look at them a little more, but could not find the strength to get my camera or walk to the area where they were “chumming.”  I never made it back there before the end of the trip and never got another picture.  

I was happy that I at least did get to see the sharks, and that I was able to go in the dive take for even a short time and see the sharks near me underwater.  I was however and still am sad that I didn’t get to see them more or spend more time in the shark tank.  I think I would have really loved it if my stomach could handle it.  I think it would be great fun to do if I didn’t barf the whole time.  Good news is that I was given free ginger beer afterward to help settle my stomach.  I love ginger beer, so that was a bonus.

So, how many people can say they vomited on a shark? I suppose it was a good thing to check off a life’s list of goals!

Mountain Bike Hero

The mountain bike trail   May 14, 2013

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Phoenix, Arizona in May.  It’s really getting too hot to go mountain bike riding at noon anymore.  This is the story of my biking experience in the heat and of Rob, my mountain bike hero. 

Rob and I decided we need some exercise and decided to go on a mountain bike ride.  There is this mountain bike trail along a park called Deem Hills that is close to our house.  We can bike to the park and then bike the trail, then bike home.   All together it usually takes an hour to an hour and a half from garage back to garage, probably 6 miles total, about three miles along the road and 3 miles of mountain bike trail.  This trail is probably “medium” in difficulty, but I’m fairly new to mountain biking.  The trail is rocky and the beginning goes on a consistent upward incline with a lot of rocks.  I have biked this trail many times, but it is not easy for me.  The beginning of the trail always kicks my ass, but usually in a good way.  Well on this day it was an asskicker in a big way and not in a good way.  I was already sorta tired just getting to the trail, it was a little too hot out, maybe 90F, and it’s dry and sandy.  I started out up the trail and was doing good, then got to the gnarly stuff and my front tire hit a rock and I just stopped.  Once I was stopped I could not get going again, I’d try to get on my bike and the back tire would “spin out” and I couldn’t get momentum going and would either stop or fall.  Repeat scenario.  Repeat scenario again…. like 20+ times.  I was so hot and exhausted.  I fell onto my bike a few times and jammed my leg and then my pelvis on the bike frame.  I was fighting for breath with sweat pouring off my face.  Rob was ahead of me, merrily pedaling along as though he was on flat ground.  Oh fuck, sometimes it sucks doing physical activities with someone who has more experience and is in much better shape than me.  Anyway, I could see Rob headed toward the top of the hill as I am spinning out, falling over, overheating, now in pain and generally suffering in my own personal version of hell.  Determined to ride the bike instead of walking it up I tried again, and again.  My heart was pounding out of my chest as I expended enormous amounts of energy to move only a couple inches at a time.  Finally I fell over and too exhausted to get back up, I vomited on the side of the trail…. just a little.  I just sat there breathing with my bike in the middle of the trail.  I sat there several minutes before I felt well enough to look up along the trail and see where Rob was.  Rob was waiting patiently at the top.  

I gave up and walked a section over the worst rocks, then got back on the bike and biked up to the top of the hill.  Rob sat there staring at me while I biked up; I was utterly exhausted.  As I biked up to him, struggling to breathe, he congratulated me:  “good job bud, you did really good”….   Hmmmm……   You know…  This should be something that I think is really nice of him, but I do think that it’s a little ridiculous that he always tells me stuff like this, even in a case like this day, where I obviously really couldn’t have done much worse.  I found his overly nice and encouraging attitude patronizing and annoying.  I told him so.  He told me that at was being ridiculous, and that at least I was doing it and not sitting on the couch.  He also told me that if he expects me to be as good at mountain biking as he is that it wouldn’t be fun for me and I wouldn’t like it, and he wants me to like it.  Ok, fine, I guess he has a point.  Ok, but just let me breathe before I go on the rest of the trail.  

I rested at the top of the hill for about 10 minutes before we continued on.  Rob waited for me patiently before we kept going.  The rest of the trail is fun.  It has some rocks and ups and downs, but at least has enough breaks to catch my breath as I go along.  We rolled along and it was really hot out and I still didn’t feel quite right.  I wasn’t doing very well, but I was determined to stay on the bike for the rest of the trail and not walk anymore.  

While cruising along the ridge of the trail, about halfway done, I hit a rock and my rear tire suddenly hissed and went flat.  I stopped to look at it.  One of the spokes broke and went through the tire.  It looked bad.  Rob came back to check on me.  I had nothing with me to try to fix this.  I frequently mountain bike alone with no repair kit.  Even if I had one I wouldn’t know how to use it.  Rob had a full repair kit with him.  He is trying to get me to learn how to do stuff, so he started unpacking stuff and telling me to get the tire off the wheel:  I’m going to put in an inner tube.  Of course I’m hot and tired and frustrated.  It doesn’t go well.  I take an extraordinarily long time getting the wheel off the bike and untangled from the bike chain, then can’t seem to get the edge of the tire off the wheel and I’m ready to cry.  Rob eventually gets frustrated with my inadequacy and takes over.  He gives me one job:  I need to hold some valve part for the tire as he works.  

He takes the wheel off the bike and the tire off the wheel.  He gets the inner tube in the tire and the wheel mounted back on the bike.  And then asks me to give him the part I was holding.  I went to hand it to him and immediately dropped it….  Into a rattlesnake hole.  It rolled along the trail and fell into a hole next to the trail.  Well, at least it looked like a rattlesnake hole.  “Oops.  Well, that probably is gone forever” I said.  I crawled along the ground and started digging at the hole to try to find the part.  Rob told me not to look for the part as the last thing we need is me to be bitten by a rattlesnake.  

Well, the tire had a great new tube, but it sort of needed that part to hold air in.  The tire could be filled with air, but it leaked back out through the valve.  Rob pumped the tire up with a hand pump to the best of his ability and then told me to ride it off the mountain as fast as I can before it loses all its air.  I start headed down the trail but the tire went flat within minutes.  Rob pumped it up again.  I rode it again for about 2 minutes and it went flat again.  I was hot, tired and frustrated.  I ran out of water.  I told him I’ll just walk the bike back home, which is about 3 miles off the mountain and along the road.  Rob didn’t want to do that.  He switched bikes with me and pumped up my tire again and then rode down the mountain putting most of his weight on the front tire, practically doing a front end wheelie all the way down the mountain.  The weather was getting hotter.  Rob managed to ride my bike home.  I rode behind him watching him get some momentum going by repeatedly pedaling on the flat rear tire and then coasting on the front tire doing a front end wheelie as far as he could.   When we finally made it home we were exhausted, hot and thirsty.   I took my bike to the bike shop and got it repaired.  While I was there I bought my own repair kit to carry with me on the trail.  Now I just need to learn how to use it, and to hold onto important bike parts while out on the trail.  

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