Sunday, January 9, 2011
Gunslingers and Desert Dirt
When we began the venture of building another plant, the land was empty. Completely. We literally built that place from the ground up. We sent a team. A team that was correlated in Quincy, of men, that were all employed by our company. Men that knew, exactly what had to be done. By Spring of 2000, they were ready. Ready for business. They started with seasoned employees from our Florida plant. The theory being, that the basic player/employees could get that place on it's feet faster than anyone else. And they were right. But as is always, they ran into a few snags along the way. We had a maintenance man go bad. It was quite a shock. But at the end of the day, he had been robbing us blind. We had to release him. Our shop superintendent took care of the nasty task. He was gone. Nothing but a bad memory.
Three weeks later, I am here in Florida, reviewing bills and statements of purchases made out there. And they have our ex-maintenance man's name, all over them. He had been going in these places, that already knew him well, with his old uniform shirts on, buying under our name. We had no choice but to call the authorities. They searched for him for weeks. In vain. They found his apartment, full of equipment and things he had purchased, under our name, but never found him. Another bad memory. The police said they would continue to search for him.
July of 2000, I make flight arrangements. I am about to embark on my first visit to the new plant in Buckeye, Arizona. Now, this venture is historical for several reasons. One, I have not flown on a plane since I was about seven years old. I have basically no memory of that. Two, I have traveled in my life, as high as North Carolina, and never at all, to the West. Buckeye Arizona is 2000 miles from Quincy Florida. This amount of travel will cause a flight change. I am nervous about the flight, the changes, and just everything in general to do with the plane and the plane being in the air itself. Had I known, the flight, would be the least of my problems.....
I fly out on a Saturday morning. I arrive in Phoenix on Saturday night. The shop superintendent, my old friend, Kenny Harrell, is there to pick me up. We hug, exchange "Man, it's so good to see you's", gather my baggage and head out. He takes me to the apartment that our company leases. We decided a year prior, that with all of the people traveling back and forth to the plant, it was less expensive than renting hotel rooms. I tell him I too tired that night, but that tomorrow, we can go sight-seeing. He deposits me at the apartment and I hug my old friend goodnight. I shower, get in my PJ's and head to bed. I go out like the dead.
The next day is Sunday. Kenny is there bright and early to take me out. We have breakfast, and drive. All day long. We get back to the apartment about mid-afternoon. I am dead dog tired again. I shower and put my PJ's on again. I am settling down, trying to find something on television. All of sudden, a banging is coming from the front door. What the heck??!!! I know it's not Kenny. He would not bang like that. And he would call first. I go to look out the window. I don't see anything outside that I would recognize. Although, I have no idea why I thought I would have. I am 2000 miles away from home. I don't know anyone or anything. I step to the door, to look out the peep-hole, and I see him. The maintenance man, we had fired. The same man, that knew Kenny Harrell had called the authorities. And that man, who is angry with Kenny, has a gun. On his hip. In a holster. NOW, I am freaking out. My breath is coming in rapid fire spurts. I am freaking out so bad, I am about to self implode.
I know all of you have read books. Where the writer is describing someone gasping for air. It's real. I felt like all of my air was being sucked from my lungs. I run to the bedroom that over looks the stairwell. He must have been pacing back and forth on the landing. Because as I pull the curtains back, HE IS STARING BACK AT ME. With his gun. On his hip. In the holster.
Now for all of you people, that sit in movie theaters and holler at the screen. Holler for people to run, run as fast as you can. Go out the back way. Well, let me tell you. This apartment is upstairs. THERE IS NO BACK WAY. There is no other way out. Other than the front door he is trying to take down with his fists. I sling the curtain back down, and drop. To my knees. And I am not in the least bit embarrassed to tell you, that I crawled. All the way back into the main room where the phone was hanging on the wall. The guy is still ranting and banging. Even more so now. Hollering for Kenny to come outside. That he knows he is in there. For him to come out RIGHT NOW. I snatched the receiver down by the cord. Now, I am still on the floor hiding behind the couch. Because I still have the presence of mind to know, if this crazy nut is going to start firing bullets..they are going to have to go through walls, windows or doors, AND through the furniture to get to me. I try and gather my thoughts, and begin to frantically dial.
I had enough sense about me to remember Kenny's number. I call him. Twice. He is not answering. The third time, (because I am repeat dialing like a maniac) he answers. He sounds like I have woken him up. Once I start frantically whispering what is going on..I can tell..he is awake. He lives five minutes from there. He tells me to call the police and sit tight, he is on the way. Two minutes pass, and all of a sudden it is silent. The banging and ranting have stopped. By the Grace of God, I think he he has left. Kenny and the police arrive about the same time. Kenny is clearly as rattled as I am, the cop, not so much. I am trying to relate the story, and I notice, no matter how many times I say it, I am the only one concerned that the crazy a$$ had a gun on his hip. The cop begins to tell me, he will go up and down the strip and see what he sees, but if "our fellow" has gone anywhere that involved the next street over and beyond, someone else will have to do the search. I am like, WHAT??!!! What does that mean? Evidently, in Arizona, they have Providence's. That can end and begin one street over. Yes. So, besides this stupid fact that has just been explained to me, I am still befuddled over the, gun on the hip, in the holster thing. I am asking about that, or trying to. The cop says he has enough for his report and will call us if anything comes of it. And he walks off.
I am still standing on the landing with Kenny, wondering what in the heck has just happened. Kenny begins to explain to me about their gun laws. And while, "our fellow" could have been there to do damage with that gun on his hip, it was just as likely (as far as the police were concerned) that he wasn't. Now I tell you, I cannot repeat ANY of the things I said after that explanation. All you need to know, is how STUPID I thought that explanation was.
Kenny calls the powers that be here in Quincy. It's now about 9pm. Arizona time. It is almost 11pm in Quincy. Kenny was told, to get me out of that apartment and into a hotel. Now. To take no chances. I was not arguing. At all. I gather my things, we go down the strip, find a Holiday Inn Express, and get me a room. Thank God. It's late, and I am so very tired now. I change back into my PJ's and prepare for quiet, safe, peaceful sleep.
It begins to rain outside. Like crazy rain. Hitting the big glass windows..coming in at a slant. Ten minutes later, an alarm begins to go off. Now, if you don't know anything about rain and Arizona, let me tell you. It rarely rains there. But when it does, it REALLY rains. Like for days, non-stop. Creating all kinds of problems. The alarm is still going off, and simultaneously, the phone in my room begins to ring. It is the front desk clerk. The same one, who not an hour before, we had told my horrible experience to when I was checking in. Now, she is calling to tell me. She is so sorry, after all I have been through, to tell me, they are on alert. A heavy rain alert. That was the reason for the alarm. I say, because this is unreal to me, "Are you kidding me, really?" She says no, but to please stay "prepared", because we may have to evacuate. SO, I GET BACK UP, and PUT MY CLOTHES BACK ON. And I sit. In the middle of the bed. Waiting for the world to come to an end.
At some point, I don't know when, I must have laid down. Or passed out. And fell asleep. I woke up to sun shining through the windows and the world was still standing. Oh happy day. I get up, get showered and dressed and prepare to go to the new plant. Finally. I have been in Arizona 2 days, it feels like forever.
I am driving to the plant. Buckeye is about 40 minutes from Phoenix. So, it's a little bit of a ride. It is, thankfully, going uneventfully. Thirty five minutes into the ride, I am exactly one block from the plant. I can see the plant from where I am. I also see a semi-truck, in the middle of the road, in front of me, turned over. With all of our joist (we build roof joist) scattered from one end of the road to the other. I just stop, dead in the middle of the road.
Now at this point, every fiber in my being is telling me to run. Turn the vehicle around and run. Back to the hotel, get all of my bags and run. Back to the airport, get on a plane and get back to Quincy as soon as I can get a flight. But I don't run. Because I notice, while I see the truck and the carnage of the truck, I don't see a driver. There is only one thought process at this point. I am slinging out of my truck, running as fast as I can to the cab of the semi. I am calling, there is no movement. My heart is pounding. I'm looking all around me trying to figure out how I can get to him. Because the truck is turned on it's side. I use the cell phone Kenny gave me in case of an emergency. Yeah right. In case of...so I'm calling him, he answers. I tell him what's going on. He begins to laugh, because surely, I am messing with him. He says, that driver just left here Michelle. I said I know, I can tell he must have, he is one street up. He gets really quiet, then says, I'll be right there. I call 911, tell them what is happening and that I cannot get to the driver. But that I am sure he is still in the truck. I hang up, and begin to holler out again. I am climbing on the wheels, trying to at least get my head in the window. I am just about there, and I can hear rustling from the inside of the truck. He must have just bumped his head or something, but now he is moving. He looks out the window, down at me, and he has blood streaming down the side of his face. But he's alive. And he is talking. Says he has no idea what happened. I tell him to please just lie back down, that an ambulance is on it's way. And I began to breathe, again.
My people get there first, obviously. Kenny looks at me, and I look at him. And I tell him, I have no idea what kind of moon you people got going on here in Arizona right now. But it's not a good one. He says, he thinks it's me. I tell him, I am pretty sure it's not. It was his truck the maintenance man was looking for, to find him, to shoot him. This was his joist truck turned over, after he loaded it. I am living as close to heaven as I know how. I tell him, find himself a Bible, and read over it, tonight.
I walk away, get back in the company loaned truck, and drive into the field beside me. To get around the scattered joist. Drive on up the street, turn and go into the plant. I walk in, hugs all around, speaking to everyone. Meeting people I have only talked to on the phone for over a year now. And begin to tell my three day story. My story, that only people who knew it, would believe. It is Monday, and I had five more days in Arizona to go, before I could go home.
I would, in the years to come, make many more trips to Arizona. But none, ever as eventful as the first. And it became old school, to make a trip to the Wal-Mart there and pass ten men with guns on their hips. When I think of all the incidents that could go down in a Wal-Mart, making it the least place, gun-toter's need to be...it scares me a bit. You get the wrong customer jacked up about a price check..and it's on. But I live in quiet Quincy Florida. So, I don't know which is more of a comfort. A place where you can openly see your death warrant, potentially staring you in the face. Or, a place, where your potential death warrant is hidden. In a purse, in a pair of sweat pants, or a glove compartment. Something to think about.