March 30th 2016
I couldn’t believe it when she told me.
I recently had the badass pleasure of collaborating with a writer from L.A., Ray Haney.
And to kick-off our collab, I told her to tell me a story.
A true one.
About her life experiences. And one she’d be willing to share with everyone else.
And I couldn’t believe what she told me.
See her story + her words fused with my Olive The People formatting spin below:
Ray Haney & Olive present:
“Gunshots & Glory”: Her Epic Tale Of Survival En Route To Spring Break
My intention was to go absolutely nowhere.
There I was. En route to spring break. Junior year of college.
And there were guns being shot on my train.
It was March 10, 2014.
Better known as spring break’s annual request to invoke pure chaos.
My intention was to go absolutely nowhere.
And my friends’ intention too. We were poor. Hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in over three years and were completely convinced there wasn’t a single way we could be persuaded otherwise.
Unless of course.
There was a solid enough dilemma involved.
And turns out.
The dilemma presented itself two weeks before our collegiate calendars released us for the shackles of third quarter. Our friend, Ryan, alerted us that he was soon boarding a plane to the most notorious of spring break destinations—Panama City.
But here was the dilemma:
Ryan bought this round-trip ticket months ago…to visit his then-girlfriend.
But then they broke up.
And after tireless research realized, he would lose more money by canceling his ticket,
Than just going anyway.
Ryan begins drafting our friends to join him.
“Just come with me! It’s spring break, you guys!”
He didn’t want to go alone. And if his persuasion skills had anything to say about it.
So there we were—checking accounts snuggling up for (a genuinely intended) hibernation.
When a few us started getting the adventurous tWiTcH.
Which was a dilemma because.
When that happens…it tends to avalanche into irresponsible, yet…legendary…experiences.
“Should we go? Maybe we should go…it is spring break…”
Bound and not-so determined to stick to our fiscally-responsible decision of staying in town.
We said fuck it and decided to go anyway.
I was completely and painfully aware that booking a hotel last minute was an absolute no, not with my lack of income.
But as we all know, destitution breeds…creative…solutions. So we had to resurrect our resources, a.k.a tap into some good ‘ole mooching.
My friend’s grandmother had a house in Panama City Beach. So Meg calls Granny, gets the okay.
And within an impressively-short amount of time, the team formulates a bulletproof plan to join Ryan and the rest of our fellow classmates in the most ratchet party town in all of the U.S. of A.
Here was the plan:
Alyssa and I would drive down in Greg’s Yukon with the rest of the boys: Greg, Brian, AJ, Zack and Dekimbe and arrive right on time to pick up Ryan from the Pensacola Airport. Then, we would make our way to Meg’s grandma’s house.
It was a flawless plan.
Or so we thought.
On Friday after class, Alyssa and I showed up at the boys’ house and saw that the backseats had been completely ripped out to make room for a T.V AND play station.
Meaning, we would be sitting on the exposed, steel rods running along the floor where seats had once been…for the entire eighteen-hour ride.
The first three hours are straight Mario Cart and trap music.
There we were.
Cruising on I-95 south in the middle of discussing whether or not to purchase party cards for the bars.
We heard this thumping,
scratching sound jUmBliNg from underneath the car.
Greg pulled over.
Him and Brian hopped >>>>> out.
Then quickly reported back that the transmission blew.
Greg got back into the car and laughingly admitted, “My ‘check engine’ light has been on for a week, but I didn’t think anything of it. Whoops!”
“Sick, Greg. Thanks for telling us that.”
We called Triple A and within the hour, a tow truck pulled in front of us, helped us, then asked what our plan is for getting off the highway.
We all looked > < at > < each > < other > <
“We kind of thought you could give us a ride…”
“Nope. Sorry guys. Not what I do.”
We were stranded.
We tried calling cabs, but hailing one alongside a highway at 10 PM is substantially harder than not getting hit by the adjacent traffic going 80 MPH.
So we began reasoning with the guy. Offered to pay him.
“C’mon man, we’re just trying to get to Panama City for spring break,” we whined like spring breakers with a heroic mission to pound Natty Ice and funnel ambiguous liquids.
He gives in.
Told us there’s room for one bag per person and that he would drop us at the local McDonald’s before he took the Yukon to the shop.
We prioritized our belongings, and swiftly decided that alcohol is an absolute priority. We each grabbed a case and ditched the snack bags and piled into the truck
While we simultaneously came up with the brilliant idea of
A rental car.
Or so we thought…
At McDonald’s, we began Googling rental car companies and we run into two problems:
1. Every place we called either had an age minimum of at least two years older than us or
2. Was already closed for the evening.
But then there was Meredith at Esurance.
She assured us that if we make it to the Ronald Reagan National Airport by 11 PM.
We could get a car.
All we needed was someone over twenty-one who had never been convicted of anything.
Which turned out to just be me.
I had to call my mom and alert her of the expensive charges soon to be pillaging my already-tReMbLiNg bank account.
Mom says ‘it’s not her money so she doesn’t care.’
So we told Meredith, “We’ll be there.”
The McDonald’s cashier informed us there was a train station across the highway that could get us to the airport. Imagine: seven college kids sprinting across a highway carrying cases of alcohol wrapped in sweatshirts and towels, duffle bags bOuNcInG against their thighs.
We frantically began to jam one dollar bills into the ticket machine, desperate to make our train on time. The machine ate our money.
Just in time for the train to
>> And leave without us on it >>
The ticket cashier said, “Don’t worry, there may be another one coming,” as he slid our cash under the plastic window with hands moving like the epitome of g e r i a t r i c l a g. “Try the one on the left, maybe?” The machine on the left did work and luckily, another train did come.
We busted through the train doors, slid into plastic seats and had one connection to make and forty minutes to get to Meredith.
When we arrived at the terminal to catch the next train, Alyssa and I headed towards the bathroom.
But our friend Dekimbe told us to wait until the airport.
Then we saw why.
There were about twenty kids, in their early to mid teens, standing at the end of the terminal.
Proudly holding racks, steel bats and any imaginable object that’s metallic or sharp. As our train approaches, the group of kids started sprinting towards us >>>>, yelling enigmatic shit and looking undeniably destructive.
We are the only other people in the terminal. And we are out-numbered.
We anxiously waited for the train to stop, op en, and immediately shut its doors.
But the train wasn’t coming in time.
We were forced to confront this formidable clan of manic youth.
That were getting
They barely grazed our skin. They stormed right past us like a pitiful cluster of spring breaker ghosts.
The train stopped, op ened and the doors immediately closed.
But the train didn’t move for a few minutes.
And that’s when it dawned on us: these kids may not have been a D.C. branch of STOMP after all, and this delay may just be connected to that little stunt we just witnessed.
We heard the train car in front of us come to a screeching halt.
Two women carrying seven children by the tufts of their necks came barreling through our doors. They’re bawling, “They’re shooting! They’re shooting up there!” and everyone froze.
The two women went to the back of the train with their babies hysterically crying. They’re on their phones telling their husbands what happened, while Alyssa and I somehow ended up in the position of trying to calm the kids down. One of the boys had dry eyes, but vomit all over his shirt.
> > The train begins moving again >>>>
How was I going to fight these shooters?! After all, they were still on the train. I gripped a handle from the liquor case, assuming it’d be an ideal weapon to smash over their heads if their ammunition somehow ran out.
The train arrived at the next stopped again.
We waited for a few minutes.
We didn’t hear any more gunshots.
I checked my phone. No service. Meaning, our efforts to make phone calls while crouched under our seats were futile.
I saw them. The shooters p o u r e d out of the train. One of them came over to the window next to Alyssa and I. He peered
at us. Laughed and tapped the glass.
“Put your head under the seat, Alyssa,” I said.
It wasn’t that I thought we actually might die, but it certainly seemed illogical to not think we would.
A SWAT team evacuated the train immediately.
We’re dazed, but relentlessly held onto our cases of alcohol loosely wrapped in towels, our bags hanging from the crook of our elbows, our bathing suit tops shuffled in every wHiCh WaY. There were gun shells lying beneath one of the train windows we passed. Stupefied, we followed the fat, sausage-fingers of police officers pointing up the stairs.
When we emerged onto the ground floor of D.C. It was freezing and dark, except for the fucking Capitol Building glistening from across the street. It was 11:10 PM and Meredith wasn’t answering Brian’s calls. But ten minutes late wasn’t going to stop us from at least hollering Meredith’s name around the vicinity of the airport in the hopes of catching her on the walk out to her car.
AJ, Dekimbe, Brian and Zack lied defeated on the floor.
We glanced up at the Esurance sign, which I had imagined up until this point to be bright and neon green, and saw it was turned off to a colorless, gray-toned plastic that dissipated the last sense of hope we had in our reserve.
The general consensus?
“Fuck it, we’re sleeping here and then we’ll get someone to pick us up in the morning.”
I walked away to call my mom and had somewhat of a breakdown.
“Do you think you and dad could come get us?” I begged her, tears welling in my eyes. My mom woke up my dad. I avoided mentioning anything about a shooting, and ended up
p a c i n g
in a parking structure somewhere in the airport.
From across the parking structure.
I saw a blue and yellow ‘Alamo’ sign lit. The fuck. Up.
I put my mom on hold and went up to the Alamo window and to converse with an employee named Marcus. I told him I need to rent a car to Panama City Beach and his reaction was priceless.
“Holy SHIT! Are you the kids who called Meredith, the ones at McDonald’s?”
I tell him yes.
And then the most amazing thing happened.
Marcus told us that Meredith, our car rental guardian angel, told him that if he ran into us, to make sure we got a car.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.
Marcus threw in a discount given the night’s unfortunate events to (literally) fuel our almost-sick determination to get to Panama City.
I called Alyssa who asked where the hell I went.
I just said back to her, “Get your bags, baby girl. We’re going to Panama City Beach.”
They grabbed their bags to come meet me, but as the dream team hobbled into the parking garage, there wasn’t a lick of dream left in them.
“I’m not going anymore, no way,” was the attitude of most. We piled in the maroon Suburban mini van for a quick hearing, drew some pie charts and weighed the pros and cons, all for a grand total of twenty minutes.
Some messianic friend dropped the mic with this line, “Dude, we have to pick up Ryan from the airport.”
Our friend who was waiting for us at the Pensacola airport. Who had no idea where we were.
Or if we were coming at all.
We decided that, although one could be led to believe that a blown transmission, a shooting and showing up to the airport long after Esurance closes would be enough to make us quit, that a glowing, gleaming ‘Alamo’ sign was the only worthy omen to be considered. So we turned the key in the ignition and finished our eighteen-hour drive to Panama City Beach because, GODDAMN IT, Ryan was the pith, the essential piece to this journey. And we at least needed to kick his ass in person for dragging us down to America’s party grundle with him.
The drive was terrible.
Everyone was in a pretty shitty mood after a blown transmission and potentially being shot at, but the perfectly intact bottles of liquor were sitting like bricks of gold beneath our feet.
We showed up to the airport, not even sure if Ryan would still be there considering we were wildly behind schedule and Ryan’s phone had been dead for the past several hours. Greg floored it around the airport. We were flying on pure stir-craziness, with windows down and Brian’s six foot-four frame out the minivan window screaming, “Ryyyyyy-ANNNNNN!” over and over, as if Ryan had been surviving off saltines and ketchup like Tom Hanks in The Terminal.
And then we saw him.
Ryan, in all of his easy-going glory, standing outside by a bench, shaking his head, hands resting on the back of his neck like he had been playing out this moment in his head for all of the last six and a half hours we were late.
“GUYS! What the fuck?” He asked with this incredulous smile on his face. Once in the car, he faced everyone in the back while sitting on top of a case of beer.
We just said, “Dude, we’ll tell you over a Natty.”
We spent the next six days partying like we had just survived the final shoot-out scene in Springbreakers, or even better, a Riff Raff concert. And because living in anarchy has a funny way of making you forget about your responsibilities as a human being, we never check in on the Yukon until a few days after we get back to Philly.
Greg got a call from the Virginia County police force about an “abandoned vehicle” with his name on it.
The Yukon was sitting in a parking lot of an auto-mechanic who had been closed since 2006.
A visual of the dream team:
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