It ended with a night spent on a haunted river boat and a near miss on a motorcycle with an avalanche.
It's tough being in your forties. That's around the time when bodies start falling apart, surgeries are performed and you start getting calls from family and friends who tell you that life is too short. You need to come to Chattanooga to visit before we all expire.
That's what prompted my sister Monica and I to fly out to Tennessee to visit our dear friend, Michelle.
Michelle is one of those people who can make a trip to the laundromat a memorable experience. Her home, Chattanooga, has a lot more to offer than laundromats for entertainment. Our four day weekend was filled with drives to scenic outlooks, the best darn fried okra in the country, singing and dancing to the game Guitar Hero, hikes, motorcycle rides, and oh yes, just a quick little trip to the Delta Queen Riverboat to "have our picture made".
The legendary Delta Queen orignally traveled through San Francisco, Sacramento and Stockton. Today, she is docked in Chattanooga, Tennessee and serves as a floating hotel, restaurant and bar.
As we were sitting on the deck, relaxing with a cocktail, Michelle said "Y'all want to do something crazy?"
I could feel my stomach knot up in that familiar way when Michelle is about to propose one of her schemes. By this time, Michelle had already made friends with the General Manager of the Delta Queen, gotten his business card, secured us a tour through the engine room, made sure we all had a turn at blowing the loud horn that announces the ships arrival and gotten us free drinks. What was next on her agenda, I thought as I took another long swig of my drink.
"Let's spend the night." said Michelle with a devilish glint in her eye.
Monica and I just stared at her and finally, slowly nodded our assent. You see, it just doesn't do to say no to Michelle. She'll find some way to talk you into it. And besides, her schemes are always so darn fun.
Michelle hopped up from her seat and ran to speak to the General Manager about getting us a "deal".
By the time she was through with him, the GM was practically paying us to spend the night. Michelle must have used her double coupon, her Buy-One-Get-One-Free from Taco Bell, the interest she earned on her Staples stock and of course, her trillion watt smile, to get each one of us our own private stateroom for the night.
As we sat in the oak paneled, dimly lit cocktail lounge that evening, having a nightcap with the GM and his right hand man, we were treated to stories about Captain Mary, who haunts the Delta Queen. Yikes! Captain Mary is a benevolent ghost. She passed away on the Delta Queen, in her stateroom one dark night and has been watching over the guests of the Delta Queen ever since. She is not to be feared, they assured us. She likes to come into your room at night and gently pull the covers up over your shoulders and tuck you in.
As the clock struck midnight, the three of us slowly made our way to our staterooms. Michelle, who never fears anything sashayed to her room, while Monica and I stood in the hallway amidst all these creepy portraits. The subjects in the portraits had this weird way of following you with their eyes.
"Are you going to bed yet?" I squeaked.
This question came from Yours Truly who is well known for her nine-thirty bedtime.
"Well what else is there to do?"
Her response sounded fair enough, so off I went to try to relax myself for bed with a nice warm shower. I stripped off my clothes and stepped into the claw foot bathtub that looked like it was from the 1700's. I turned on the faucet and heard a loud clang, clang, clang as the hot water laboriously made its way from somewhere deep in the engine room to my naked skin.
"It's Captain Mary, dragging her chains down the hallway with her lifeless body in the lead. Oh no!"
I took a few deep steadying breathes and finally made my way to bed. Tucked underneath the covers with the creaky brass bed shifting under my weight, I thought about the other fact we had learned over drinks tonight. There were only three other people spending the night on the boat. That makes me, Michelle, Monica, the GM, his right hand man, and the other three guests. Would I be the last one to fall asleep?
I counted the minutes, glancing at the clock every so often to see if it was close to daylight. If Captain Mary doesn't get me, the GM and Mr. Right Hand Man will. They have skeleton keys to all the rooms. Just another one of those little thoughts that kept me awake all night.
Monica awakened me the next morning with a hot steaming mug of coffee. She looked a lot more refreshed than I.
We made it through our night on the Delta Queen.
When I arrived back home in California, I received a call from the lovely Michelle.
"Remember that winding road we were on riding motorcycles while you guys were here? Well, it collapsed under an avalanche."
Life is never dull with Michelle. Bless her heart.