All our rooms are non-smoking. Unless you want to smoke.

I moved from Minneapolis to Seattle in the summer of 1996. Ice was the main reason why – freezing rain, to be precise. I parked my car on the street in such a way that the rain came up to about mid-rim of the tires and then froze solid, freezing my car to the ground for five days. During that time, my roommate Kim and I ‘skated’ our way to the local bar, only a couple blocks away, and I had my epiphany and delivered my impassioned speech.

“NO ONE has to live here!”

I think I actually pounded my fist on the bar for effect.

“People can MOVE!”

She said, “I’ll come with you,” and we never faltered. We left the following summer, selling anything that wouldn’t fit in our cars. It was an adventure. But first I needed a new vehicle.

I was terrified of manual transmissions. People in the Midwest don’t know from hills, and when I see the hills now that I was either petrified to drive up (in case I had to – gasp! – stop mid-hill) or walk up (gasping for breath), I have to laugh. I wouldn’t even label them inclines now. But hills, as most things in life, are relative. So, as soon as I knew I was moving, I happily sold my stick shift – a sporty Acura Integra – and bought the only car I could afford – a not-at-all sporty 1995 Geo Prizm. I could walk up a hill faster than this thing. But it had an automatic transmission.

On the road trip, Kim and I had yellow and purple walkie-talkies. I led the way so I tapped my brakes if I wanted her to turn on her walkie-talkie. She flashed her headlights to alert me. We had a blast until we got to the mountains and my car would slow to a crawl despite the gas pedal jammed to the floor. I had to use those slow vehicle turnouts as semis and 90-year olds sped by.

Drive your life
I had been in Seattle for a couple years when my friend J came to visit on a work trip (aka expense account.) She didn’t rent a car, she rented a Cadillac. Driving that Cadillac changed me. I became power-hungry. It was the first time I had the vehicle to match my true inner being and it was intoxicating. I come from a long line of “lead-foots” and driving it felt as natural as breathing. After she left I begrudgingly got back in the Prizm, hit the gas, and it took a good ten minutes to get up to 30 mph. I scoffed out loud. We both knew it would never last.

The Cadillac came with a sense of power, freedom and independence, and I wanted it all.

During J’s trip we also reserved a room at the Alexis hotel in downtown Seattle for a night. We smoked at the time and you could smoke in hotel rooms then, so she had requested a smoking room. When we arrived there was an ashtray on the end table but with a note in it that said “Thank you for not smoking.” Outraged, she called the front desk and received the following explanation, “All our rooms are non-smoking. Unless you want to smoke.”

I had a teacher in high school named Connie Crane. She taught speech and English. She used to order pizzas for the class on the last day. We loved it, of course. I had her for speech in ninth grade and then English the following year. On the last day of English class we excitedly sat down, only to receive the awful news. She told us she got in trouble with the powers-that-be about the pizza. They said under no circumstances could she order pizzas for her classes. She did a great job of telling the story, and had impeccable timing, in what I would classify as a persuasive speech.

She paused for effect. Then smiled.

“But they didn’t say anything about McDonald’s!”

She proceeded to fetch a huge cardboard box from the hallway, filled with the telltale paper McDonald’s bags full of food.

I think about this often. I attended an experimental school from K-6. We didn’t have grades, could decide which classes we wanted to go to and when, and had all kinds of freedom to learn and grow. It was fantastic. I was shocked when I got to seventh grade and had every minute planned out for me; I felt like I had to leave the building just to change my mind. But by high school I had grown somewhat accustomed to my prison sentence and was biding my time until college. Then Connie Crane bucked the system. She was a rebel. She was my hero. She taught me Speech and English but more importantly she taught me an important life lesson.

Life is like the smoking motto of the Alexis hotel. All rules should be followed.

Unless you want to break them.

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