Have you ever experienced something that felt like it was straight from the twilight zone? That’s our first trip to Northern California was like. It was strange, with a side of freaky.
A friend of ours was getting married in Yreka, and we had a pair of standby tickets to use, compliments of a friend who works for the airline. It seemed like a winning combo, even though it took us all stinking day to get from Dallas to Sacramento. When you’re flying standby through small airports, you spend a lot of time waiting for empty seats. And waiting some more, on each leg of the journey. Finally, sometime in the late hours of the evening, we boarded a flight bound for Northern California. Our seats weren’t next to each other, but that was a small price to pay to finally get to our destination.
In my years of flying, I’ve noticed two types of air travelers. There are those who, even surrounded by hundreds of other people, consider flight the perfect opportunity for a little downtime. They can’t run errands, they (typically) can’t surf the internet. A pair of earbuds and a good book are calling their name. Most importantly, no conversation will take place. The second type of travelers are the opposite. The Chatty Cathy crowd. In their mind, the only logical thing to do on an airplane is talk, especially with a captive audience at their disposal! Silence is boring, or uncomfortable, or both, so they prefer to pass the time chatting.
I fall into the first category of travelers. If I don’t know the person seated next to me, then solitude is my friend. On this particular trip, my seat-mate soul mate was nowhere to be found. The gentlemen next to me was locked and loaded for conversation. The initial pleasantries were exchanged, including the typical, “Where do you live?” My home at the time was in the East Texas lands of Tyler. That sparked a beast in him that I wish was never awakened. He spoke on and on about his shady business dealings in that town, to the point that I was uncomfortable and counting down the minutes until landing. Fear gripped me, and I didn’t know whether to call the police or try to run as far away as possible.
He was a Sacramento dweller and apparently knew that landing at midnight would leave us without a car rental option. As the seat-belt sign went off and everyone popped up to gather their belongings, he introduced himself to my husband. Of course, my husband had not just experienced a two hour monologue of information that left his hairs standing on end, so when the “kind” gentleman offered to drive us to our hotel, my husband gratefully said, “That would be great!” My eyes got big, but I couldn’t exactly explain to my husband what I just heard, with the gentleman standing beside us. Awkward.
As we disembarked, I quietly shared with my husband a few highlights of my earlier conversation with my seat mate. But, we followed this man to his Jeep Cherokee anyway, praying he wouldn’t take us to an empty field and dispose of us. I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s where my mind went. We did indeed make it safely to our hotel, and stared out the window until we saw his car drive away. We were relieved, but our Twilight Zone experience had only just begun.
The next morning we woke up, managed to get our rental car, and drove to Yreka. We were happy to be at our destination and celebrate our friends’ beautiful wedding. (Northern California really is beautiful.) The front page of the newspaper that day caught our eye; it displayed a man lying dead on the ground at the courthouse. The photo and the story rattled us a bit, and left us wondering what this little town of 7000 people was all about.
Upon the suggestion of locals, we took a scenic little drive up a winding road to a particular lookout point. We found our destination and got out of the car to enjoy the stunning view. As we were admiring the beauty, we noticed a group of men who seemed to be involved in…something not quite above board. Our instinct was to leave the area as quickly as possible, so we hopped in the car and headed back down the hill.
Before we knew it, those men were in a car right on our tail. When we slowed for them to pass, they stayed right behind us. When we reached town, we drove down random streets, and they never left our tail. We found a police station and pulled in, at which point they raced off. We looked at each other in horror, and wondered what other bizarre and shifty events and characters we might encounter.
The wedding was lovely, but we were more than eager to make it back to Texas. Since then, we’ve explored Southern California, but never made it back to the northern part of the state. Tell me, friends, was this a freak experience? Was it typical of the area? Should we venture back there for second chances? If you have bizarre vacation stories, do tell!