Thursday, August 10, 2017

Vacation Horror Story

The other day I was reading A Cup Of Jo's blog post: An Ode To Bad Family Vacations, sharing readers' bad vacation experiences.  I started to comment about one that we took in 2009 but quickly realized this story was too long for a common comment post......

My father-in-law used to live in Salisbury on Maryland's eastern shore, home to Assateague Island, one of our favorite vacation spots.  That year we planned a one week vacation trip out with our two daughters and their two boyfriends at the time.  (One eventually became a son-in-law.)  We had tickets to fly out on Saturday with a connecting flight in Charlotte on a puddle jumper into Salisbury.  On Saturday when we arrived at the airport we found our flight had been cancelled due to a mechanical problem with the  airplane.  They told us to come back the next day, Sunday, for the same flight.  So, okay.  Our vacation has been shortened by one day.  Disappointing but really not a big deal.

The next day we arrive at the airport and once again find our flight has been cancelled.  But this time it was due to weather in Charlotte.  Try as they might, the airline could not find a flight with the needed connection to accommodate six people flying into Salisbury MD.  The best they could do would have us arriving on Wednesday!  Most of us had jobs and only had one week off.  On top of that they tried to tell us we would be out the money, (a substantial amount given it was airfare for six), because the cancellation was due to weather.  But indeed, the original problem on Saturday was mechanical.  So we got our refund, thanks to our daughter brilliantly arguing our case.  We walked out of the terminal and caught the shuttle to the car rental facility where we proceeded to rent a vehicle big enough to fit six adults comfortably while driving halfway across the country; a 27 hour drive.   We rushed home to tweak our luggage for a road trip and headed out about dinner time.  We drove straight through.

Our first two days on the island there was constant rain.  Assateague's official bird is considered to be the mosquito.  (I have a magnet that says so.) Their size is phenomenal.  But I had no idea they flew in such torrential rain.  We could hear them beating  themselves into the windows trying to get in.  It felt like a horror film, Attack of the Killer Mosquitos.

Finally on the third day, Thursday, the clouds parted and we had glorious sunshine.  After two days of trying to squeeze in beach time between down pours on Assateague, we decided on this day we would drive to the Virginia side of the island, Chincoteague.

When we pull on to the beach we immediately read that in Virginia no alcohol is allowed on the beach.  Hence, the cooler stays in the car.  We proceed to stake our place in the sand and settle in.  Paul and the kids head to the water.  I am a beach person with a healthy fear of the ocean.  I never go in beyond my knees.  So Paul's dad and I make ourselves comfortable on the blankets.

After their swim the kids take off for a stroll down the beach.  Paul tells me he's going to head up to the restroom and asks me to give him a few minutes then meet him at the car so we can share a beer.  His dad is peacefully napping on the blanket.  Great!  

While waiting I decide to stand up and survey my fellow beach goers.  That's when I notice a woman and a gentleman standing in the surf.  The woman is the largest human being I have ever seen.  So much so, I wonder what kind of vehicle would accommodate her size. The pair are walking out deeper into the water, the gentleman is farther out than she is, about hip level.  She's not quite got her knees wet.  He is turned to look back at her.  And then she sits down in the surf where the waves begin to smash into her face.  

I stand there and watch for a second.  Neither one of them make a move.  And the surf continues to batter her face.  I take off running down into the water.  I get to the woman and the man is just standing there looking at me.  I start screaming at him to help me.  I grab one of her arms, pulling with all my strength.  I can't budge her.  I'm screaming at the guy, who now has her other arm, to pull with the next wave hoping we can use the force of the water to help move her.  But with each wave she sinks farther into the sand.

Within a couple of minutes my father-in-law is there.  At the time he was 74 years old and about 120 pounds.  In other words, not a lot of muscle.  I glance over my shoulder and at last here comes Paul running down towards us.  He takes my place and tells me to call for help.  Our phones are in the car.  
The first person I encounter on my way to the car is a woman and her daughter.  She asks me what's going on.  When I tell her she springs into action.  She throws her phone at me and shouts, "call 911".  She turns to her daughter and says, "get my kit from the car".  She's an off duty EMT.

I dial 911 and tell them what's happening.  The dispatcher asks me which beach I'm on.  Here I learn a life lesson.  Always know where you are.  Also, apparently at that time, they couldn't tell from the call where I was located.  I have no idea which beach I'm on, but I do know I'm in Virginia.  The dispatcher asks me to go out and stand by the road and tell her what I'm wearing so the ambulance can spot me.

Meanwhile, Paul tells me later the EMT woman has totally taken charge.  Thank God.  She takes a beach towel and wraps it under the woman's arms, across her back, and yells, "Well come on men!  Pull!"  They get the woman up onto the sand out of the surf.

The ambulance arrives and we get to where the woman is lying.  They expose her chest and use a defibrillator.  It takes 12 men to get her on the gurney and into the ambulance.  The ambulance pulls out leaving the police to question us.  While giving our statements to the police I see the kids walking towards us.  But they do not stop.  They continue walking right by us as if they didn't know us.  They assume we have been caught with alcohol on the beach.

After the police leave the children return and we tell them what happened.  Their reply- of course mom was the first one on the scene.  Apparently I've appointed myself lifeguard too many times, without any qualifications for the job.  Just a loud nagging mouth telling them they're too far out in the water.

That evening we go out to dinner in one of the nicest restaurants on the island, justifying the expense after the day we had.  After dinner we decide to hit the ice cream parlor next door which is also next door to the island fire station.  Paul takes our leftovers out to the car and sees one of the EMTs who was at the beach with us out in the station's parking lot.  He asks about the woman.  The EMT tells Paul she died on the way to the hospital.  

This is hard for us to get over.  It still is for that matter.  After much thought I still don't know what to think about what happened.  What was this woman doing there?  No one in her condition would be out for a day on the beach.  Why did she just sit down and not try to help us to help her out of the water?  Why was her companion so slow to help?  Was the final outcome their original intention?

We had two days left before our long drive home.  The rest of the trip was uneventful.  But hell, we deserved what little bit of vacation we had left to be enjoyable.  Since this trip we've been back to Assateague several times.  But we've never gone back to the Virginia side of the island.

If you would like to read more bad vacation stories, you can find Cup of Jo's blog post here.

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