Today I made good on a 26 year old promise. And committed a felony.
All before 11 a.m.
When I was, oh, five or so, I had the extreme fortune of living next door to my best friend, Shellie Blondell. In those early years, Shellie and I shared many exploits: elementary witchcraft and locking ourselves in a car trunk among them (There were wild strawberries and Moon Dreamers involved. Don't ask...) But despite our veritable cornucopia of childhood exploits, there remains one tale told foremost around the Greer/Blondell campfire: Erin and Shellie's first trip to the zoo.
Always a go-getter, I decided at the ripe old age of 5ish, that not only did I want to go to the zoo, but that there was:
1. Nothing stopping me
2. And therefore nothing stopping me from bringing my best friend
3. And that I was therefore entitled to a car
4. And that that car would not belong to me or any of my kin.
In true Hollywood fashion: What could possibly go wrong?
Intent to see the pandas, I walked to Shellie's house, informed her that I was taking her to the zoo, and then proceeded to climb into the driver's seat of her mother's car.
Now, for those of you who have not yet discovered this, I am an immediate expert at everything I try. It's a curse, and I try to maintain a cool head about it, as expertise brings with it all forms of hardships. I know you likely cannot understand this, as you, no doubt, require practice to acquire skill. Me? I just require the opportunity to shine.
So, buckled firmly in the driver's seat, I informed Shellie that we were off. In mere moments, I would have her at the zoo. Yes, it's be all pandas and zebras before lunch, elephants and polar bears after. I threw the car in reverse.
And slammed into a tree.
The rest is kind of a blur.
I arrive for my shift as a driver for the Atlanta Film Festival, the organizers of which, in their infinite wisdom, have provided me a van to shuttle visiting filmmakers from the W Hotel to the Landmark Midtown. Straight shot. Designated route. 15 minute shifts.
I got this.
Having just dropped off one filmmaker, I dutifully return to the W for my next pick up.
I am not long in the parking lot when a young female filmmaker and her mother approach the van. In a thick New York accent, the mother asks, "Can you tell us the best way to get to the zoo? We're supposed to take the MARTA [you can always tell a non-native as they inevitably refer to our inept transit system as "the" MARTA] and then catch a bus. Which way is the station?"
I respond with, "oh it's..." only to realize that I have absolutely no idea the best route to tell these two ladies to take on foot. My sputtering "um"s failed to impress. Panicking at the judgement of these foreigners, I quickly rebound, "Get in. I'll give you a ride to the station."
But I didn't give them a ride to the station.
Once inside, these women immediately turned out to be fun, funny and kind. As such, I had only gone about 2 blocks before making the following declaration, "I am fucking in love with you people. Know what? I'll just take you to the zoo."
It was at this point that I had the following simultaneous revelations:
1. I am the most amazing driver in the world and these women are SOOOOO lucky they got me.
2. I have new friends. Hurray!
3. I have absolutely NO IDEA how to get to the zoo.
4. This car is not mine. I am stealing this car.
In true Erin fashion, the first two revelations somehow completely eclipsed the last two. Directions and felony theft be damned, these women were going to see the pandas!
On the lam from the law, I pulled onto the highway. As much of the trip was spent with me chatting away in the rear view mirror to my new besties, I cannot for the life of me tell you how it was that I saw the signs for the zoo. What I do know, however, is that I pulled into the entrance through the exit, and proceeded to drive the wrong way through the lot before making an illegal u-turn and parking illegally.
Did I mention I was in a stolen car?
My NYC friends were delighted. Deep now in our beyond-the-law exploits, my friends and I talked for several more minutes. We laughed. There were many smiles. And tearful goodbyes. (At least, I fancy that they cried after they got out of the car. I am sure they would have cried in my presence, had none of us been preoccupied with attempting to open the automatic doors. Tricky stuff, that. Apparently there is a secret, hidden button. Who knew?)
As I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the thoroughfare through Grant Park, the truth of what had just happened dawned on me like the midday sun:
I, for the first time in my life, had actually driven to the zoo. And, like my first (failed) attempt at doing so, I had taken a stolen car.
Despite being raised in this city, this was the first time I had ever made it to the zoo while in the driver's seat. This, my friends, was nothing short of a profound moment: life altering. Life affirming. Destiny.
This, THIS, was a moment for the ages. A moment to be shared.
I picked up my phone. I called Shellie Blondell.