Trains, Planes and Automoblies Part 2: What to do when your rental car is possessed

In theory, getting a rental car when you’re on vacation should be a wonderful experience. It’s new, clean, and shiny, and it doesn’t have thirty half-empty water bottles clattering around under the seats or that weird smell you can’t quite track to the source.

So you can imagine how happy we were when the car rental guy in Flagstaff, AZ, gave us a free upgrade to an even newer, nicer car than the economy model we’d signed up for. We had just sent hours crammed into two different planes that required the human leg to fold up into origami to fit in the seats. Now we were going to complete our journey to the Grand Canyon in a car that actually had enough legroom to accommodate knees that only bend in one direction. Pure luxury, right?

We should have been more suspicious. Seriously, who gives out free upgrades? If we hadn’t been addle-brained from so many hours of air travel, would we have noticed hidden terror in the faces of the rental employees? A nervous twitch in their eyes? A hurried conversation that included the words, “For the love of god, just get that car out of here?!”

Long story short, our rental car was possessed. It looked beautiful, of course—a brand new black Chevy Impala, still sparkling from its latest car wash. It behaved while we drove it off the lot, but after that it started getting…chatty.

At first we noticed that it honked at us every time we left it. Then it honked every time we approached it (it had an automatic key fob that would unlock the doors as soon as we were in range.)

That was annoying, but we’d seen other cars do the same thing and just thought we’d have to live with it. Then it started to honk four times in a row if: the passenger-side door was opened before the driver-side door; the driver-side door was opened for more than 30 seconds and the driver didn’t get out; the driver-side door was opened and the passenger-side wasn’t; and sometimes when we were packing or unpacking the trunk. Basically, it honked whenever it felt like it—sometime once, sometimes four times, sometimes continuously. We got suspicious and unfriendly looks from people in parking lots. We gradually came to realize that our car was possessed.

Fortunately, as in most cases of possession, there was a holy book to consult. We found it conveniently stashed away in the glove compartment, along with warrantee papers and related documents. Unfortunately, as is often the case with holy books, it was confusing, complicated, and did not address the actual problem (although we did finally learn how to set the parking brake. Sort of.)

We tossed the holy manual back in the glove compartment and started experimenting with the entirely digital dashboard. There were no buttons, no explanations, just an endless series of options to scroll through. Every time we thought we had turned off the car’s alert systems, we’d get out, walk away from the car, and get honked at. Sometimes it would wait a few seconds to get us off our guard, then honk as soon as our backs were turned. I started arguing with the car and calling it names when it did this. This got us even more looks from strangers.

At last it was time to return the car to the rental people—this time in Phoenix. They probably wouldn’t have taken it back in Flagstaff. As we scrambled to gather our luggage and get away, the car started its “I’m being stolen” continuous honk. We grabbed our stuff, ducked our heads and walked away.

I think about that damned car now while I’m driving my pretty little 1999 Ford Escort. I like how there is a key to turn, a lever for setting the parking brake, and a horn that only goes off when I press that part of the steering wheel. Sure, it might have a slightly cracked bumper, stains on the carpet, and a speaker that cuts in and out. It’s just shy of having 100,000 miles on the odometer—a mark of pride in our family (my Dad kept a Pinto alive and running for almost 40 years.) The Impala will never rack up that kind of milage, because one of these days somebody’s going to shove it off a cliff.

I love my car. I’m going to take good care of it, too, because I never want to have to get a new one. New cars suck. My car’s a classic, really. They just don’t make cars like that anymore. I think it—no, I think it’s a she—She needs a name. I’m thinking Christine. Yeah, Christine is nice.





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Trains, Planes and Automobiles

Spoiler Alert: We never actually got on a train.

One of the main problems about visiting the Grand Canyon is that it’s out in the middle of freaking nowhere.  You can’t just fly there, because there are no major airports within about a million miles.

To get there from Washington, we had the choice between flying to Las Vegas, renting a car, and driving hundreds of miles to the east.  Alternatively, we could fly to Phoenix, rent a car, and drive hundreds of miles north.  We chose option three, which involved flying to Phoenix, waiting through a layover, flying to Flagstaff, renting a car, and driving a couple of hundred miles north, but not as many as we would have had to drive from Phoenix.

As it turned out, we missed the layover because our flight into Phoenix ended up getting there so late we had to sprint through the airport to catch the flight into Flagstaff.  On one hand, we didn’t have to wait around for an hour or two.  On the other hand, there was barely time to use the restroom, let alone eat, and it was already hours after lunchtime. We scrambled onboard, only to discover that no food or beverages would be served because the flight was considered to be too short.

Then, once everybody was loaded up, the plane sat stewing on the tarmac for a good 45 minutes.  More than enough time to run out for a hamburger, or at least have a leisurely trip to the bathroom, you’d think, but they weren’t having any of that.  They also wanted you to keep the window shutters closed, because this plane was small and the air conditioning would only work properly once the plane got in the air and up to speed.  (Phoenix was just then entering what would turn out to be a record-breaking heat wave, even for Arizona!) Passengers were to remain in the dark, in their seats, seatbelts fastened, and heaven help you if the dragon-lady stewardess caught you with your purses or laptops not properly stowed under the seat despite the fact that the plane hadn’t budged an inch.

The general cussedness of air travel was somewhat made up for by the magnificent views.  I will never tire of watching the land below change from forests to mountains to deserts and back again.  I like trying to guess where we are and what geological processes formed what I am seeing.  I run my guesses by Monty, who replies that a) we aren’t going anywhere near that state and b) I should know the geology by now, seeing as how we’ve been watching geology videos nonstop.

One feature I did recognize on the flight to Phoenix was–wait for it–the Grand Canyon itself!  It’s pretty amazing when seen from the air, but it also made me question why we were continuing on south to Phoenix, then north to Flagstaff, and then driving hundreds of miles further north to get to the Grand Canyon when it’s right there, for Pete’s sake!  Couldn’t we just get out there?  Apparently not.

One of the other things that keeps me entertained during air travel is turbulence, which nobody but me ever seems to enjoy.  There was a respectable amount of turbulence on the larger plane to Phoenix, but I held even higher hopes for the flight to Flagstaff.  Small planes typically bounce around more than the big ones, and this one did not disappoint.  While everybody else was white-knuckling it and Monty was turning green (It might be just as well that we didn’t eat beforehand) I was in my seat going “Wheeee!”

At last, we arrived in Flagstaff and were allowed off the plane. I headed for a Starbuck’s to get food for myself and a drink for Monty (who didn’t seem to be hungry at the moment.)  We went to the car rental kiosk, where we were offered a free upgrade from whatever car they were going to give us to whatever was a grade up from that car.  We said yes.  It was a mistake.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode:  What To Do When Your Rental Car Is Possessed.



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Until the next book…

Duh Into the Abyss…

Since it’s going to be awhile before the next book in The Belly Dance Mysteries comes out, (hint: it’s set in a ren faire!  I will be hassling you, my SCA friends.) I’m just going to have to ramble on about other topics.  My first pick–the vacation my husband and I recently took to the Grand Canyon.

Last Christmas, my parents very generously gave us some money to “have fun with.”  We quickly decided that a vacation would be the best way to do that.  After looking at many different places to go, we decided on the Grand Canyon.  We are both geology nerds, and rumor had it that the Grand Canyon was home to a lot of rocks.

Now, if you’ve ever tried planning this particular trip yourself, you’ll know that you can’t just GO to the Grand Canyon.  About 50 billion people go there every year, and it’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere.  There aren’t many towns nearby, and a limited number of places to stay.  Reservations for the local hotels need to be booked as much as a year in advance.  We wanted to go in less than 6 months.  Good luck!  Everything was booked.

Then a miracle happened: Monty was surfing the websites for different hotels on the South Rim, and saw that two nights had just opened up for the end of May–in El Tovar, one of the most historic hotels in the G.C. and situated right on the rim.  Yay!  We booked it.  And so the adventure began.

In the next few posts I’ll be talking about road trips, incredible scenery, squirrels that weren’t there, food poisoning, What To Do If Your Rental Car Is Possessed, and, of course, rocks.  Lots and lots and lots of rocks.




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‘I’ll Die at Your Wedding’ is available now!

I am excited to announce that the long-awaited sequel to ‘Murder at the Arabian Nights’ is finally finished and available to order at!

Ginger and Susan continue their adventures when a man is found dead at the wedding of two of their friends. When people keep dying even after the police arrest a suspect, Ginger and Susan must search for the truth–even if they end up on the killer’s list!

Available through 

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Coming Soon: ‘I’ll Die at Your Wedding!’

It’s spring, and love is in the air–but so is murder.  When a murder occurs at the wedding of their friends, Ginger and Susan team up with police officer Tara to prevent an innocent man from going to jail!

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Summer Reading Sale!

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are finally here!  It’s a great time to read.  To celebrate, the Kindle version of Murder at the Arabian Nights is now on sale at for only $2.99!

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Goodreads Giveaway!

Book Giveaway For Murder at the Arabian Nights: A Belly Dance Mystery

Closed to entries in: 38 days and 13:38:39


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NOOK Sale Continued!

The sale on the NOOK version of Murder at the Arabian Nights will now be continued until the end of June.  Get your copy now to enjoy on the long 4th of July weekend!

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Nook Mothers’ Day Sale!

From now until Mothers’ Day, the Nook version of Murder at the Arabian Nights will be on sale for $2.99. Happy Mothers’ Day!

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When Costumes Attack

It’s April Fools’ Day, which seems like the perfect time to discuss—Dum, Dum, Duuuuuum!   Costume Malfunctions.

Everybody, regardless of occupation, has had their clothing play tricks on them at some point in their lives.  A zipper that didn’t get zipped (or unzipped itself!), a crucial button that went flying, or a seam that split and let everyone know far too much about your underwear choices—the list goes on forever.  These things are never fun, and they always seem to occur in circumstances that make fixing them unobtrusively just about impossible.

Now imagine that you are in an extremely tight-fitting costume.  It is held on by very slender straps, yet covered with heavy decorations.  In some cases it only just covers up some of your most important bits.  Imagine that you are wearing this costume as you jump, spin, twist and bend.  Oh, yeah, one more thing–you are On.  A.  Stage.  The possibilities are mind-boggling.

Bra clasps, for instance, are always good for a laugh.  Even heavy-duty ones can bend with use, or break loose from their moorings due to worn-out threads.  If these tricks don’t work, an extra-talented clasp can simply unlatch itself as the fabric warms up, moves and stretches.  What to do when this happens?  Panic.  Run.  Die.

Next, anything that is true for a bra clasp is also true for a belt clasp.  Old-fashioned Egyptian and Turkish costumes come with a detachable belt, usually rimmed all the way around by long beaded fringe.  The purpose of this fringe is to accentuate hip movements.  Unfortunately, it is also very heavy.  Not only can the standard bra problems occur with the belt fastenings, the weight of the belt itself can drag both the belt and the skirt further and further down the dancer’s body as she moves.  If left unadjusted, this can expose the dreaded Crack of Doom.  ‘Nuff said.

Some modern costumes have a skirt that is itself heavily decorated, so a detachable belt isn’t necessary.  That doesn’t always solve the problem, though.  These skirts can slide up, down and sideways with the greatest of ease, especially if they were even the tiniest bit loose to begin with.  Plus they often have zippers, and we all know what havoc a zipper can cause if it tries.

For the truly adventurous dancer, some of these skirts even feature cutout patterns along the sides of the hips to expose more skin.  These are a bit risqué for my taste, but they get downright risky when a skirt starts to shift.  The problem is twofold:  1) The cutouts make it impossible to wear underwear under the costume.  For a performer, going commando is never, ever a good idea, especially if you are going to be on a raised stage or doing floor work.  There are too many tragic stories on this topic to even begin to relate, so I’ll just say that I once got an unexpected show from a panty-impaired dancer who was whipping a sword around and the sword caught and lifted her skirt for the world to see.  Yeesh. 2) Now that you are not sporting undies, the skirt will do everything in its power to work itself around until the cutouts are no longer over the hips.  Double yeesh.

Accessories are their own barrel of monkeys.  Jewelry of all kinds can get snagged on a dancer’s costume, hair, scenery and other dancers.  Jewelry can break and go flying, or disintegrate into many sharp pieces on the dance floor.  (This usually happens when the dancer is barefoot.)  Wigs and hairpieces that were fastened with a million clips and bobby pins still find ways of sliding off the dancer’s head one he or she is onstage.  Bonus points if they fall into somebody’s food.

Next up, finger cymbals.  Finger cymbals are the belly dancer’s equivalent of ninja throwing stars, except that the dancer’s not usually trying to throw them.  Finger cymbals throw themselves.  To prevent this, dancers must fasten cymbals to their fingers with elastic that is so tight their fingers turn blue.  This feels just great, and sometimes the cymbal breaks loose anyway.  A truly dramatic arm gesture coupled with loose or broken elastic can result in the cymbal flying across a room and burying itself in the drywall (this actually happened to a friend of mine.)

Some costumes really go too far.  I once had a heavy silver necklace fly up and hit me smack in the teeth when I did a hair toss.  I’ve also had glass belt fringe that shattered under heavy use, leaving tiny pieces of glass that embedded themselves in my feet.  And then there was the time a ruffle on a flamenco-type skirt tore onstage and almost made me break my neck.  There is only one thing to do in these cases:  Ditch the offending piece and get a new costume.  And pray…


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