After reading another article on the DC Sniper trials recently, I was thinking about surreal events I've been involved with. It's the strangest sensation; you almost feel that you are on the outside looking on as a spectator. Some of the biggest surreal experiences for me include: being in an armed robbery (they call them "home invasions" now) at age nine with my brother and cousins while our parents were at our grandfather's wake. Several cracked-out, ski-masked, and armed men broke in and terrorized us while ransacking the house. We were so naïve we hid in a closet after we saw them chopping down the back door and it took them all of 15 seconds to find us. I was pretty sure I was going to die, and as a result, everything seemed to go in slow and fast motion all at once. Very surreal.
Another big one is of course September 11th. Living outside of DC, having fighter jets thunder over your house, and knowing you were sitting in a global bulls eye was pretty surreal. Just the day before I had finished with an engagement that had me flying back and forth from Dulles to LA every week, which was one of the routes that was hijacked. It was the most beautiful day, am amazing blue sky with the late summer crispness to the air, it all seemed so impossible. My husband was stuck on his "2-day" Northern CA business trip for almost two weeks and I had the radio and CNN on day and night for probably three days straight.
A little over a year later, we were treated to a rousing rendition of “what it's like to live in an unstable war torn country” when the DC Snipers showed up. You haven’t lived until you found yourself writing a will before taking the dog on a walk. Talk about group paranoia. Two guys in an area of 5 million had us diving into our cars and hiding behind concrete pillars on the rare occasion we were forced to leave our house. It seems surreal thinking about it now, but I actually would run in a zigzag pattern back to my car if I had to leave the house. You would have thought I would have felt silly doing this, but trust me, no one noticed since everyone else was either zigzagging or crossing the parking lot in infantry-style guerrilla crawls. You simply had no idea where they would strike next. No where was considered safe. My husband, as is his nature, managed to find the silver lining of the situation and was delighted when the credit card bill showed up and was the lowest it had been in 13 years. Trust me, I’m a dedicated spender, but “final sale” has a whole new meaning, when going out might in fact make it your final sale. I managed to go for an entire month without going to a gas station (My 3-mile commute work commute paid off again!) and when my husband had to go fill up mid-crisis, we had a phone line support system rigged to notify concerned individuals about the successful 98-octane mission.
So what dredged up these memories? In a word, Maryland. Maryland is retrying the Sniper's years after Virginia found them guilty of about a billion crimes against humanity as well as several counts of murder and sentenced them to death and life in prison, respectively (they are also still considering revoking their concealed weapon permits). I don’t want to draw attention to delicate family matters, but Maryland doesn’t seem to trust Virginia, so they would *also* like to sentence them to death. Ironically, Virginia executes a *lot* more prisoners than Maryland, who I believe turned their electric chair into a garden planter in 1999 after seeing a similar project in Martha Stewart Living's April issue. I suppose Maryland might be concerned about Virginia's decision making abilities and may consider the commonwealth's lack of taste to be a warning sign of instability, I can only guess as a result of our State Welcome Sign.
Haven’t given much thought to your state's Welcome Sign lately? Well, we have! Apparently someone pointed out that our sign was "dated" and I believe one quote was (paraphrasing) "it looks like something my grandma knitted and hung in her kitchen in 1950". So Virginia immediately took action and created five other horribly dated alternatives to choose from and put it to a public vote. I first saw the options printed in the Washington Post and again, felt that touch of surrealism. The first thing that leapt to mind was "What? Are these the right pictures?". It’s as if Virginia couldn’t come up with the money for any new clip art software and decided to reuse the Atari-era graphics and fonts they had on file. Furthermore, the only new slogan they could come up with was "Virginia Welcomes You", which wow, bam, talk about impact. What fools we were with the old slogan; "Welcome to Virginia". You can hardly blame Maryland for being wary, I suppose.