I sit in the car as it idles. I glance down furtively at my phone as if there will be some message that reads “turn back”.
But I’ve come too far, I think to myself. So I turn the key, open the door to the biting cold and step out onto the grass. I trek up to the Wickham Park Senior Center and walk inside. I am greeted by a herd of elderly women in Christmas sweaters who shuffle about aimlessly.
“Hello there!” yells a woman in a lime green sweater. “Are you here to volunteer?”
Today is the Holiday Hayride and for some reason I am here to volunteer. “Yes, I’m Sarah. I’m signed up to work the craft table.”
“O.K. sign in on this sheet,” replies Green Sweater.
I sign in. I have no idea where I am going or what I am doing and Green Sweater senses this so she escorts me into the great room where the games and crafts are to be held. She introduces me to Mindy who checks her very important schedule and points me to my table. By the time I have finished haphazardly gluing on googly eyes to my first felt mouse, Mindy walks over.
“You wouldn’t mind working the hayride would you?” she asks.
“No, that’s fine,” I answer without thinking. She leads me outside to meet the motley crew of fellow volunteers where I introduce myself and then immediately forget each person’s name. While we walk the half-mile or so down to the hayride, I try to make small talk, but no one is feeling very chatty at the moment so I drop it.
Then it starts to rain.
I check the time on my phone for the sixth time since I’ve been there. It’s only half past five. A plump woman walks up with a cardboard box in her arms and sets it on the grass. She tells us that we are to put a baggie of sand and a flameless candle in each festive paper bag and line them along the sidewalk. This does not sound like a hayride to me.
Obediant little volunteer that I am, I kneel down and start assembling the bags. Soon after, I notice that people and their kids have started lining up to go on the hayride. One little girl in a bright pink coat scampers over to me and kneels down at the box.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
“I’m putting these in bags,” I say holding out a bag of sand.
Without giving it a second thought she said, “I’m going to help you.”
Apparently I have no say in the matter because she started grabbing fistfuls of sand bags and thrusting them in my direction. I take a few of them and put them into paper bags and she says matter-of-factly, “We’re best friends now.” Shit, I think. This little girl is going to latch on to me like a succubus.
“Come over here now, Mikaila,” calls who I presume to be the little girl’s mother. Fortunately she obeys her mother and I am free. For now.
At six o’clock the Christmas lights come on all around the park and it is time to start loading people onto the tractor-trailer beds lined with hay bales. I am the first one onto the trailer and head to the back to sit down. And who is the second person on that trailer but the little succubus. She came straight to the back and sat so close to me she might as well have been on my lap.
“I hope you don’t mind,” said the girl’s mom.
“Not at all,” I said smiling. Get this little . . .
Just then the truck started up and we were taking off on the hayride through Florida’s own “winter wonderland.” My job was to make sure that nobody leaned on the flimsy PVC pipe railing and fell off the trailer. As I was vigilantly doing my job, the girl kept chattering on and on: “I go to big girl school and my brother’s name is Todd and it’s fun being best friends and . . .”
Suddenly, I looked down and the little monster was throwing fistfuls of hay on me!
“That’s not nice,” said the mom. The girl stopped for a few short minutes and then started throwing it again. How soon our relationship had changed.
Then the mom snatched her up and berated her quietly. The little girl started to immediately wail at the top of her lungs and didn’t stop for the next fifteen minutes until the ride was over. And so the name Holiday Hellride was born.