“ Someone To Watch Over Me “   Part  4   by Carrabella Alvarez         

The final chapter    

The year was 1982 and I was in Atlanta, Georgia. The Peachtree Plaza was in full bloom, with its floating lounge in the lobby. The Omni had all kinds of interesting entertainers and the Underground was hopping!

    An hour after I got off the bus, I landed at job as a waitress at the Great Gatsby Hotel. Funny story; when I got off the bus I had on shorts. I went inside the hotel, headed straight for the bathroom to change clothes. I put on a skirt, washed my face and asked to see the restaurant manager. She hired me on the spot. The one condition was that I be on time and report to work the next day.


Oh yeah, I didn’t know a soul in Atlanta either, so the next task was finding a place to crash. I got directions to the nearest police station and started there. I figured they’d have a bulletin board with listings for all kinds of things. I also figured that anyone who posted at a police station would be safe to be around. And lastly, I wanted the police to know about me just incase something happened to me.


As it turned out, one of the secretaries at the station had a room for rent. She was about to get off work so I waited and rode with her. Come find out, the room for rent was her damn living room and my bed was her couch! Boy I was mad, but I did need a place to stay and I could always find another place after my first pay check came in. I paid her $40. for one week, took a bath and went right to sleep.


When I woke up, my landlord was in the kitchen with 2 guys. She also had an infant. I hadn’t seen the baby when I arrived because she was at the woman’s mother’s house. So while I was asleep, she had left, picked up her baby and had those 2 guys come over.


She invited me to eat with them and I did. But when she invited me to party with the guys I declined, saying I had to be at work by 6 am the next morning. I got directions for the bus, called to find out what time they ran, went for a long walk and came back in to go to sleep. Instead of them being in the kitchen, they were now sitting in the living room, my bedroom, with all the lights on.   


I couldn’t believe it. How in the hell was I suppose to sleep with them sitting there, starring at me, drinking and talking, with all the lights on?


I made a show of setting the alarm clock, letting them know I had to get up a 4 am so I could be on time for work. No work, no rent. She got that part and they quickly moved back to the kitchen to finish their party. I was upset, but I still felt relatively safe since she did work for the police and her co-workers knew I was staying with her.


I was up the moment the alarm went off. Showered, dressed and was out the door. I got to the restaurant at exactly 6:05 am. The girls trained me and I picked up the routine enough to do several tables on my own before the shift ended.


When it was time to get off work and get our tips, the manager called me in her office. She fired me! The other waitresses told her I was 5 minutes late and she fired me. I explained that this was my 2nd day in town and I did catch the first bus to get there. I couldn’t control how slow the bus went, I had really  tried my best. No sympathy at all, I was fired and that was that. The good news was that I made $40 in tips, so I had next week’s rent already, without dipping in my stash.


I took off my uniform, put on my street clothes. Before leaving, I got one of the tourist books from the lobby that had listings of hotels, attractions and went job hunting. My next stop was at the Stadium Hotel. I went in, applied for waitress or Hostess. I listed the Gatsby as the last place I worked, but I didn’t say how long I had worked there. I got the job as Hostess on the dinner shift. I was grateful.

Back at the house, it was Saturday, so my landlord was off work. When I walked in around 2 pm, she was in the kitchen with her baby. She asked me if I wanted to party with her and some guys that night and again I told her no! I explained to Ho-Jo that since I’d only been in town for 2 days, I’d rather concentrate of working, learning my way around Atlanta, than hooking up with men.


She had a car, but she didn’t volunteer to take me any where the whole 2 weeks I stayed there. I worked from 5 to 11pm, slept, and spent most of the day searching for another place to live. I found an apartment and moved out of her living room.


My new place wasn’t the greatest, but at least it was private. Once I settled in, had my job schedule down pat, I looked for something meaningful to do. I went on the tour of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s  birth home on Auburn Street and the King Center for Non-Violence. 2 weeks later, I was approved to be the tour guide for his birth home and I signed up for other activities at the King Center.


For one month, I had the great honor of conducting daily tours of Dr. King’s birth home! I had to stop when I got sick.


I was under the impression that it didn’t get cold in Atlanta, and it doesn’t get icy cold like up north. However, no one told me about the infamous “wind chill factor” that freezes your butt to the bone! I was not prepared for that.


I seldom ever get sick, so a minor cold didn’t bother me. I blew it off, drank teas and kept on going. One night I just couldn’t get up. My entire body ached and was on fire. I sweated and went in and out of consciousness. When I was able too, I called the Center and the hotel to let them know I wouldn’t be in. It took 2 weeks to recover.


Of course I lost my job at the Stadium Hotel. Too bad because they had the best cooks in Atlanta! The food was so good that workers came in on their day off to eat there, including me. It was free to eat when we were on duty, but cost $2.00 when we were not working. A small price to eat like royalty.


Anyway, once I was back on my feet, I applied at the Hilton Hotel. I got hired as a day Hostess and night waitress. That was prefect because I needed all the money I could get. I really liked Atlanta and I wanted a fabulous apt downtown in the heart of everything. My plan was to start singing in lounges and pursue acting. I also wanted to write, so I needed to be where I could meet people who could advance my career. I needed a spectacular place to invite people over for dinner, parties and networking.     


After months of working and saving, I did find a lovely apt down town. I met a lot of influential people at the Hilton as well. Atlanta was just getting a Nigerian Embassy, so I met and sang for the new Nigerian Consulate. He took a shine to me and took me on a shopping spree in exchange for helping him pick out furniture and decorate his new home in the Chamblee area. I got the kind of clothes that fit the life I was building. I’m sure the Consulate wanted a closer relationship, but I didn’t want to be a concubine, or  a 3rd wife.


It was a Sunday, winter time and it had been raining all day. I had 2 blessed days off work and had slept until early evening. When I woke up, I realized I was out of cigarettes and I wanted one really bad. I got dressed and checked my purse for money. Not a dime. Saturday I had treated  2  friends to a night on the town. Apparently I had treated myself into the poor house or lost money. I always kept $20 on me no matter what. Then it hit me; I had given the waitress a tip. I must have given her the $20. Oh well, she deserved it.


I looked in the closet, in pockets, in drawers and only came up with some change. In 1982, we didn’t have debit cards; I didn’t have a credit card or a check book, so no cash meant no money. I could go to the bank the next day, but I needed cigarettes right then, not in the morning. If any of you smoke, you know what I’m talking about. 

Then I thought about the local bar, 4 blocks up the street and decided to go there. I had been there once

before. The music was good, the place was clean, everyone was friendly. I could get one of the guys to buy me a pack and a drink. It wouldn’t hurt to hang out there for an hour or so.


Since it was raining so hard, I bundled up, got my large umbrella and headed out. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know how ugly it was outside. It was a nasty, cold, windy, blinding rain! After walking one block, I was already worn out.


Cars were sliding on the road, but they still didn’t slow down. By the second block, there was a 3 car pile-up, with police and ambulance on the scene. It must have been bad, but I’m not one of those people who rubber neck accidents. I can’t stand to see stuff like that so I hurried along.


Only 2 more blocks to the bar. I was wet, my umbrella kept turning inside out from the high winds and  my fingers were numbish. Suddenly I knew exactly what Brook Benton meant in his famous song called, “Rainy Night In Georgia”.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4wVqMXcu8E


It was raining so hard that indeed it did feel like it was raining all over the world!                            

Only one more block to go and I got the strangest feeling. My entire being was on alert as the tiny wet hairs on the back of my neck tingled.  A dreadful feeling came over me. I stopped and was actually afraid to take another step. The bar was on the other side of the street and I had planned to cross over at the next light. The way those fools were driving I couldn’t chance crossing against the light. Even if the coast seemed clear, a car could come out of no where and I wouldn’t see it in time.


I did start walking again, but very slowly like my feet hurt. The dreadful feeling got worse and I knew I should go back to my apt. But I really wanted a cigarette. Oh come on, I told myself, nothing’s gonna happen. It’s just the cold.


Almost to the light. By then I actually felt like throwing up from the bad feeling, but the bar was right across the street, only a few more feet. Cars were zooming by, splashing water and my head was down to keep the rain off my face and out of my eyes.


Suddenly, right on the side walk in front of me, was a pack of cigarettes. I kicked the pack a little because I thought it was empty. It wasn’t. I picked it up. Not only was it not empty, it had never been opened. The cellophane wrapper had kept it dry and…. it was the exact brand I smoked; Marlboro Lights.


I looked around to see if anyone else on the street, in front of me or in back of me. No one was there. Where did those cigarettes come from? I had been looking down and didn’t see them the second before.


I pocketed the smokes and headed back to my apt. Once inside, dry and comfortable, I opened the cigarettes, lit one and took a long drag. Damn, I hate to admit it, but that cigarette tasted good! I turned on the TV and thought about what had happened.  


I had ignored that dreadful feeling, all for the sake of a cigarette. I could have been killed that night if I had attempted to cross the street in that dangerous weather. Visibility was almost zero, a bad accident behind me…no telling what would have happened. The cigarettes were dropped on the sidewalk to save my life. Someone was definitely watching over me.


(P.S. I did quit smoking a few years later. Now I never ignore my gut feelings or intuition. Sometimes we really do get a ‘head’s up’.)