In August of 1989 the September issue of ‘Ladies Home Journal’ came out with my article in the “A Woman Today” column. In the same issue, there was an article about the new show that Joan Rivers was hosting, ‘The Joan Rivers Show’. Soon after the article came out, we received a call from a producer of the show asking if we would be willing to appear on the show on Wednesday, September 20.
As this date fell right in the middle of our one-week beach vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, our response was lukewarm: Could it be some other date? The producer was adamant that the only date that would work was that one, and the show would fly us from the Outer Banks to New York and put us up in the Plaza Hotel the night before, and they would make all the arrangements. It was hard to resist this kind of celebrity treatment so we agreed. What could go wrong?
We arrived at the Outer Banks with our 2-year-old Ian and settled in to the lovely beach house. For a couple of days we enjoyed relaxing on the sand. By Tuesday, the weather was kind of ugly but we didn’t pay any attention to it. Then we found a note pinned to the front door: the emergency authorities were notifying us that hurricane Hugo was moving up the coast and we should prepare for evacuation! This was the day that we were scheduled to fly to New York.
The plan was that we would drive about an hour from Avon through the Pea Island Natural Wildlife Refuge North to Kitty Hawk where there was a small airport (this is where the Wright Brothers’ first flight occurred in 1903). There we would board a small plane that would take us to New York. The charter company called us to say that the weather was causing some changes in their operations and we should go to the Kitty Hawk monument instead of the airport. We would be bused from the monument to the airport. No problem; we parked our car at the monument and took our toddler, his car seat, and our luggage with us on the bus. The rain started as we flew to New York, and after circling for quite a while we arrived at Newark late in the evening, way past Ian’s bedtime.
A limo picked us up at the airport and drove us to the fancy and expensive Plaza Hotel. The staff looked upon our grubby two-year-old with clear horror as we stood in line with the other tired travelers inconvenienced by the coming hurricane. As we checked in we were informed that checkout was at 11 am. I experienced my first bout of celebrity haughtiness when I said, “I don’t think so. Our flight back is not until after 3 pm and this child will need a nap. Check with the Joan Rivers Show and make sure that we get to keep the room until we need to leave for the airport.” I like to think this was only because I was a mother protecting her child, but who knows what kind of monster I could turn into given half a chance. It turns out I got away with it, too, because a little later we were notified that we would be able to stay as long as we needed.
In the morning we were picked up at the Plaza Hotel by another limo. The limo and cab drivers in New York were some of the nicest people we dealt with during our stay. As we pulled up to the studio, we were guided to the entrance over red carpet with ropes along both sides. People outside the ropes were thrusting things at us. I turned to the producer guiding us, asking, “What do they want?” With a quizzical look communicating my status as a country bumpkin, the producer said, “Your autograph, of course!” That’s when it registered that the items being thrust at us were pads and pens.
We were brought to the green room (which really was green), and spent some time talking to Leslie Uggams, who would appear after our segment. She was very sweet to Ian, and incidentally had held my husband Dave as a baby when she stayed in the hotel in Pittsburgh where Dave’s mother worked. We were taken to meet Joan Rivers. She was in her dressing room getting her makeup done, and her little dog was there. My first impression of her was not that favorable. First she talked to Ian, saying something like, “Oh, you like the dog? Well you can’t have him!” Then she turned to the producer and said, “He can’t be on the set. He won’t behave. You’ll have to hold him.” Nothing enrages a mother as much as being told her child won’t behave. And Ian was an angelic child who rarely misbehaved.
Actually being on the show turned out better than this incident portended. It became apparent why we had to be on this particular show: the other guest during our segment was Paul Linke, who was promoting his one man monologue, Time Flies When You’re Alive, born out of his grief over losing his wife Francesca to breast cancer after trying unconventional treatments. Our appearance was a dramatic contrast, considering that I had survived my cancer presumably as a result of conventional treatment.
In the producer’s arms off camera, Ian was his sweet self, quietly watching us on the stage, ignoring the thunderously clapping audience (for us, really???), until Joan gave in to his charms and allowed him to be put in our laps. I told Joan, “We tried to teach him to say, ‘Hi, Joan’, but he wouldn’t do it.”
For In the rest of the segment he watched Joan intensely with his big blue eyes. At the end of the segment Joan asked if we were going to have any more children. I said, “Yes, and maybe very soon,” to which she squealed, “Are you PREGNANT?” Only then did I realize I had just revealed my suspicion on national TV, before I had even told our parents or my boss. Oops. Joan’s final words to us were, “Well, I wish the three-and-a-half of you the best of luck!” (That half turned out to be Erik the following summer.)
After Ian’s nap in the hotel we headed back to the airport with another nice limo driver. Hurricane Hugo was still making a mess of travel on the East coast, and we spent hours waiting in the airport, watching the rain come down in sheets. Even good-natured Ian was starting to lose his cool. Finally a tall dark-haired man with a scar across his cheek, wearing a white uniform, came up to us and asked if we were the Edwards family. He was our pilot back to North Carolina. As we followed him to the tiny six-seated puddle-jumper, he handed Dave a flashlight and said, “I hope you don’t mind holding that on the instrument panel. I lost my lights on the way up here. We need to hurry back while the eye of the storm is over the East coast.”
I sat in the back while Dave kept the instrument panel lit. Ian was on my lap. I anticipated a crying child and a long uncomfortable trip, but the instant the engines roared to life Ian conked out like a big warm rag doll on my lap. The weather was better than it had been, with a large, bright, full moon shining on the ocean. We even got to see a Navy fighter maneuver into the Norfolk Virginia base. As we neared the airport in Kitty Hawk, we asked how we would get from the airport to the monument. The pilot was non-plussed. He had no idea what we were talking about. A lengthy discussion ensued. It was nearing midnight and Kitty Hawk was pretty much shut down. We would not be able to find a taxi. Finally the pilot decided he would give us a ride in his car. Then he had to concentrate on landing. The wind was picking up again and the plane was weaving back and forth over the water toward the landing strip. I focused on the pilot’s scar while thinking, “I’m sure he wants to live too.” I breathed a sigh of relief when the wheels touched tarmac (rather unevenly, but we were down safe).
Dave wasn’t done being the co-pilot. They had to wheel the plane into its parking spot and then tie its wings down with steel cables to keep it from being damaged in the storm. I was standing by the pilot’s car with the luggage and car seat, carrying Ian, while Dave and the pilot were managing this tying down process. The moon looked enormous, practically sitting on the asphalt runway. Then I saw something in the distance. What was it? It looked like the pavement was undulating. Wild howls came from that direction. Suddenly it was clear: a pack of dogs was moving down the runway in the moonlight, headed straight for us!
Never have I seen someone clean out a detritus filled small car faster. Still holding Ian, I was shoved into the tiny nook carved out of the papers and whatnot littering the space, with the car seat tossed in beside us. Dave and the pilot threw themselves into the front seats, the doors were slammed, and we squealed out of that parking lot within a minute. I turned around to see the silhouettes of a pack of 30 or so dogs loping in the moonlight behind us.
When we arrived at our car parked by the monument, we did not waste any time transferring ourselves into its safety. Dave gave the pilot our last $20 for his trouble, and suddenly we were on our own in the quiet, windy night. Upon starting the car, we saw that we had less than 1/8 tank of gas to get us 50 miles, no money, no open gas stations, a storm coming, and wild beasts roaming outside.
It was a nail-biter, but we made it back to the beach house with a couple of drops of gasoline left in the tank. It was 2 a.m. We fell into bed exhausted, and looked forward to sleeping in the next morning followed by enjoying some beach time. At 7 a.m., Ian was standing in his crib jabbering at us to get up, and we got a knock on the door: “Time to evacuate! Now!”
I don’t know how we did it, but we packed up all the beach gear and cleaned up the house and were on the road by 10 a.m., with a fresh tank of gas, snaking along the single road out of the Outer Banks in a huge caravan of other evacuees. As we headed back north through Kitty Hawk to Nags Head the ocean started to breach some of the dunes and water was covering the road in some places. It was a relief to turn inland in Nags Head. After about 50 miles we were back to normal driving in the rain and we could laugh about the fact that a hurricane named after my brother had just chased us out of the Outer Banks, but at least no dingo had eaten our baby. That was about the shortest, least relaxing, most stressful beach vacation we ever had. What could go wrong, indeed?’