“This is not a test. Nuclear missiles have been sighted off the coast of the United States, seek shelter immediately.”
The words echoed off the walls and through my mind. I could not identify exactly where it was coming from, but I guessed one of the military vehicles parked nearby. I had only ever heard the monotone male voice announcing a test, amber alert, or severe weather over the national broadcast system. Nuclear missiles were something else entirely. My breathing slowed, becoming more exaggerated, while my blood slowly started to freeze within my veins.
A nuclear apocalypse was something I had never truly considered real. I had seen too many movies to think of it as anything but fiction, or ancient history even though the Cold War ended just three years before I was born. My mom talked about going through nuclear drills in elementary school like we went through fire, tornado, or (in my later years) intruder/active shooter drills. But they sounded more like stories than a real concept that could happen tomorrow.
The well-placed light bounced off the refugee mannequins huddled together in ragtag groups around military vehicles like the one I suspected broadcast the radio signal, as well as camp fires and tents, casting long shadows that stretched into the depths of the cavern. Although a small group of us were in town for the Alpha Chi Conference, we were able to do a little sightseeing along the way and the Mega Cavern in Louisville, Kentucky was my favorite of our stops by far. Originally a limestone mine, the enormous cavern became one of the largest in the U.S. and now serves many purposes.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. Government once prepared it as a bomb shelter for 50,000 (carefully selected) people. A mock representation of what life may have been like for nuclear survivors in the cavern is one of the stops on the tram tour, as are many natural wonders of Earth’s insides including caves, rocks, and underground life (such as worms that literally eat paper, naturally recycling it). Constant construction within the cavern also ensures plenty of secure commercial storage for some of the country’s most demanding clients and makes the Kentucky Mega Cavern the largest recycle center in the state by tonnage.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, the Louisville Mega Cavern has zip lining opportunities, a dirt bike park, underground aerial ropes course, and electric bike tour.
The city itself did not have a particular feel that struck me like some places do. It seemed like what everyone must picture when they hear “average American city.” Not a metropolis like Chicago, more suburban-esque like Kansas City. The city center was prime for taking in the local art, shops, and bourbon. Louisville produces 95% of the world’s supply of bourbon and, based on the chocolate cocktail I had, they have earned that distinction.
If I had had the time, a distillery tour would have been my preferred bourbon experience. There are plenty throughout the city to choose from!
I did not sample the city’s other famous alcohol – the mint julep – as I was not sitting in the stands of Churchill Downs brushing the feather of my extravagant hat out of my eyes. Short on time, we did walk through the Kentucky Derby Museum. Being a poor college student at the time, I decided to wait to buy one of the iconic hats until such a time as I could afford to live out my dream of the full Kentucky Derby experience. So instead, I promised myself (and my two colleagues) that I would be back someday to watch the race.
However, the real reason we were there was for the Alpha Chi Annual Conference, at which my colleagues and I were giving presentations. My presentation was on writing, designing, and publishing my own book, My Conversation With Ireland, which I did as a final project for one of my classes. I had never been to an academic conference before, but immediately fell in love with the free exchange of ideas and overall enthusiasm for sharing knowledge about things people are passionate about. I attended many lectures and made as many connections as possible. It’s not only where I gained more confidence as an individual, but where I, for the first time, gained the confidence to share my writing with others.
I have always felt that a piece of me is left behind in everything that I write, which is why showing my writing to others is like bearing a piece of my soul. It takes a lot of courage and humility and I still find it challenging every time I write. However, the words of the people I met that day, the people who listened to my story, and showed genuine interest, gave me the strength to share my words. But, it was the stories they shared in return – stories of how my words moved or inspired them – that made me take the leap and publish my book on Amazon. Thus, reaffirming one of my core beliefs: nothing can move a person – to tears or to action – quite like a story.