It’s hot. Too hot to come up with a new column, so please enjoy this retooled one from way back in ’98, when I wasn’t wearing a mask, I didn’t have a cellphone and my old truck was less reliable than the old truck I have now.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who see someone walking along a highway, stop and offer that troubled soul or potential serial killer a lift and those who pass by at 70 mph, wondering why some idiot is hoofing it down the interstate with his back to traffic. I have always been in the second category, until a twist of fate and a frayed fan belt made me the hoofing idiot.
I was going along at a good clip down I-40, humming to myself because my truck’s radio didn’t work when a sudden loss of power hinted something was wrong. I glided from the passing lane between two tractor-trailers, eased off onto the emergency strip and rolled to a stop.
I got out and popped the hood, 99 percent sure that I, mustering all knowledge I had about the inner workings of an automobile, would have absolutely no idea what the problem was unless the entire motor was missing.
“Well, heck, there’s the problem,” I would say. “The motor fell out around mile marker 74. I’ll just reach in the glove box and get my spare.” But the motor was there and, surprisingly, I knew what was wrong: The fan belt was shredded.
Stranded a couple of miles from an exit, I headed east and began calculating my chances of someone offering a ride. I was neatly dressed. My jacket did not have “State Mental Hospital” in 4-inch letters across the back. I wasn’t toting anything that appeared to hold an assault rifle or a severed head.
I hugged the far right side of the emergency lane as trucks blew by me. That route gave me an opportunity to see the many interesting items along the side of the interstate - chunks of tires, shards of amber glass from broken beer bottles, a two-week old front page from USA Today, half a possum and a pair of lime green panties.
After a mile, I figured no one would stop. I apparently looked too unstable even though I left the underwear lying by the roadside.
Just as I gave up hope, a huge, extended cab pickup veered off into the emergency lane and stopped 50 or 60 feet in front of me.
I was faced with a decision. I knew I wasn’t a serial killer, but what about this guy? I jogged up beside the truck, looked in the window and saw a beefy older gentleman in a hat. He looked like a spiffed up farmer, but, then again, Ted Bundy looked like a nice college boy.
There was a thick book on the seat beside him which appeared to be either a Bible or a dictionary, which meant he was interested in either Scripture or increasing his word power.
“Having trouble?” he said.
“Yep. A little car trouble,” I said. “Can you give me a ride to the next exit so I can use a phone?”
He said he would, and I climbed in. He told me about his troubles, which included a broken down dump truck somewhere across town, and I told him about mine, which included the inability to shake that disturbing image of those lime green panties lying beside the interstate. Actually, I didn’t go into that much detail.
I got out at a convenience store. I didn’t kill him and he didn’t kill me, so I chalked it up as a successful ride.
After screaming into a malfunctioning pay phone and crossing a total of 14 lanes of traffic, I got the help I needed and was back on the highway that same afternoon.
Now, after that experience, when I see someone walking alone down the interstate, will I stop and offer that unfortunate soul a ride like the beefy old farmer did for me?