In The Spotlight

This story is written by someone who I am very proud to be related to, even if its only by marriage.  A great storyteller, musician, and Mother of four; and the only person I know who actually uses the Facebook notes section.  Let’s imagine with her a very compelling story.


Mile Marker Twenty-Nine

by Cindy Clark

Imagine you have twenty things scheduled for Monday, but due to a recent, unexpected chain of events, you reschedule all of them and jump in a car…not your car, but your son’s car…and head east for Nashville, TN.  So, you make 20 phone calls on Sunday and 10 more on Monday before 9 a.m. to properly reschedule the twenty things, then you climb into your son’s car with your bags packed, all ready to go.  Now, imagine your other son has agreed to make the trip with you.  FUN!  Who doesn’t love a good road trip with someone they love!  You’ll eat crap and talk about fun times from the past and plan fun ones for the future.  GREAT!!  But, in the back of your mind you’re thinking, “hmmm…seems like I am forgetting something.”

You make a quick stop to pick up your son, you head east and life is good.  The sun is shining…good tunes playing on the stereo system (your son’s car has a much better stereo system than your car’s does) and you have a feeling of superiority, because you are such a great planner.  You can schedule things, reschedule things, make long trips at the drop of the hat,…you’re just plain old SMOOTH!!  About the time you get to Wynne, AR,  you decide to make a much needed pit stop for bathroom duty, unsweet ice tea and 20 chicken nuggets (your son’s purchase.)  You hop back in the car and you’re making really good time, despite the fact that you left home 1 and 1/2 hours later than you had planned.  No problem!  Just roll with it!

Then it comes to you.  That thing you forgot…that terrible, awful, dreadful oversight.  You’re just passing mile marker 28, east of Memphis.  You’re laughing and drinking unsweet ice tea and listening to Bela Fleck….and while the car is doing 70mph, it just dies.  You feel the car die….you get startled!!  You say to your son, “Oh gosh! The car died!!” (or something like that.)  You have the presence of mind to look at the gas gauge.  It is comfortably resting on… gravity held on… the big red “E.”  You say other words, prior to saying “I’ve run out of gas.”  Yes.  You’re a 49 year old mother of four (Or father, depending on who it is imagining this).  You finished four years of college.  People have employed you, in the past, to care for ailing individuals…sometimes actually performing procedures on them that might be life-threatening if not performed correctly and you have driven a 2004 yellow Ford Escape, with a smashed front-end from the deer that your son hit three weeks after he got that car in 2011, and enough trash and empty fast food cups in it to construct a three bedroom, 2000 sq. ft. home if you were so inclined.  You have driven it to the empty mark………………………..and you coast………………….just about 1/4 mile past mile marker 29.

If your life were a sitcom or a drama (I assure you, mine is both), at the same moment that your eyes saw “empty” and you said those words out loud, the director of that particular episode would have had the cameras zoom into your face, with your “deer in headlights” look, and the words that were coming out of your voice would have sounded like one of those characters on Dr. Who whose voice was akin to Beelzebub….complete with slow motion sound effects.  As your 21 year old son tried to keep you calm while you are now coasting on the shoulder of I-40, just past mile marker 29.  You have the ghosts of the same feelings you had in college when you found out that a non-refundable plane ticket to Panama had been purchased for you for $900 and you were leaving for Panama in 3 weeks and you were only raising your hand when they were talking about buying plane tickets because you thought it sounded like “fun”, not because you thought they would really purchase a ticket for you because you raised your hand when the teacher asked, “Who is thinking about going to Panama on that medical mission?” …but let’s not get off topic here……that is another story…and we are still imagining this one.

Now, here you are…side of the road….just past mile marker 29…headed east….to Nashville….*sigh*…….** big sigh**. What do you do?  Of course, you call your significant other to tell them, because you know that there is something that they can do.  Might I add here, that if you have not yet purchased some sort of smartphone for these kinds of events, it might be a good time to consider that purchase.  But I digress again.  Your significant other looks up the number for the DOT (Dept. of Transportation).  You call it.  They quickly inform you that they only service people in the eastern Memphis area…to the point of mile marker 27!   Twenty-SEVEN…not twenty-nine.  You ask what to do now!?  They give you the number for the Tennessee State Highway Patrol.  You call.  They say, “We’ll have to put in a report and send someone out to you.  Do you know where you’re at?”  Yes.  You are at HIGHWAY MARKER TWENTY-FREAKIN’-NINE!!”  but you don’t say it like that.   So then, you and your son wait.

There are lots of things you think about while you are stranded on I-40, east of Memphis, just past mile marker 29.  You mainly think of how stupid you are for running out of gas.  You also think that you might decide to never yell at your kids again for anything they ever forget in their lives because now you know, if you didn’t before, that you are just as capable of forgetting something very important as the next guy.  You think of some of the times you’ve given your kids or someone else a hard time for forgetting something.  “How could you forget something like that???!!”  Even the “Why on earth did you do that’s” come into your mind…..and you are humbled.  Your son keeps saying, “Mom, it’s no big deal.  It’s alright mom.  We’re alright.  It happens.”  It is at that moment that tears come to your eyes and you realize that the person who you thought you’d die raising….HE is now the comfort giver to you….he is the one who is calm under pressure….and he is there and you’d be so alone if he wasn’t there.  You are, again, humbled.

Just when you think you are settling in for a long wait, a very, very, VERY muscular, extremely fit, starched and straight state trooper pulls up behind you.  It only took him 15 minutes to get there.  As you start to jump out of your car to greet him, your son suggests that you remain in the car until he approaches the window.  Again, you are grateful for your son being there and being a voice of reason.  When the man, an intimidating military-in-stance and appearance state trooper man, looks into the window of your yellow 2004 Ford Escape with the front end smashed and all the garbage in the floor and says nothing, waiting on you to speak, all you can eek out is a tiny, nervous chuckle and say, “Well, I’m so stupid.  I’ve just let myself run out of gas.”  Humility has swallowed you up, spit you out, and stomped on your face now.  You can hardly look into his eyes.  He says to you, “Ma’am, I’ve got a gas can.  I can take you to a gas station and let you buy some gas, and I can bring it back and put it into your car.”  You have a credit card and a $20 bill…minus the cost of an unsweet iced tea from Wendy’s.  You ask, “How much will this cost?” …as if any price would have been too much at that point!!??!!  DUH!!  But I needed to know.  Angel voices could have sang his response and it wouldn’t have sounded any sweeter to your ears: “Nothing ma’am.  It’s all part of my job.”

Now, a braver person would have been nothing but relieved and thankful.  But you?  You aren’t brave.  You are thankful, but you ARE NOT BRAVE.  Now a decision is to be made: who will go?  You or your son?  Someone has to stay there alone on the side of the road, just east of Memphis, a little past mile marker twenty-nine.  Being the “not brave” person you are…and knowing that you are the one with the credit card and that you might need that $20, minus the priced of an iced tea at Wendy’s, you decide to go with the nice man.  You pray to GOD that he is truly a nice man.  The lesson you learn next will be an Ebenezer in your life.

Sgt. Johnson, that is his name, Sgt. Johnson opens the BACK door of the squad car.  Now, you’ve seen the back of a squad car before…you’ve even hammed it up with some of your friends in one at the Retro Psycho Prom…but that’s another story.  But, you’ve never HAD to be in one…and you sure as heck never went down I-40 doing 75 mph in one.  Let’s review what that is going to be like for you: You have exactly 1 inch of leg space between you and the back of the front seat.  There is no door handle.  There is no window button.  There is a bullet-proof shield between you and the nice Sgt.  If you are even the tiniest bit claustrophobic, you are about to have problems.  Nice Sgt. Johnson takes off.  Those police cars will move, I tell ya!! (Oh wait!  It’s you in the car, not me.)  You notice that those police cars will rocket!  You look again at the fact that you are somewhat like a sardine in the back of that thing.  You say, “Sir, can you hear me?”  He cracks the bullet proof shield…”Yes ma’am.”  You say, “Wow.  Tight quarters back here.”  His almost robotic answer, “They aren’t built for comfort, ma’am.”  Ah….now you start sweating.

It is at this point, that you realize you have no idea who this person is who is driving this squad car.  You think of every horror story anyone has ever told you about good cop/bad cop things.  You look again at the Sgt….this time, realizing that he might have been a WCW Wrestling Champion in the late ’90s….that he has a loaded gun on his hip…that he has a big stick that he could hit you with if he so chose….and at that that very moment…it hits you very hard: YOU ARE AT THE COMPLETE AND TOTAL MERCY OF THIS MAN.  Your very life depends on this man that you just met 2 minutes ago…and you know nothing about him.  You decide to appeal to his human side.  “Do you have a family?”  You try to put some “perkiness” and “lilt” into your voice….and the most professional, still totally intimidating voice comes back to you: “No.”  Oh dear.  You sit in silence for a minute.  You decide that you’ll try to get a look into the front of that car.  There are computers, cameras, and all sorts of gear that make you feel like you might be able to lift off the ground in that car if you needed to.  You look out the window.  You remember that your child…yes, YES, he’s 21…but he is your child…and he is by himself, stranded, east of Memphis, just past mile marker 29…and he is alone there.  All at once, you realize that every time you’ve thought you were in total control of your destiny, you weren’t really in control at all.  You realize that something as simple as forgetting to look at a gas gauge in a car could change the course of your life….if it is what is meant to be.

You do some real soul searching.  You decide to rest in the “whatever is to be will be.”  All of this happens as you take off in the squad car.  It’s amazing how many thoughts, epiphanies, nervous breakdowns and life flashing before your eyes-moments you can have in the course of a minute or two.  Just as you are starting to relax, he takes the car into the median, whips it around and starts heading west.  You are convinced that he is now taking you somewhere to kill you and dump your body into a hole because you are too stupid to live anyways…otherwise, he’d not have had to come get you in the first place!  You sort of melt…just like a pile of ice cream….and decide that it’s been a good life.  Just then, you are at an exit.  He takes that exit.  There is a Shell gas station immediately across the road.  You say, with the last bit of strength your voice has, ” …are we going there?”  He says, “No. I always go to that Exxon” and as he says it, he points to his left, where he turns the car and heads over an overpass where you can see nothing but woods until you get to the middle of that overpass.

Now, you’ve prayed some intense, begging, almost groveling prayers in your life. You’ve asked for healing, financial help, wisdom, and boots, but none of those prayer were any more earnest than the one that you prayed right then: “Please Lord, ….please….let there be an Exxon on the other side of this overpass.”  And all the angels in heaven sang as we topped the hill in the middle of that overpass and that bright, shiny, beautiful Exxon station sat there like the throne in Heaven.  And you cry a little.

Sgt. Johnson takes a gas can out of the car, tells you it will hold two gallons, and you go inside and pay the nice, gum-smacking lady for 2 gallons of cheap grade.  You hold to the side of the counter while she rings up your gas and she stares funny while you take some very deep breaths, double over like you are about to puke on the floor, and hold your chest like you are having a heart attack.  She smacks the gum harder and keeps staring at you while you sign the little slip of credit card paper.  When you get back into the car, you thank Sgt. Johnson for about the 12th time and you decide that maybe, just maybe, this man is a nice man.  Maybe, you are actually going to make it back to your 2004 yellow Ford Escape with the front smashed in from the deer accident your son had three weeks after he bought it.  You look at Sgt. Johnson and feel love and trust…for this stranger who is just “doing his job.”  You ask him, “Why did you become a police officer?”  Suddenly, his voice changes a little….and all at once, he becomes a little friendly with you.

Sgt. Johnson goes on to tell you that he served for 8 years in the Marines.  He served in Desert Storm and when he got out of the military, he kept doing what he’d done in the military.  You tell him that you were not brave enough to do that and that your family plays bluegrass music.  He tells you that he’d always wanted to play piano, but just never tried.  You tell him that it is never too late and that you’ve only played for 4 years and you are forty-nine.  Suddenly, this person who you looked at as a possible ex-WCW wrestling champion, deranged serial killing man….masquerading as a state trooper…. he is just a real person like you and he is a nice guy.  He is a real person with a story and a history that you can’t begin to understand, but he is being kind to you and helping you.  And you cry a little on the inside.

When you arrive back at your yellow Ford Escape, your son is fine.  He is listening to Bela Fleck with his cap on backwards.  He has not had a nervous moment about this whole thing.  Life is good.  Sgt. Johnson puts gas into your car.  You are grateful.  You ask if you can give him a hug and he says, “well, I’ve got gas all over me.”  You opt for a “leaning close and patting him on the back” and he grins really big.  When you pat his back, you notice the bullet proof vest.  How hard it is and you are humbled to think that this man, a man whose daily life involves a bullet proof vest, who never knows what is facing him on the other side of those car windows, this man was kind to you.  He could have taken advantage of you in every way imaginable.  But he was just kind…and helpful.  You are overwhelmed because you realize that from the moment you ran out of gas until the moment you are headed east again, toward Nashville, only about 30 minutes have passed.   And you are humbled.

When you get just outside of Nashville, your other son calls you and says, “Hey! We can go home tonight!”  Turns out, your son can ride with the banjo player for the band that he plays in because that dude is headed to Texas and if you’d just left well enough alone, your son could have come home without you making a trip to Nashville.  You stop at a Cracker Barrel in Dickson, TN and eat.  You coffee up and head back West.  You see one of the most beautiful stars you’ve ever seen while you drive back.  An owl flies in front of your yellow Ford Escape and it is very cool looking!  You laugh with your friend on your cell phone on the way back.  You didn’t accomplish much, but boy do you have a story to tell.

If that had happened to me, I’d write a Facebook Note about it.  Js.


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