I was embarking on a simple two mile trip to the Amoco station and back again.
How difficult could this be?
The navy A-Team van was as unimpressive on the inside as it was on the outside. The only two seats in the vehicle were the ones Jim and I were sitting on. The back was filled with tools and my two busted tires. A curtain separated me from fully discovering what was in the furthest parts of the automobile. Steve the trucker’s face popped in to my head. Oh how I wished I had not shut down my trucker friend and his efforts to help me get to the nearest service station. I tried to push his alarming words from my head. I reminded myself it was somewhat miraculous a car had pulled up at the tail end of my prayer for help.
Jim told me he was from Ohio and was on his way to visit his mother in Florida. He said he was ex-military and was divorced from a woman named Virginia. Jim went on to explain he was is no hurry to see his mother and was happy to help me get back on the road and on my way to see Chris in Charleston. He seemed pleasant and only a bit agitated when he spoke about his ex-wife…but most folks I know don’t have excellent relationships with their ex, so I didn’t think too much of it.
The two-mile trip to the Amoco station was short, but the wait was long. Everyone I did not see needing roadside assistance was now patching and servicing their torn tires. My ever-so-favorite silver sedan business man was at the front of the line with his rental. He was ready to speed away at any moment with fresh tires and his self-serving attitude following close behind. Immediately, Jim, who had been in “no rush” set to work barking orders at the Amoco man…telling him we needed service now! His demeanor in the van seemed somewhat easy going but now was clearly impatient. Slightly embarrassed to be associated with this man, but also a bit at his mercy, I explained I was going to make a few phone calls while we waited.
I walked to the nearest pay phone and attempted to call Chris in Charleston. No answer. I tried both of my parents but the phone rang and rang. I finally reached out to a mentor, one of the few phone numbers I had memorized, only to be met by her voicemail. Did I mention I was calling collect? This meant leaving a message was not an option! Please refrain from judging me at this point. Back then, I was young, naive, and poor. The times seemed safer. I trusted my car. The roads were what really messed up my perfect plan to travel 6 hours to visit my husband, paint a house or two, and return to work on Monday morning. I was one week in to my marriage and missing my man…what was so crazy about this plan?
The constant ringing with no answer made me uncomfortable. My palms grew sweaty. Hadn’t God provided Jim and his beat up A-Team van at just the right moment? Yes, he was acting a bit impatient with the mechanic, but I would soon have 2 new tires, we would be headed back to my car, and I would soon be cruising to Charleston toward my new hubby. Everything is awesome.
I walked toward the area where my tires were being attended to. And there was Jim, with furrowed brow, continuing to live in a slightly low level of annoyance. I told him I wasn’t in a rush and would be glad to have two tires that worked whenever they were done.
I decided to see if the man working on my tires (the same one running the cash register)…would be willing to let me borrow his phone. I could at least leave a message?!? The Amoco station had a big national name but was clearly a small southern operation that hadn’t seen this much business in decades. I walked up to the bearded gentleman behind the counter wearing brown carharts and a white t-shirt speckled by oil stains. The mechanic had his hands full thanks to all of the nails littered a few miles back. He was ringing up my favorite person…the impatient business man with the silver sedan. When there was a polite pause in conversation I weakly said, “Excuse me?” The mechanic boomed back in a harsh tone, “Ma’am, we are working as hard and fast as we can on your two tires. I have been made aware of your need to exchange your tires quickly and get back on the road. I will be with you as soon as I can!” I was shocked by his tone and realized my “friend” Jim had clearly been communicating an imagined need to expedite our process and at this point anything associated with Jim was infuriating the small staff at this station. Awesome.
The buzz of people filled the room, the attention of the attendant went back to Mr. Silver Sedan Business Man. A line of at least four others had formed, so I decided to get a breath of fresh air. I left the building and surveyed the parking lot. I immediately spotted a white Ford Mustang convertible–a young African American man was pumping gas. The woman accompanying him appeared to be about 7 months pregnant had clearly gotten out to stretch her legs.. She wore a warm expression on her face. I approached the woman and asked if by some chance she owned a cell phone I could borrow? She said she was sorry but she did not. She must have watched the color wash from my face as I could see in my peripheral vision Jim continuing to bust the chops of the person outside working on my car. She asked if I was okay and I very honestly explained I was not sure. I briefly informed her of my stranded-ness on the side of the road, enduring two tires flat, and hitching a ride with a strange man in an a-team van who had offered to take me to fix them. I also explained he was seemingly in a rush but I was feeling uncomfortable traveling back to my car with him as he was a teensy impatient with the folks working on my car. She motioned to her husband to come over and he listened to my story. The couple in the white mustang volunteered to follow me to my car to ensure my safety. I humbly excepted their offer. I again exhaled assuring her there was likely nothing to worry about, but I very much appreciated their kindness. Safety first!
Before long Jim and I were back in his navy A-Team van and traveling in the general direction of my cute little two-wheeled green Toyota Corolla. Jim appeared more calm with two fresh tires loaded in the back. So far so good. Everything is awesome.
There are a few details I forgot to mention in the first part of this story. I know I mentioned the whole Jesus sign hanging from the rear view mirror. I failed to mention the bumper sticker on the back of Jim’s van. It said something to effect of, “I reserve the right to bear arms and keep them in my home.” It had more sass and patriotism than that…but you get the gist. My dad is a similar type of gun owner so this bumper sticker did not deter me from entering his vehicle. Ironically, while traveling back to my car, I asked Jim where he lived in Ohio. He explained he had recently been released from Ohio State Penitentiary…and had no home…in fact this van was his home. I immediately deduced that he had weapons in the car. The ex-convict driving me around, had reserved the right to bear arms and keep them in his moving home…the navy blue A-Team van, we were traveling in. I tried to quiet the screaming voices in my head. Double awesome.
Side stepping the prison comment and making a conscious decision not to ask why he had served time in jail…I attempted to switch subjects and ask about the Jesus sign hanging from his mirror. He actually went in to an elaborate fantastical story about being in the military and hiking a mountain upon which he felt the presence of God. He was talking in a airy somewhat mystical voice, and talked less about Jesus and more about mountains and spiritual moments. Deep within my core I believe everyone deserves a second chance…I was just not super excited to a be single woman traveling with an impatient former-inmate who had weapons in the back of his car and spoke in a somewhat creepy voice about God and other spiritual things. Triple awesome.
Soon the conversation shifted. While still looking straight ahead at the road before us Jim’s tone changed. He cleared his throat and said, “Virginia, I am so glad to be with you today.” I immediately reminded him my name was JEN-NI not VIR-GIN-IA. He continued unfazed, “No, Virginia I have dinner for us in the back and we will have a lovely time together.” Jim explained he had stopped at Walmart that morning and had purchased fried chicken for us to eat for dinner. I boldly explained I was not hungry, it was 11am and no where near dinner time.
Instantly I knew the simple two mile trip to the Amoco station and back to my car would not be as simple as I had once imagined!?!
Second verse same as the first: This is just getting too long for one blog!
I will share the 3rd and final installment of “The Scariest Day of My Life”…