Pass It On (how I got the blessing- or curse some might say)
If this were a perfect world then this story would be about a common event. But it's not a perfect world. How many people pass by a stranger in need? And think that there but for dumb luck or the grace of God go I. Then bad shit happens to us, and we ask in surprise "where are all the Great Samaritans?" Then along comes one and they give us a saving hand and we offer them money and our thanks and off we go.
Then there are those that give us their aid and a little philosophy along with it.
January, 1970, I needed to travel. A road trip. I needed to cruise and I liked long
trips. Still do. It was semester break at Grad school in Nacogdoches, Texas. So without a partner, I planned a Southern Civil War tour. I would visit as many sites in a couple of weeks as possible and if possible try to stay away from the wintry north.
My car was a 1958 Dodge. It was big and comfy but not really reliable. I had zero mechanical skills and could with help just barely change a tire. I had a few bucks, a good map and a few Civil War references to guide my journey. Generally speaking I would head Northeast find Tennessee and start the Tour at Shiloh National Battlefield, then Lookout Mountain, The
Shenandoah Valley, Antietam (Sharpsburg), Gettysburg, Petersburg, Atlanta, and points West to New Orleans. It was a grand plan. Well that's if the car and the money held out.
Then I saw an item on the bulletin board. "Need Ride to New York".
Now I have a wandering spirit but no right thinking Southern boy, well I was born in Southern California, BUT I was a Texan by choice, not by the
vagaries of birth, would want to go to NEW YORK CITY in January. At least not this right thinker. But the note intrigued me. I called him. His story was that he was returning from a trip to Central America on a motorcycle. He broke his leg in an accident and wanted to go home. He thought he might be able to ride some of the way but not 1,400 or so miles, as
a sober crow flies, driving was probably 1,800 miles. He offered to split gas to where ever it was decided we would part company but under no circumstances was I going to New York. Absolutely not! Maybe Southern Virginia or at best Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. That would leave him a few hundred or so miles. We shook hands and made it so.
The first problem for Mike, well I could tell you that was his name but I can't remember that far back, was the motorcycle.
"Well you were leaving it here, right?"
Wrong, so we dismantled the bike and put the engine and frame in the trunk, it was a big trunk, and the tires and such in the back seat. Well there went my bed.'
Then came midnight or so and I wanted to be by daylight near Tennessee and he wanted to be at home with his mother to recuperate from the broken leg and what the hell was I doing! So we left and I drove until sometime mid morning when we did arrive at the Shiloh battlefield.
It was cold and wet and foggy and nasty and what a helluva way to start a trip. We rode up and down through all the sites reading all the markers trying to place each site with the overall battle and realizing that a regular soldier did not know squat about the whole battle just his little place in hell that he held. Soldiers stood and shot each other over distances that my nine iron, well Tiger's nine iron could reach.
The fog began to close in; we left and headed east across Tennessee. It was passing from day to night but in the fog it really was not that noticeable. I vaguely remember the route and it generally took us to Knoxville where we took the infamous US 11E that connected to a freeway north and East of Kingsport that led into the Valleys of Western Virginia. With that said all I recall was that the fog was so thick that for eight hours I drove with my head out the window looking down at the white stripe and Mike with his head out the other was attempting to watch for parked cars.
We were a mess. I was tired and why we didn't stop I think it must have been that we planned to make a rest stop on the Virginia side of the border. We passed through Kingsport within minutes of our goal or at least a better road. It was past the 25th hour of our journey. The fog had not gotten one foot better than it had been 10 hours before. I was just going about forty when BAM BAM! It was obvious that I had hit a large rock broken off from the cliff by the now freezing temperatures and lying in the road. Shit we were in big trouble. I got the car stopped and surveyed the damage. We were in trouble. I could fix one flat but I had two and worse I had two broken wheels. Maybe more damage than that too.
Then the first of our guardian angels appeared. Really. A Tennessee State Policeman pulled up behind the car. I told Mike to keep his obvious New York twang to himself and see if a Texas boy could enlist some Southern hospitality. The trooper looked me over, smelled my breath and determined I was just a dumb ass driving in the crappy weather. I explained I was trying to get Mike home as he was injured and well I was just helping out. The trooper ask Mike if he'd be okay by himself for a few minutes and he said yes with as little New Yorkesse as he could. ( I had told Mike he'd be lucky if they only hanged him in Tennessee with his accent.)
I got in the trooper's car and went back down the hill to an all night full service, that's a station with real help and a mechanic, I know some of you have actually seen one or at least read about them. The trooper and I entered the station and there were two guys in there thirties sitting have coffee hoping to stay inside where it was warm, dry and safe.
"Hey, Jim Bob, this is, what your name again Tex, "
"Yeah, Kent, well Jim Bob you and Tom Earl help out my friend Kent with one name, yeh hear?"
"He's broke down up the hill and he's a friend of mine from Texas, treat him right, see you later."
And with that he was gone.
I was left standing with four names. I expect some resistance or down right hostility, but they asked the kind of car and the size wheels and with that Jim Bob and I drove up the hill in the thicker, nastier, icier freezing weather.
Jim Bob said hello to Mike;
"Where on the earth did you find him?"
"Lost Yankee, he's alright, his leg broke some and he's sick. Taking him North I guess."
"Best place for Yankees anyway. Somebody has to be cold."
"Well we don't like 'em much but seeing as he's sick and passing through ....
He looked at the damage and found a broken brake drum to boot. He and I got the rear end jack up and replaced the left rear with my spare and then man handled the seriously cold jack around and got the front up and the left front tire off. We had no brake drum so we put the wheel and tire he brought on anyway.
" Well don't touch the brake. Follow me slowly and use the gears."
"It's alright the brakes weren't very good even when they were in one piece."
I followed his truck back down the mountain. We pulled into the service bay and shut the door. It was time to get warm.
" Listen guys, let Tom Earl and me think on this. You'all go next door to the
cafe and have breakfast."
I was whacked. Real whacked. This was the second, maybe the third day and I was getting really tired. Tom Earl asked me if I knew what a West Coast Turn Around was.
"Well it's a pill the truckers take to drive coast to coast and back again. It's like coffee except stronger."
He didn't lie. We each took one, although I think we only took half and went for breakfast. We ate; we were near starved. I don't remember when highway food tasted so good.
When we came back the boss had arrived.
"Where'd that car come from?", and not to friendly either.
Tom Earl without skipping a beat told him, " Ray Don we just fixin' a flat. That's all."
" Well that's three dollars cash, now."
I paid the three dollars. I kept quiet. I was trying to access the effects of a half a "West Coast Turn-Around" and a bucket full of coffee, ham and grits.
Tom Earl winked and took the three dollars and dutifully entered it into the register. "Need a receipt", he smiled.
"Eh .... no." I still was wondering.
"Well I'm going to bed keep the noise down and get the car out of here as soon as the tire is fixed." He opened up a door and there was a mattress on the floor and it looked real inviting except now the WCTA was working full blast.
He shut the door and was snoring loudly in minutes.
Jim Bob had been doing some powerful thinking and it was an hour or two before dawn which that time of year and that latitude must have been about five o'clock.
" It looks like we got two tires and wheels."
"Where'd you get that, I only have one spare. "
"Well I found a spare in the back of a car out back. It's a 15-inch wheel and you got 14's but it will work in a pinch. And that one I brought out, you can have it and the tire too."
"Well man that's great." But no brakes for the front left. Might pull some I thought. Might pull a lot!
"But the brakes have taken some real thought. I have a solution too. My Granny drives a 1959 Desoto. It has roughly the same brake drums. She lives up the mountain. "
I was waiting for the next thought.
Tom Earl looked at Jim Bob. "Well at six o'clock Ray Don's in charge and were off. "
Six came and I drove the Dodge up a very steep and icy hill. The very same highway we had wrecked on but now we were way off the highway and back up the hollow some.
We shortly arrived at Granny's. It was first light. We surveyed her car and they produced a jack and it minutes had the left front side up, wheel off, drum off and then as quickly had my car up, this was on an icy road at the coldest part of the night snowing and foggy and just plain ass miserable. They had the front of mine up and the broken drum off and "replacement" on and the car back together in short minutes. Granny's car was on a block missing a brake drum.
" Well I expect Granny gonna be some upset about this huh?" I said with my East Texas best East Tennessee voice.
"Nah she be all right. She'll understand."
"Well guys, it's time to say good bye." Tom Earl looked pleased it was finished but in a polite friendly sort of way.
"Gentleman, I appreciate all your hard efforts. What's the bill and we owe you more than money can pay. "
"Well you paid the station, you hurd the man. Three dollars."
"Yeah, but that ain't right I owe what I owe."
"Okay I have to replace Granny's drum. Let see, I can get one at the salvage yard Monday for seven dollars."
"Alright seven dollars, now how about you guy's labor. It's been mostly all night."
"Kent, Mike, we don't want nothing, you don't owe us a dime. Just .... pass it on."
"You sure, Tom Earl? Jim Bob?"
"Yep, pass it on."
"Sure I can't buy you something, a bottle, breakfast."
"You're helping take Mike there home; I figure we're helping too. Now get off this mountain before it really snows and you'all are stuck here. "
We shook hands. I really felt like hugging them both but hell real men didn't do that shit; not in 1970. We just shook hands and I promised them then and there
that I would remember them and their gift to me.
They got in the truck and off they went. Mike and I drove back to the intersection. The road left went back south. Warm weather and Florida. Right went to New York. Another day driving with no sleep; snow, ice and hard driving on a wounded front end.
Mike looked at me. His infected/broken leg wasn't any better. Putting the motorcycle together on the road might take 15 minutes in the freezing weather. Hell the dumb ass Yankee probably fall off the damn thing and kill himself. What's another 1000 miles. I flipped the blinker and turned North.