I’ve never been one to look over my shoulder while walking in a parking garage. If someone is following me, I’d rather not know. Panic would only cause me to stumble and drop my keys. I don’t have a bomb shelter, stock-piles of food, or a gun in my nightstand. The aluminum baseball bats beside my bed and at the foot of the stairs are sufficient enough for me. I’m certain I could knock someone’s head off in one swing if my life depended on it. And then I’d double-tap just to be sure.
Normally, I go about my business without taking mental notes of the cars I pass, the faces I encounter, or the voices I might hear in a day. To be honest, I am oblivious to my surroundings. At the grocery store, I usually write my next great novel in my head as I run up and down the aisles picking up things I forgot to buy the last time I was there. In the car, I am either singing at the top of my lungs, crying to a sappy love song, or talking to the person in some kind of Honda that is driving like an idiot in front of me. I don’t worry about a zombie apocalypse (I’m pretty sure I could out run them), or how the world will end (I think I’ll be long gone).
My husband often accused me of being too naïve, to which I disagreed. I wanted to believe everyone was good, and that bad things only happened to people in the news. I have since learned that isn’t true.
When I was around 19, I drove a Buick Regal with plush velour seats, four doors, and an appetite for oil. The mechanic gave me not so explicit instructions prior to departing on my road trip from Oklahoma to Tennessee to visit my then boyfriend/now husband, Mike.
“It has a bad seal so it might burn a little oil for the first 100 miles, so check it after 50 miles and then you should be fine. But,” (I should have known the “but” would be a biggie) “if you start to hear a rattle in the dash, that means a spark plug needs to be changed with an A-wrench. Otherwise, the engine might freeze.”
No problem. With a case of oil (far more than I was going to need, but hey, I’m a safety girl!), I took off on a beautiful, sunny, spring day. I didn’t have an A-wrench and I didn’t even know what that was, nonetheless, I was assured by my mechanic it would be easy to obtain at any truck stop along the way. Ok, no problem.
I pulled onto the shoulder after the first 50 miles and, of course, my plush Buick needed 2 quarts of oil. At the 100 mile mark, another 2 quarts. When I reached 150 miles, I pulled over, just for good measure. That decision might have saved my life.
While standing on the side of I-40 about 50 miles from the Oklahoma-Arkansas state line, and with my head under the hood of my Buick, a 16-year-old red-headed Richie Cunningham look alike, freckles and all, tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I needed any help. To this day, I don’t know where he came from or how he snuck up on me. His name was Clint and he was hitchhiking home from his sister’s house after spring break. He needed a ride and since his exit was right around the next 50 mile oil check (yes, 2 more quarts went in on that stop), I agreed. I know what you are thinking. Do you know how dangerous it is to pick up a hitchhiker? In my defense, I didn’t pick him up; we just kind of met, so technically, it doesn’t count. Besides, I could have been saving his life. Didn’t he know how dangerous it was to hitchhike?
We chatted it up and jammed to the radio, and when we came to his exit, he helped me add another 2 quarts of oil. I was a little sad to see him hoist his backpack and walk towards his exit. It was nice to have the company and we hit it off like old friends. Just as I was about to drive away, he flagged me down, told me he was going with me, and then called his mom to get permission. He had $25 in food stamps, his backpack, and a huge heart.
The Buick never stopped drinking oil. Every 50 miles we added 2 quarts and when the car started chugging a bit, we kept it running. We were like a pit crew at a Nascar race and had the routine down to a 3 minute stop. At two in the morning somewhere in Arkansas, the gas gauge was getting low so we took the first exit with a gas station sign. Within seconds, we knew we were in trouble. The gas station was closed and by the looks of it, had been for years. The road was dark and isolated and had I been alone, terrifying. That’s when the Buick died.
A pick-up truck slowly crept up on us and Clint became a man, jumping out of the car and getting assistance while I kept a low profile in the driver’s seat. The scruffy driver of the truck got the car started and for that I was grateful, despite the awkward glances at me from behind the hood. Creepy.
Around four in the morning, a strange rattling sound began to shimmy the dash. No problem. I just needed an A-wrench and a truck stop. Close to the Tennessee state line, we found a Truck Stops of America; a giant franchise with no A-wrenches for sale, but in the back, there were more than a dozen trucks parked with engines running and drivers sleeping. Yes, I knocked on every window, pissed off every driver, and never found an A-wrench. Though, I did learn the A stands for allen.
So, I did what any nearly-broke-from-buying-oil 19-year-old would do, I drove on without changing the spark plug. We coasted into Knoxville, TN around 9 am with only two of the five gears I started with (yep, thank goodness for stick shifts). It died for the final time in a parking lot next to a BP.
Clint was my hero.
A few months ago, I went to the movies to see Argo. Shortly after the previews began, a man took the seat a row down from where my girlfriend and I were sitting. I wouldn’t have paid any attention to him if he hadn’t seemed so anxious. He kept turning around, staring up into the crowd nervously. He fidgeted, bit his nails, and looked over his shoulder long after the movie began. What was his problem? A million thoughts came to mind as I watched him more than I did the movie. Was he stalking someone? Was he in cahoots with the second man that had walked into the theatre alone, and late? If he pulled out a gun, could I make it to the floor in time to dodge the random bullets? What about all the other people in the theatre who were oblivious to the danger that possibly lurked in the second row? What if he was a terrorist? Would I be able to give an accurate description to the FBI, if I survived? Am I really being paranoid or what?
So, I did what any mature, responsible adult would do—I memorized his face. Eventually I focused on the movie and forgot about the strange behaving man until the movie neared the end and I noticed he was gone! He disappeared without my knowing and at the best part of the movie. For a brief moment, my heart stopped beating and I fought the urge to run for my life.
No one was injured, no bombs exploded, and no guns were fired. I wasn’t an angel or a hero, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t be!