About Me

I feel the wanderlust and the call of the open highway. Which is good, because I drive cars for a living. But I'm a writer, and someday hope to once again make my living using my writing skills.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Two days ago, I was on my way to see my friend Lisa. I planned to see her and stay for the night, and was in need of that special loving care she always gives to me in abundance. I'd have to deliver a car by noon the next day in Charleston, S.C.

When the cell phone rang and I could see it was Riff, I let out a long sigh of frustration. Somehow I just knew it would be bad news. "Hello, Riff."

"I have a special assignment for you. Go to Lewisburg and pick up my friend Jack Grindle and take him to Wheeling, West Virgina. Where are you now?"

"Waynesboro, Virginia."

"Perfect, you're not far at all. Just hop on Interstate 64 and head straight to Lewisburg."

"We're not supposed to take passengers, right?"

"Maybe you didn't hear me. This is a personal friend of mine, you will do this. Clear?"

"It is way out of my way, I'm headed to Charleston."

"Suck it up, cupcake. You work for me and you do as I say." Riff went on to give me the address and I jotted it down. Then I hung up and made the sad call to Lisa. She was understanding.

"I can't say I'm not disappointed," she told me. "But I do understand, its your job."

"You just don't know how much I wanted to see you. I've been feeling a little discouraged lately, and the holidays are hard. My Mom and brother are both gone, I don't feel like I have anyone."

"Cut that crap, you've got me and a lot of other people who love you."

We talked a little bit longer, and then I lost cell phone service. I found the small town of Lewisburg and drove to the address Riff had given me. An older, wiry gentleman came over to my car, half-striding, half-hopping. He opened the door and jumped in. "Hi, I'm Jack, you must be Bill." Then he held his fingers up very near my nose, presumably for me to examine. "See these callouses? That comes from 50 years of banjo strumming."

I pulled back onto the highway and continued down the road. I didn't feel much like talking, but that did not matter to Jack. "I guess you know that I'm an expatriate. You might call me an expat banjo player. And then again, you might not, your choice."

"We're headed for Wheeling, correct?"

"Unless you'd rather drive me to Hawaii!" He began to laugh with gusto, then stopped suddenly and said, "Of course I'm only joking. But in all seriousness, I have lived half my life in Greece. Met a beautiful woman there and married her. She loves me with all of her heart, and man, that woman can make love!"

"Good to know."

"They love my banjo in Greece. And I love to grease the banjo. Just kidding. Now Steve Martin, he can play the banjo. I mean, movie star, comedian, best selling author, and banjo player. I want his life. But seriously, I'm very pleased with my own life. If you take my meaning."

"I do."

"Good. Do you know the history of banjo? I'm not going to bore you with some long story, suffice it to say that banjos have entertained many people over the years. Ever see that movie DELIVERANCE? There is a hillbilly boy at the beginning of the movie that plays a banjo like nobody's business. He looks like a very cool customer, a shrewd one if there ever was one. There's a lot going on behind those eyes, and it left me wanting to know more. But instead, the story took a turn towards backwoods male rape and such. You follow?"

"Uh, yeah, I've seen the movie."

"Sure you have, of course you have. Did I mention that I lived in Greece? My wife is still there, and I miss her something awful. I play the banjo for her each night, although she's not here to hear it. I'm just in America thinking how much I miss Greece. And sharing my place with a Catholic fella who is addicted to porn. I mean every time I pass his bedroom, he's doing things to himself that I'd rather not repeat. You know what I mean?"

"I've got the picture."

"No, I don't think you do. This guy has a special way of--"

I interrupted quickly. "Let me stop you right there to say I know as much as I need to know."

Jack eyed me warily, then clicked his tongue on his dentures. "Well, suffice it to say that he's hard to live with. I mean, he's a Catholic, for God's sake. I keep telling him he should be fondling his Rosary beads instead of his johnson all the time."


Jack was still taking stock of me. "You don't like banjo music, do ya?"

"I love banjo music."

"Prove it!"

"Prove it? How would I do that?"

"Tell me the name of a banjo player."

"One of my closest friends in the world, Frank Wilson in Birmingham. He can play with the best of them."

"Well I have never heard of him, and so you are obviously making up a story. I do believe that I've lost all respect for you, and I'd like to make the rest of this trip in silence. Please don't engage me further in conversation. I'm just a quiet and pensive expat, and would like to be left alone." With that, Jack curled up in his seat with his back to me. Fine by me. I put on some George Strait music and just enjoyed the rest of my drive.

It was a long way to Wheeling, and even longer back to Charleston. But I kept on moving so I wouldn't think of my loneliness during the holiday season. Christmas is almost here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


A few months ago, I was just outside of Phoenix waiting to get a car. I decided to kill the time by going to an early movie matinee at a nearby theater. I love the experience of going to a new theater in a new town where I've never been before. I refer to it as a virgin theater experience.

This was an older theater, and as I arrived before it officially opened for the day, I got a chance to speak to a staff member as he was setting up the Concession stand. Turns out that this was once a big old movie palace, but had been split into four smaller auditoriums to compete as a multiplex. They were playing NEVER LET ME GO, an indie film that I had been anxious to see. A quiet, nice, gentle little movie.

The staff member, a jolly fellow named Jerry, explained that it was usually slow enough for the first show that the box office out front was closed. Tickets would be sold in the lobby at the far end of the Concession stand. So I stood there to be first in line, and by the time they were ready to open 20 people had lined up behind me. Jerry was now setting up a cash drawer so he could begin to sell tickets, and suddenly there was a commotion coming from the entrance door to the lobby.

"Come on! Let's go, hurry up!" came the screeching and overly loud voice of an elderly woman. I turned and saw her, as she marched forward followed by her much older-looking husband who was dependent on a cane to stand up.

Jerry smiled at me and said, "OK, all set. What movie are you seeing?"

"One for NEVER LET ME GO, please."

"Excuse me! Excuse me!" It was the elderly woman, who had walked right up beside me and slapped her hand on the counter. "Is this where I buy the tickets, please? We want two."

"Ma'am, you'll have to wait in line," Jerry patiently explained.

"What?" she shrieked.

"What's he saying?" her husband asked.

"Hush, Herbert. Young man, we are senior citizens, we don't wait in line. Now, do you have any of those headsets for those who are hard of hearing?"

"No ma'am, we don't have those at this theater."

"Oh, that's a shame, a terrible shame."

"What's that? What did he say, Louella?" asked Herbert.

"Never mind, Herbert!" It seemed like each time Louella spoke to Herbert, her already loud voice got much louder.

"Did you ask about the headsets?" Herbert wanted to know.

"They don't have them," replied Louella. "I'll just have to explain what's going on to you throughout the movie. No problem."

I got my ticket and started away. Louella grabbed me by the arm. "Excuse me, young man, I need to ask you a personal question."

"Yes ma'am, how can I help you?"

"I overheard you say that you're seeing NEVER LET ME GO. That's what we came to see, what do you know about it."

My heart sunk. They were there to watch the same movie as me, and I knew that there was going to be non-stop loud talking all through the feature. I looked at her sadly and said, "I hear that it's really horrible."

"What? Really?"

"What'd he say?" asked Herbert.

Louella seemed perturbed by her husband. "He's telling me about our movie."

"He's telling you how to move?" Herbert said, confused.

Louella shook her head. "Tell me more, tell me what you know."

"I know that there is supposed to be a lot of gratuitous sex and nudity."

Louella made spitting gestures as she made a noise something like "Tu, tu, tu."

I felt I needed to add more. "And there is also a lot of grotesque violence and
graphic bloody torture scenes."

Louella's face puckered up like a prune. "Oh no, no, no. That doesn't sound any good at all."

"Very dark, very depressing. It will leave you with an intense sense of dread."

Herbert demanded to be heard. "I want to know what this man is saying."

"He says our movie is bad, very bad," said Louella.

"Of course I'm glad," crowed Herbert. "I'm alive and at the movies."

Louella eyed me with scrutiny. "Now wait. Why are you going to see the movie if its so bad?"

"I see every movie, I'm sort of an amateur movie critic."

"And then you can tell people like us what to avoid. Very smart, very industrious. But now what can we go see?"

"I suggest SECRETARIAT, its the feel-good movie of the Fall season. You're gonna love it."

"What? What?" asked a flustered Herbert.

"He says we should go see SECRETARIAT, Herbert!" she yelled.

"Now you know I haven't had a secretary since I retired 20 years ago."

I went to my theater and enjoyed the movie in peace and solitude. And in my heart, I felt good about sending Herbert and Louella off to see a movie that I knew would bring them a smile.

Friday, December 3, 2010


I picked up a car in Chicago that was headed to Laredo, Texas. Way down at the bottom of Texas next to the Mexican border. I was traveling down I-55 when my cell phone rang. It was good old Mrs. Sherman again, who seemed to like to call me from time to time.

"Hello, is this Bill?" she asked.

"Hi, Mrs. Sherman."

"Bill, is that you?"

"Yes ma'am, how can I help you?"

"I just baked a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, and I thought you might enjoy a slice."

"Thanks for offering, but I'm in Illinois right now."

"OK, what time will you be here?"

"Uh, no, I won't be there. I am headed south to Texas."

"Oh that's a real shame. I'm sorry to hear that. But I do have some good news for you."

"What's that?"

"I am going back down to Florida soon, and you'll be driving my car for me."

I smiled to myself. "Yes, I believe you mentioned that last time you called."

"Did I? You'd think I'd remember something like that. That's two weeks away, should I save you a piece of cake?"

"No thank you, I'm trying really hard to diet. I better let you go, see you soon."

"Oh yes you will, yes you will."

I had passed through Springfield about 40 miles back, and saw a sign telling me I was nearing a town called Litchfield. Up ahead, I saw a Volkswagen off on the shoulder of the road and a woman pacing back and forth next to it. It was cold outside, and I felt for her and whatever distress she was in. I thought I better pull over and offer to help her.

I parked behind the VW and got out. She barely acknowledged my presence. "Do you need any help?" I asked.

"People. Damn people," she mumbled, continuing to pace. "You can never depend on them. Damn them all."

"Is everything OK?"

She stopped suddenly, then walked up and got nose to nose with me. "No, everything is not OK. Not by a longshot."

I noticed that her face and hairstyle was a dead ringer for Morticia from THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Only she was much chunkier, more Rubenesque. There was a fire in her eyes, but a confused and lost quality to the fire. "Are you having car troubles?"

"You could say that. Oh yes, you surely could say that," she retorted.

"What seems to be the problem?"

"Alice. Dumb, stupid Alice. You think you know someone, you think they are your friend, and then they turn on you."

I was completely lost. "I don't think I understand."

"Of course you don't. Because just like me, you put your trust in someone you love, and then when they betray you..." She slammed her hand on the roof of the car.

"How can I help?"

"Alice has been stealing from me, is there some way you can help with that?"

"I pulled over because I thought you might be in trouble."

"I am in trouble. I'm in crisis, for God's sake! Alice has lied to me, betrayed me, and taken money from me. And this isn't the first time."

"OK, well... What is wrong with your car?"

"Haven't you been listening? Alice is a thief!"


"Yes. This is Alice, the sneaky bitch." She pointed at the VW.

"Oh, Alice. Gotcha."

"She can't be trusted. I'm at the end of my rope, I don't know what to do about her."

"You say she steals from you?"

"That's exactly what I said, and that is exactly what she does."

"How did she steal from you? I mean, what has she taken?"

"Where do I begin? She stole a watch from me, she stole cash numerous times, and now she has stolen my favorite ring."

I shook my head. "I'm trying to follow you."

"It's very simple, I put my valuables into the glove box, and the next day they are gone."

"Do you lock the glove box?"

She smiled winningly and stuck her hand out. "By the way, my name is Mary. Very nice of you to stop and check on me."

I gently shook her hand. "The pleasure is mine, Mary. I'm Bill Thomas."

"Now what was your question? Oh, do I lock the glove box. Of course not, why would I?"

"For security?"

"Alice is supposed to be my security. When an item is in her possession, she is responsible for taking care of it. I never lock my doors, and always leave the windows open. I'm a bohemian."

"Do you live in a good neighborhood?"

"I live in St. Louis, and it's a pretty rough area. I have to park on the street two blocks from my apartment building. But I know everything will be fine, because Alice takes care of herself quite well. If you know what I mean, and I think you do."

"Hmm. Mary, have you ever considered that some bad people might come during the night and take your things out of the glove box?"

Mary began laughing uproariously. "What? Are you serious? That is the most absurd thing I have ever heard in my life! You are too funny. Do you know what Alice would do if someone tried to steal from her?" Very suddenly, Mary went from laughter to sullen seriousness. "Although she seems to have no problem at all stealing from me." She turned and pointed a finger at the VW. "Traitor! Betrayer! Benedict Alice!"

"I really do wish there was something I could do to help."

"The truth is, you've been no help at all, Mr. Bill."

"Can I at least help you get your car started?"

She stared at me like I was a lunatic. "There's nothing wrong with Alice, she runs fine. But when I opened my glove box 30 minutes ago and found my favorite ring gone, I had to pull over and have a long talk with her. But she doesn't have anything to say, which only proves her guilt." Mary went and climbed into the car. "I wish you luck on your journey. But can I tell you that you're lousy at helping people in need." She started the VW and pulled out onto the highway, nearly causing a truck to hit her. The truck swerved wildly, and Mary drove down the Interstate at a cautious 45 mph.

I shook my head and climbed into my car. I thought about it, and decided not to be dissuaded from trying to help people in need. I looked around the interior of the car, then started the engine. "Listen to me, car, I don't know your name, but you better never steal anything from me." I grinned and pulled out onto the highway, ready to continue my travels.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Over this past weekend, I wrote about Thanksgiving this year, and all that I was thankful for. I was filled with good cheer. This time last year was a very different story.

I was assigned to pick up a car from a man in Ogden, Utah on the day before Thanksgiving. I was thrilled that I'd be done and planned to drive the car to Ohio and have turkey dinner with Smokey. He is a very good cook, and can put on quite a spread. The car had to be in Cleveland on Saturday afternoon. Oh, I'd have to drive all day and all night to make it, but I'd be in Columbus by late evening on Thursday.

I'd called the man, a Mr. Peron, to notify him of when I'd be coming. It wasn't until I arrived in Ogden at 9am on Wednesday that he gave me the bad news on the phone. "I've decided to hang onto the car until tomorrow. I'm not done with it yet."

This put a lump in my throat. "Excuse me sir, but I was instructed to get it today. I'm on a schedule."

"I don't give a damn about your schedule. You hear me? I just got fired from my job, and now they're taking my company car. But you don't care, do you? No one cares. So I called my ex-supervisor and told him that I'm keeping it until Thursday at 10am. And oh, by the way, he approved it, so there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Stuff that in your peace pipe and smoke it, amigo!" He abruptly hung up the phone on me.

I called Riff to verify this, and ended up getting cussed out for not being aggressive enough. I told Riff that I had to feel a bit of compassion that the man lost his job right at the holiday season, and Riff said, "You're weak and worthless, and you always will be. You think that kindness to others is a virtue? Well I'm telling you that its a character flaw, and you are a loser. You'll never get anywhere in life by showing sympathy and understanding to others. Oh, hey, Bill, who is that looking out at you from the mirror? Why its Bill the loser!"

The Internet assisted me in finding a cheap motel to stay overnight very near Mr. Peron's house. It was very cold out, so I called a taxi the next morning to take me there and arrived at 10am. Clearly, there was no one at home. I buttoned my coat up tight and took out a book to read. I sat waiting on the porch of the house, blowing little clouds from my mouth into the crisp chilly air.

At 12 noon sharp, the family pulled into their driveway and began to unload bags of food. It appeared they had picked up a fully cooked dinner from a restaurant somewhere in Ogden. "Oh my God," said Mr. Peron when he saw me. "Can't you leave a man alone? I can't believe the way you're harrassing me about this car. For the love of Mike, you are one persistent little bastard. Do you mind? We're not Mormons, you know! Please let us eat our Thanksgiving dinner in peace and then you can take the car. Now go away!"

I walked down the block, but soon realized I was too far to walk to anyplace where I could go inside and wait. Plus there aren't all that many places open on Thanksgiving day. So I just walked circles around his block, hoping to warm up. I took out my cell phone and called Smokey.

"Bill, you turkey, when are you getting here."

"That's the thing, Smokey, I don't think I'm gonna make it."

"What? Why?"

"I was supposed to pick this car up over 24 hours ago, and the man still hasn't released it to me."

"So he's a real dick, huh? Then you just tell him that you by God need that car and snatch the keys away from him."

"If only."

"No man, I mean it. You gotta take the bull by the horns, tell him what's what. It's Thanksgiving day, and I was counting on you to be here. You're supposed to be bringing me a bottle of Maker's Mark, you know."

"I know. And believe me, I want to be there."

"I've got stuff on the stove I need to tend to, call me when you get on the road."

After hanging up, I walked back to the house and rang the doorbell. An hour had passed, and I felt that it was time I got the car. Mr. Peron came to the door with a disgusted look on his face. "You just don't give up, do you Auto Boy? You are a pest who just keeps poke-poke-poking til you drive a man crazy. Well, the gas tank is on empty, so good luck to you. Here's the keys." And he threw the keys over my shoulder and out into the yard.

"I am really sorry you lost your job, sir, and I want to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving."

"Screw you!" he said, and slammed the door in my face.

I got the keys and started the car. The gas needle was on "E", but luckily there was enough gas to get me to the closest gas station and fill up. I didn't get to Smokey's until late Friday night, but there were still plenty of leftovers. Mr. Peron was rude and seemed intent on ruining my day. But I chose to keep Thanksgiving alive in my heart, and to try my best to be understanding about how painful it is to lose a job in today's economy.

Friday, November 26, 2010


I spend a lot of time alone as I drive across this great country. And once each day, I say a little prayer as I drive to thank God for all of the things that I have. I feel that God understands that I don't close my eyes when I pray behind the wheel.

Now on Thanksgiving Day, I am thinking of all the many things I have to be thankful for.
Like the fact that I have a job in this economy, even if it is not the job that I really wish for. And that I keep on moving down the road, never staying in one place for too long.

I am especially grateful for all of my friends throughout the USA, who are kind enough to invite me into their homes and give me shelter for the night. There's Lisa who is my protector, Steve my best friend from High School, Pastor Rex who took me in when I was very ill, JC who is a human firecracker (pop, pop, pop!), Smokey my ex-rocker stoner friend who has been like a big brother to me, Frank in Birmingham, Ginny my ex-landlady, Tom and Jenny on the dog ranch in Texas, and Karen the love of my life in Indianapolis. And this only begins to scratch the surface.

Also, I feel thankful for all of the beautiful places I have been so blessed to see. From Maine to California, from Seattle to Miami, I have run back and forth across this great nation too many times to count. As much as I travel on the Interstate Highways, I often find myself taking smaller old highways so I can see what is off the beaten path. Wonderful and fascinating things have come my way, and I love every single minute of it.

I'm even appreciative of "Bill's people," the odd folks who seem to be attracted to me like a magnet wherever I go. Someone once told me that we all pass these strange people everyday, but most just walk on by them and pay no attention. The difference is that I engage them, and in doing so often become enlightened or learn new weird facts. Thank goodness that it always gives me good stuff to write about in my blogs.

My gratitude runs deep for all of the truly great human beings that I meet on my journeys, and that I feel somehow compelled to reach out to them and offer help when needed. In turn, I have often been helped by other people as well, and it warms my heart to know that there are others out there who genuinely care.

As most Americans sit and eat a big turkey dinner today, I will be driving cars and delivering them to eager customers. It's the life of a thankful driving fool.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I had to stop to use the bathroom yesterday. I was in Virginia, and stopped in a small town and went to a nice hotel. There are always fresh, clean bathrooms there, and I like a spotless toilet.

As I sat in my stall, I heard a voice. "Hey." I didn't know where the voice came from, but assumed it was not aimed at me. "Hey, you in there, can you hear me?" I was still unsure, but now became slightly uneasy. The call of nature is a very private time for me.

A hand appeared under the wall separating me from the next stall, and it was snapping its fingers at me. "Hey, it's me, over here. Your next door neighbor." The voice had a thick accent, like one of the guys on JERSEY SHORE. "Hey pal, don't leave me hanging. I mean, I assume you are a pal, if you are a girl then I'm in the wrong place." He cackled.

"Hello," I answered sheepishly.

"Good to know you're there. Hey, it's a cold one out there today, isn't it?"

"Yes, I guess."

"No, no, don't guess. Never guess in life, be sure and you'll always rest assured. You follow my logic?"

"I suppose I do."

"You're a non-commital fellow, aren't you? Well that's cool, takes all kinds." His hand remained in sight, and he was very expressive using it as he spoke. "Nothing like a good dump, don't you agree?"

"Uh, well, I uh--"

"No need to be shy, we're both men after all. We're just a couple of guys, hanging out, sitting here taking our daily constitutionals."

"I just like to sit quietly and meditate."

"I heard that. Yes, I know exactly what you mean. Can I give you a piece of free advice? Invest. America needs a shot in the arm, and if we all invest our financial status will rise accordingly."

"Good to know."

"Damn straight. I'd tell you what to invest in, but then you'd know all my secrets."

"That's OK."

"It'll have to be OK, that's the last word I'm going to say on the matter. Say, are you one of those guys?"

"One of what guys?"

"You know, the kind who do stuff?"

"I don't think I know what you mean."

"Oh, I think you do."

"No, I really do not. I just like to sit quiet and alone and mind my business."

"Buddy, I couldn't agree with you more if I tried, so I won't."

I had to think that one over. Then I remained quiet. I watched the hand moving under the stall wall, as if it had a mind of its own. It began snapping fingers once more.

"Hey, you still there?"

"Yes, I am, sitting in silence."

"I want you to know that I'm not one of those guys."

"One of what guys?"

"The kind of guys who look for friends in the bathroom."

"That's goodl"

"Looking for friends, or maybe friends with benefits."

Uh-oh, I thought. I took a deep breath. "I'm not looking for anything."

"Well, anything is exactly what I can provide. For a friend, that is."

"I'm not your friend."

"That's a hell of a thing to say. You don't even know me." The hand disappeared, then it came back and tossed a roll of toilet paper my way. "Thought you might need this."

"Nope, I'm all set over here. But thanks." I hurried to finish up so I could get out.

"I"ve decided to forgive and forget about that remark about not being my friend. I know you didn't mean to be rude."

I quickly got dressed and flushed, rushing out of the stall. I heard his stall door opening behind me as I scurried for the exit door. "Hey, hey, don't forget to wash your hands! Do you know how nasty it is to run out without a proper washing?"

Yes I do know, and I soon found another place to wash my hands. But my bigger priority at that moment was getting as far away as possible.

Friday, November 12, 2010


I rent cars all the time to get around, from one car I deliver to another. I've become very good at finding the nearest location, the best prices, and getting around via Avis, Hertz, Budget, etc. And things usually always go very smoothly, as I enter the agency with a solid reservation and a smile on my face.

Just the other day, I was in Los Angeles and had dropped off a car. I had an important meeting across town with someone who felt my Blogs could be turned into a TV series. I set the reservation for 8am, when they opened, and I was there right on time. At 8:30, the woman who worked there finally showed up and opened the front doors. She told me it was going to take a few minutes for her to get set up and feel in the right mood to be ready to go to work. I'd never heard of such a thing. I wanted to ask why she opened up late, but didn't want to get off on the wrong foot. It helps to be positive in life, makes things run more smoothly.

When she finally got started, she said "OK, now, you want a car?"

"Yes I do, please."

"Sorry, we don't have any available."

"Oh, but I have a reservation," I said as I pulled out the paperwork.

"Don't make no difference if I ain't got no cars."

"But ma'am, I made my reservation over a week ago."

"I don't care about that, I ain't got no cars."

I looked at her nametag: MABEL. "Pardon me, Mabel, but--"

She interrupted me with defiance, "My name is Miss Roosevelt."

"Pardon me, OK, Miss Roosevelt. Listen, I have an important appointment in a half hour from now, and I really need to get there."

"May I suggest the city bus?"

"I really need a car."

"Well good luck on getting one."

Just my luck. I was dealing with one of "Bill's people." Please God, not now, not today.

"Miss Roosevelt, somehow there has to be a way that you can honor my reservation."

"I don't know nothin' about no honor, but I know I ain't got no car for you. Unless you want to upgrade."

"What? Upgrade?"

"Your reservation is for a compact, I ain't got no compacts."

"So you found my reservation?"

"Baby, I never lost it. It's right here in my computer, but if I got no compact cars, then you have to upgrade. How about a nice minivan?"

"Absolutely, that'll be fine."

"It'll be $35 more per day."

"Wait, why would I pay more per day?"

"For the upgrade? Don't you know how things work?"

"Yes I do, and in the past if your company didn't have the car I ordered, they gave me a free upgrade."

"Free? Free! You gotta be dreamin', why would I give you anything free? Maybe in the wonderful world of Oz, but not in the real world."

"This doesn't seem right to me."

Mabel suddenly got very upset and raised her voice. "Hold on! You just hold on! What are you accusing me of? Huh? What are you saying about me? You trying to tell me how to run my business? You think you can tell me how to do my job?"

"No, please, calm down."

"Don't you tell me to calm down! Don't you think you can tell me how to live my life! No sir! This here is Mabel's place, and you're in Mabel's space. With Obama comes change!"

I had heard that last sentence once before, and it didn't quite make sense to me either time. I went over and sat in a chair, trying to show that she was in charge and I was backing down. Frankly, my blood was boiling inside, but I felt I must act submissive if I was going to get the car I needed.

"You about ready to cool your jets and be a good boy, now?" she asked.

"Yes. I would like the minivan, if you would be so kind, Miss Roosevelt."

"Good, now that's what I like. Good manners will always win you what you need." She went about the paperwork, and I glanced at my watch. It was going to be tough to make it where I needed to go with morning traffic in L.A. And Mabel was going so slow.

After 20 minutes of dragging her feet, she had finally completed my paperwork. During this time, another customer had walked in and said, "Got any cars for rent?" to which she replied "Well maybe I do and maybe I don't." They left immediately.

I signed my paperwork and hurried out to the minivan. I saw it had only a 1/4 tank of gas, and Mabel had said it was full and that I had to bring it back full. So I went back in to have her make a note of the actual gas in the tank. "I'll have to go outside and look at the car and see for myself before I agree to that. Before I make any kind of note, I have to see that gas needle for myself," she proclaimed.

"OK, fine, come on out and take a look."

"I'm about to take my morning coffee break, I'll come out in 15 minutes when I'm done."

"Goodbye, Mabel."

"That's Miss Roosevelt to you! And if you leave now, you are responsible for a full tank of gas!"

I left, because a full tank of gas was not as bad to deal with as being late to a meeting.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I pulled into the driveway of a nice suburban home in Omaha, NE the other day. The car was a new Ford Escape, and the customer was waiting for me with a big smile on his face. "Did you have any trouble finding the place?" he asked me.

"No sir, Mr. Richards, it was exactly where Mapquest said it would be. I'm Bill Thomas, and this is your new car."

"What do I need to do, this is my first ever company car."

"Just look it over and inspect it to your personal satisfaction."

Mr. Richards began to look the car over while I stood by and looked on. I felt a tap on my lower back, and turned around to see a small boy standing behind me.

This boy stared up at me in a most unusual way. I guessed him to be about 8 or 9 years old. Then he spoke. "Did you know that Luke Skywalker is one of the best star pilots in the galaxy?"

Being a fan of STAR WARS, I did happen to know this was true. Well, in the movies, anyway. "Yes I do know that," I told him, and the little boy ran quickly away from me. I chuckled, and Mr. Richards looked over at me.

"That was Alex, he lives a couple of houses down. He's an odd duck, but he's very bright. And he seems to like all things STAR WARS."

"I can see that."

"This car looks great."

"You're getting a new car, sir. A lot of times I pick up a used car from one company employee and then take it to a new hire. But you got lucky, this one came directly from the dealership."

"I feel lucky," he said. I felt a tap on my back again, and turned to see that Alex had magically appeared behind me once more.

"Did you know that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father?"

"Yes, and it blew me away when I first saw EMPIRE STRIKES BACK." Alex paused for a brief second, seeming to process this information, and then he ran off lickety-split. I turned my attention back to the customer.

He looked slightly concerned. "I know this is new, but what if a part is defective or something. I mean, it happens sometimes, right?"

"That's unlikely, but if there were something wrong with the car it would be my job to tell you about it. Trust me, the car is in great condition."

Another poke-poke-poke on my back, and I spun around. This kid was certainly stealthy. "Did you know that Luke Skywalker is Princess Leia's brother?"


Alex nodded, and then seemed troubled. "Do you think it was wrong that they kissed on the lips? I do." And off he zoomed once again before I could share my opinion on this matter.

Mr. Richards walked over and patted me on the back. "Alex is really taking a shine to you. He's not normally so friendly and open with people. Especially not strangers."

"He seems hungry to chat about the STAR WARS universe. That's cool, it's nice that he has a deep love for movies. I can relate to that." I felt a tug at my jeans, and spun around to find Alex there again. How did he keep sneaking up on me?

"Did you know that Obi Wan Kenobi was Darth Vader's best friend, back when Vader was Annakin Skywalker? And that Obi Wan hurt his friend so badly that Vader had to live in a life support suit?"

"I know all of the above."

While I was finding all of this amusing, Mr. Richards seemed to have grown impatient. "Listen Alex, we're trying to conduct some business here, so why don't you go home for a while."

Alex moved towards Mr. Richards, waving his hand in the air and speaking with a mystical tone. "You don't want me to go home."

"What do you mean I don't want you to go home?"

Alex glared at Mr. Richards and waved his hand once more. "You want me to stay here and talk about the Force."

Mr. Richards let out a long sigh of frustration. "Alex, go home now, please." And Alex zipped away with Jedi speed. "I'm sorry Bill, I don't know what to tell you."

"No apology necessary, I think he's kind of cool. I just want to know how he keeps on appearing out of nowhere."

"That's Alex for you. But I admit that I don't know why he was waving his hand at me and talking so strangely."

"He was trying to pull a Jedi mind trick on you."

"A what?"

"Jedi mind trick. Jedi Knights?" The man stared at me with a blank expression. "Guess you're not much of a STAR WARS fan, huh?"

"Never saw any of the STAR WARS movies. I'm not into sci fi."

"Understood." Suddenly, Alex leaped out of nowhere and landed on the back bumper of the Ford Escape.

"Did you know that Chewbacca's best friend is Han Solo?"

"Yes," I said.

"They are friends for life." Alex disappeared before Mr. Richards could scold him again.

"So, where do I sign for the car?" asked Mr. Richards.

"Right here, then I'll give you a copy and then I'll be gone."

He signed the paperwork, then asked "Can I give you a ride somewhere?"

"I have to rent a car to go to Cedar Rapids and pick up my next driving
assignment. If you wouldn't mind taking me to Avis?"

"Not at all," he said, climbing into the Ford Escape. "It'll give me a chance
to test drive my new SUV."

As I began to climb in on the passenger side, Alex dropped in front of me from
the limb of a tree. He was holding a very realistic-looking lightsaber. It was less a
toy and more a collector's item. I was very impressed with the authenticity. "If we
met in battle, I'd defeat you with my lightsaber. That's because I'm strong with the

I knelt down next to Alex. "Remember, don't give in to the dark side."

Alex smiled for the first time. "I won't." I climbed into the Escape, and Alex poked me from behind one last time. "You should have this. It's my Boba Fett." It was an action figure, and a dandy one at that. Boba Fett is a very interesting character, and I could tell that it meant a lot to Alex.

"That is very cool. But you should hang onto it."

"No, please, I mean, really... I want you to have it. You're my STAR WARS friend."

I could see that he truly wanted me to have it, so I took it graciously. "May the Force be with you, Alex."

His smile widened by about a mile. He looked very happy as he replied, "May the Force be with you." As I drove away, I watched him from my side view mirror. I saw him squat down low, then spring up into the air. I stuck my head out the window and looked, but could not see where he had gone. This kid really took Jedi worship to a whole new level.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I had just driven over 1000 miles to deliver a pickup truck to a water filtration company in Arkansas. Riff had told me that the drop off location was just on the edge of Little Rock, but it was in fact 35 miles out of the city. I had a headache from the drive, because the truck was set with an alarm that went off if you dared to go over 65 mph. Even though I set the Cruise Control on 63 mph, each time I'd go down a hill I'd pick up speed and WOO-WOO-WOO, the screechingly loud alarm would go off and not stop until I lowered my speed to 55 mph. What a complete nightmare this drive had been. And with no radio in the car for distraction.

Riff had made it clear that he wasn't paying for a taxi, and I sure didn't want to pay for one out of pocket. But I had been able to talk the man I was delivering the truck for to get me a ride to the airport. There I would rent a car and go to Dallas, where there was a Ford cargo van just waiting for me to drive it to Maine.

I stood in the parking lot at the water filtration company, having done all the paperwork, and waited for 30 minutes as the employee was starting his day. It had been explained to me that this guy was going through Little Rock on a service call, so he'd drop me at the airport on his way. My inner voice shouted "Hallelujah!" and I was glad to be a darned lucky driving fool.

"You the guy I'm giving a ride to?" I heard the voice behind me, and turned around to see a young man standing a few yards back.

"Yes, hi, I'm Bill Thomas."

"I'm Joe, let's go." We both went to his truck and climbed inside. He started it up and revved the engine a few times.

"You said your name is Joe?" I asked politely.

"Yeah, but my Mom calls me Joey. My friends all call me JoJo." He gave me a long look, as if he were studying me intently. "You can call me JoJo."

"Thanks, I'm honored."

"You shouldn't be." JoJo peeled out and I found myself grabbing the armrest on my door out of pure instinct and survival. JoJo stuck a huge hunk of tobacco into his mouth, and looked at me with a weak smile. "I know what you're thinking. Go ahead, guess."

"Guess what?"

"What you're thinking."

"I don't follow you."

"You don't have to. Just take a guess."

"What am I guessing?"

"You know."

"No JoJo, really, I do not know."

"You want to know how old I really am. Go ahead and guess."

I hadn't really thought about it up to then, but as I looked at him I
realized that he looked very young. Like he was 17 or 18 years old. But
I seriously doubted that he'd be a Service Technician driving a company
truck at that age. "You look like you're 18, but--"

He interrupted me with a loud snort of laughter, and slapped his knee. "I knew it, I knew it, everyone always thinks I look young. A lot younger than I am."

I shrugged. "OK, how old are you?"

He turned his head quickly and gave me a hateful look. "Why are you asking? Why do you want to know?"

"Uh, no reason. Sorry."

JoJo continued to stare at me, then said, "I'll tell you this much, I'm older than 18, and that's for damn sure."

I nodded. "OK."

"You bet its OK. All right, then. How was your ride here?"

"It was tiring."

"Did the alarm ever go off on you?"

"Frequently, and it was horrible."

"Then you were driving too damn fast. You need to learn to slow down, you
were breaking the law."

"Uh, well, I had the Cruise Control set on 63, and the speed limit was 70."

"That don't make no sense. The alarm goes off when you hit 65."

"It seems that when you go down a hill, the truck picks up speed. And that would set off
the alarm."

"I'd say it was clear you were going too fast." JoJo held an empty cup up to his mouth and spit in it. "I hate driving into Little Rock. I hate city living."

"Where do you live?"

JoJo snapped at me. "I'm not telling you where I live, that's private."

"Sorry man, no offense."

"Well offense was taken."


"I will tell you this: I live in the country. Way, way out from the city. On a farm all by myself. And that is just the way I like it, too."

"Good for you."

"You betcha. No one bothers me, or else, if you know what I mean."

"What do you mean?"

JoJo turned and stared at me for what felt like a real long time. "You sure are a nosey sumbitch, ain't you?" He spit into the cup.

"I don't mean to be."

"Yeah, but you are just the same. Wanna hear a true story?"

"Yes, please."

"I have a lot of tools out on the farm. I spend every dollar I earn on my tools, and I only buy the best. And I keep them up good and maintain them. Maintaining your tools is the key. And never ever let another man touch your tools, that's worth killing a man over."

"I see."

"I doubt you do, but let me continue. Someone started stealing tools out of my barn, and I wasn't too happy about it. After it happened twice, I knew something had to be done. I set a big metal plate upright by the barn door. Then I wrapped myself up in a quilt and sat under the front porch of my house, by the crawlspace. I got my rifle and just waited."

"What happened?"

"If you'll hold your horses and give me a minute, I'll tell you." JoJo paused to turn and give me a dirty look, then let out a long sigh. "Anyway, about two in the morning, they come creeping onto my property and headed straight for the barn. Two fellas, stupid as they were ugly."

"Could you see them very well?"

"It was too dark to see their faces, now shut up and let me tell my story. So right when they got to the barn door, I shot that metal plate and it made quite a bang. Scared the bejeezus out of them." JoJo formed a sickly grin on his lips. "Yep, I imagine they'll remember that."

"Then what happened?"

JoJo snarled at me. "Then what happened is none of your damn business, that's what!"

I became very quiet. I did not wish to say the wrong thing again and anger JoJo. He seemed very hot under the collar. We rode along for nearly half an hour in total silence, during which JoJo seemed to cool down again. "Looks like we're getting near the airport," I said.

JoJo stared out the window, distracted. "Maybe we are, yep, just maybe we are. The Sheriff came by my place to ask some questions. You know how it is. But I had nothing to tell him, because absolutely nothing happened." He shot me a quick glance. "You do believe that nothing happened, don't you?" Once more, he spit into the cup.

"Of course I do."

"Good to know, good to know." JoJo had an odd and eerie look in his eyes, and almost seemed to be half in a trance. "A man has a right to protect his property. You can't touch another man's tools. And if someone comes onto your land, that's trespassing. They were taking their lives into their own hands. You can see that, can't you?"

I didn't know what to say. "Guess so."

JoJo became agitated and shouted, "You can see my point, can't you?"

"You bet, sure can, no doubt about it."

JoJo became calm again and scratched his chin. "Listen, I'd appreciate it if you'd keep this between us. No reason to talk about it with anyone else."


"So we're in agreement?"

"Yes sir."

"Because no crime was committed."

"I'm sure of that."

"What makes you so sure? What gives you the right to be judge, jury
and executioner?"

I saw the sign marking the road leading into the airport. "Here's our turn."

JoJo pulled over to the curb and slammed on the brakes. "This is the end of the line
for you, Bill Thomas. You can get out and be on your way."

I grabbed my bag and climbed out of the truck. "I really do appreciate the ride,

"I doubt your sincerity. You need to learn not to pry into another man's business. And so forth." JoJo skidded away before I could even close my door. I began the two mile walk to the Terminal where I'd rent a car. And for the rest of the day, I found myself wondering what may have happened to the Tool Robbers. Also, I pondered how I have the fortune to meet so many... interesting people each and every day.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


En route to make a car delivery in Macon, GA, I had to pull over to deal with a call from my boss Riff. He needed me to look through paperwork, and I won't do that when I'm operating a vehicle.

"Find it yet?" he demanded.

"No, but I do know that it's here."

"Oh really? What divine providence makes you so sure, you silly idiot?"

"There's that disrespect that we've talked about."

"Listen up, Goono--"

"Call you after I make delivery." And I had to hang up, because no task is tolerable with Riff shouting in one ear. I was entering Macon and just a few miles from my destination. The man I was delivering to, Mr. Edwards, had sounded nice on the phone. This should be easy enough.

I drove the Blue Ford Fusion into the Edward's driveway, and out came a disgruntled Mr. Edwards. "What is this? What are you doing to me? Blue? Are you kidding me, blue? No way can I deal with this."

"Hi, I'm Bill Thomas, this is your new company car."

"No, not mine. This is a blue car. Why couldn't you bring me red?"

"They don't give me a choice, and I--"

"Green also, green would be nice. But blue?"

"I'm just your delivery man, I have no say about what you get."

"Just about any color would have been fine, even white and/or black There
are many colors in the rainbow." Mr. Edwards looked hopelessly lost and
concerned. "You brought me a blue car. So what are you trying to say?"

"I'm saying that this is the car I brought you."

Mr. Edwards rubbed his hand down slowly over his face. "What are you telling me?"

"That your company was kind enough to provide you with a work vehicle."

The man shook his head back and forth, puzzled to say the least.
"Can you put it into layman's terms?"

"Excuse me?"

"Simplify it."

"This is now your new company car."

"In plain English? Please?"

"Your company gave me a car to bring you for you to use. I drove it 450
miles to deliver it to your front door. And now it belongs to you."

He rubbed the top of his head briskly. "So what you're telling me is..." He let out a
growl of frustration. "I don't follow this at all."

"In a nutshell, you got a blue car," I said, and held out the paperwork for him
to sign. He did so, and I left. Time to find that paperwork for the next car I had to
pick up going from Atlanta to Denver.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I got an email from my wild and woolly friend JC the other day. She was driving from her farm in upstate New York down to her mansion in Florida. And it seems she had a run-in with one of "Bill's people", the odd creatures that cross my path on a daily basis as I travel throughout the USA. Many times I wonder if people who read about my adventures ask themselves if I truly meet all these strange and wonderful folks. So it is nice and refreshing to hear about someone else having an encounter. The email from JC is below:
Hey Bill--

I wanted to share something that happened on our way home from NY. Obviously, it made me think of the situations into which you find yourself on a regular basis.

I stopped at a McDonald's in North Carolina for lunch. My traveling buddy Abby and I go inside to order because we want to use the lady's room. I walk up to the register of a late 50-year-old woman, rather attractive and slightly built with very light gray hair. I remember thinking, "I'm not sure I'd like to work at Mickey D's in my golden years." And then immediately wondering if "twilight years" was what I was looking for. Oh well ...

I order a $1 McDouble, large fries and a large vanilla shake to go. (Don't believe me when I act surprised that my ass has grown so much that I feel the need to rush home and get on the treadmill.) She grumbles something I again don't understand, and I say, "Excuse me?"

"Oh, nothing. Six dollars and thirteen cents."

I hand her a $10 bill and three pennies. She takes the money and grumbles something again.

"Excuse me?" I say.

"Never mind. They're filling me with fat, you know."

"They're filling you with fat? Who is?"

"Yes. They're filling me with fat. Fat! It's disgusting." She takes a tray, places it on the counter, tosses the receipt she's just pulled from the register atop the paper liner and turns to grab a McDouble.

"Well," I say, "you look great. You're certainly not fat." Holding out my receipt, I say, "I need some change. I gave you a ten and some pennies."

"Oh!" she says, squinting at the receipt. She speaks McDonaldese to the manager, who opens the register so she can correct her mistake.

"You look great," I tell her. "Really. You're not fat at all."

Handing me a five and a one-dollar bill, she slams the register drawer closed. "I'm not in the Army, you know!"

Not being smart enough to quickly figure out that if I walked away right then with the $6, I'd have saved $2 on my Twilight Meal (my old-women's version of the Happy Meal). So I hold out the bills and say, "What? Did you say you're not in the Army? This change isn't right."

"Huh?" she says, bewildered, taking the receipt from my hand and glaring at it, the bottom line of which clearly reads, Change: $3.90. "No, I'm not in the Army. I'm a slight woman!"

Exactly what I thought!

She can't remember what change she's supposed to give me but apparently she remembers the keys to press to open the register drawer, and she enters them successfully. The register drawer slides open into her rather taught abdomen and she puts away the five and pulls out two more one-dollar bills. Handing me three one-dollar bills, she grumbles, "I'm so mad right now, I can't even think." Slam! There goes the register drawer. Again. She walks away to stuff my fries in a box.

I'm bewildered. First no change. Then a five and a one. Now three ones. I've heard of a movement to round down one- and two-penny change and round up three- and four-penny change, but did I miss the memo on rounding down ninety-cents? Is this woman serious? Then she returns and places the fries alongside my McDouble on the tray (which I'm pretty certain isn't McDonald's new take-out container). "Uh, this still isn't right." I hold out the receipt and three ones.

"They're making me have huge muscles. I'm not in Boot Camp. I'm a lady! I don't want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger." She reads the receipt again, and says, "Three dollars and ninety cents." Snatching the ones from my extended hand and spreading them to count, she asks, more to herself than to me, "How much did I give you?"

"Three dollars. I need ninety more cents. What do you mean they're making you have muscles? Who's making you have muscles? McDonald's?"

"Yes," she hisses, surreptitiously jerking her thumb over the head of a co-worker and toward the fry cook. "Those people. Those people back there." Looking disgusted, she opens the register for the fourth time since I placed my order, takes out ninety cents and places it in my outstretched hand. All the while I'm thinking, "Please don't let me end up like her."

She walks to the shake-maker and after pouring my shake (which appears to be the first successful act she's performed since she attempted to fill my order), grabs a can of whipped cream. "No," I cry. "No whipped cream." I didn't even know McDonald's put whipped cream on their shakes. From the corner of my mouth, I say to Abby, who is now standing next to me with her to go-order in hand, "You've got to listen to this women. I think she has Turrets."

Returning with my shake and placing it alongside my McDouble and fries, still on the eat-in tray, she purses her lips, shakes her head and says, "I'm not going to put up with it. Getting pumped full of fat all the time."

Putting the coins in my purse, I thought that if anyone working at McDonald's has that strong a feeling about fat, they might want to consider a career change. I say with more than a little hesitation, "Well, I still think you look great ... not fat at all! I agree! You're slight! And a lady! But can you please put this stuff in a bag?"

Bill, I can imagine that this is what you have to put up with every day. I feel for you. This experience made your travels and your Blog stories very real to me. I don't know how you cope with it, I can only say that you're a better man than me. Come see me soon, we'll get crazy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


There is a stretch of I-95 between Richmond and Washington, D.C. that is always bad or worse with heavy levels of traffic. And frequent accidents only make it worse. I try to avoid the area whenever possible, and yet at times in my travels it is unavoidable.

Just a few weeks ago, I was on my way up north taking a car from Ft. Lauderdale to Baltimore. The only logical path was to go straight up I-95, and so I knew that I'd have to deal with the traffic, and said a little prayer that it wouldn't be as bad as usual.

About 30 miles north of Richmond,I got a call and answered my cell. "This is Bill."

"Hello, Bill," said the familiar voice of Mrs. Sherman. "And how are you this fine day?"

"Fine and dandy, Mrs. Sherman."

"Bill I just tried a delicious new food called Quiche. It's like a little pie, but has ham and eggs and cheese in it. Do you like pie, Bill?"

"Yes I do."

"Blueberry pie is still my all time favorite. Are you watching TV right now, Bill?"

"Uh, no ma'am, I'm driving a car."

"Oh good, that reminds me, I will need you to drive my car for me again very soon."

"Just call my boss."

"I'm sorry, I don't understand."

"Call my boss Riff, he'll arrange everything."

"Bill, when you come, I will make you a pie."

"That's very nice of you."

"Would you prefer peach or pecan pie? I would offer to make you a Quiche,
only I don't know how to make Quiche."

Very suddenly, my front left tire blew and I yelled "Mrs. Sherman, I gotta go!" I threw the phone down and grabbed the steering wheel with both hands. The car was skidding from side to side and became very hard to control. There were a lot of other cars around me, some of them weaving to switch lanes, and I was trying to avoid hitting them. I slowly tapped the brakes, and made my way over to the shoulder of the road.

After coming to a stop and parking, I got out to examine the tire. It was shredded, way beyond repair, and I knew this would mean putting the spare on. It was a warm day, sunshine brightly shining, and I knew it was going to be a hot and sweaty assignment. So I got into the trunk and pulled out a jack and the spare tire.

The lug nuts were on very tight, and I knew it was not going to be an easy job. I got started, and a few people honked at me as they drove by. I was well out of their way, so I guess it was just their way of saying hello. Some guys yelled something indistinguishable at me as they zipped past. The heat of the day was making me sweat profusely as I worked, and the sweat drops dripped into my eyes and stung. I heard another vehicle coming towards me, honking in rhythmic pattern, and I turned just in time to see an object flying towards my head.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up, very groggy and with blurred vision. It took me a minute to realize that I was in a hospital room. I looked up and focused, trying hard to recall what was the last thing I could remember. I felt a hand brush through my hair, and turned to see the love of my life, Karen Robbins, standing over me.


"Hey sweetie."

"What in the world are you doing here?"

"Apparently some redneck good old boys were passing you on the side of the road while you were changing a tire, and they threw a full can of oil at your head, and bonk, you were out cold. There were a couple of eyewitnesses, and they called in to report it. A Road ranger found you and called an ambulance."

"What are you doing here, though? Am I imagining this?"

Karen took my hand and squeezed it tightly. "They went through your wallet and found my name and phone number. So they called me last night and told me you were in bad condition."

"Wait, how long have I been here?"

"Two days. You were under pretty deep. The good news is that you're going
to be OK."

"I can't believe that you came all the way here from Indianapolis."

"You are a sweet man, and I'd go anywhere for you."

"The feeling is more than mutual."

"Bill, you need to face facts, I will always come running when you need me."

At that moment, I felt very fortunate to have such a friend who would have come
all that way just for me.

Maybe it's time to accept that there are a lot of people who love me, and that I should
do everything I can to return the kindness to others that I meet.
But in that moment, all I wanted to do was rest.
I feel fast asleep with Karen still holding my hand and smiling down at me.

Monday, October 11, 2010


When I went to Kansas City last week, Riff told me to meet Andy and that we'd be driving two minivans in tandem with each other. I had only met Andy once, and it was both a negative and memorable experience. He boasted about not bathing and took so much speed that his brain seemed to be fried. I was scared to ride with him. Only in this case, I wouldn't be, we'd be in separate vehicles.

Andy called me at dawn and told me to meet him at a Bob Evans restaurant near the pickup point. I mapped it out and then made my way over there. He had suggested that we have breakfast before we get started. As soon as I arrived, I could see him out front, wearing dirty wrinkled clothes and walking around in circles talking to himself. It appeared that he hadn't changed at all from the last time I saw him.

"Hello, Andy," I said as I approached him.

He jerked his head around and eyed me suspiciously. "Do I know you?"

"Yeah, it's me, Bill Thomas. We met a few months back when you gave me a ride to Columbia."

He shook his head. "If I gave you a ride, then why do I have zero recollection of it?"

I had a few answers for that question, but I just shrugged. "Dunno. But trust me, I remember you."

"Why in hell should I trust you? Huh?" He dug his hands deep into his pockets, as if he was hunting for something down there. "As you probably recall, I really do love movies."

"No, I don't recall you mentioning that."

"AHA! See, you would have known that about me if we had met. But while we're on the subject, I just saw THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Best damn movie of the year, and it blew my mind! I mean, Wow!" Andy pulled his hands out of his pockets and ran both of them through his hair with great intensity. "I mean, you have got to see that movie. Promise me you will. Promise me!"

"I'll see it."

"You had better see it. You hungry?"


"Hungry. You know, food. You do eat, don't you? To hell with you, I'm going inside to get some breakfast, I don't care whether you eat or not."

I followed him inside, and my cell phone rang. I answered, but no one was there. He sat at the counter, and I sat down next to him. The cell phone rang again, but once again it quickly disconnected. I could see Riff's number and wondered why he was calling. Andy was slowing perusing the menu. "I'll be back in just a minute," I said.

Andy eyed me hard and long. "Where are you going?"

"To the restroom."

"Hurry back, and I mean it."

I went to use the restroom, and when I came out I decided to try my cell phone and see if I could get through to Riff. He answered on the first ring. "Where are you, idiot?"

"I'm with the psycho you assigned me to drive with. We're at Bob Evans."

"Andy's a man's man, you just don't understand because you're a big sissy."

"What can I do for you, Riff?"

"I admire Andy, you could learn a lot from him."

"Yeah, you've told me that before. Now what do you need?"

"I need you to get those minivans and get on down the road, I'm putting together another run from L.A. to Miami for you. Is that OK with you, honey lamb?"

"I'll get there as fast as I can."

"Well that's not nearly good enough, because--" I hung up in the middle of his sentence, and went back to the counter. Andy's hand was shaking as he was stirring his coffee, pouring a massive amount of sugar into his mug.

He seemed rather sullen. "I ordered for you. And you're welcome."

"What? Why?"

"Just say thank you and be done with it. The waitress came and you weren't here. So where were you?"

"The restroom."

"Liar!" he shouted so loudly that nearly everyone in the place turned to look.

"I'm not lying, I was in the restroom."

"I saw you on your cell phone, liar."

"Yes, after the restroom."

"Oh, I see. So who were you calling, hmm?"

"It was Riff."

"I knew it! You're trying to take work from me, sneak around and do an end run on me. You dirty bastard!" The waitress set down plates in front of each of us. "Oh boy, breakfast is here!" He began to wolf down what was on his plate.

I examined my plate and saw that it was identical to the contents of Andy's. There was lots of sausage gravy smothering something underneath, with big chunks of sausage on top. I can't eat sausage, even though I do love the way it tastes. I've found that it causes me great stomach pain, and my Doctor has ordered me to avoid it at all costs. I began to try to discreetly push the huge chunks of sausage aside, and looked under the gravy only to find big sausage patties.

Andy stopped eating and glared at me. "Please tell me in the name of all that's holy just what in the hell you're doing?"

"I can't eat sausage."

"Eat your damn sausage!" he screamed.

"It makes me sick."

"You are such a little pussy, you make me sick! How do you like that? Sausage makes you sick? Well you make me sick! Give me that sausage!" Andy began using his fork and his free hand to scoop the sausage and sausage gravy from my plate onto his own. He was practically inhaling it, and then he stopped and began to cry. "You know, my Aunt Bessie made the best damn sausage gravy in the universe. God I loved that woman. I miss her everyday."

"She passed away?"

"No she lives in Ohio, but I never go see her, she's a pain in the ass. But oh God, I loved that woman." Andy stopped crying and eating all at once and got a faraway look in his eyes. "I heard that they are remaking TRUE GRIT. How can they do that? John Wayne faces down Lucky Ned Pepper Robert Duvall in a field and puts the horses reins in his mouth. With a rifle in one hand and a colt in the other, he says, 'Fill your hands you son of a bitch!' And then he goes riding against four men, fearless and full of grit. It's sacrilege to remake that. What are your thoughts?"

"To be honest, I think I have to go the restroom again."

"Yeah, that's about what I'd expect from you. When the tough questions come, you run and hide in the toilet. Run along now, your Momma's calling you."

I really did have to go to the restroom, but I was sort of glad to get away from Andy. He seemed even more unusual than the last time I'd met him. What in the world was it about him that Riff admired so much? The guy seemed like a lunatic to me. And I did not understand why the two of us needed to drive two vehicles in tandem, I worked much better alone.

When I went back out to the counter, Andy was gone. The Waitress came up to me with her hands on her hips. "I hope you are planning to pay the bill."

"I didn't order or eat anything."

"Well your friend ate and ran, so I sure would appreciate it if you'd settle up."

I nodded and pulled out my wallet. I paid for both meals and gave her a tip, then walked outside to see a crowd of people gathered watching something. It was Andy, who had stripped down to his underwear and was galloping around the parking lot like a kid who's pretending to ride a horsey. And I heard him yelling over and over, "Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!"

I got into my rental car and left to go pick up the minivan I was supposed to deliver. Andy would have to find his own ride.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


The last time I was able to go back home to Birmingham, I got a call just as I was driving into town. It was from my childhood friend Frank Wilson.

"Bill, what part of the country are you in right now?"

"Your part of the country."

"You mean you're in Alabama?"

"I mean I'm in Birmingham, about five miles from your house," I said with a laugh.

"No kidding? That's great news. Can you come by my office?"

"That depends. Can you put me up for a few nights?"

"Of course, that's no problem at all. Get your butt over here pronto, I have a proposition for you."

As I drove through the city, I had to smile. I had lived most of my life here, and this place would always be special to me. I went to school here, fell in love here for the first time. So many milestones. There was a sweet and heartwarming charm to the place, and a kindness to the people you'd meet everywhere within the city limits.

A half hour later, I walked into Frank's office, and he rapidly walked over and gave me a hug. "Great to see you, Bill. Welcome home."

"Good to be home."

"Home is where the heart is. But you know, a great man once said 'You can never go home again'."

"And yet here I am."

"Here you are."

"Here I are, on this day in the year of our Lord, in the city of our Lord."

Frank busted out with laughter. "Damn if you don't say the oddest things sometimes. That's part of your charm, Bill."

"Oh yeah, I'm charming, I'm just oozing with charm."

"You're an oozer, for sure."

"So what do you have for me?"

"Beg pardon?"

"You mentioned a proposition on the phone."

"Oh, of course. OK, my marketing firm has been hired by the Alabama Theater to do a big promotion for them, and I could use your help."

"What can I do?" I asked.

"You're a mighty fine writer, and can snap some damn good photos also. I want to put those talents to work. Feel like making a little money?"

"You bet I do. And you know how much I love the Alabama Theater."

Frank started what had become over the years our screwball comedy rapid fire
delivery. "I know that's right."

"You know that's right. Woo-hoo!"

"Bill, you're a nut."

"I'm a coco-nut!"

"Are you cuckoo for coco-nuts?"

"Why ask? You know I am."

"I know you wish you were."

"I know that you know that I know... wait, what?"

Frank smiled and shook his head. "You never change."

"You'd be disappointed if I did."

We went back to Frank's house, where he cooked some thick steaks out on the grill. We drank cold beers, and after dinner he lit up a cigar. I was disappointed when he told me that he hadn't received some checks I was expecting in the mail from Riff at work. I used Frank's address for all my mail.

"So let me ask you," Frank began. "Just how are things going on your job?"

"No so great. I mean, I do love the driving, but my boss doesn't pay me like he should. There should be nearly $1000 in back pay waiting for me here right now, and he promised he'd sent it."

"That's not right."

"No argument here. What can I do about it, though?"

"Easy, you quit."

"Yeah, and then what? I don't really have a fall back position right now."

"Hmm. I see your point. Well, we're gonna have some fun tomorrow."

"I can't wait."

Early the next day, Frank and I went downtown to the old Alabama theater. Frank said that he was going inside to talk to the Manager, and I stood out front and went through my bag. I had pens, blank spiral notebooks, and my camera. A strange little man came walking towards me with a determined glare. I hoped for a moment that he'd just walk on by me, but I should know better by now. Strange people are attracted me to like a magnet.

"Hey you!" he said.


"Yes you, of course you, who else but you, it is you I am talking to."

"What can I do for you?"

"Oh, I just bet you wish you were gonna get off that easy. But it
doesn't work like that."

I shrugged. "What doesn't work like that?"

"Are we gonna have a problem?"


"You heard me, I want to know if we're gonna have a problem?"

"No, no problem."

"Because if it's trouble you want, I can accommodate you."

"No trouble, no problem."

"I think maybe you are just problematic in general."

"You may be right."

"Are you mocking me, Mister?"

"No sir, I am not."

"Are you sure? Would you swear to that on a stack of

"Would I... huh?" About that time, Frank stepped out the door and grabbed me by the arm.

"We were having a conversation," said the strange man to Frank.

"Go bother someone else," Frank said abruptly. He is not one to mince words. We walked into the lobby, and Frank smiled as he said, "You know Bill, the reason all those weird people bother you is because you engage. Most folks are like me, we just walk on by and ignore their craziness."

"I can't help myself."

Frank patted me on the back. "No you can't. It's what makes you you." Then Frank introduced me to the Manager at the theater, and we listened to him give us a detailed history of this great old movie palace. He followed that by giving us a tour, and sharing bits of history that we never would have known otherwise. The place is so ornate, and I remembered a hundred different movies that I had seen here growing up. And the organ that rose up out of the stage.

After the tour, I spend an hour going around and taking lots of pictures. I wrote my thoughts down on paper, and made some notes for things I'd want to expand on later, when I was sitting at a computer. I went up to the uppermost balcony and just sat and took it all in. What a great place, so superior to the new modern multiplex theaters. This place had style and grace and a big heart. That's how I felt, anyway.

It wasn't long before Frank came up and joined me. "Are you enjoying yourself, you knucklehead?"

"So much that I don't even feel like I should get paid for this."

"I can arrange that," he said, kicking off our rapid-fire repartee.

"Don't you dare."

"I just may dare."

"If you do dare, then beware."

"Oh, I'll beware."

"And I'll be there if you're beware, in your hair, just to be fair."

Frank nodded and laughed heartily. "You're a ryhmin' fool, Bill. I'm so glad to have you here."

"I miss Birmingham all the time. And I miss my house."

"Can I tell you something?"

"You can tell me anything."

Frank rubbed his hands together thoughtfully. "You lost your job, a good job. And then the bank took your house."

I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. "What's your point?"

"All of that happened to you in a short period of time. Most guys would be pretty devastated by such a turn of events. But you... you just drive on, getting on down the road, delivering cars and meeting and befriending people wherever you go. I guess I just wanted to tell you that I admire you, buddy."

I was at a loss for words. "Uh... thanks, I guess."

"I want you to know that you are a very unique creature. There is no one else on the planet who is anything remotely like you."

"We're all unique and different, it's what makes the world go round."

"Yeah, but you are really different. You are quirky and goofy, you're a nut, you're a mutant in the truest sense."

"I'm flattered."

"You should be. I just want you to always be true to yourself, and love yourself. Because who you are is pretty special. The world could use more people like you."

"Why's that?"

"I think there's too many people who are worried about what's in it for them. You genuinely care about other people and want to reach out and help them." Frank rose and patted me on the back. "Keep it up."

I finished up the work in a few days, then had a car to pick up in Tuscaloosa that was going to Albuquerque. It was tough to leave Birmingham, and I looked forward to the day I could come back and afford to buy a home again. But for now, I would continue to drive and earn and survive. And to carry Frank's kind words in my heart.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Just the other day, I was driving from Texas up to deliver a car in Baltimore. I cut through Kentucky, very excited that I was going to see Steve Jackson, my best friend from High School. He lives on a farm there with his wife Sandy, and together they run a quaint little General Store. I drove all through the night, and just after dawn Riff called me.

"Just where in the hell are you?"

"Riff, I am making very good time, so back off."

"Good time? Is that what you call it? You are the slowest son of a bitch I have ever seen. In a race between a snail and a turtle, you'd be the one who'd come in last."

"You could trying being a little nicer sometime."

Riff turned up the patronizing. "Oh, I'm sorry my little gumdrop. Is my baby lamb feeling hurt? Well kiss my ass, you need to be in Baltimore by sunset."

"I'll have the car there by noon tomorrow, Riff." And with that, I hung up. I was tired, and what I really needed right now was a good friend. I steered the SUV on the twisty two lane highway as I neared Steve's place. As soon as I pulled into his driveway, Steve came out of the house with a big smile on his face. Seeing him instantly brought back a hundred happy memories. Steve Jackson is a wonderful guy, and has the biggest heart of anyone I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.

"Bill!" he shouted.

I climbed out of the car. "Hey, Steve."

Steve rushed over and threw his arms around me for one of his patented bear hugs. "I am so glad to see you. Didn't expect you this early, though."

"I'm sorta surprised that you're up so early."

"Once that darn rooster starts crowing, nobody can sleep. He just has to tell everyone its time to wake up, like it or not."

"Is Sandy up making breakfast?"

Steve looked sullen. "Sandy's been gone about a month now, Bill."

"She left you?"

"No, uh... she went to meet her maker."

"You mean... you mean Sandy's dead?"

"I've been trying to deal with it. I can really use a friend right now."

"What happened? What did she die of?"

"Well, Sandy, she used to hate it when cars would go whizzing by here. Remember?"


"It made her mad as a hornet."

"Oh, I remember."

"She'd run out in the middle of the road and scream at them. I do believe she would have chased them down if she was fast enough."

"Probably so."

"There was this one pickup truck in particular that would come by everyday, and she would always be ready for him. She'd take a bag of stones and throw them at the truck."

"She threw stones?"

"You heard me right. But this one day, she was standing there in the middle of the road throwing stones and didn't see a moving van come barreling over the hill."

"So the moving van hit her?"

"Smashed her flat as a pancake." Steve's bottom lip began to quiver. "Well, not a pancake, but, you know." Steve began to chuckle.

"Steve, are you laughing?"

"I guess I kinda am. It's been happening a lot since she died. I guess it's my way of dealing with the grief."

"Are you gonna be OK?"

"I feel a lot better now that you're here. Poor Sandy, her temper always got the best of her. And no one could ever do anything to please her."

I nodded. "Yes, she was unique."

"Sandy, she had some emotional problems, God rest her soul." Steve laughed hard, and I couldn't help but join in. It was downright infectious.

"I'm glad you can laugh about it."

"I believe it's God's gift to me, my way of dealing with the loss."

"Then I say enjoy the gift." I let out a whooping laugh, and Steve laughed louder and harder."

"Thank you so much, Bill."

"For what?"

"For being here. For your friendship. For a million things."

"I love you, pal. Always have, always will." Two dogs came running out of the woods and were very glad to see us. "Howdy, fellas."

I was delighted to see them, as I normally am when I meet a new dog. "When did you get these pooches?"

"They're not mine, they live next door. But they just love to come over and visit. Hello Punkin, hello Tater, does Tom know you're here?"

I bent over to pet them. "What are their names?"

"This is Tater, he's kinda pudgey and slow. The spry one here is Punkin."

"Hello, Punkin." The dog responded by leaping into the air, licking my face, then landing on the ground on all fours. He did this repeatedly, and what amazed me was that he did this without ever putting his paws on me. Jump, lick, land, again and again. When he landed, I reached down and scratched him behind the ears, which he obviously loved. Then Punkin jumped up to lick my face again, and a gunshot rang out. Punkin hit the ground dead, much to my shock. I looked up and saw a Farmer in overalls aiming his rifle in my direction.

"Tom, put the gun down," Steve said in a very firm voice.

"I told them not to do that," said Farmer Tom stoically.

"OK, now put the gun down," Steve said with authority.

"Told 'em at least a hundred or more times," Tom continued.

"Tom, the dog is down, you need to lower that rifle," barked Steve.

Tom suddenly seem to notice for the first time that he was still aiming the rifle, and lowered it to his side. He ambled over to us, as Tater ran between Steve's legs and whimpered. "Mornin', gents," Tom offered.

"Good morning, Tom," Steve said with caution.

"Hi, good morning, I'm Bill." I couldn't believe that he had just killed a dog right in front of me. I didn't like this guy, but he was scary.

Tom shook his head. "I told that dog again and again not to jump up on people. Seems like he just don't get the message. Well, next time I bet he'll think long and hard about it before he jumps on anyone."

"I bet you're right," agreed Steve anxiously.

"You betcha I'm right. Punkin won't be jumping on anyone again soon, lest he wants another taste of my boot."

"OK, Tom."

"You gotta be givin' that tough love so they know you mean business. I got chores to do, you gents have a fine day." Tom grabbed Tater by the scruff of the neck and dragged him towards home.

Steve shook his head. "Well, I'll get some shovels and we'll bury Punkin, and then I'll cook us a good country breakfast."

I couldn't believe it. "That man just executed his dog!"

"Yeah, Tom isn't quite right in the head. He's been known to kill his dogs when they misbehave."

"That man is certifiably insane."

"All I know is that you don't want to be anywhere near his sights when he's holding that rifle."

"Do you know how scary that sounds?"

Steve shrugged. "Life on the farm, I guess." Out of respect for Steve's recent loss, I decided not to pursue it. I just stayed and visited with him all day, and we talked and laughed and cried and reminisced. Steve is a very good man, and he really did need a good friend at that moment. I was just glad and honored that I could be that friend.

When I left the next morning for Baltimore, I called the local Humane society and reported Farmer Tom. I love Steve just like a brother and didn't want to upset him while I was there. But I also love dogs, and couldn't tolerate the thought of this maniac shooting man's best friend. By the time I write this, Farmer Tom may be shooting it out with the authorities.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


I really dislike riding Greyhound buses. They always run late, the seats are narrow and uncomfortable, and they are frequently packed with people like a huge can of sardines. Most of the people who ride them use Hefty Lawn garbage bags for luggage, and do not know the meaning of the word "soap." I'm not being critical of their choices in life, but when you are packed into a crowded space with people, good hygiene is helpful and appreciated.

The last time I rode Greyhound was just over a year ago. I had dropped a car off in Alabama, and there was another car waiting for me to pick up in Little Rock. The car was going to Portland, Oregon, a good long run and a chance to get some decent money.

When I got on the bus, I could see that it was crowded as usual. There was only one empty seat, an aisle seat next to a man who strongly resembled singer Barry White, only bigger and bald on top. I could see that the extra large sized gent was taking his seat and half of mine, so I had no option except to squeeze myself in. I cursed myself for my inability to sleep on Greyhound.

Only on this trip, I did fall asleep, and was out for four hours. I must have been extremely tired. When I woke up, the man next to me had his head resting in the middle of my chest, snoring happily. He was heavy into dream-mode, even sleep talking in a basso-profundo voice similar to Barry White. As soon as his words became clear, I could tell that his dreams were of a romantic nature.

"Baby. Oh baby," the sleeping man purred. "I love you, baby. You know I do." I looked around to see if anyone else could hear this, as the man continued. "Daddy's been good to you, baby. You know he has. Now come on, baby, give Daddy some sugar." That's when the man began to nuzzle his face into my ribcage, and that's when he went too far. I slapped the bald top of his head, and he sprang awake and yelled, "Get your hands offa me, you faggot!"

"But sir--"

"Shut up!"

"But sir--"

"Just keep your hands to yourself and leave me alone." The man pressed up as much as he could against his window, trying to get away from me. I looked forward and could see the Bus driver staring back at me in the rear view mirror.

Our next stop was a small town in Mississippi, where the driver announced we'd have a short rest stop. I climbed off the bus, and the driver grabbed me by the shirt and yanked me out of the line of people exiting. "Come here, you." He pulled me around to the other side of the bus. "OK, now what do you think you're doing?"

"Beg pardon?" I was truly mystified.

"I don't like to have my passengers disturbed. Now I don't care if you want to live some alternate lifestyle, but I won't have you pressing your perverted desires onto my other passengers."

I smiled and shook my head. "You don't understand, I--"

"I don't want to hear it."

"But if you'd just let me explain--"

"I do not want to hear it! You are a troublemaker, and you're off my bus."

"Off your bus? What will I do?"

"You can catch the next bus, comes through here tomorrow about this time. Maybe you'll think next time before you start molesting strangers."

The driver walked away, lighting a cigarette. I looked at my watch and saw it was just after midnight. Seeing that I was stuck, I could only attempt to make the best of a bad situation.

I walked through this very small community, and it was as quiet as a ghost town. In the distance, I could hear a dog barking. I walked up one street and down the next, then found myself in front of a Diner. Lucky for me, it was open 24 hours, and I went in and parked myself at the counter.

"What can I get you, honey?"

I looked to my right and saw a waitress approaching me. She was sort of plain, but had a winning smile and a friendly face. I needed some "friendly" about now. "Coffee and a menu."

"You got it." She brought me a menu, then gave me a cup and poured coffee into it. "I'm Tina and I'll be happy to get you whatever you need."

"Hi Tina, I'm Bill Thomas, nice to meet you."

"What brings you out so late? I don't usually get too many customers on my shift, just a few travelers now and again." I told her my story, and she was aghast. We got to talking, and I soon found that she had a much more fascinating story than I did. She was 28, a single Mom with four small kids at home that she was raising alone. She also had to care for her grandmother, Mee-Maw, who was non-ambulatory and unable to do anything around the house. Tina had lived a tough life, but I was amazed at her sunny demeanor and bright outlook. She said that she believed in God, and that if it weren't for Him she'd probably never make it. I was full of admiration for this woman, and told her so. She said what she'd really like is some good sleep, but that she had her hands full with the kids and housework.

I sat there for hours, and watched as she worked hard cleaning the Diner. She made me some of the best pancakes I've ever eaten, and when I said so she beamed with pride. She said that since I was going to be stuck there for a day I should come to the house and she'd make me a real nice dinner, and I could meet her kids. I was surprised that she was so trusting that she'd invite a complete stranger to her house, but there was something special about this woman that made me want to know her better. In all my years of driving, nothing like this had ever happened. But I had nothing better to do, and lots of time to kill.

When she got off work at 6am, we walked together back to her house. She apologized for not having a car to drive us in, but I told her that I get enough driving all the time. Her house was very old and modest, and all was quiet when we arrived. I saw that the grass in the yard had grown pretty high, and inside things were a bit messy. With all she had on her plate, I couldn't fault her. She told me that she needed to lay down for a while, and said I could stretch out on the couch if I'd like to. The kids would be waking up soon, and she'd have to get them breakfast.

I laid on the couch and looked around the room. I can't explain exactly why, but I felt compelled to do something. I went into the kitchen and saw a pile of dishes. So I found a sponge and some dish soap, and started washing. I wiped down all the counters and the kitchen table. When I got done, I moved into the living room and cleaned up there, then the den, then the dining room. The kids woke up and asked me for breakfast, so I got them all some cereal. And I taught them to play the "quiet game" so Tina could sleep a bit longer. Mee-Maw was the next to rise, and she sent the kids outside to play while we talked. She told me that Tina's Ex had been very abusive to her, and the gal finally had the good sense to get away from him. Mee-Maw said that she didn't know what she'd do if Tina didn't take care of her, but that they were barely getting by.

When Tina got up at noon, she apologized for oversleeping. I had just made sandwiches for the kids, and then I asked if she had a lawnmower. She blushed and said she couldn't let me mow her lawn, and I told her it would be a pleasure. She agreed with me that time rolls by faster when you stay busy.

I found things to do all day at her house to help out, and it made me feel good inside. Before I knew it, we were having supper. Tina was a good cook, but obviously had meager fixings in the kitchen. It was amazing that she made such a good meal from what little I had seen in her pantry and fridge. I played with the kids for a while after dinner, then said I'd better be on my way. It was still five hours until the next Greyhound bus would come through, but I thought I'd go back to the Diner and sit quietly and do some writing. She gave me a hug and I gave her my cell phone number to stay in touch.

As I walked back, I passed a small grocery store. Tina had told me it was the only one in town. I went inside and grabbed a grocery cart, and filled it up with milk, bread, butter, cereal, chicken, ground beef, pasta-- basic stuff. As much as I could afford, anyway. Then I asked the manager if I could borrow the cart if I promised to bring it right back, and he said OK. I went back to Tina's house and set the stuff down on her porch, then knocked on the door and started to push the cart away. Tina came to the door as I was passing her neighbor's house, and I waved at her. She yelled something at me, but I couldn't quite make it out. I didn't do it for thanks or some type of reward, I just wanted to help someone out the way people have helped me out. Like in that movie, PAY IT FORWARD.

I boarded the Greyhound bus just after midnight, the last time I'd ever ride on Greyhound. It was an unexpected detour in my life, but it had been a real good day.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Shortly after I returned from my trip with Miss Jenkins car, I got busy shuttling cars around Florida. In two days time, I drove from Clearwater to Ft. Lauderdale to Miami to Jacksonville to Orlando to Boca Raton to Orlando to Ft. Myers. That covers a lot of ground, and frankly I was tired and needed a little break.

When I was on the Internet mapping out the last day of my journey, I went to a website to see what movies were playing. I thought I might stop along the way and relax by doing my favorite leisure activity, staring at a good flick on the silver screen. I found a movie that I had been dying to see, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, showing at an obscure little second run theatre in Sarasota, FL. I was surprised at the venue, because this was an art house film, and second run theatres usually just play mainstream movies.

As I was driving from Orlando to Ft. Myers, I had an issue with my cell phone. I called my provider, and they said that I could go to a local authorized Sprint store and they would fix me up. They gave me simple directions to a store in Sarasota, though it was pretty far from the theatre.

I went to the Sprint store, and after I finished my business I asked the saleslady if she could give me the most direct path to get to the theatre. A spunky elder gentleman chimed in, "May I interject here? I know the way and would be happy to tell this young man, if you don't mind." The saleslady was happy for his help, and admitted that she didn't know her way around the city too well. The man looked at me. "How 'bout it, big boy? You want my help?"

"Well, sure, that'd be great."

"It's gonna cost you."

"What's the charge?"

"You have to hear one of my jokes. Is that a deal?"

"Um, yeah, sure, I guess so."

"OK, now you'll go down this road to the first light. It's Bee Ridge Rd. You're gonna want to call it Bees Ridge, but it's actually Bee Ridge, no plural Bee."


"Turn right, and go three lights. You'll want to turn right there, but instead you turn left. You follow me?"

"So far."

"OK, OK, now you'll go down that road about, oh, I don't know, maybe 3 miles, and you turn right when you get to 17th. You hear that? 17th."

"Yes, sir."

"You will go to the second light and stop. You'll want to make a turn there, but you won't, you keep on going straight to the third light, and turn left. That road will take you to the theatre. You hear what I'm saying?"

"I sure do."

"Now let me ask you, do you drive like a complete maniac like I do, or do you drive like a little blue haired lady? Or do you drive like a little blue haired lady who's a maniac?" He wheezed with laughter.

"Somewhere in the middle."

"Gotcha. Then the trip will take you conservatively 20 minutes. Are you a conservative, son? Who did you vote for in the last election?"

I try to avoid political discussions, and I edged away slowly. "Thanks so much for your help."

"Wait, now, wait. You haven't paid for my directions. You have to hear a joke. Want to hear a dirty joke?"

I looked around the Sprint store. "Sure, I guess so."

"Horse fell in the mud. Get it? The horse was clean, but then he fell into the mud, that makes him dirty. It's a dirty joke. Get it?" He chuckled.

"Got it."

"OK, OK, one more, just one more. Guy goes to see his Doctor, the Doc says, 'Well, I have good news and bad news.' The Guy says, 'Doc, give me the good news first.'
Doc says 'All right, you've got 24 hours to live.' The Guy looked shocked and said 'Oh my God, what's the bad news?' Doc says, 'I've been trying to reach you since yesterday.' Get it?" The old man began wheezing with laughter again.


"You get it? The guy is dying, and he's maybe got minutes to live, maybe seconds. Oh, that's a good one. That's rich." The wheezing turned into a hacking cough.

"Thanks so much for the directions," I said as I moved quickly for the door. Everywhere I go, even when I'm taking a little time for relaxation, they always find me. I have to admit, it keeps life interesting.