I was driving a big cargo van up to Cheyenne, Wyoming on Easter Sunday. The vehicle was in pretty bad shape, beat up and rusted out. The man who gave me the keys to it in Tucson said to never let it get below 1/4 of a tank, because the needle would just drop from 1/4 to EMPTY in a flash, and you'd be stalled out right then and there. The man also explained that the radio was broken, but that the cassette player worked. But there was tape jammed in the machine, and so it was the only thing I'd be able to listen to.
As I started my 995 mile trip, I turned on the cassette hoping it might be a George Strait tape. No such luck. It was a singer named Jimmy Buffett, who I've heard of but never listened to much. My old friend Smokey hates Buffett with a passion, which always made me curious. I listened to songs about Cheeseburgers in Paradise, Fins to the left and Fins to the right, when a Volcano is gonna blow, and a mystical place called Margaritaville. It wasn't half bad, I liked the sunny disposition of the songs and the singer.
I felt sort of sad that I had no one to spend Easter with. No one to have a big Easter dinner with, big portions of ham and beans and potato salad just like when I was a kid. I was also getting down with thoughts of helping my fellow man, but feeling like I'm alone in doing so. I know when we do a kindness for someone else it's not for reward, but I'd just like to think there are other folks out there in the world who also wish to help simply because its the right thing to do. Oh well.
It was late in the afternoon, and I was listening to the tape for maybe the tenth time in a row. I suddenly noticed that the fuel gauge was at 1/4, and wondered how it got there so quick without me noticing. I started to pray for a gas station to come up soon, as I was in a very rural stretch of road just north of Denver. I saw a sign that said "GAS - 5 MILES AHEAD". I sighed with relief, and then the gas needle dropped down to "E". "No, no, please, I'm so close," I pleaded to the van. Moments later, the van sputtered and came to a dead stop. There were no two ways about it, I was stuck.
I climbed out of the van and knew that the only solution was to walk five miles to the gas station, buy a small container for gas, and walk back to pour it in. I locked up the van and walked about twenty steps before the rain started coming down hard. Then I heard a motor headed my way. Not from the highway, which was nearly deserted, but from a field off the highway. It was an ATV carrying a Farmer, and he was carrying something in his lap. As they drew closer, I could see it was a little girl in his lap, and they were really flying across the field.
I waved as they got near, and the Farmer stopped at the barbed wire fence. "Howdy," he shouted at me.
"Hi," I said as I walked toward the fence.
"You got car trouble?"
"Out of gas. This van has a defective fuel gauge."
"It's always something, isn't it? They get you one way or the other."
"How far to the nearest gas station? Sign says five miles."
"Don't worry about it, I'll help you out. Meet me down at the end of the fence." He took off on the ATV, and I ran along my side of the fence until I reached the end of it. At that point, there were some steps, making it fairly easy to climb over. "I thought it would be easier for you to get over down here."
"You're right about that, thanks."
"Hop on the back there and hang on." The Farmer indicated a wide board on the back of the ATV, and I sat on it facing backwards. He took off, and we had a relatively wild ride across the fields with the rain still coming down hard. There were numerous bumps that made me go flying up, but my hands had a death grip on the board so I wasn't going too far.
When he pulled up to the farmhouse where he lived, we slowed down a bit. He drove around back, and there was a big red barn. Another ATV came driving out of the barn, with a boy driving it that could not have been more than seven. The girl who had been riding with us looked to be four or five, I assumed they were his children. It was sort of amazing, kind of wholesome, and even a little bizarre to see such a small boy so expertly piloting this big ATV. With a rifle propped up next to him.
"Shelly, go get this man a mug of your mother's hot coffee from the kitchen," the Farmer said to the little girl.
"That's not necessary," I said, but Shelly was gone.
"Ain't necessary, but its the right thing to do. You're our guest." He turned his attention to the boy. "Jimmy, did you check out the west field?"
"Yes sir. I saw that old wolf slinking around out there."
"What'd you do?"
"I shot him dead, Daddy!"
"That's my boy!"
"I'm gonna go check the back nine now." Jimmy revved up his ATV and took off.
The Farmer patted me on the back. "Let's get you some gas, pardner."
"Your boy sure does drive that ATV like a pro."
"That's my Jimmy, I'm awful proud of him. He's growing into a fine young man."
"I can see that." The Farmer went into the barn and I stood in the doorway to avoid the rain. After a few minutes, Shelly came out and handed me a big thermos and a brown paper bag stuffed with something. "Thank you very much," I said, and she giggled and ran off.
"That's my girl, Shelly," the Farmer said as he came out of the barn with a ten gallon container of gas.
"I think she brought me more than a mug of coffee."
The Farmer smiled. "Well sure. I imagine that Sally, she's my wife, she probably packed you a couple of ham sandwiches and a big hunk of her pound cake."
I was very much taken aback. "That's incredibly generous."
The Farmer shook his head. "Nothing to it. Just trying to be friendly."
"Extremely friendly, and I am so grateful."
The Farmer walked over to his "dualie" pickup truck and I followed. "You might want to hold those thank yous til we see if we can get that van of yours started. We'll take my truck back over." He put the gas container in the bed of the truck, then we climbed in the cab and took off.
When we got back to the fence, I hopped out and started to climb over the barbed wire. The Farmer laughed and said, "What you trying to do there, buddy?"
"Trying to get back to my van."
"You're gonna get your clothes and yourself all torn up there. Step back." The Farmer put the palm of his right hand on one of the fence posts, then in one swift motion threw his legs and himself over the fence, landing smoothly on the other side. "Now hand me that gas container."
"Sure," I said, lifting it over the fence, still impressed by the agility it took to hop over that fence.
"Why don't you go ahead and drive my truck down to the end of the fence. I'll try to get your van started then meet you down there."
I did as I was told, and watched from a distance as the Farmer poured the gas into the van, then got behind the wheel and started it. The van came rolling slowly down the shoulder of the highway. I reached into my wallet and pulled out a $20 and a $10, which should cover the gas. Though it didn't seem nearly enough to compensate the Farmer for his time and the inconvenience.
As I climbed the steps over the fence, the Farmer walked up and said, "You're good to go, pardner. You better stop at the next exit and fill up."
"I sure will."
"I left the van on, the engine is idling."
"I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
"Don't worry about it, glad I could help out."
I handed him the $30. "Hope this will cover it."
The Farmer held up his hands. "No sir, I don't want your money."
"After all you did for me, I at least have to pay you back for the gas."
"No you don't. But I'll tell you what you can do. Sometime when you see someone in trouble, stop and give them a hand."
I felt a warmth rush through my entire body. "I will. You can count on it. Listen, I just have to tell you, I try to be good and kind to everyone I meet. But... well, the fact is, I'm not used to getting it back in return. It's nice."
"It is, isn't it? Believe me when I tell you, it was my pleasure."
I stuck my hand out to shake. "By the way, my name is Bill."
The Farmer smiled and shook my hand. "Well what do you know? My name is Bill, too."
This renewed my faith in the golden rule. There really is goodness and kindness in the world. And I will keep on driving and looking for it. Helping others where I can, and maybe receiving help sometimes in return -- just when you least expect it.