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.

Monday, December 31, 2012


I had the good fortune to get a plane ticket to Birmingham on Christmas Eve.  So one week later, I found myself there enjoying my home town for the holidays.  Since I lost my home there a few years ago and have not reestablished a residence due to my transient job, I had to stay with my good friend Frank Wilson.  He had a full house, but was more than happy to let me sleep on his couch.  Frank is definitely a "more the merrier" kind of guy.

My boss Riff called to tell me that there was a Ford passenger van to be picked up at a retirement home and then taken to Atlanta.  The name of the place was Virgin Pines, and it was in a nice section of town called Homewood.  I showed up at 8pm, hoping to hurry and get the van so I could go join Frank at the Viennese orchestral celebration at the Alabama theater.  I dearly love the Alabama, a grand old movie palace from days gone by.  And to be with Frank and his wife on New Year's Eve and have a champagne toast at midnight sounded mighty good to me.

After I met with the Head attendant on duty at Virgin Pines, I was given the keys and went out to look over the van and fill out the paperwork.  I came back inside and had the attendant sign and gave her a copy.  As I hurried out the door, I heard a voice call out to me.  "Excuse me, sir?"

I turned and saw an elderly woman in a wheelchair.  "Were you speaking to me?" I asked.

"Yes, could I please impose on you to help me?"

"What can I do for you, ma'am?"

"Can you please push me back to my room?  I just don't have the strength to get there myself."

"Don't people help you out around here?"

"Oh yes, they will.  When they get around to it, I suppose."

I smiled at her.  "I would be more than happy to help you."  I walked up behind her and began to push the wheelchair.  "What room number are you in?"


"Room one?"

"No.  It's one...  one...  one - 0..."

"One - 0?"

"Oh my goodness, you'd think I could remember my own room number.  I'm 96 years old, and I think my mind is beginning to give out on me.  That's a terrible thing, isn't it?"

I didn't know what to say to that.  "I'm sure we'll find it."

She was quiet for a few moments, then suddenly exclaimed  "One - 0 - nine!  That's it."

"See, you remembered.  You only temporarily forgot, and I do that all the time myself."

"You're very kind.  What's your name, young man?"

"Bill Thomas, pleasure to meet you."

"Well may I say that the pleasure is all mine.  I'm Hattie McLemore, and I'm 96 years old but still kicking."

"You certainly are."  We got to her room, and I opened the door and pushed her inside.  "Is this the place?"

"Oh yes, my humble abode."

"I hope you had a nice Christmas."

She rubbed her hand across her mouth.  "I've had much better holidays in the past.  This one was a little hard for me.  Just push me over there by the window, would you?"

I did as she asked, then sat down in a chair next to her.  "Did they have any festivities here at Virgin Pines for you?"

"They have all kinds of stuff, but I didn't want to participate."

"Why not?"

"All the other folks here had family come and visit, and it was just too depressing for me."

"Your family couldn't make it?"

She let out a sigh.  "My husband died ten years ago, and I've been alone since."

"Do you have any children?"

"Two.  David died over in the Viet Nam the year before the U.S. withdrew the troops.  He was too young.  That just left my daughter Diane."

"Are you two close?"

"We were very close.  I loved her very much.  But..."  Mrs. McLemore got misty-eyed.  "Diane died last March.  The cancer took her.  Her husband Jack never cared much about me, so we've lost touch.  She had twins, but they passed away when they were young.  Some form of leukemia, I think it was."

I felt deeply for this woman.  "That's really sad."

She looked up at me.  "Yes, it is.  But I have to go on, don't I?"

"Sure.  Of course."

"So this Christmas was not a very happy one for me.  I've outlived all the people in the world I cared about."

"Don't you have any friends here?"

"A few.  They all had families who came and took them out for the holidays.  It's just been...  It has been rather lonely."

"I can imagine."

"No you can't.  And I sincerely hope you never have to.  How are you spending New Year's Eve, Bill?"

"Going to the Alabama theater with my friend Frank."

"Oh, I used to love going to see movies at the Alabama.  You know, it's about as old as I am."

"It's great."

"Yes it is.  Well, I guess you'd better get going."

I got to my feet.  "Yes ma'am."

"It was awfully nice of you to push me to my room and talk with me.  It felt real nice, like someone cares."

"Someone does care.  God bless you, Mrs. McLemore."  I nodded and left, headed fast for the van parked outside.  I was running a little late, and knew that parking spaces downtown near the theater would probably be hard to find.  I climbed into the van and started the engine.  And then I felt a tug at my heart.

A few minutes later, I knocked on the door of room one - 0 - nine.  I heard a voice say  "Come in."  I walked in, and Mrs. McLemore asked me  "Did you forget something, Bill?"

"No.  I just wanted to see if you'd like some company to ring in the New Year."

She looked like she was shocked beyond belief, and then she sniffled.  "I would really enjoy that.  Very much."

I sat down next to her.  "Tell me how you and your husband met."

She smiled broadly.  "Well now that's a story."  And she began to tell it to me.

I thought she would fall asleep soon, but she was animated and wide awake.  She talked and talked, and before we knew it midnight was upon us.  I started off 2013 with Mrs. McLemore, and I really do believe it made her happy.  Isn't that what life is all about?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Two days ago, I picked up a vehicle to drive from Houston, Texas out to Pomona, California.  It was a bright red Lincoln Navigator, and it was going to a Mr. Lowman.  He had to have the car by Christmas Eve, and I was watching out for patches of bad weather as I drove west.

Just as I crossed the California state line, my cell phone rang.  "This is Bill."

"Bill Thomas, you fat-headed little elf."  It was my boss, Riff, and it sounded like he had been drinking again.

"Been dipping into the egg nog, Riff?"

"Egg nog is for sissies.  I just drink the bourbon raw."


"You heard me.  You gonna get that big old SUV to Mr. Lowman in Pomona on time?"

"Yes sir, I should be there in a couple of hours."

"Good.  He has already called me three times today stressing how important it is that he gets it."

"He'll have it, don't worry about it.  Have a Merry Christmas, Riff."  I hung up, and then popped in my George Strait Christmas CD.  I sang along, feeling the spirit of the season in my heart.

When I arrived at the mall in Pomona, I drove around until I found the back loading dock that Mr. Lowman had specified.  I parked, and then saw Santa Claus walking towards me.  Well, it was a "mall Santa", those who sit for hours and put kids on their knees to hear what they want for Christmas.  This Santa was carrying a guitar over his shoulder.  "Hello, Bill," he said to me.

"Hi, Santa."

"Jim Lowman, nice to meet you."  He stuck out his hand to shake with me.

As I shook his hand, I said  "You're Mr. Lowman.  My boss didn't tell me you'd be dressed as Santa Claus."

"I always dress this way at this time of year.  I have a little gift just for you."  And with that, he began playing his guitar.  He sang one of my favorite George Strait songs called THE CHAIR.  When he finished, I applauded him.

"That was great.  George Strait is my favorite singer."

He smiled and nodded.  "I had a feeling.  Well Bill, have you been naughty or nice this year?"

"I've tried to be good."

"Glad to hear it.  There is too much bad in the world these days, we need more good."


"So how do you get home from here?"

"I don't have any plans for Christmas.  My home is Birmingham, but its not very likely that I'm going to get a car today headed all the way back there."

"It's good to be home for Christmas.  With family."

"I don't have a family.  My immediate family are all gone."

He put his hand on my shoulder.  "I'm sorry to hear that.  But be of good cheer, this time of year anything is possible."

"Um... OK, well if you can just sign here then the car is all yours."

He looked over the paperwork and began to sign.  "Thanks for bringing a gift for Santa."

"You bet.  You know, I never thought about it, but Santa brings presents to kids all over the world, but no one gets a gift for Santa."

"You know what, Bill?  I think the fact that you try to help people wherever you go is a wonderful thing.  Working in a soup kitchen, giving homeless people a room for a night, leaving bonus cash you earned for a friend.  Helping out others is the best gift you could ever give to Santa."  He handed me back the paperwork.

I was a bit dazed.  How did he know all of this stuff about me?  "Mr. Lowman, I--"

He interrupted by handing me a sealed envelope.  "Here's a little Christmas thank you for getting me my ride so promptly.  I have to get going, got a busy night of work ahead.  God bless you, Bill."  He jumped into his shiny red Lincoln with surprising agility, and then yelled  "Ho, ho, ho!"  The sun was just about to set, and he drove into it so I had to squint.  I know my eyes were playing tricks on me, but for a second it looked like his car was lifting up off of the ground.  And then I lost sight of it completely.

I opened the envelope he had given me and found a one way plane ticket back to Birmingham.  I had the sudden feeling that I was experiencing my own little Christmas miracle.  And a very Merry Christmas to you all!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Just one week until Christmas, and its really in the air everywhere.  Each time I turn on the radio, I hear Christmas songs galore, and I can't help but getting into the spirit of things.  I don't know yet where a driving fool will celebrate the happy day this year, but I am anxious to find out.

I was given an order to pick up a Dodge Grand Caravan up in Vermont.  It was a difficult place to get to, and I had to take several buses, a taxi, and then a long walk in some mighty cold weather.  I was almost to the address, and stopped in at a small country store.  And elderly man smiled when I walked in the door.  "Hello there, stranger."  He had a thick New England accent.

"Hello sir, happy holidays," I said.

"Well same to you, same to you.  What brings you round here?"

"I have to pick up a car from a Mr. Pickering."

"Oh yeah, Quentin Pickering, lives just up the road a bit.  Its a dirt road, not too good for driving."

"Well, I'm walking there.  But its pretty darn chilly outside, and I thought I'd stop for a cup of coffee to warm up."

"Got something better than coffee.  Good hot apple cider."  Without missing a beat, he grabbed a mug and filled it with cider from a dispenser.  I took it gratefully and sipped on it.   "Good stuff, eh?"

I nodded.  "Sure is."

"Got a lot more good stuff here, too.  Ever had real Vermont maple syrup?"

"Sure, I've had maple syrup."

"Yeah, but not Vermont maple syrup.  This is the real thing, genuine original, sweet and sticky."

"Sounds delicious."

"Way beyond delicious.  Goes great on everything.  Waffles.  French toast."


"Pancakes.  Say, you ever had pancakes made Jamaican style?"

I smiled.  "No, but I've heard of them."

"You can marinate steaks in it.  Glaze a ham with it."

"Sounds like you can use it for a lot of things."

"Oh, I'm just getting started.  Mix it with greens.  Pour it on potatoes."


"Some folks like to pour it on their mac and cheese."

I could see this would go on indefinitely, so I drank down my cider and said,  "I appreciate the hospitality, but I better get on down the road.  I have a long drive ahead."

"Thought you was walking?"

"For now.  I'm going to pick up a car.  I'm a driving fool.  Thanks for everything."

"You betcha.  Want some Vermont syrup for the road?"

"Not right now.  What do I owe for the cider?"

"No charge.  Merry Christmas."

I left and hiked on another mile or so up to Mr. Pickering's house.  He was waiting out front, unloading some things from the minivan.  I smiled and waved.  "Hello, Mr. Pickering.  Happy Tuesday to you."

He glared at me with hatred in his eyes.  "What's so damn happy about it?  You are taking my company car away from me.  Now how am I supposed to get around?"  I looked down at my feet.   "You don't have an answer for that one, now do you?"

"My company told me to come and pick up the vehicle."

"Yes, and my company said I was out of a job, and by the way, we are taking your van back.  Leaving me stranded with no wheels.  How does that make you feel?"

"Not great."

He spoke with thick sarcasm.  "Oh yes, its a very Merry Christmas for me.  Ho-ho-ho, bull crap!  They don't care about what happens to me.  They don't care that my wife and kids left me six months ago, they don't care that I have a drinking problem.  They just want their van back.  And they send you, you little Nazi, to take it from me.  Well go ahead, take it!  I hope you choke on it."

I stumbled for something to say.  "I will think a good thought for you."

He came at me like he was going to smack me down.  "Oh no, don't you dare!  I didn't ask for your pity or charity.  Just take the van and go.  You'll find I left the tank on empty.  And you're welcome."  He stormed into the house.  I did a quick condition report on the vehicle, then climbed in.  It was a real pig sty, filthy and nasty.  There was trash everywhere, leaves and grass on the carpet, dried clay on the dashboard, and there was the strong odor of cigars.

I started the engine and pulled out of the driveway.  As I glanced at the dash, I saw that this older model had both a CD player and cassette player.  I mostly listen to CD's, and after a while I'd like a change of music.  I remembered I had a couple of older cassette tapes in my backpack, and grabbed one to slide it in.  When I did, nothing happened.  So I waited a little, then pushed the eject button.  After some hesitation, the tape came sliding slowly out, surrounded by a brown liquid that cascaded down the dash.  I touched it and held my fingertip under my nose.  The sticky substance smelled sweet.  It was maple syrup.  Most likely Vermont maple syrup.  The guy had trashed his van and poured syrup into the stereo as an angry response to losing his job.  Just when I think I've seen it all, something new surprises me.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Yesterday, I was on my way to deliver in Montana and had to stop to get gas and food near Springfield, Illinois.  I found a truck stop and went inside.  There my attention was immediately grabbed by an odd looking gentleman.  He was wired and bouncing from one foot to the other.  My first gut response was to stay clear of him, for this was just the kind of guy who would come up and engage me with some weird conversation.

The man was balding on top, but his hair was long and silver in the back.  He had it tied into some strange sort of pigtails.  And he wore pants that looked like a cross between blue jeans and sweat pants.  He was holding a coke and a bag of chips, and he came up to the line at the counter and looked disgusted at the prospect of waiting. 

"Hey," he said to the men standing in line in front of him.  "Hey guys?"

The other men in line turned to look at him.  One of them said,  "What do you need?"

"Are you a Christian?" he asked.


"Are you a church going man?  All of you.  Do you believe in God?"  They all nodded.  "Jesus loves you, can I please cut in line in front of you.  My old foot in acting up, and I just don't think I can stand for very long.  God will bless you for it."  The men in line sort of reluctantly stepped aside, and this nutty-looking fellow stepped right up to the counter.  I've seen a lot out on the road, and run into what I call "Bill's people" every single day.  But this was a new one for the books.  I turned and went into the adjacent restaurant, which was a Chester's Fried Chicken.

I stood in line and thought about Karen.  It had been just over a week since I was at her house, and I had been playing the scene with her in my mind repeatedly.  Wishing I would have handled things differently.  Wishing I hadn't said the things I said.  I wanted so badly to make things right.

I was next in line and getting ready for my turn to order.  The man I had just seen on the other side of the truck stop came striding into Chester's purposefully, and walked past the line and stepped right up to the counter.  "Is the manager here?  Excuse me, I need to see the manager."  The girl behind the counter stared at him, then nodded and walked into the back.  "God bless you, sweet gal."

A minute or two later, the girl came back, followed by a short, chubby black man wearing a tie.  "Someone here need to see me?"

The guy with pigtails leaned over the counter and said,  "Are you the manager?"

"Yes I am."

"Are you a Christian?"


"Are you a man of God?"

"Oh yes."

"Jesus loves you."

"I know he does," said the manager.

"He died for you on the cross."

"Yes he did," the manager enthused.

"I can see you are a good man with charity in your heart.  Can you give me some of those sweet biscuits that you make here?  I'm a little tight on funds, but I promised Phillip I'd bring him some biscuits.  And I might just eat one myself.  In the name of the Father."


"Amen, brother, amen!"

"I guess I could get you some biscuits."

"Hallelujah, I have found a believer."

The manager was getting fired up.  "Yes you have.  I know you have."

"Praise, praise!"  This man lifted his hands towards Heaven and closed his eyes, looking a lot like he was about to cry.  The manager hurried into the back, then came out with a bag full of biscuits.  "You will be blessed, God will shine his light on you."  And with that, this man grabbed the bag and went out the door.

I ordered my food and sat and ate it.  Frankly, I was grateful that the man didn't interact with me.  Because I am usually a magnet for these semi-crazy folks.  When I was done, I went to the bathroom, then out to my car to get some gas.  While I was pumping the gas, I heard a voice behind me.

"Are you a Christian?"

I turned and saw that the man had found me.  "Yes, I am."

"Are you a man of God?"

"I believe in God."

"No, that's not what I asked you.  Are you a servant of the Lord Almighty, do you have love in your heart?"

I didn't know how to proceed.  I did not like what this guy was doing.  So I stuck my hand out to shake with him.  "My name is Bill Thomas."

"Brother, I didn't ask your name.  I asked if you're right with God."

"I believe."

"And what do you believe?"

"John 3:16.  Its the foundation of my faith."

The man began to laugh heartily.  "Oh my, my, my.  That is just the tip of the iceberg.  If that's all you believe in, you are in big trouble, my friend."

"I have faith."

"Then prove it.  God wants you to give me $20 to help me get down the road."

"Funny, God didn't mention that to me."

He looked like I had slapped him in the face.  "Don't you dare blaspheme!  The Lord will surely smite you."

I finished pumping my gas and put the nozzle back into its cradle.  I said nothing.

"I'm speaking to you sir, I expect the courtesy of a reply."

"No, I won't give you $20."

"You are a sinner!"

"I'm pretty sure we are all sinners."

"How dare you!"

"Really?  Listen pal, you've already got to cut in line and a free bag of biscuits.  I'd say God has been pretty good to you today.  But I have a car to deliver, and I don't have time for you anymore."

He pointed his finger at me with scorn.  "You are turning your back on God's commandments, you will burn in a lake of hellfire."

I shrugged.  "That's your opinion.  Keep right on doing what you're doing, and someday you may have a conversation with God about it.  Meanwhile, adios!"

I got into my car and drove away.  He began cussing at me, but I quickly tuned him out.  I think that everyone believes something different, and I think we all have a right to our opinion.  But it seemed a lot to me like this guy was trying to use God to get what he wanted, and that just rubbed me the wrong way.