Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Life on the road"

February 20, 2014

If you believe that I knew where I was going, you are mistaken.  I was headed North and placing myself at the mercy of anyone who would stop and offer a ride.

The first one was a pick-up loaded with tomatoes and operated by three Hispanics.  It was getting dark and I was grateful for the offer.  Of course they filled the cab and I was riding in the bed of the pick-up.
All went well until they broke down about an hour later.  They got out cursing and one was holding a knife in his hand.  ""What now, Lord?"   I have no idea of their intentions and I wasn't about to stick around.  "Adios" I shouted and headed on up the road.  Fortunately, a truck came by and I waved him down and told them him of my previous "ride".  He laughed, told me he was not authorized to pick up hitch hikers, but he would take me to the next truck stop and see if he couldn't find me a ride, heading in towards Missouri which by now I had decided would be a good place to stop and look for others.

One of my new found friend's friend told me he could take me to Springfield the next day, but he was going to sleep at the truck stop first.   I was waiting outside the lunch room when a waitress came out for a smoke "break" and wondered why I was there.  When she found out I was waiting on that other truck, she left and came back with a "pass" which allowed me to sleep in their bunk house.  The next morning I was on my way again.   In Springfield, I found a "mission" where I could eat and sleep and I not only found a paying job for the next day, the owner of the company I was working for offered me a job of cleaning up around his house over the weekend.  He paid me twice as much as I had earned on his payroll and fixed up a place where I could sleep in his barn.

I went to church with his family and told them of what I was doing and they gave me their address so I could stay in touch with them and permission to call them "collect" as I went along my way.

A fellow told me there was lots of work in Kansas City, so after working on Monday, I headed up to  what I thought might be a better location.  So much for my thinking.  When I got there it was raining and cold - in July, so I headed for a larger Mission.  It was dry but I was about to be frightened unlike any-thing I had ever experienced before.  We had to listen to a sermon, standard practice in most Missions and the text the preacher used was John 8:32 - " shall know the truth and the truth will set you free."   I will never forget it.   After the sermon we were fed a bowl of watered down gruel and herded into a small room with a window up over a door that had been barricaded.   Twenty one black men and me and that was OK until they locked the door behind us.   My first reaction - "What if there is a fire?"
I slept very little that night.  And when they finally let us out, I literally ran out of that place and in the process, stepped off a curb, fell and twisted my leg on my way to the street.

Fortunately, the freeway was close so my leg was OK until I stood for a few minutes, trying to hitch a ride.  Fortunately, a little roadster stopped and the driver asked me where I was headed.  "St. Louis" popped into my mind and he replied, "Get in, I'll be passing through there is a few hours."  Along the way I would learn that he was an Air Force Chaplain, a Catholic, and we spent the time talking about religion, the Air Force, and life in general.  I was so interested in his opinions that I hardly noticed that my leg had begun to swell up.  He offered to buy me lunch at the intersection where he would be heading South. but I pointed to my leg and told him I was changing my mind.  I would head towards Michigan and stay with my Uncle and Aunt until I was better.

By the time I got there (Port Huron, MI), my leg was much better and they were not at home, so I laid back on a lawn chair and fell asleep.  Imagine their surprise when they came home from the grocery store and found  me laying there - as if I might be dead.  At first, they did not recognize me, it had been twenty years since we had been together.

After a few days with family, I was back on the road, this time headed in the direction of  Charlotte, NC, but because of the available rides, I would up in a river town East of Cincinnati, OH, where I met a man who worked on the river boats between that area and St. Louis and he suggested I might like to get a job on one of the boats.  I made an application and spent time around that area picking up small jobs and began attending church services whenever they were available.  By this time I had a routine in mind that I stayed with for the rest of my time.

The river boat job did not come open, so I headed South again, this time winding up in Beckley, W Va where I met a Pastor who was having family problems and I stayed with him, handling most of the church responsibilities except for preaching.  His wife and he reconciled their differences and now he wanted me to go to Seminary as he was convinced I would make a good Pastor.  To prove his point, we scheduled "revival" services and I did, indeed, preach some of the services.  Unfortunately, as soon as the Seminary heard that I had been divorced and was not living with the Mother of our children, they rejected the application.  When I decided to move on I thought again of Charlotte and the Pastor chose to drive me over and get me settled in - he was not convinced that life "on the road" was good for a man in his 50's.  We would remain good friends for a few years, but the last time I called him, I would learn that he had suffered a heart attack and died.

I found that jobs were easy to find in Charlotte and of course, there were lots of churches to visit.  My favorite job was as a temporary working in a Coca Cola plant.  There a supervisor took a liking to my work regimen and had me "run" a test line where they were evaluating new products and all I had to do was to keep the area clean and when they had a new or revised product to run, I would operate the line. It was an easy job, but others they had hired to do it apparently could not do what needed to be done.

While I was there I lived in the YMCA dormitory which brought me in touch with a number of guys who were there because of family problems or court orders and so I had lots of opportunities to hone my counselling or interviewing skills.

I did also meet a gentleman at a meeting his wife wanted him to attend, but being bored, he went out on a patio to smoke.  I noticed him and decided to join him and wound up with a relationship that made all of my "wandering" worthwhile.  He was a rich man, had either built or bought several companies in his life and now, he wanted to retire and enjoy life with his wife and delinquent daughter.  To make a much longer story shorter, he would invite me to come and live with his wife and he on the coast in Florida. It was a fascinating offer and I was ready to move on.  They stayed another day while I got my clothes packed and we were on our way.  He let his wife drive and he and I sat in the rear sear and talked.  At the restaurants where we stopped to eat, she would take over the talking and by the time we arrived in Florida, we were close friends.  He paid me to live in their guest house and we talked, and talked, and finally I convinced the two of them to travel.  They settled on Europe, leased a chalet in Switzerland and traveled all over Continent.  Meanwhile, I was left with their house but then the daughter appeared one day with the news that she was leaving her Doctor husband and moving in with me.  Not me.  She had been an alcoholic and I wanted no part of that.  So, I left.  I had called her parents, but learned they were away.  I left a message and didn't hear from then until she called to let me know my friend had a heart attack and died.  The last I heard from her, she had renewed their lease and she had no plans to return to the States.

That's part of this story.  More will be revealed as I talk about my experiences with churches along the way and the impressions I got from having heart-to-heart talk with many of the Ministers I met along the way.  But the greatest thing I ever learned was this nation has a diversity of people that even the most educated among us seems to comprehend.  I used to believe that would account for the promise of our future, but to be honest with you, I am no longer certain of that.

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