Monday, June 13, 2011

Highway Trouble

10 miles left to go and that was a good thing because I was getting tired, thirsty and cranky. I left highway 69, taking the highway nine exit, circled around and then across the overpass. In another 2 miles I would leave the highway turning south onto an unnamed dirt road. I knew this from making the same trip dozens of times since I was a little tyke, usually with my parents. But not this time.

They were at the cabin already, along with my brothers and a couple of friends. We were all meeting there to build on a room addition. I had to work late and so was making the trip by myself with only my music and my thoughts to accompany me. Just as well. I had a big decision to make soon and I could use the time to think.

In the next 2 miles I saw no headlights on the highway and I made my right turn onto the dirt road. Dirt road was not exactly an apt description. It was more like clay and when it got wet it turned into gumbo, it was like driving on greased owl shit. It was wet now. Very wet. I made a mental note to myself to be careful.

A couple miles down the dirt road a deer ran across in front of my pickup. That reminded me
and I reached across the seat with one hand and opened my bag, dragging out my .41 magnum and a box of shells. Might as well be prepared, you never knew what might happen. A black panther had run across the road in front of my grandparents, my brother and I one night when I was five and I had never forgotten that. I might even get lucky and get a shot at a snake crawling across the road. There were exactly three houses in the 8 miles between the highway and our cabin. The last mile was a narrow path through the woods, with the trees closing in on both sides of the road, their branches stretching into the road and often growing together overhead, like driving through a green tunnel. It was a dark and spooky drive at night. Always.

I fumbled a couple of shells into the gun and was working on the third one when it slipped off the seat. I made a grab for it and managed to keep it from hitting the floor and was just straightening back up behind the wheel when a sickening thud greeted my ears as the ditch slammed itself into the front corner of my truck.

Damn it. Why didn't I stop and load my gun as soon as I got off the highway?

I'd been rounding a curve and heading uphill when it happened. The truck didn't hit hard and I wasn't worried about damage so I put it in reverse and gave it some gas. I gained a few inches then the tires spun. I put it back in drive, gave it a little gas then hurriedly shifted into reverse and gave it a little more gas, trying to rock the truck back and forth. I made a little progress and repeated the process. A little more progress. Then a little more. I tried it again and was nearly out of the ditch when the rear of the truck slid over sideways and planted itself firmly in the trickle of water running down beside the road.

I got out and looked things over. I was stuck good now. This truck was going nowhere without help. There was small chance of that. It was 11:30 PM on a Thursday night. All of the decent folks were already in bed.

Damn it. Why couldn't I have bought a four wheel drive?

I stood beside the truck, surveying my surroundings. One large patch of woods to my right, a smaller patch of woods and a meadow to my left, no lights to be seen in any direction and one hill in front of me.

What should I do? Wait? For who? And for how long? I had called my parents and told them I was leaving and should be there in about 3 hours but what would they do after that time was up? Should I walk? And if I did, which way should I go? It was 3 miles back to the highway and I might or might not get lucky and get some one to help me get unstuck or give me a ride to the cabin. Should I walk to the cabin? It was 7 miles and I had no flashlight.

Damn it. Why didn't I bring a flashlight?

It was midnight now and just as dark but it would be easy enough to stay on the road. Still, it was dark. And there were................. Things out there. A certain black panther crossed my mind. Bears were not unheard of. There were stories of Bigfoot. What if I stepped on a snake? What if I was attacked by a herd of hungry coyotes? My pistol only held six cartridges. What if there were seven?

Damn it. Why didn't I bring my 10MM? It held 15 cartridges.

What to do? Pray? Go to sleep?  Cry? I just didn't know so I did the easiest thing. Nothing. I sat in the truck with the hazard lights flashing, finished loading my pistol and listened to the radio. Sooner or later I would get lucky and someone would be along to help or maybe someone would come looking for me. But how long would it take?

I had my answer 45 minutes later. Headlights appeared in the rearview mirror, approaching slowly then they slowed down even more, coming to a stop 30 feet behind my pickup. And there they stayed, clearly illuminating my pickup. No one got out. The other vehicle stayed running. And it just sat there.

Uh oh. This was not looking too good. Were these people friendly? I turned around to look and could see that it was a pickup and there were two people in it. And they just sat there, looking. Here I was, 120 miles from home, in a remote part of Southeast Oklahoma, surrounded and outnumbered by country folk of unknown disposition. I sure hoped that this wasn't going to turn into the type of situation like in that movie Deliverance. My voice is pretty deep and I don't think that I could squeal like a pig if I had to, even at gunpoint.

The people in the other truck sat there. And I sat there. It was a Mexican standoff.  In Oklahoma.

After two or 3 minutes I decided just to take a chance. I left my gun and the safety of my pickup cab and walked back to the other truck. The driver rolled his window down as I approached, releasing a toxic cloud of cigarette smoke and distillery odors.

"Howdy," I said as my eyes watered from the cloud. "I got myself stuck in the ditch, do you think you can help?"

"Hello there young feller," the old man said. "You having problems?"

"Yeah," I said, stepping back to try and get a breath of fresh air. "Do you think you can help me out?"

"Yep, I reckon. Got a chain in back here, you wanna grab it?"

"Sure," I said. While I drug it out of the back of his truck he was leaned across the cab talking to the woman in the passenger seat. At least I think it was a woman. Whatever it was, it had long hair.

The man got out and staggered his way to the front of his pickup and watched as I hooked the chain from the bumper on my truck to his.

"Got yourself stuck did ya?," he inquired.

I took a step back. I needed to get a good look at this rocket scientist that I was dealing with.

He was probably 70 years old, shaggy white hair with a full beard and mustache, overalls stretched to the brink covered his gut, no shirt and wearing flip flops on his feet. The Budweiser cap on his head looked as if it had been dropped inside the chicken coop 14 too many times. He spat a stream of tobacco juice into the road and offered a broad smile, revealing all six of his teeth. No doubt about it. He was a beautiful man.

"OK, I'm ready," I said. "I'll give it just a little gas while you pull me out."

"Shore thing," he replied. "I'll just yank you on out."

"Do it easy," I said.

He stretched the chain tight and then gave his truck the throttle. His truck spun its tires and my truck did nothing. "Get just a little slack and then jerk my truck just a little," I yelled. He did so and my truck moved a few inches. If a little jerk helped a little bit, then a big jerk must help a whole lot, he figured. He moved forward, giving the chain 6 feet of slack. "Do it easy," I yelled. I heard the engine on his truck roaring then my truck lurched backwards before there was a loud pop and a metallic clang.

I jumped out and ran to see if my truck was still all in one piece. Turned out it was, as long as you didn't count the bumper that was lying on the ground 20 feet down the road.

Damn it. Why did I ever buy a Ford?

I walked back to his truck. "It jerked off the bumper," I told him. "Drive your truck forward again and this time I'll wrap this chain around my axle." He drove his truck forward and then got out to look things over.

I tossed my bumper into the back of my truck and turned around to grab the chain.

"Jerked your bumper clean off, didn't it? Right clean off," he said, laughing.

I scowled at him, giving him another good look. No two ways about it, I was dealing with an intellectual. Pure intelligentsia. He must've been valedictorian of his one room schoolhouse at some point in his life.

There was no other choice so I crawled into the mud underneath my pickup, looped the chain around the axle housing a couple of times then hooked it together. Even this coon ass that was supposedly helping me couldn't break anything now. I hoped.

I crawled back out and stood there, trying to explain to him what had gone wrong earlier and how I wanted to proceed.

"I better get Jack to help," the old man suddenly announced as he turned away.

Was he leaving? I certainly didn't want him to do that. Any help was better than none. At least that's what I used to think. Now I wasn't quite so sure. But I still didn't want him to leave.

"No, I think we can get it out ourselves," I told him. "We can handle this."

"Be right back," he said as he walked toward his truck.

Damn it. Why did.....................hmm, why did what? Well? Well, why did....... why did something anyway. Damn it.

This sucked.

The old man reached into his truck and pulled out a bottle, taking a long swig. Then he returned. "That was Jack," he announced. "We're ready to go now."

Jack has already done more than enough, I thought. But we had come too far to turn back now. Both of us climbed into our pickup, gave it some throttle and with one more spine rattling jolt I was up and out of the ditch. Hallelujah!

I climbed under my truck once again to unhook the chain and then tossed it into the back of his truck. I offered him $20.00 but he refused to take it. " Me an Jack was glad to help out," he told me, laughing. "But you young fellers need to learn to be a little more careful."

Uh, ok. Thanks a lot Jack. And thanks for the advice, I thought as the valedictorian disappeared down the road. At least nobody was going to be squealing tonight.

I took off my muddy shirt and climbed inside my truck, ready to reach the cabin and grab a hot shower. I was definitely cranky now. I drove carefully another 3 miles to the intersection and turned west. Hey. I backed up, letting the headlights sweep over the intersection once again. Sure enough. Someone had put up a stop sign at the four way intersection. Well I I'll be. What was the world coming to? Oh well. 2 miles to go. I drove another mile, crossed a cattle guard and then the trees closed in overhead. I reached for my pistol, placing it in my lap for quick access.

The chances of spotting anything to shoot were diminishing by the moment. A roadrunner appeared in front of me, leading the way for 200 yards before turning into the brush. A few hundred yards further and I saw movement on the road. What was that? Something. A snake. Damn it it was a snake. And he was about to get away. I smashed the throttle. He knew I was coming and he slithered faster. He was going to make it. He was going to get clean away. Maybe I could still get his tail. I jerked the front wheel over towards the ditch, hoping that I could get him before he was completely into the weeds. At the last instant, just before my front wheel dropped into the ditch I yanked the steering wheel, turning the wheels back into the roadway. The front of my truck responded, heading for the middle of the road once again. That's when I felt the rear wheels sliding over and dropping into the ditch.

Damn it. Why did I have to try to get that snake?

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