JOHN ROSS ARCHER - SHORT-STORIES
Consequence of a Poor Choice
Miami is experiencing a beautiful balmy day, making it easy for Mary Hardin to elect to walk home from her exclusive private school, rather than to ride the dedicated bus. As she walked the eight blocks to home, Mary was daydreaming about her 15th birthday party last week, and how much fun the party had been. Her parents arranged to have the party on the beach in front of their beach house in South Beach, a posh residence away from the less desirable parts of Miami. The party was a surprise and was attended by several family members and fifteen of her friends. Basking in those beautiful thoughts, She had no idea of what lay ahead that would change her life forever.
Jill, Mary’s best friend, shared with Mary during lunch break how to find an online site where she could chat with good-looking boys and young men. According to Jill, the site was awash with handsome males and was completely harmless.
Mary said “Hi” to her mom, grabbed a popsicle from the fridge, dashed upstairs to her room, and turned on her computer. Minutes seemed like hours waiting for the machine to boot up, but, finally, the site appeared. She could hardly contain her excitement and anticipation. The screen came to life with the promise of a gallery replete with “Dream Males.” She skimmed the site instructions and hastened to select a “friend” with whom to chat. Mary had no concerns about visiting the site; the slight feeling of guilt she had dissipated as her excitement grew. She was in control of picking the person she wanted to befriend, and what might happen after that. “If the chats become uncomfortable, or scary, all she would have to do is to turn the computer off.” Satisfied with her thinking, Mary went through the photo gallery and selected a gorgeous young man. The information under his picture said he was 19 years old. The only other information available for this young man was an email address and the hours he would be available to chat
Mary’s excitement waned, she would wait an hour and a half before Robert Smith would be free to chat. She rearranged things in her room, straightened clothes in her closet, cleaned out her Chester drawers—anything to kill time. She squirmed, bit her nails, and thought she would wet her pants. The time came to get on the site and chat with her handsome new friend to be. She selected Robert's name, went through the keystrokes, and the light blinked, showing he was ready to talk. There he was, smiling, and he said, “My name is Robert, who are you, beautiful?”
Mary blushed and giggled, “My name is Mary, glad to meet you… handsome.”
They chatted for about ten minutes then said goodbye, promising to talk the next day, and they did—every day for six days. During their last chat, Robert suggested they meet so they could get to know each other. Mary was 5 feet 5 inches tall with blond hair and a knockout figure. She looked twenty years old and presented more maturely than her age. These attributes appealed to Robert and made him eager to pursue the relationship, and Mary responded by agreeing to meet him at a restaurant in the nearby suburb of Avondale. He continued to flood her with compliments and gave her directions to a restaurant in Avondale near the bus stop she would use. He continued to talk at length to praise Mary’s beauty and innumerable attractive qualities. Mary became so excited she felt moisture and warmth between her legs. Nothing was going to keep her from meeting with him
“Jill, you did me such a favor by introducing me to the Dream Male website. I have met a dreamboat—oh, he takes my breath away. I’ve decided to meet him in person, Jill, he lives in Avondale, just ten miles from my house, a bus ride of about twenty minutes. I’m going to meet him for dinner tomorrow night, Jill, and I need you to back me up. Mary was so excited she hopped around the room and waved her arms while talking at a machinegun pace, Should my parents call you, we’re studying for two important exams coming up. Will you please do it, Jill? Please?”
“Well, you know I don’t enjoy lying and liars, but if it means so much to you, then I’ll do it. “
“Thank you to the moon, girlfriend, I’ll not forget this. Oh, Jill, he’s the most handsome young man I’ve ever seen, and he told me how beautiful he thought me to be. He just makes me feel wonderful all over, Jill. But, I want your thoughts on my decision before I talk to him tonight. Well, what do you think, girlfriend?”
“Wow. All that has happened so fast, Mary. It sounds to me like you’ve already made your decision. What will your parents think about you having a relationship with a man five years older than yourself—since you’ve just turned 15?”
“I’m not going to tell them, Jill. What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
“I don’t know, Mary, I think you’re taking a chance this person will be Mr. Nice Guy, and everything will work out just fine. Mary, I think you are on fragile ice, and that’s all I have to say about it, but ‘best of luck.”
“I trust him, Jill, and I don’t think he would harm me. I feel okay about meeting him, and I intend to do it.”
“Well, you asked me what I thought, and I told you. Please be careful.”
“Okay. I’ll be careful, and I’ll call you after my date.”
During their next chat, Robert gave Mary the address of the restaurant where they would meet to have dinner. Deep down in her conscience, Mary knows she has no business meeting with a stranger she knows very little about, but he has captured her heart. She has become enamored with Robert, and she is throwing caution to the wind. Mary’s feelings for this person have overcome her better judgment. Mary is now deaf to all the warning bells and whistles.
The meeting date has arrived, and Mary is dressing in her most provocative clothes and sprays perfume on critical points of her body. She says goodbye to her parents and somehow avoids their gaze as she goes through the front door. Mary told them earlier she would study at Jill’s for two important exams coming up. Mary also told them Jill’s brother, Mike, will pick her up and bring her back home when they were through studying. And Mike was waiting for Mary in front of her house and drove her to the bus stop. Mike offered Mary one piece of unsolicited advice as they reached the bus stop, he said, “Mary, please don’t do this, it’s too dangerous; you don’t know this person.”
Mary got on the Avondale bus and began daydreaming; she pictured Robert and herself in myriad romantic situations—all good. The dreams led her to believe in her heart that some of the dreams would come true. She has nothing but warm fuzzy feelings about the evening, but little does she know…
The bus stopped, and Mary took the short walk to the restaurant in five minutes. Robert had chosen a restaurant near the bus stop. How sweet of him, she thought.
She told Robert what she would wear so he would recognize her. As she walked through the restaurant door, she was trembling and pumped with happiness as she had never known; the evening seemed to be almost bizarre. Then a man approached her. He was nicely dressed, in his early fifties, balding, and wore a beard.
“My name is Robert; I assume you are Mary, he said, taking her hand and kissing it. I know you are confused and disappointed. You were expecting a much younger man. I’m genuinely sorry for deceiving you, Mary, but would you have come if a true picture of me was posted to the Dream Man website? Please sit down, and let’s get acquainted,” he said with a broad smile?”
Mary regained some of her composure, and her shock lessened. At least the man good manners.
“I’m sorry. Yes, I was expecting someone younger. I was expecting the 19-year-old young man on the website who said his name was Robert. Who are you, and what do you want with me? Why have you deceived me?” I’m furious about this; I don’t enjoy being deceived. You have upset me a great deal,” said Mary as she cries.
Robert was afraid Mary would make a scene in the restaurant; he was making every effort to console her and to put her at ease.
“Please don’t cry. I’ll drive you home this instant if you allow me. I can see that I crushed your expectations and that I have upset you and caused you significant emotional pain. Shall we go?” said Robert as he stood.
“Yes, please take me home now,” said Mary as she stood and walked to the door, tears flowing.
They drove in silence several minutes. Mary cried until she spoke.
“Why have you deceived me? Who are you?”
She tried to retard the waves of raw emotion that swept through her body. The anger she felt towards this man was intensifying by the minute. She spoke through clenched teeth, and her fists were so balled that her knuckles turned white. After a few minutes, Mary noticed Robert had changed driving direction and was no longer headed toward South Miami.
“I asked you where we were going?”
“Shut the fuck up, bitch. One more word out of you and I’ll put a real bad bruise on that pretty face.”
Now Mary was in real shock and felt nothing but stark terror. She could not believe this was happening. Her entire body shook with fear.
“Please tell me where you’re taking me—I want to go home, please,” sobbed Mary, now in hysterics.
Out of the blue, Robert backhanded Mary across her mouth, splitting her lower lip. Blood gushed over her chin, neck, and clothing. Mary froze with fear. No more tears, no nothing. She was being kidnapped! She was experiencing the most horrible sensations of raw fear spreading throughout her body. Her heart raced, and her ears rang. “What will happen to me? What can I do? She said out loud. As she sat bleeding and in pain, all she could think of was wanting to be with her mother.
They arrived at a large building resembling an abandoned warehouse. When Robert stopped the car, two thuggish-looking men opened the car door and shouted, “get out, bitch.” They pulled Mary from the automobile, dragging her by her arms, kicking and screaming.
“Please take me home, whoever you are, please,”
“Yeah, well, it’ll be a cold day in hell, if ever, when you see home again, bitch.”
Mary sobbed as they half-dragged her to a dark room. They pushed her inside and locked the door. A single light bulb hanging from the ceiling illuminated 15 or more girls about her own age. Somehow, the presence of these girls gave her a weird sense of not being alone.
“Jill, is Mary with you? She didn’t come home last night, and we’re worried sick,” said Beth Hardin over the phone.
“No, mam, I have not seen her since school yesterday. She said she wanted to walk home because it was such a nice, balmy day.”
“Has she called you, or did she mention going somewhere after school?”
“No, mam, is there something wrong, Mrs. Hardin?”
“If you hear from her, Jill, please let us know—we’re frantic with worry. We have no idea where she is, Jill.”
Beth Hardin laid her phone down and turned to her husband.
“Bud, we have to do something, please call the police>”
“I just did, sweetheart, they are on their way. Try to calm down, the police will sort this out. Did you finish calling Mary’s friends?”
“Yes, and no one has heard from her, or seen her, since school yesterday.”
“Mary asked some of the girls in the room if they knew what was going on; she wanted to understand what was going on, but none seemed to know. One of the older girls, who said her name was Amanda, volunteered that she and several other older girls thought someone had kidnapped them and were going to sell them to sex traffickers.
“Oh, my God no.” cried Mary, sobbing into her hands. This cannot be happening.”
“I’m afraid it is happening,” said Amanda as she put an arm around Mary’s shoulder. Looks like we’re all in this together, We’re all victims,” said Amanda shedding a tear.
Mary learns that most of the girls have been captive for three or four days; she also learned that they were fee only once a day, usually a cheese sandwich and a bottle of water. It seemed the guards were not allowed to hit the girls in their faces—to not spoil their appearance probably. They left the single light bulb in the ceiling on all the time. There was no way of telling what time men came and went because they stripped the girls of all their belongings when they were put in the room with the others.
“They take one or two girls a day off to somewhere, and they never return. Maybe one or two new ones, like yourself, arrive daily. You were the last to arrive, and there have been no new ones since,” said Amanda.
Dr. Bud Hardin answered the front doorbell. “It’s probably the police, Beth.”
A tall, thin middle-aged man stood at the door holding his credentials in front of him for Dr. Hardin to see.
“Good evening, Dr. Hardin, my name is Special Agent Oliver Halperin, FBI, may I come in?”
“Yes, of course, special agent, please do come in an take a seat over there in the study with my wife, Beth.”
“Mrs. Hardin,” nodded Special Agent Halperin as he removed his hat and took his seat.
“May I get you coffee?” Offered Mrs. Hardin’
“Thank you, no.”
Special Agent Halperin came right to the point and told the Hardins of the 24-hour wait rule before a person can be officially considered missing, and they begin serious police work. But because of Mary’s age, he said he will gather information about Mary: her friends, activities, places frequented, and boyfriends. Setting the information gathering talk aside, Special Agent Halperin grew somber, and a serious, almost like a mask, crossed his face. He took a deep breath then spoke in a low, gentle voice.
“Dr. and Mrs. Hardin, I don’t wish to alarm you, but I feel it only fair to share certain information with you won't enjoy hearing, but please hear me out, it will help you prepare for what might happen. Okay, here goes. A sex trafficking gang has been operating in the Miami area for over five months. I have been assigned as the agent in charge, heading up a multi-agency task force to locate and destroy the ring. So far, about 40 local girls, all between the ages of 14 and 17 have been kidnapped from the Miami area, and we think they were subsequently sold into sex slavery. You might have read about this in the papers and seen news of it on television.”
“Yes, sadly enough, we have—since we have a young teenaged daughter,” said Dr. Hardin, shaking his head slowly to add emotion to his reaction. Mrs. Hardin said nothing; she simply dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.
“Let me hasten to add that we don’t know Mary is a victim. We will trace her steps as best we can before jumping to that conclusion. I only want you to be prepared.”
“Oh, my God. Can this be happening to us, ” cried out Mrs. Hardin as she slumped over in Dr. Hardin’s arms.
“I’ll take my leave, Dr. Hardin. No need in showing me the door. I’ll be in touch every day.”
Bud and Beth Hardin held hands and looked into each other's eyes. “Bud, what are we going to do? Tell me what, you have the brains in the family?”
“We will pray, Beth. We will pray.”
“Off your asses and on your feet, bitches,” shouted one guard as the big light in the ceiling was turned on, causing the girls to squint and cover their eyes.
A guard appeared and yelled: “Line up along the back wall. Come on, you’ve done this before! Move! Move! Move!”
Once the girls were all lined up, the well-dressed man they had seen before entered the room, and slowly walked down the line of girls stopping before each one and staring at every inch of them. He went so far as to open one the girl’s blouse to inspect her breasts.
“You, he pointed to one girl. And you, and you,” he pointed to Amanda and me. He then left the room without saying another word. Three guards grabbed an arm of each of us three girls and guided us roughly from the room. One of the girls resisted and was struck severely across her back with a long stick-like object.
“Remember, not the face,” reminded one of the guards.
Mary was really in a state of panic, she had difficulty breathing and wet her panties. She had no idea where they were taking her or what would happen to her.
“Thank you for coming by, Agent Halperin. Do you have news for us?”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t—not yet, but I remain hopeful, Dr. Hardin, and I hope you and Mrs. Hardin doo as well.”
Dr. Hardin leaned forward in his chair; he appeared haggard and drawn with dark circles under his eyes. He bravely asked: “Be honest with us, Agent Halperin, what are the odds of us ever seeing Mary again? What do you think has happened to her?”
Tears flowed freely down Beth Hardin’s face. Bud Hardin took one of Beth Hardin’s hands and tried to soothe her.
Agent Halperin fidgeted nervously in his chair. He felt great reluctance and sadness to say what he was about to say to these parents. He knew so well how they were likely to react; they would respond like dozens of parents he had worked with on other missing person cases. They would pass into a state of deep grief, feeling helpless and hopeless. They would likely be filled with denial and would wait for their daughter to come again as though none of this had ever happened. But she will not return.
“Dr. and Mrs. Hardin, this is my gut feeling based on 17 years of experience, most of which have been in missing persons. Our collective experience with the kidnapping of pretty young girls like Mary is that they are most often sold into sex slavery and are never seen again. Less than 2% have been able to escape their owners and find their way back to their homes. When they are lucky enough to escape and reunite with families, most are severely traumatized and require extensive mental treatment.
“Dr. Hardin, you asked me the odds of Mary returning. I can only share these statistics with you. 7,255 cases of child kidnapping into sex slavery were reported last year, and about 72% of those cases involved young girls between the ages of 14 and 17. We think72% of the hookups between victim and perpetrator were made on the internet, And nationwide, between 2007 and 2017, 40,987 cases of sex trade kidnapping were reported. I know that information sounds brutal—even mind-blowing, butI’m sharing it with you so may know what we know. Hopefully, this information will assist you in coming to grips with your situation.”
Mrs. Hardin was to overcome with emotion and left the room without hearing Agent Halperin’s explanation. Dr. Hardin was speechless; his mouth moved, but no words came out. He could only shake his head from side to side and mutter a few profanities under his breath.
“Yes, thank you, Special Agent.”
“I’ll take my leave, now, Dr. Hardin. No need to show me out. I’ll be in touch the moment we hear something. In the meanwhile, try and get some rest, you’re going to need it. By the way, we’re still going through Mary’s things, her computer, in particular, to see if she made contact with anyone the day before her disappearance. Goodnight, doctor.”
“Amanda, I’m so glad I found you, I don’t know what I would do if I were totally alone; it helps to have someone who is more mature than I, and who I can trust. You are certainly helping me to cope, but I’m still frightened to death. What do you think they will do with us, Amanda, do you think we’re going to be sold to a sex ring?”
“I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head, Mary, these people will sell us to sex traffickers; I think that’s what happened to the other girls. I think tonight is all about seeing how we will react to these men.”
Mary and Amanda were separated from the others, and placed in a small room by themselves; there was no window, but there were a toilet, washbasin, and a pitcher of water. One washcloth and a single thread-bare towel hung near the water basin. Amanda had no sooner finished her last sentence when they hear loud noises and laughter outside their door. Soon the door was unlocked and flung open with a loud bang. A guard entered the room and tossed a bundle of clothes on the floor.
“Put on those clothes, now. And hurry it up, Mr. Wu is waiting. Here is a box containing makeup, Mr. Wu wants you to look sexy, do you understand?”
“We understand,” said Amanda picking up the clothes.
The guard left and locked the door behind him. The girls struggled into the skimpy, tight-fitting clothes and applied the makeup.
“I’ve never worn spike heels in my life,” said Amanda.
“Well, I sure haven’t,” said Mary. We surely must look like prostitutes. Oh, my God, Amanda, that’s what they will want us to do!”
“I think you’re right, girlfriend, and I’m a virgin. Oh shit!”
Mary began to whimper. “I’m only 15, Amanda, it will hurt me to have sex. Oh, my God! No. No. No. I will just refuse to go through with it.”
Their door opened again.
“Come on, bitches. Move your asses. Mr.Wu wants to look at you.”
Mr. Wu was waiting outside their room and gave them each a once-over inspection.
“Now, listen to me. You will entertain a group of Japanese businessmen. I will expect you to comply with anything they want to do to you or with you. These men are valuable clients, and you will show them a good time. Whatever they want to do with you, or to you, you will allow, You will not refuse or balk at anything that occurs during the evening. Remember, you must do anything asked of you without complaint or protest. If you do not, your punishment will be swift and severe—punish could even extend to your families. Now go! If you do a good job, maybe I will not sell you to these men.
Two guards drove them perhaps five miles to a posh hotel. They were escorted to the 22nd floor. The door was opened to reveal at least six drunk Japenese businessmen. Both girls trembled.
“Sweet Jesus, I’ve got an awful feeling about this,” whimpered Amanda.
Mary grabbed Amanda’s hand; Mary was literally shaking with fear. She felt nauseous and thought she might pass out. Amanda's face was a study in terror. Both were frozen where they stood. As the men approached them, the girls got an ugly idea of what lay ahead for them—a long night of terror and broken hymens.
Miami FBI Office
Office of Special Agent Halperin
“Thanks for coming in, Dr. Hardin, take a seat.”
“Have you news for me,?”
“A little. Here’s what we know so far. doctor.” The information on Mary’s computer, coupled with a second thought confession from her friend, Jill, we could trace her steps to a fellow posing as a much younger man. This man lured Mary to a meeting with him in Avondale at Fat Jack’s restaurant. We arrested this fellow posing as Robert, and he told us a lot about how the sex slave ring operates, but I’m afraid we got nothing from him beyond that. They assigned him Mary as his target, all by telephone, so no identifications were possible. He gave us the location of the abandoned warehouse where the girls were taken. We raided the warehouse only to find it empty. We were not surprised, these scams change locations every few days to avoid detection and capture. And I’m afraid, Dr. Hardin, that’s where we are—at a dead end.
“Agent Halperin, do I understand you correctly; you’re saying Mary will never come home?”
“There is always that slim chance we talked about, doctor, but as you will remember, the odds are less than 2%. I’m so sorry.”
“So, Mary is now one of those statistics, just another missing teenager?”
Author’s Note: This story is narrative fiction; however, the several statistics used by the author are real and were taken from the United Nations 2002 Office on Drug and Crime Global Report, The Ark of Hope for Children Records, and the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
The Last Ride
I had no specific itinerary in mind, no particular list of destinations in mind, nor had I set a time limit in which to complete the trip I was about to take. However, I had an insatiable urge to travel the back roads of the western United States, something I have longed to do for a long time. Loosely, I intend to follow US Highway 84 for most of the early trip.
Moreover, to me, my ripe old age of 78 has nothing to do with the trip—god or bad. In my estimation, it is not an issue. Following is my vision for the trip.
Twenty-six years in the US Army, going through some tough training and combat, has encouraged me to stay in fairly good physical shape, especially for my age. In consideration of my physical condition, I’m prepared for a motorcycle excursion into the western states of this country. I’ll start my ride in Thomasville, Georgia, and the Good Lord willing, will return to the same spot at some time in the future. My wife is not entirely happy about this trip, but she supports me and understands my motivation for doing it.
Secretly, I expect, and even hope, to encounter adventure and situations that will test my metal as a man who has not given up on living. I don’t fear danger, nor do I expect to shy away from it should it be visited; I want to look danger in the face once again to see, for myself, if I can still handle it. There is only one thing I fear—spiders. Arachnophobia has terrified me since early childhood; the reason has never been explained to me. As a matter of fact, that being said, I mostly want to experience the sights, smells and sounds of being on the road on a motorcycle—wonders and experiences that cannot be duplicated in an automobile.
My duffel for the trip, while most important, is Spartan consisting of two sets of quick-dry clothing, riding boots, a toilet kit, medicine bag, sunscreen, sunglasses, leather vest, and a 9mm pistol I will carry concealed in a holster inserted into the back of my jeans. Satisfied that I had everything I needed, I stowed the duffel in the Harley’s trunk. I was ready to ride.
So, on the morning of June 30, 2013, six months after my 78th birthday, I mounted my Harley Davidson Electro-Glide Limited Motorcycle, listened to the engine roar for a moment, and headed west on US Highway 84 from Thomasville, Georgia. My wife gave me a teary-eyed farewell, with admonishments, for attempting this motorcycle trip at my age--and alone. When you are my age, you grow weary of hearing at your age.
When I reached Laurel, Mississippi it was dusk. The ride here was uneventful, but uit taught my body what to expect from consecutive long rides. A cheap motel, a hot shower, fresh clothes, and finding a suitable place to eat, were next on my agenda. Travel experiences have taught me the best way to find good food in an unfamiliar town is to ask residents where they eat, a practice I have found to be reliable. When I travel solo, I usually have a piece of fruit and a pack of crackers for lunch, not much, but a heavy lunch makes me sleepy; I have to be 100% alert when riding..
To get a sample of Laurel, to stretch my legs, and to garner a sense of the history of this old town, I walked the streets for an hour. If only I could have been an observer during the town’s heyday. My recall of American history facts was enough to encourage me to seek monuments, and other reminders, of the events that took place in and around Laurel.
An elderly gentleman on a park bench caught my eye during my walk, so I stopped, introduced myself, and took a seat next to the old fellow. He must have been at least 90 years old, but he was a dapper dresser and carried a walking cane. The walking cane immediately caught my attention because I collect canes—particularly olds ones. My decision to stop and talk to the man proved fruitful because he gave me an hour and a half lecture on the history of Laurel’s growth, development, and rise to glory in a world economy. His looked like the pictures of Mark Twain I’ve seen, in voice sounded like he had a mouth full of gravel, he was a virtual encyclopedia of local facts, and he lectured non-stop for over an hour holding me spellbound. It was almost impossible for me to get a question asked.
His knowledge of the economic development of Laurel was as detailed as a chamber of commerce director could have flaunted. For instance, he told me the details of how Laurel’s location in the pine belt helped to put them on the map economically, and as a result, the railroad coming to Laurel. He told me how the Eastman-Gardiner Company led the way for giant lumber companies. Then in the early 1900s, he related with great animation of his arms and hands, Laurel mills shipped more yellow pine lumber than anywhere in the world. His face filled with pride as he told how the lumber business was revolutionized again in 1899 when John Lindsey invented the eight-wheel wagon.
I thought the old man had finished his lecture; he paused to wipe his face with a fresh handkerchief and to catch his breath, but I was mistaken. He pointed to a statue nearby, took a noisy breath, and insisted on relating the story of William Mason’s invention of Masonite sheeting, a major enhancement for the building industry.
I stood and offered my hand to shake hands with the old fellow.
“Sit down, young fellow I must tell you of when oil was discovered near Laurel. In 1942, and continued by telling me of his work in the oil fields where he labored until his retirement in 1980.
I did not want to ask the old fellow’s age, but sim one of the dates he recited in telling his stories would place him at about 95 years old. What an interesting character. I wondered if the old man had anyone to take care of him, and my mind suddenly made the old man an issue of concern. But what could I have done? Anyway, what I had hoped to derive from the trip was already coming to fruition.
I made the mistake of asking the old man about his walking cane. As if our economic development discussion had not satiated me, the old fellow joined me in a lively diatribe about antique walking canes. I had met my match, this gentleman’s knowledge of walking canes boggled my mind, and I considered myself an expert on canes circa European turn of the century. I thanked the old man for adding to my meager knowledge of American History, as it happened in and near Laurel, Mississippi, and new walking cane knowledge of the European genre.
I returned to the motel to wash my clothes, and to get much-needed sleep. My ability to ride long distances depended on my getting seven or eight hours of sleep; good sleep equals good riding stamina. I chatted with my wife for a few minutes and told her that I loved her,
At 6:48 am, after a high protein breakfast, I mounted the Harley and headed west on US Highway 84, refreshed and eager to experience day two of my trip. Whatever the day might bring, I was ready. Normally high blood pressure and blood sugar levels had normalized, and I had the energy of a twenty-year-old. That I remembered to include my diabetic testing kit and blood pressure monitor was a blessing. I wanted my health to be manageable so I could enjoy the wonders of the open road, and the secrets of the small communities yet to come.
The further west I rode, the higher the temperature climbed. By ten o’clock in the morning, perspiration soaked my bandana and shirt. The thermometer on the Harley registered 102 degrees, and the air running over my body was repressively super-heated. I stopped for gas at a convenience store and met my first unexpected heart-stopping incident early into the trip.
The Harley was full, and I replaced the gas tank cap and went inside to pay for the gas. I was halfway to the register when I realized a large man was in the process of robbing the cashier. His back was towards me; about ten paces separated me from the robber. The cashier, a young girl, had frozen in fear, and the robber had become enraged because the girl was not responding to his demands. Now what in the hell had I walked into—what do I do now, I asked of myself? It appeared the robber was about to shoot the cashier; he had raised the pistol to firing position. Old training surfaced from the depths of somewhere, and I quickly, but quietly tried to slow my breathing, unholstered my 9mm, and crept forward until I was within one foot of the robber’s back. He still had not detected me, and I placed the muzzle of my 9mm at the base of his skull and quietly demanded that he drop his weapon to the floor and place his hands behind his neck. I told him that if he did not comply with my demand, I would blow a large hole in his head. My nerves were on high alert. Would I pull the trigger on my pistol if he did not comply? Thank God, he complied so I didn’t have to get an answer.
The cops arrived, the cashier, two other witnesses and I gave statements to the police, and the ranking policeman allowed me to leave pending recall of my presence if necessary.
I was shaken somewhat, but I was more surprised at how well I handled that situation. I was proud of myself and thankful for my training. The journey continued. Several miles later I vomited my breakfast.
Huge rice patties, one after the other, lined both sides of the highway for as far as my eyes could see. It was a beautiful sight by any standard. Elaborate irrigation systems kept the rice patties adequately watered, and that appeared to be a major factor in an operation of such magnitude. I surmised it took huge amounts of water to keep up with the evaporation rate generated by a hot sun?
A fortuitous way to get that question answered appeared a few hundred yards up the highway where a work crew was busy in the patties near the highway. Curiosity got the best of me, and I stopped on the roadside to briefly ask questions of a man I thought to be the work crew foreman.
The gentleman I thought to be the foreman turned out to be the property owner. When I parked the bike and introduced myself, he said his name was Bennet, and that he and his father owned this rice field and several more nearby. He impressed me as pleasant enough, a burly farmer-businessman, so I asked him questions about growing rice until I had satisfied my curiosity. Mr. Bennet patiently answered all my questions showing satisfaction that I was interested in his livelihood. The fact that the sun evaporates one gallon of water per acre per hour blew my mind. That is a hell of a lot of water—this one field alone was 800 acres. Mr. Bennet explained that the main irrigation pipes lay on the ground in trenches between the plant rows. Water is dripped directly into the earth, so the plant roots can soak it up before evaporation takes it all. Wow! Mind-boggling. I almost forgot to take pictures of the field, the irrigation equipment, and Mr. Bennet, but I remembered my camera and took pictures during the last ten minutes of my visit.
I lost valuable riding time visiting Mr. Bennet, but in retrospect, I’m glad I made the stop because my brain soaked up a lot of rice growing history. Gaining new knowledge and information is a satisfying experience for me; it’s like new information somehow extends my life so I might enjoy the new brain food.
The gas gauge read nearly empty, and on this bike, when it says empty, that’s what it means. It was time to look for a service station, and that’s no easy task when one is on back roads in this sparsely populated country. It’s a good idea to start looking for gas when the gauge is on one-third full.
Finally, the sign up the road advised me gas was only four miles away—my lucky day.
The only working pump, judging by its design, appeared to be at least thirty-five years old, maybe older, but it satisfied the Harley’s thirst with 5.4 gallons of high-test fuel. The old girl had averaged 35 miles per gallon. That was above average for an 835-pound bike carrying 250 pounds of passenger and luggage and cruising at 70 miles per hour.
The place looked abandoned—like a ghost town. There was no one in the streets, no children playing in the vacant spaces—or anywhere. There is only the sound of a brisk wind blowing copious amounts of dust.
A water hose and spigot caught my attention at a corner convenience store, and I soaked myself with the lukewarm water. The water cooled me for about an hour before it evaporated. My stomach complained, and no wonder, I had been riding for five hours, and for lunch, an apple and a pack of crackers had sufficed.
A chat with the proprietor of the station proved educational and worth the time. In appearance, he reminded me of Ichabod Crane, but he had a voluminous knowledge of the station, and shared it with me telling me stories about the passing of ownership of the station. His great-grandfather started the business in 1921, it passed to his father, and then to him thirty-four years ago. He admitted neither owner, including himself, had done much to improve or keep up the property. Everything in and around the place looked at least one hundred years old. The paint had long ago peeled from the building’s side, and thick vine covered the entire structure, leaving just enough room for the front door and the windows. Sympathizing with the fellow was easy; I thought it would be a sin to disrupt the natural beauty of this old place by making repairs. The station conjured up visions of being transported in time to another era. The proprietor’s story was fascinating and entertaining; obviously, he told the truth as he had experienced it. We shared several beers as Sid, the proprietor, told one story after another. For example, his great grandfather was not only the first proprietor of this store; he was involved in human trafficking for ten years or more. His handlers brought women, some as young as 12, to Sid’s grandfather, Abraham, and he would house them temporarily in shanties out back of the station until they were sold.
The women had no possessions, only the clothes on their backs. Abraham fed them just enough to keep them alive. There was no heat in the shanties, and in the winter it was not uncommon for several women to die of a combination of hypothermia and consumption. Sid even went so far as to show me an old, faded dusty ledger recording the sales of girls by the old man to buyers from Mexico and even the United States. According to the ledger, Sid said over 250 women were sold into the sex slave market by his great grandfather. He showed me the vestiges of the only remaining shack where the women had been housed. As I stood amid the shack, I could almost sense the pain and hopelessness the women must have endured. Anticipating my question, Sid said it was not his plan to offer the ledger to anyone or any organization. The ledger was not for sale. He did not see what value the ledger could have to anyone but himself. Pity, I thought.
“The less attention this story receives the safer the ledger,” said Sid.
“But, Sid, you deny history a rich story.”
“I don’t care about all that. Besides, I would have to put up with a bunch of tourists; No thank you.”
It was getting late, I thanked Sid for sharing the stories, we shook hands, and I walked away from the station shaking my head—unbelievable. Sid was a colorful storyteller. He knew how to bring characters to life, and how to keep his audience interested. One cannot learn how to be a great storyteller because it is a gift—one does not acquire it. An image of Sid will fondly remain in my memory.
The two extended visits made my day but prevented me from covering the distance I had hoped to ride. I later found a motel from hell in a small town. I do not remember it well but, I think the name of the place was Oliver. The carpeting was threadbare and exposed the sub-floor. The banana-shaped mattress rested on a genuinely old, exposed coiled springs. There was only one light in the room, a single naked bulb hanging from a moldy ceiling. The bathroom furnishings I’ll leave to your imagination to picture. One could read a newspaper through a single bath towel, and the bedclothes were suffering from a lack of soap. I was too tired to care. The proximity of these civil failures was two miles from Lilly Ville and the border of the US with Mexico. Cell phone reception was not possible in Lilly Ville. I rode down the highway several miles and finally found a pay phone. It was pretty beaten up, but I got a dial tone and decided to call home. My wife and I exchanged reminders and love.
The next day I rode across northern Louisiana and into Texas, but I could not make it through Texas— too far, and the day had been long and hot. I could not believe it, but I covered nearly five hundred miles in a little over twelve hours, enough to convince me to find a motel and go to sleep. My old bones ached.
The bike thermometer registered 104 degrees when I pulled in to Dillard, Texas at 6:45 pm. The town was composed of only a crossroads and four corners. One derelict Seven-Eleven store, a hardware store of the type that featured one of everything, a pathetic-looking grocery store, and a medical clinic housed in a mobile home occupied the four corner spaces of the little community. Approximately a dozen houses scattered within thirty feet of each other represented the residential part of town. A largely deserted silo covered in rust and vine dwarfed the other buildings. Two gas pumps in front of the Seven-Eleven store appeared operational, and as had become my habit after I fueled the bike, I found water to soak my clothes.
Inside the store, among the well-stocked shelves and bins, there was a wonderful ancient-looking lunch counter complete with marble countertop and leather-covered stools. A cold ham sandwich and a coke had to do for my lunch. The proprietor cast a quizzical eye at me, no doubt trying to figure out why I was soaking wet. There could not have been many history lessons hidden here, so I paid for my purchases and looked for a motel. To my surprise, a rather good-looking family owned motel was on the outskirts of town, I rented a room and settled in for the night.
The entire day included long stretches of empty road, the stench of cattle feedlots along the roadside, and extreme heat. A one-pump service station materialized in the middle of nowhere where I topped off with gas and wet myself thoroughly. There was nothing to see, nothing to do, nor anyone interesting to talk to about history.
The bike thermometer registered 104 degrees when I arrived on the outskirts of Euclid, Oklahoma at 6:10 in the evening. While enjoying good vibes from my body, I was also sensitive to the wear and tear on my older body. The need for sleep annoyed me through a great steak dinner. I found a nice air-conditioned motel room, and the rest is repetitive history. The quiet surroundings of the small community were conducive to eight hours of a sound sleep.
I called my wife before retiring, and we had a long chat about the children, grandchildren, and my trip, but mostly about our love for each other. I missed her even though I was thoroughly enjoying my trip.
At six o’clock this morning, the temperature was a brisk 65 degrees, and the forecast called for gusting winds, a heavy overcast and temperatures reaching only 97 degrees—a cool day for a change.
I shared my breakfast time with twenty other early rising workers in the only place to eat. I enjoyed my meal of bacon and eggs and listening to the others.
Their talk included the price of cattle feed and low on-the-hoof prices for beef. It was common to use feedlots to fatten cattle the last few weeks before taking them to market. While a little costly, this practice saves the cattlemen money in the long run. I asked one of the cattlemen exactly how this practice saved them money? He replied that it saved them money because eating the rich fodder for several weeks’ quickly added weight to the animals thus increasing the on the hoof sales price. I found it particularly interesting that most cattle gain up to ten percent in body weight during the intensive three-week feeding period. The increase in on the hoof weight made the cow worth more than the cost of the feed. His explanation almost made the stench more durable for me—not. If only they could find a way to make money off the stench of the feedlots. Feedlot stench could mean a lot of money to the right entrepaneur.
Entertainment for my ride this day comprised two 18-wheelers that played with me by hemming me in with the aid of a third18-wheeler. The result of such a game creates a rough air pocket for the rider who gets caught in the trap. If the rider is fortunate enough to be riding a powerful bike, he can accelerate out of the pocket and save himself. And that is what I did.
The Harley responded when I opened the throttle, and I quickly slipped out of their trap leaving the trucks far behind. They showed their displeasure at my escape by honking their horns. The horns sounded victory–for me. The rest of the day’s ride bored me. It’s difficult to get the stench of the feedlots out of one’s nostrils; it just has to neutralize over time.
When I crossed the Texas border into New Mexico, it was time to look for a motel.
I checked into the Silver Moon Inn, the only lodging around, paid for a $30 room and asked the proprietor for his recommendation for a good place to eat.
“There haint no good place ‘round here to eat, but if it were me decidin’, I’d pick Maude’s Kitchen down the street.”
“Why pick that one?”
“For two good reasons, stranger. First, I’d eat there ‘cause it’s the only place in town, and, second, ‘cause my wife owns and operates the place.”
“Well, that’s good enough for me. Thank you, sir, I’ll go that way right now.”
The restaurant was easy to locate. It sported a modicum of design and decor. Someone who knew what they were doing had decorated the small building and made it blend into the local western landscape. The place was whistle-clean inside and out. While looking at the Remington prints placed so artfully on the walls, I had not noticed the woman standing at my elbow. She was a waitress. I suppose I had been too focused on the prints and their power to transfix me not to notice the woman. Being in this place made me think of what life must have been like one hundred years ago.
“May I show you to a table, sir?”
“Yes, please do.”
The hostess seated me at a table on a wall at the back of the room. It was a good vantage point. I could see the many patrons, and many of the wall decorations that were western prints by well-known artists famous for their interpretation of life in the old west.
A handsome young man of apparent American Indian decent presented a menu, took my order for a drink, and waited at a distance for me to choose a meal. His attire was in keeping with the well-executed interior décor. He recommended the daily special of pot-roast served with a local lager beer, and his recommendation proved outstanding. I ate the seasoned meal and enjoyed its perfection. The good meal foretold a good night’s sleep. I passed on the beer.
While walking back to my bike, I noticed a young girl, perhaps 15 or 16 years old, sitting on a bench near the front door. She was holding a baby that could not have been more than a few weeks old. They both appeared malnourished and in need of a bath and fresh clothing. They conjured an image of inmates at the Nazi Treblinka death camp.
I passed by them on the way to my bike without taking further notice; after all, they were none of my business. However, by the time I reached my bike, my heart was putting a real guilt trip on me. I did not want to admit it, but my heart was breaking for them, and I knew nothing of them or their circumstances. Why am I reacting this way? A higher power pushed me most of the way back to where they were sitting. For all I knew, they might have been waiting for someone.
I approached them not knowing what I would say to the mother because I didn’t understand how to handle this situation; it was a new experience for me. However, something, or someone, put words into my mouth. When I spoke, my words sounded as though they were being spoken by someone else. Nevertheless, when the young woman smiled at me, I became calm.
“Mam, if you don’t mind my asking, are you waiting for someone? Are you and the baby OK? Do you need help? Are you having difficulties, Mam?” I was made nervous by her reluctance to answer my questions. Could I have caused her concern because I asked too many questions at once? He knew his initial attempts comforting the woman must have sounded clumsy. He used a gentle tone of voice when he spoke. She finally spoke in a guarded backcountry manner.
“Thank you, mister, but you don’t want to get mixed up with me, my ex-boyfriend would hurt you real bad for helpin’ me.”
“Well, let me be the judge of that. When did you and the baby eat last, Mam?”
“I must admit it has been a while, maybe two days. The baby ain't had no milk in three days. I’m awful worried ‘bout her. She don’t even cry no more.”
Tears flooded her cheeks as she spoke of the baby not having milk.
“I’m sorry, mister, but please don’t fool with us. We’d jest get you cross-wise with my ex-boyfriend, Buford. I don’t know why you even care, mister, but the baby and I will be jes’fine, thank ya anyways.”
I was close to tears. Never have I seen someone so needy, right here in the USA, and right in front of a restaurant full of people, go without help. It didn’t compute in my head. Oh, I was aware there were poor people, but this was up close and personal—in your face. I was a witness to shamefulness and physical abuse. Watching the young lady more, closely I could see bruises on her arms, and scars from what might have been cigarette burns on her neck. Seeing the condition of this woman and child made my blood boil. Anger overtook me, and I tensed up because I wanted to find and hurt the SOB who did this horrible thing and make the rest of his life miserable.
“Mam, please come inside with me, and I will get you a decent meal and milk for the baby. It’ll be OK. You come on with me, please. Don’t you worry?
Forget your ex-boyfriend; he will not be allowed to harm you or the baby.”
Hampton shuffled his feet in a circular motion and lowered his head as he spoke to the woman; his voice became softer but higher pitched. He had difficulty making and keeping eye contact with her.
The woman reluctantly allowed me to escort her into the restaurant. She walked behind me with her head down and covered in a shawl. I heard several grunts come from the woman as we were being led to our able. Many eyes followed us as we made our way through the crowded restaurant. The waitress who seated us looked condescendingly at the woman, but the woman did not take notice. The waitress’s behavior made me wonder how often this young woman had suffered from abusive treatment. Surely, she must have experienced love and kindness at some time in her life? The waitress took our order—steak for the woman, milk for the baby, and coffee for me. The man at the cash register caught my attention and motioned for me to join him. I excused myself telling the woman I wanted to pay the bill. When I approached the man, he stood close to me and whispered into my ear that the woman’s boyfriend was an extremely dangerous man. He had been in prison and might cut my throat if he found out I helped his ex-woman. He advised me to leave the premises as soon as possible.
Taking his advice was the prudent thing to do, he probably had personal knowledge of this character. Before leaving, I tucked five one-hundred-dollar bills into the baby’s bib and cautioned the woman to use the money to put distance between her and the ex-boyfriend. That act of kindness left me barely enough money to make it back to Georgia, but I figured they needed it more than me. I left them pondering their future, and what else I could have done?
I slept later than usual not getting on the road at 7:30. The temperature was a modest 69 degrees and felt wonderful. Traffic was again light, and the sky was overcast with scattered showers predicted for later in the afternoon. Good news. It was going to be a good riding day.
I wanted to spend a few days in Santa Fe, so I connected with the interstate just before noon to make better time. Traffic resembled an army of busy ants, with 18-wheelers dominating the road. I rode most of the afternoon weaving in and out of trucks and avoiding truck traps like the one I encountered in Texas. The interstate in this area was void of places to eat and to rest until I saw a roadhouse up the road and I stopped. There were many bikes parked around the place–all of them Harleys — not a good sign. My stomach knotted up, and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention.
Well dam! I had stumbled upon a motorcycle gang, and I hoped they surprise me with friendliness, and do not turn out to be of the Hell’s Angels variety. However, I was in the west, and some motorcycle gangs out here are notorious for their rowdy and dangerous behavior. Hunger and fatigue clouded my better judgment, and I chose to visit the place. I said a short prayer, parked my bike away from the others, and went into the bar. The biker’s colors, displayed by the monogram on the back of their leather vests, identified them as the Desert Mayhem Riders. I had never seen those colors, nor had I ever heard of that group, but then I’m no authority on biker colors. To see how this situation might play out, would test my patients. Coincidentally, I had worn my Christian Motorcycle Association colors, and as is my habit when traveling, I had on my person a concealed lightweight 9mm semi-automatic pistol. I prayed silently that I would not have to use it. I could feel the hair on then back of my stand. My mind automatically went to the worst cate scenario. I got a lumpy feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I could tell my adrenaline spiking.
There was just enough space at the bar for me to slide in and order a diet coke and a chef’s salad. When the waitress placed the food in front of me, the biker on my left shouted in a loud voice: “Well, look what we got here, gents. We got in our presence a gen-u-ine old fart pretendin’ to be a biker, and he’s drinkin’ a soda pop.”
“Yeah, where you from old-timer, you’re not from ‘round here for sure? And what are you doin’ in this place, another biker asked?”
“I want a snack—no trouble. After I’ve eaten, I’ll leave—no trouble, please.”
My hands were sweating profusely; I rubbed them down my pant legs slowly and repeatedly, a habit acquired in Vietnam before a firefight.
“What if you’re eatin’ and then leavin’ ain't all right with us, you ancient piece of crap?”
“That would be unfortunate. I told you I would eat and then leave and that’s what I intend to do.”
In the blink of an eye, a calm settled over me, and I knew I was in total control of my emotions and body.
Without warning, the biker on my left swept my food off the bar with his heavily tattooed right arm.
“What are you going to do about that, you piece of dog crap? I think you’re so old you can’t even get it up anymore.”
I lapsed into an automatic response mode ingrained in me by military training many years ago. With my hand closest to the offender, I hit his Adam’s apple with a crushing blow that sent him gagging to the floor, and I drew my pistol with my other hand.
“I might be old, but I assure you, boys, I can take care of myself. Now, I know I’m outnumbered, but you boys should know I will put a bullet in the forehead of the next man who makes a threatening move towards me. Who will be first?”
I waited, thank God no one moved.
“No takers? Then stay where you are and I’ll leave. If I see a hand reaching for a weapon, I will shot to kill. I’m leaving now; if you follow me, you might live to regret it. The bartender reached for and was shouldering, a double-barreled shotgun. I fired a shot over his head into the mirror behind the bar, and he chose to lay the shotgun back on the bar. I exited the bar walking backward, watching their hands, mounted my Harley, and sped away.
Once on my bike and heading down the road, I noticed that my entire body was trembling, and I found it hard to breathe for several minutes. Luckily, no one followed me. My body soon regained normalcy.
Days Seven, Eight and Nine
I always enjoy Santa Fe; I have visited the city before, and it still reminds me of a large sprawling country town, yet it’s modern and progressive. The price of property in Santa Fe helps to keep the growth of the city manageable. The cost of visiting here is much less expensive than the cost of living and owning property here. Visiting this beautiful and historic town a few days I thought might erase the sting of my confrontation with that biker gang. I booked a room in the Eden hotel in the old section of Santa Fe where the shops and restaurants I wanted to visit are located. A distant church bell chimed the time to be half-past eight. I showered, dressed, and walked along the main street looking for a familiar restaurant. As I remembered, it’s not possible to make a wrong restaurant choice in this city. The restaurants here are cutthroat when it comes to competitiveness, and to survive a restaurant has to produce high-quality cuisine and exceptional service consistently. As I finished that thought, I saw the Shed Restaurant, a wonderful beef oriented menu boasting old charm ambiance, a lot of mahogany wood, and large cloth napkins. I was in God’s country again. A wave of calmness enveloped me as I was being seated by a hostess. I was thinking of how blessed I was when my cell phone rang. The sound of my wife’s voice intensified my euphoric moment. She said she could tell by the sound of my voice that I was a happy old man.
For three days, I visited my favorite places and ate well at The Pantry, The Ranch House, El Callejon Taqueria Grill, and The Loyal Hound restaurants. The episode with the bikers several days ago remained with me but was growing steadily dimmer. On the morning of day four in Santa Fe, I reluctantly headed for home. My reasons were several.
First, while my riding skills are still sound, I found my coordination and timing had slowed significantly because of my age—something I cannot fix. I had become a danger to myself and to others. Second, the mileage I had been accumulating every day in sweltering heat had taken too much out of me, and exhaustion had made me a road hazard. Last, my finances were now five hundred dollars less than I had planned, and I had spent excessively on restaurants. I realized I had no choice but to accept my limitations and end the trip. Hell, I am old.
Days Ten, Eleven, and Twelve
The Decision to use interstate highways for the trip back home was a good one; it made the trip back to Georgia shorter and safer. Good road time and mileage were possible without so much exertion, and the decision encouraged me to splurge for better lodging and to din along the way. I made four hundred or more miles a day riding so long as it felt comfortable; I stopped riding when I grew tired. There were probably many gems of visitation that I missed along the way but perhaps next trip.
The skyline of Atlanta looked good, but I found the glut of traffic intimidating. I thought the best solution to dealing with the traffic problem was to go straight through Atlanta on I-85 and I-75, avoiding I-285. A good idea.
The ride from Atlanta to Thomasville proved uneventful but the six hours required seemed prolonged. The bike clock registered six-fifteen o’clock as I pull into my driveway. Fatigue had overtaken me, but in a strange and gratifying way. I couldn’t help smiling in a hot shower as I recalled the high points of my trip. It had been an exciting two weeks for this 78-year-old man. I’ll bet my coffee club buddies will be jealous—if they believe my tale.
Day Fourteen (at home)
Sadie Grace, gave a surprise welcome home party for me the second night after I returned home. The coffee club fellows were invited along with our children and grandchildren. There was plenty of food and drink, but everyone was in a hurry to hear of my adventures if any were had. So I agreed to answer all questions to the best of my ability, but I was uncertain if I could tell everything the way it happened. Truthfully, I was getting a little emotional just thinking about some of my encounters, but I promised myself to do my best to be factual, truthful and accurate in the telling of incidents. Our guests must have seen the pensive look on my face and grew quiet.
“Well, who will ask the first question? Yes, Henry.”
“Did you have an encounter on the trip that stands out in your mind?”
The young woman and the child immediately came to mind, and surprisingly, my eyes moistened and I needed to clear my throat. It took me a few seconds to regain composure.
“Yes, Henry, I did have such an encounter.” I related the story of the young woman and child, and the more I talked about that little family the more emotional I became. I almost couldn’t finish the story. Tears flowed freely now, I excused myself and took a short break to the bathroom to regain my composure. After five minutes, I returned to the living room and encouraged questions again.
Bill Kelly asked: “Hampton, was there a time when you were in real danger?” You do not have to answer the question if you had rather not.”
“No, I’ll answer the question,” and I told them of the biker gang and the convenience store robbery. They were in awe and near disbelief. Their hometown boy, an ordinary friend, did those things? Wow. They were impressed, and I could tell that my family members were impressed. I was not impressed with those incidents; I was just grateful that I lived to tell the tale.
I went on to tell them about the positive aspects of the trip, the rice fields; the hole-in-the-road store that had been a sex slave market; and Laurel, Mississippi and the walking canes; I related it all, how much I had learned about myself on the trip and what blessings I had received.
I asked them for their attention once more because I wanted to add something gravely personal to my comments. Everyone immediately grew quiet eagerly waiting to hear what I was about to reveal that was so personal; their curiosity peaked.
“I learned things about myself that I did not know. I learned I have a good heart,.I learned that I’m capable of unashamedly identifying with the pain of others and that it’s Okay. Moreover, I learned that it’s Okay to reach out to those who are suffering. I also learned that I am a brave person who values the lives of others, and I can face danger on their behalf when dire circumstances threaten their lives. Now, you all know who I am, and I’m pleased to have shared these things with you.”
“There is one more thing I would like to point out, and I do so in full awareness that it regrettably took me a lifetime to learn. I found out that one can gain so much information and hard knowledge about something, or someone, by just listening and earnestly showing interest. I remind you of the storekeeper whose grandfather bought and sold women into slavery. He opened up to me because I expressed a genuine interest in the history of the store and his family, and because I listened with a genuine interest in what he had to tell me. The rice farmer in Mississippi was eager to share his knowledge of rice farming because he thought I was genuinely interested in learning about rice farming. The more questions I posed, the more he was willing to share his knowledge. I learned true compassion from the young mother with a small infant because I showed a heart-felt interest in their predicament—that I cared about them.”
“Friends, my only regret is that I did not learn these lessons until my 78th year, and I am profoundly astonished at my failure to learn them sooner in my life. I admonish you all, my blessed grandchildren, take heed of the lessons I learned on my trip; your lives will be all the richer for having done so. Allow my last ride to be a valuable lesson for you.”