Hitchhiking in Dallas - I Survived
Running on Empty
My sister and I were on our way to the airport at Love Field that cool morning in Dallas. She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer and we were headed to M.D.Anderson hospital in Houston hoping for a second, more optimistic opinion. Getting that sort of news tends to change one's entire outlook on life, work, and relationships and can lead to potential danger in a big city.
When the truck I was driving began to sputter and slow down unexpectedly, I pulled off the Dallas Tollway onto the shoulder of the road, I knew one thing for certain. It was essential that we get to the airport in time for our flight or we would miss our scheduled appointments at the always-busy diagnostic center.
We had just entered the tollway. I could still see the entrance ramp behind me as I left my sister waiting in the passenger's seat and told her to keep the doors locked. She'd always been the one to admonish me about safety and here I was putting us both in danger.
We had a tight schedule and couldn't afford to be late for our flight. There was no choice in the matter when it came to finding some gasoline for my pickup truck. There was no way I'd leave it on the shoulder of the road and leave town. There was also no way we could keep our appointments with any lengthy delay. I considered it a matter of life or death to get back on the road.
I made my way to a side street before the first car slowed down to take a look at me. Dressed in my traveling garb, I neither looked like an office worker, nor a homeless person.
I could feel a set of eyes pressed to my back as I put my head down and walked faster.
All my life I'd heard horror stories about the dangers of hitchhiking. As far back as I can remember, we were told about the time my Dad picked up a hitchhiker who pulled a knife on him, robbed him and could have left him for dead. Instead, he ended up with a permanent scar across the cheek of his face.
I Was Running Down the Road...
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The previous months at work were fraught with tardiness and delays after the fuel gauge on my truck stopped working. It took a lot of mental calculations and watching the odometer to know how many miles I traveled since my last fill-up. At twenty miles to the gallon, I figured I could drive about two-hundred and eighty miles on a tank of gas. Sometimes the calculations were off a bit if traffic stalled and we sat idle for any length of time. This was one of those times. According to my calculations, I should have had enough gas to make it to the airport. But my math was off and the tank was empty.
For that reason, I had started carrying an empty gas container, one of those red, five-gallon plastic jobs with me in the bed of the truck. I slammed the driver's door closed, waved goodbye to my sister and grabbed the can heading for the exit ramp a few hundred feet behind us.
Leaving the tollway area put me directly into a residential part of town. As far as I could see there were no visible gas stations anywhere nearby. I picked a direction, put one foot in front of the other and started walking. Not fond of jogging or running track, my body was unused to that sort of vigorous and sustained activity. Within a few blocks, I was drenched with perspiration which further frustrated my predicament. The thoughts of getting on a flight smelling like a ripe gymnasium was foremost on my mind when a car pulled over to the curb in front of me.
The passenger, a man in a business suit, got out and stood blocking the sidewalk. I froze, trying to decide if I would continue walking or turn and run away.
Running on Empty - Jackson Browne
Images of kidnappings, murders, rapes and violence from the TV shows I frequently watch flooded through my head. Crime scenes with detectives asking the camera, "Why would a young woman get into a car with someone she doesn't know?" The subsequent homicide investigations painted a lurid picture in my mind as the man approached and stood about ten feet in front of me.
"Do you need a lift to a gas station?" he asked.
I looked ahead at the rows of houses, the rush hour traffic whizzing by on my left and thought about my sister waiting in the hot truck for my return and hesitated for a moment before saying, "Yes."
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I got into the backseat of the car with the five gallon gas can on the floorboard next to my feet. From where I sat, I could watch the driver for any sudden moves and make it difficult for the man in the passenger seat to look at me without twisting around. My right hand remained firmly on the handle of the door.
The driver weaved his way into the relentless traffic and headed down the tree-lined street. "Where do you want to go," he asked.
"I need to find a filling station," I told him.
He introduced himself as the President of the Local Chamber of Commerce and the other man as an executive of the organization. I felt somewhat better knowing that they were likely on their way to the office at that hour and hopefully, not looking for trouble where I was concerned.
We drove around for a few minutes before locating a gas station a few miles up the road. They waited in the car as I pumped gasoline into the can, then helped me lift it into the car. We pulled back into traffic and they headed back to the Tollway entrance where my truck was located.
During the short ride I prayed continuously for my safety and for a positive outcome for my sister's visit to the Cancer Center in Houston. My needs seemed small in light of what she was facing. I was never so relieved as when I saw the highway ramp ahead and the car began to slow down.
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They offered to take me all the way to the vehicle but it would involve them having to travel up the toll road a full exit and making a u turn to come back to the street they were taking to work. I was happy to walk the last few dozen feet to get back to the truck.
I was spared any sort of detour or diversion or worse as they pulled to a stop and let me out. The filled gas can, which weighed about forty pounds, felt light as a feather as I approached my familiar red truck.
Luckily, my sister remained safely inside, dozing in the early morning hour as her horrendous day approached. She would later be probed, examined, quizzed, and poked by medical people for the rest of the day in hopes of receiving a different diagnosis than what her physician had told her.
I tapped on the window to let her know I was back. As I poured the liquid gold into the tank I sent a prayer of thanks to the Lord above for taking care of my needs and for sending me two kind gentlemen whose only objective was to help.
That was my first miracle of the day.
© 2016 Peg Cole
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