A Very Uncomfortable 88 Mile Drive

This afternoon I made the trip back from Spokane to Missoula. With it now December, my concern going into the drive was successfully navigating my car over two mountain passes during wintry conditions. Never did I know that a greater obstacle would prevent itself.

I made it over Fourth of July Pass just fine. Although heavy rainfall did slow me down a little bit, the relative ease I got over it gave me confidence for the usually more dangerous and snowy Lookout Pass. Much to my enjoyment, Lookout Pass was just a tad bit more challenging than Fourth of July with only traces of snow and the continued rainfall. After the passes were in my rearview mirror I thought I was home free for the final 100 miles of the drive.

As the relief set in I lightened my grip on the steering wheel, turned the radio on, and cracked open my Xyience energy drink as I passed a green sign that notified me I only had 88 miles to Missoula. Suddenly my relaxed state turned to panic as the black truck ahead of me started shooting out sparks all over the road. The next thing I knew a tire was rolling at a high speed right toward my car! I jerked my steering wheel on the windy road and missed the tire. It was just like a movie!! The truck, still shooting out sparks, successfully pulled to the side of the road. I pulled right behind it.

Another car that saw the whole incident pulled in front of the truck. The Good Samaritan who stopped in front of the vehicle went to the truck’s passenger window to see that the person was okay. I in turn got out of my car and went and fetched his tire that had come to a stop against the guard rail about 50 fifty feet behind us. In the cold, windy conditions with traffic zooming by me I trekked through the snow on the side of the road to get the tire. With my nice new Nikes sopping wet I pushed the tire back to the truck. As I got close to the vehicle I saw the occupant and let me tell you….it was not what I expected.

I am not into stereotypes but I must admit that I thought the owner of the nice, newer model black truck would not have looked like the neglected brother of a ZZ Top band member. The man, probably sixty, had a long straggly beard, stained clothes, a bizarre top hat, wrinkled skin, and strands of hair poking out from the hat. He thanked me for stopping and retrieving the tire and then asked the question:

Can I have a ride?

At first I was completely caught off guard by his request. In my surprise I muttered “ummm, sure.” Now that I am removed from the situation it makes sense that of course he would need a ride. He was stranded out in the middle of nowhere with a truck that only had three tires. But after I granted his request I felt uneasy. I went back to my car to wait for him to finish some business he said he had to attend to at his truck. After a minute or so I saw him open his truck and guess what jumped out?…


This was the man's dog that sat in my back seat for the 88 mile drive!

This was the man’s dog that sat in my back seat for the 88 mile drive!

Now if you know me, you know very well that dogs are not my favorite animals. Under normal conditions I would never let a dog set foot in my well-kept and clean car. But the man simply walked to my car, opened the passenger door, and his dog hopped right in and moved to the back seat. Things were getting weird. The man did not even ask for permission or apologize for the unexpected occupant. For a split second I wanted to end things right there. The last thing I needed was a creepy guy and a dog in the back seat distracting me on an already tense drive. But I kept my cool and straight up asked the man if his K9 would bark or go to the bathroom in my car. When he replied no to both, I started to drive. The guy needed to go to Kalispell but I had already told him ahead of time that I could only get him to Missoula. With that understanding, we set off on the longest 88 mile drive ever.

Heck yes I felt a little nervous. I have heard all the accounts about Good Samaritans picking up strangers and the horror stories that follow. The fact that this guy looked a little, how shall I put it, rugged, heightened my concerns. We had small talk for maybe two minutes to start the drive off. After that we were silent. In those uncomfortable moments of conversation he introduced himself and explained that he was a mechanic. He notified me that the lug nuts on the front passenger wheel gave way causing the mayhem on the road. Thoughts about him intentionally planning the incident to take advantage of someone like me ran through my head. I asked him if he was a sports fan. He said not really. Conversation ended.

When we were a few miles out of Missoula I started to negotiate with him on where I should drop him off. He went back and forth between a truck stop and a cheap motel before finally settling on a cheap motel. He tried to explain some place he stayed at ten years ago but for the life of me I couldn’t make out the motel he was talking about. But he made it very clear that he wanted to stay in a cheap motel so I took him to an area that would cater to his needs…Broadway Street.

Here is a picture I took of the man as he inquired about occupancy.

Here is a picture I took of the man as he inquired about occupancy.

I parked at one of the value motels and he told me to wait one second so he could walk in and see if the place would welcome his dog. I was now spending my Sunday evening parked outside some run down motel with a random dog in the back seat of my car. He came out and announced that he couldn’t stay there because they wouldn’t allow pets. I went to the next motel. Same verdict. Luckily they had told him a motel where he could go that would accept his dog so I once again transferred him and his animal to our third stop on Broadway Street. Of course he had to go in by himself once again to make sure they would take the two of them so I got to spend some more quality time with the dog. Finally he came out, opened my passenger door, thanked me, called for his dog, and walked out into the night. I was hoping he had keys to a motel room (I couldn’t tell if he was walking to one of the far away buildings of the property or simply didn’t want to have me shuttle him around anymore).

The silhouette of the man as he walked out of the final motel that U drove him to.

The silhouette of the man as he walked out of the final motel that I drove him to.

I was reminded of a couple things today. First, I shouldn’t be so judgmental and I shouldn’t always assume the worst. Secondly, the ways events unfold are crazy. If I would have left my parents’ house five minutes earlier today or left a few minutes later, I never would have had my encounter with the mechanic. Thirdly, you should always be considerate and notify the driver if you plan to bring an additional passenger! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend. Have a happy and blessed December. Don’t Blink.

Fireworks Ban?

 *Originally published on June 27, 2012

The Fourth of July is right around the corner and within the next couple of days I am sure to start hearing the bangs, crackles, and screams of fireworks exploding outside of my house. I welcome these echoing sounds because it signifies a great American holiday and the onset of summer. Although the loud booms seem to always linger around a little longer than I would like as people on my street tend to light off fireworks well into late July, it is still an overall positive sound for me that brings me back to my youth.

Growing up as a kid, I LOVED fireworks. For most of my life fireworks have been banned in my hometown of Spokane so I would always cherish the annual trip my family would take to Walla Walla, Washington, for the Fourth. As fireworks were legal in Walla Walla at the time, I would always salivate a little bit as we entered town and I started to see the various fireworks stands stationed in parking lots and on the sides of the streets.

Besides the pretty tame stand fireworks available in town, my uncles would always blow a whole bunch of money and stock up on the “good stuff” from the reservations. By the time July 3 and July 4 came around, we had a mini war zone taking over the yard of whatever aunt or uncle was hosting the family get together that year.
We lit fireworks off non-stop during the day and then transitioned into our own little fireworks show by night. While I loved the shows that we (and the neighbors around us) put on during the night, I really found love with the day arsenal more. You see, I was much more of a loud, blow-stuff-up kind of boy as opposed to the sparkling pretty colors “oooohhhh and ahhhhhhh” type. I preferred bottle rockets, firecrackers, and M80’s over fountains, strobes, and mortars. I liked blowing up beanie babies, detonating soda cans, and firing off bottle rockets at my cousins and brother. Through the age range of about 11-16, I remember these Fourth of July memories fondly. What I also remember is the horror and anger my mom had as she watched me light even the most harmless smoke bomb off.
I remember hating the stipulations, restrictions, and nagging my mom would force upon me each year. I hated getting scolded in front of my older cousins and worse yet, sometimes having to sit out entirely. “Mom, I am fine, I will be careful, trust me,” I would plead. My dad, the most low key guy in his family, would also take my mom’s side. My cousins would be detonating fireworks off with a cigarette lighter while I would be lighting extra long fuses with a candle lighter. I would get so frustrated and tell my mom she was embarrassing me. At that time, I didn’t understand it.
When you grow up, you start to see things differently. You experience more, read more, and observe more. Ten years removed from my “pyrotechnic”days, I no longer trust/glorify fireworks as much as I used to. Report after report of people who lose their limbs, lose their property, and even lose their lives from fireworks has changed my thinking a little bit. Back in the day, I would debate with you endlessly on how stupid it was for cities and towns to ban fireworks. I would throw out words like “unpatriotic,’ “controlling,” and “absurd”. I would reason that only uncareful and clueless people could be harmed while using fireworks. Speaking out of ignorance then, I now know that many professional pyrotechnicians get hurt and killed each year practicing their trade.
While I won’t go out and say that I fully support a fireworks ban, I do understand it.
A couple things people need to know about fireworks: While operator error is just one reason to feel nervous about fireworks, disaster can strike in other ways too. Fireworks can malfunction and not do what they were supposed to. Mother Nature can blow a firework off course or she could produce a very hot and dry day, making everything more susceptible to catching fire. A lone spark could ignite a house up in flames. Someone walking around could accidently stroll into the path of a firework or knock a firework down. There are just so many chances for something going wrong.
So while I probably don’t even completely trust a professional with fireworks, I certainly don’t trust a twelve year old with them. Mom, you were definitely right on this one. But between a professional and a twelve year old, there are many more groups that fall into the spectrum. One of these groups are good-old, trust worthy adults, just like me. Do I trust them? Do I trust myself? The answer is no. Not only do I not entirely trust people my age with fireworks, I definitely don’t trust people my age who have been drinking with fireworks. The Fourth of July is a drinking holiday, making it so many people who do light off fireworks are hammered. Does this put anyone else on edge? I would say it kind of makes those crazy people who are looking to ban fireworks a little more sane.
Fireworks are dangerous. But life is dangerous too, right? Just because life is dangerous doesn’t mean we should stop living it. The same can be said for fireworks too….just because they are dangerous does not mean people should stop celebrating with them. If they are legal in your area, by all means partake in the fun, just keep in mind the possible consequences. For the people who live in areas where they are already banned I know you will probably still celebrate with fireworks anyway so I offer the same advice…keep in mind the possible consequences. Don’t trust fireworks. Take every safeguard possible and have a plan for if and when things go wrong. And lastly, give your eleven year old sparklers and poppers, not M80’s. Don’t Blink.