Compassion on a Lonely Road at Midnight

2018 © Stephen Bruno

I am old enough and well-traveled to have earned every wrinkle in my face, bags under my eyes, scars on my body, silver in my hair, and nose marks from my eyeglasses frames. Sometimes I feel that I am living the life within the novel, On the Road, by Jack Kerouac.

But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

My curiosity has guided me to diverse paths from pleasure to pilgrimage. Each journey brought wonderment. I have lived and worked in diverse areas including Sedona, Arizona; Lake Tahoe, Nevada; San Luis Obispo, California; Crestline, California; Monterey, California; Phoenix, Arizona; Ashland, Oregon; the Oregon Coast; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Truches, New Mexico; Reno, Nevada; Austin, Texas; Prescott, Arizona; San Antonio, Texas; Seattle, Washington; Grand Junction, Colorado and more.

I have lived on an island, in the low and high deserts, at the top of an 8,000-foot mountain, next to the ocean, on a boat, in forests, in houses or apartments, in a mobile home, by lakes, in big cities, small towns, and rural areas.

About seven months ago I decided to begin another journey. I drove my recently purchased car from Prescott, Arizona to Grand Junction, Colorado to look for a house to rent. Sight unseen, I selected Grand Junction for my belief in the friendly people, amazing wildlife, and beautiful nature. I wanted a new area to explore and photograph while I taught Reiki certification classes, provided telephone Life Coaching sessions, and taught wildlife and nature photography. I especially wanted a location where I could complete my novels and nonfiction books and prepare them for publication.

It was time to visit the city of my next home. I got up early, and after driving about eight hours, I arrived in Grand Junction and briefly looked around the area. I immediately felt that this would be home. I checked into a comfortable hotel and quickly fell asleep. Early the next morning I met with a real estate agent at a house for rent that I found online while in Prescott. Time was of the essence, and I knew I still had another 8 hours’ drive back the next morning to complete packing for my relocation.

I received a quick tour of a ranch-style 3-bedroom house on an acre, and I decided to rent it without looking further. I spent the remainder of the day exploring Grand Junction and getting a sense of what would become my new home in a few short weeks. I stayed that night at the hotel and drove the eight hours back to Prescott early the next morning.

Several weeks later I planned on driving back to Grand Junction. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan. The people I hired to load the truck in Prescott arrived several hours late which meant that by the time I got on the road I’d be lucky to arrive in Grand Junction by 3 AM. Although a good friend of mine would follow me later that night in a rental truck with the bulk of my belongings, I also thoroughly packed my midsized car with electronics, clothes and fragile items. The plan was to sleep that night at a hotel in Grand Junction and meet my friend with the truck in the morning to unpack at my new home.

This third trip was a drive I was familiar with even though much of it was during the late evening on roads void of many vehicles, towns or houses. I listened to music, audiobooks, talk radio, and old-time radio dramas. The only brief stops were at gas stations to fill up the car and get a quick snack I could safely eat while driving.

Around midnight I was driving along an isolated area in a different state with only the dark road and radio for companionship. I was enjoying a snack, thinking about how tired I was and contemplating how much farther I had to drive. Nonetheless, I was excited about living in a new area where I didn’t know anyone and had only briefly visited, and especially the wonderful adventures ahead of me.

Suddenly, my vehicle’s high beam headlights illuminated the highway patrol car parked on the other side of the two-way road, facing the way I came. I held my breath and reluctantly glanced at my speedometer. Oh Man! Was I way over the speed limit! I removed my foot from the gas pedal and waited for the inevitable flashing red lights. I didn’t have long to wait, and with resignation, I pulled off the road.

I was thinking about the ticket I was certain to receive and wondering how expensive it would be. Would I have to return to the same state where I received the ticket?  How would the ticket affect my obtaining a Colorado driver’s license?

What a lonely job the person in the patrol car must have I thought. I knew the area was miles to any town for bathroom, food or to return home. They are in the middle of nowhere and having to stop people late at night, and not knowing what to expect. The ticket, temporarily forgotten, I felt empathy and respect for doing their job.

A young highway patrolman stepped in front of the passenger window which I quickly lowered. Although the last speeding ticket I received was over 40 years ago, I remembered the routine and handed him my driver’s license and vehicle registration. I expected him to go back to his patrol car and call in to see if there any warrants issued in my name and then to write the speeding ticket.

I glimpsed my wind-blown shoulder-length hair, full scraggly beard, and mustache in the rear-view mirror as he slowly looked at me and my completely packed vehicle.  When I put it all together, I did kind of look sketchy. He stood taking it all in. I don’t think he missed much if anything.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?”

“Grand Junction, Colorado.”

“Do you know what the speed limit is?”

I looked at the portable GPS on my dash which gave the speed limit, and I sheepishly reported what it said.

“You were going at least 40 mph over the speed limit.”

What could I say? I stared vacantly at the GPS, looked back at him and I exhaled a big sigh.

He started walking toward his patrol car and then paused back at the window.

“You are a Vietnam Veteran.” It was more a statement than a question.

“Yes, I am. How did you know?” I was surprised at his psychic or intuitive ability.

He looked at me curiously but laughed and said, “It says that on your rear license plate frame.”

“Oh yeah,” I said feeling a bit foolish and wondering if he was going to ask me to step out of the vehicle and then administer a sobriety test.

“What branch of military service?”

“Army.”

“I’ll have to give you a ticket. I was in the Marines.” He then turned and walked back to the patrol vehicle. The thing is, he wasn’t smiling.

While I waited, I turned the portable satellite SiriusXM radio to 60’s music for something uplifting and familiar. Of course, my mind wandered to the amount of the ticket, how the ticket may affect getting a new license in Colorado, and the emotional drain on an otherwise positive move. And you know, I didn’t have an acceptable explanation for how fast I was going.

After what seemed forever, and most likely 10 minutes, he returned to the passenger window with a stoic look on his face. I figured the clipboard he had in his hand was a ticket waiting for me to sign.

He looked at me seriously and asked, “Are you moving to Colorado because of the more lenient marijuana laws?”

The laugh unintentionally escaped from within, and I said no.

“I never smoked marijuana or used drugs even in Vietnam and this was not a consideration for moving to Colorado.”

He eyed me suspiciously as most people do when I tell them that. He continued writing on the clipboard, and we each shared our experiences in the military.  I told him I thought that his work as a highway patrolman was like being in the war with periods of boredom and then intense excitements, and unexpected circumstances.

He said he never saw combat overseas and appeared a bit reflective as we shared more. For a while, I forgot about the ticket. Here we were in the middle of ‘nowhere’ at midnight, just two strangers sharing our experiences. Of course, connecting with Veterans is like talking with an old friend.

Then, just as quickly as our camaraderie began, he got quiet and finished writing. He leaned into the window and handed me the clipboard with an official-looking paper.

“I’m not going to give you a ticket. I am giving you a warning.”

I signed the paper and thanked him with all the sincerity that I felt, and I promised that I would keep to the speed limit the remaining drive to Grand Junction.

“You take care now and good luck to you,” he said with genuineness.

“You too,” I said, and I meant it as well.

I drove ahead as he returned to the spot where I passed him earlier.

I did keep my promise, and I never exceeded the speed limit all the way to Grand Junction. At one point an hour or so later a highway patrol car passed me with lights flashing. I looked over, but it was too dark to see who was driving. The driver briefly flashed his headlights in a greeting, and I did the same.

When I settled into my new home, I visited the Colorado River for the first time in Grand Junction. While I enjoyed the river and took some photographs, it dawned on me that when the highway patrol officer stopped me and carefully looked around my over-packed car and my appearance, I think that he believed those were all belongings I had. That may have contributed to his only writing a warning rather than an expensive speeding ticket. Perhaps, he just wanted to make a difference for a fellow Veteran starting out in a new city and potentially one who he thought may be homeless.  Or simply compassion for a fellow human being. Either way, he did make a difference.

 

One comment on “Compassion on a Lonely Road at Midnight

  1. Thank goodness NO TICKET!! Wow that would have cost alot!!! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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