One of the keys to a great marriage, so I’ve heard, is finding ways to keep the romance fresh and exciting. Special little events that really speak to the heart and show your special someone that she truly is, well, “special.”
That’s why for nearly three decades now I’ve made a special effort at the end of the work week to take Randa to Lowes.
When we lived in Gower, Missouri, we’d head north to Saint Joseph. When we lived in Georgetown, Kentucky, we’d head south to Lexington. After we moved to Blair, Kansas, we’d head east to Saint Joseph. For the past three years, it’s usually south again, to Ponca City, Oklahoma.
There’s just something about those rows of bright fresh lumber, shelves shoved full of screws and fasteners, and that whole department of every type of plumbing supply that tells a woman, “There’s nothing I’d rather do tonight than be with you right here where we are right now.” Admittedly, the concurrent habit of dining out may be a key part of this rich tradition of ours.
And so, last Friday night around nine p.m., in a dark winter rain with the temperature in the mid-thirties, after supper at El Patio and dessert at Lowes, we headed north. Just north of the Blackwell/Kildare intersection I saw a dark form on the shoulder. Some dude dressed in black, walking in the rain, pushing a bicycle along the shoulder.
With no headlights visible in the rearview mirror, I stopped beside him and lowered the window on Randa’s side. “You have a flat tire?” Nope, that wasn’t the problem.
I turned on the flashers and pulled over. Wary of soft ground and hopeful of alert drivers, I kept the car mostly on the pavement. I got out in the rain and walked around. “Where you headed?” Newkirk.
It was dark, cold, and raining. Newkirk was several miles away. I knew I couldn’t fit his bicycle completely into the car without at least partially disassembling it. But I also knew we couldn’t leave a stranger to walk five miles in the rain.
Together, the young man and I loaded the bike into the trunk. It went in far enough that the back wheel and pedals were inside. I figured that if I kept my speed below forty-five or so, the trunk lid would stay down and the bicycle would stay in. It worked.
As we headed on up the road, I asked him if he’d been down to Ponca. “No, I was going to ride down there but I changed my mind.” So, he’d planned to ride a dozen miles in the dark and the rain, apparently without any lights but at some point decided to turn around and push his bike back to Newkirk. He wasn’t the first hitchhiker I’d met whose approach to making sense out of the universe was a bit different than mine. I had to admit, though, that walking on the shoulder without any lights was probably safer than riding on the highway without any lights. Even in the absence of shared illumination, he was pretty clear about where he lived.
The young man guided us downtown and directed us to what looked like an old mechanic’s garage just across the railroad tracks and east of downtown. The small entrance to the side of the big bay door was padlocked. There was no hint of light or life inside or outside. “I don’t have a house; I sleep upstairs here.”
After I helped him retrieve his bike from the trunk, he pushed it over to the building and then opened the door, and rolled his bike inside and disappeared. As we eased into a U-turn and headed back toward the railroad tracks, Randa and I looked at each other. You know that look: the one when you aren’t sure you didn’t just brush up against the near edge of the twilight zone.
It’s not always convenient to help out a fellow traveler but it does lead us all to a better place.