Memory lane opened up recently and I took a trek back to the high desert of Nevada, riding in the back of a Nevada state trooper's vehicle. We were bound for Eureka, a wide spot in the road some 77 miles from Ely, Nevada, where we had topped off the gas tank in Danny's 1959 Rambler, lemon yellow with a 6-inch black racing stripe right up the middle.
It looked sweet, but it drove like a tank and the ball joints were bad, which meant every time you hit a rough spot of road, the front wheels were apt to jostle out of their proper position, jutting out from under the frame. It didn't seem to take much to re-position them, at least Danny didn't take overlong effecting the repairs whenever it happened.
Early on during this, our first "unauthorized adventure," we hit a rough patch of road just as we left Durango, Colorado, after abandoning our intent to live off the land in the Colorado High Country, ala~ Jeremiah Johnson. (When we saw that the snow over Wolf Creek Pass had been plowed into canyon walls of pure white on the shoulder of the road, we knew we were in over our heads.)
Pulling over to the shoulder, Danny despaired. He had neglected to add tools to our stores of canned goods and packaged cookies and had no way to put things to right. It was the middle of the night and the town proper was dark. Since we were all of 16 at the time (did I mention this was our first "unauthorized" adventure?), we didn't want to attract the attention of any officers of the law so repairs needed to be made posthaste.
Just behind us, tucked away behind a copse of trees, was someone's home, yard lights barely piercing the darkness. With no other options, Danny headed for the front door and wonder of wonders, was met by an agreeable fellow, who didn't seem to mind being wakened in the middle of the night, nor did he mind loaning his tools out.
Stunned, Danny made quick work of the repairs, returned the tools and we were on our way.
Three days later, midway between Ely and Eureka, the right front tire went flat. With no spare (what 16-year-old packs a spare?), we did our best to inch closer to Eureka by riding the rim just off the shoulder of the highway. The ball joints didn't put up with that abuse for long and soon enough, we were well and truly stranded, almost exactly halfway between the two Nevada towns on what I now understand is referred to as the "Loneliest Road in America." It certainly was that day, with only one car passing us by, still stranded on the side of the road. (Since our unauthorized adventure began as an ordinary school day for me, I had taken to wearing Danny's pants and shirts, abandoning my skirt and blouse at the end of our second day on the lam. The passing motorist thought I was a boy, reporting our presence to the authorities in Eureka as they passed through.)
The high desert is cold in late February. Very cold. I retired to the back seat, covered myself with a variety of shirts and jackets and promptly fell sound asleep. My sleep was interrupted by the sound of Danny's voice informing me that he had found a place for us to spend the night.
I looked out the back window and saw a Nevada state patrol car, lights flashing.
We grabbed what necessaries we could, including our canteen and our diminishing store of food (chicken bouillon cubes come to mind), and climbed into the back seat.
Apparently, you can go about as fast as you want to on the "Loneliest Road in America" because that trooper ate up those 35 odd miles in a hurry, depositing us at the Eureka county sheriff's office in no time flat.
True to Danny's word, they provided a place for us to sleep that night, although the accommodations were a little confining, and turned us loose the next morning to fend for ourselves.
Our options were severely limited. Danny's car was 35 miles back the way we came; the $7.35 we won playing nickel slots in Vegas two days earlier had been quickly spent on fuel, leaving us with a grand total of 15 cents; and the bouillon cubes refused to dissolve in the ice cold water of the canteen, no matter how hard we shook it.
Then Shorty came into our lives, greeting us with the instructions to go to the cafe, order whatever we wanted on the menu, putting it "on Shorty's tab," and then to meet him at the Jackson Hotel where he had already made arrangements with Ivan for our lodging that night.
Wow. Who could have imagined that we would find a Samaritan in Eureka, Nevada, depositing us, unwounded but destitute, at the inn, paying our freight until we could make the necessary arrangements to fix the car and head back home? Undoubtedly, Shorty is the reason for the town's nickname "The Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road in America."
Well fed and freshly bathed, we passed the evening hours with Shorty and Ivan, as they shared the tall tales of the high desert in a Nevada mining town. We were enthralled.
We never did get the car repaired. After Danny's mom sent the necessary funds, Shorty took us out to the car, we mounted the spare and then discovered that something vital must have fallen off of the front suspension, because the car wandered every direction but straight and further repairs were needed. We headed back to Eureka for parts and another night with Ivan at the Lincoln Hotel, this time on our dime. The next day 35 miles became 40, then 45 until we finally found the car in the state impound lot in Ely. We left her there and boarded a flight homeward the next day, reality hitting us hard as the landing gear touched down and we faced our families' wrath.
Although we are not likely to head for the high country to live off the land, ala~ Jeremiah Johnson, ever again, the story reminds us, as we fill the role of the ones waiting at the gate for our own wandering child, that God has placed the Samaritans of old in strategic places this whole world over. Sometimes they are disguised as nearly toothless, open-handed old men in plaid shirts and suspenders. Sometimes they are disguised as sleepy householders, with a garage full of tools. And sometimes, if you're really, really fortunate, they'll look remarkably like the image you see every morning in the mirror.
"'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?' The expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.' Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'" Luke 10:36, 37 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.