Being one of “the least”

In the summer of 2007, I returned to my family after living in Korea for a year. One of the tasks I had to do as I returned home was to go to Dallas, pick up the vehicle I had shipped from Korea, and then drive it to Colorado Springs. This wasn’t a particularly pretty vehicle, but it was a minivan and it was cheap (I bought it for $500). I flew down in the morning and planned on driving back the same day.

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Old Blue

Everything went great—my flight was on-time and the van was ready for me. As soon as I picked it up, I stopped at Sears and got an oil change. I knew it had been a long time since the oil was changed and I wanted to have an uneventful drive back home. I started the drive home around lunchtime and in no time at all, was watching the miles roll by.

About an hour outside of Dallas, I stopped at Wal-Mart in Vernon, Texas and bought a big bag of Dorito’s and a bottle of Gatorade, then I jumped right back on the Interstate and kept driving. About 5 minutes later, for some reason, I glanced down at the gauges and saw that my temperature gauge was pegged on hot! I quickly swerved over to the exit and stopped on the side of the road. As I stopped, steam started pouring out from under the hood. Great!

I popped the hood and looked at the engine. [Perhaps this is a good time time to interject that I really have no idea how to fix cars, I know very little about the mechanics of a motor.] In my mind, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. I had no cell phone, I was 5 miles from the closest town, and I was in the middle of Texas!

As I was standing there, a truck pulling a trailer full of brush pulled up in front of me and stopped. Two guys got out of the truck and I thought, “Oh no, they’re here to kill me!” As they walked up to me one of them said, with a thick accent, “You broke down, man?” to which I replied that I was.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“I don’t know, my temperature gauge is pegged on hot and there’s steam everywhere.”

They poked their heads under the hood and started speaking Spanish really fast. I can speak some Spanish, but I don’t think I caught a single word they were saying.

“Eh man, it looks like your head gasket is blown.”

This would normally mean nothing to me…but it awoke a memory from nearly a year earlier. When I bought the van, Jack Stokes gave me a box and said something about the head gasket was probably going to need replaced. In that box was a new head gasket. It was sitting at home in Colorado Springs. I had thought of taking it with me on the trip, but I decided not to. The regret was settling in.

“Great.”

“What’s you gonna do, man?”

“I guess I’ll go back to town and get it fixed.”

“We got a cousin in town that has a shop, man. He can fix it for you if you want.”

“Ok, sounds good to me.”

“We got to go dump this brush. You start walking to town and we’ll pick you up on our way back to town.”

“Ok, thanks.” Those were the words that left my mouth, but the thought in my head was telling me this wasn’t going to end well. The trailer they were using for brush would easily haul a broken down van. As I crossed the bridge over the highway and headed back to town, I looked back at the van and said good bye. I was sure I would never see that van again.

About 30 minutes later, the same truck pulled over in front of me on the highway and the guys yelled, “Eh, hop in man!” What choice did I have? So I got into the truck with two perfect strangers. One of whom spoke no English at all. He was nice enough to sit in the back seat of the truck…right behind me. I just knew that he was going to knock me over the head or stick me with something. I kind of sat sideways so I could see both of the guys.

We drove back into town and all through the streets and ended up at a little auto shop. They both hopped out and started talking Spanish to someone. He came over and said, “So, you’re head gasket’s blown? I can fix that for you, man.”

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TranStay (image from google.com)

“Sounds good” I said. “How much will it cost?”

“$500.”

Remember that I bought the van for $500. I was going to double my investment in this vehicle. I didn’t even know if that was a fair price or not…but what choice did I have?

“Alright, I’ll do it.”

“How you gonna get it here?”

“I guess I’ll call a tow truck.”

“That’ll be expensive. I’ve got a friend who’ll tow it here for you.”

“How much will he charge?”

“How much will you pay?”

“I’ve got $50 in my pocket.”

“Let me ask him.” He ambled to another guy and they talked. “He says he’ll do it.”

Now the tow driver came over and said “I’ve got my truck back at my house, hop in my car and we’ll go pick it up.”

So I got into a car with another perfect stranger and we started driving through town. He pulled up in front of a house in the middle of the not-so-nice neighborhood. Talk about a fish out of water—I felt so out of place! I’m not sure I could have spoken to or understood anyone around me.

He went up to the front door, started pounding on the door and yelling.

I was standing like a fool in his front yard.

He came back and said “My front door’s locked. I’ve got to go around back and get the keys to the truck. You stay here.”

What a stupid thing to say. Like I was going to go anywhere! Most of the houses had boards in the windows, there’s graffiti everywhere, broken down cars everywhere. The place looked like the ghetto. I didn’t want to be there, but I didn’t want to start walking off by myself even more. And so I stood there in his front yard while he disappeared.

“Great,” I thought to myself, “I’m going to die in the middle of Texas. I’m going to get beat up, robbed, and left for dead.”

In less than 5 minutes, the guy came out and said “Ok, let’s go” and walked to a 1990’s Ford Explorer! I was expecting a tow truck, or at least a truck! Not a little 2-door Ford Explorer that was almost 20 years old! What was I going to do? So I got in his truck.

Explorer
This isn’t the actual car, but it looks just like it.

We drove back out to my van and the fun started.  He pulled out a chain and wrapped it around the ball of his truck.  He tied it in a knot.  No hooks, no clips…a knot.  Then we went to my van.  Guess what a 1994 Grand Caravan doesn’t have? Towing hooks.  After we dorked around for a minute, we ended up wrapping the chain through the plastic grill and around the bumper.

He looked at me and asked “You know how to drive a car being towed?”

“Yes” I replied. “You’re the gas, I’m the brake.”

“Good, let’s go.”

“Keep is slow for me, ok?”

“No problem, man!”

We hit 60 on the highway.

We quickly returned to the shop and I turned over the keys to my van. I asked them when it would be ready and they told me tomorrow. About that time, another guy asked me, “Where you gonna sleep tonight?”

“I don’t know, I guess I’ll find a hotel.”

“We got two hotels in town. One’s kinda nice with a pool, and the other one’s not as nice.”

“I’ll take the nicer one.”

“Hop in my car and I’ll take you there. The manager’s a friend of mine, I’ll get you a good deal.”

So I got in a car (the 3rd time today) with another complete stranger and we drove off to some hotel. He went in and talked with the clerk in Spanish and told he’d gotten me a room. I checked in, went to my room and called Evonne.  Then I tired to relax.

The next morning, I got up and called the shop and they said it wasn’t ready yet. Around noon, I got bored, so I started walking back to the shop. I don’t really recall how I knew where the shop was, but somehow I knew where to go. I’ll never forget as I was walking, I looked down a side street and saw a cowboy riding a horse down the street.

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Cowboy in Vernon, Texas

When I got to the shop, they told me they just finished. “$500” the man said. I handed him my credit card and he replied “Oh, no cards. Cash only.”

“Where am I supposed to get $500 cash?”

“There’s a bank just down the street.”

So I walked to the bank and maxed out my government travel card and my personal credit card and walked back to the shop. I handed over the cash, he gave me the key and I was back on the road. The van drove, but it drove terrible–the motor was rough. I was actually a bit afraid to even stop. It was about 3:00 pm by the time I start driving and I made it to the Colorado border before I had to stop.  I was so tired, I curled up in the back seat of the van and slept for a few hours.

I finally pulled in my drive the next morning.

We kept that van for about six months, then it started having big issues. It seemed like one thing after another kept breaking, so I sold it for $250 to the Ford dealer.

What’s the lessons to be learned?

First, listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. There are two examples of listening to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.  1) Had I followed the prompting I had to take the new head gasket with me, I wouldn’t have had to buy one.  I still would have broken down.  I still would have had to get the van repaired, but it would have been cheaper had I listened to the Spirit and brought the head gasket with me.  2) When I started walking from my hotel to the repair shop, I had a vague idea where to go, but had no directions, GPS, or map.  I walked across town trusting I would find the shop. 

If you want to receive promptings from the Holy Ghost then you need to live your life so that the Holy Ghost can be your Constant Companion.  I didn’t consciously pray while I was stuck (although that would have been a very intelligent thing to do), but I was still prompted by the Holy Ghost. Each time I thought “what was I going to do?” I was being led by the Holy Ghost. 

I am reminded of a scripture in John: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).  This is a wonderful promise, but it comes with a warning.  If we ignore the promptings of the Holy Ghost, the time will come when we longer feel those promptings.  Nephi describes such a condition as being “past feeling” (1 Nephi 17:45).  

Second, be prepared. I planned my trip to take one day: fly down, drive home.  Easy peasey.  I wasn’t ready to spend the night on the road.  I didn’t have a phone. I had a single $50 bill in cash. I was naive in expecting everything to go smoothly. One of my favorite scriptures on being prepared is D&C 38:30, “…if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” I think it is sufficiently obvious from the story that when things started to go wrong, I was afraid. My fear had it’s root in a lack of preparedness.

Third, people are good. I met five guys (two on the road, the tow driver, the mechanic, and the hotel-finder) who had nothing but good intentions. Sure, they wanted to make some money, but they weren’t out to cause me harm.  I don’t recommend getting into cars with strangers, but in this case it worked out. I go back to the first lesson (listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost). Even through my fear, something told me it was going to work out.

A parable comes to mind “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? [or when saw we thee broken down on the road, and picked thee up]? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:37-40).

In this situation, I was the one who needed the help and these people helped. I was “one of the least” and these men didn’t hesitate to go out of their way to help me.

I must admit that I’m a bit ashamed by the thoughts I had at the time. I had pegged these people as thieves and robbers who wanted nothing more than to separate me from my possessions so they could steal them.

How wrong I was.

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