Mutiny on the Highway




Rain began to fall as I watched the bus which had just abandoned me disappear down

the road. It seemed to be just one more fiasco in a week filled with misadventure.

 

I had spent that summer in 1967 working at two jobs. I took a second job, not

out of economic necessity, but due to my romantic spirit. I was in love for the

first time in my life. Unfortunately, the object of my affections lived 600 miles

away, and my need to earn money for college left me with little time or resources

to visit her. By working evenings in addition to my day job, I had earned enough to visit my Guinevere.

 

Although convinced of my maturity as a 20 year old, I was still largely callow and inexperienced

in the ways of life and love. In many ways, that vacation was a right of passage

for me. It was my first trip of any distance apart from my family, the first

vacation I financed by myself, and included my first ride on a jet. The visit with

my girlfriend began well enough, but soured quickly after she informed me she had

fallen in love with another young man and was engaged to be married. She hadn't

informed me of her engagement in advance of my visit because she felt she should

tell me in person. Grudgingly, I accepted the futility of trying to sustain a long

distance romance.

 

Crestfallen, I attempted to salvage what I could of my vacation by preceding with

the second romanticized objective of the trip, a visit to Padre Island on the Texas

coast. On my prior visits there I had experienced something magical that invigorated

my spirit. I arrived on the island early in the morning, and spent the day

blissfully catching sea trout and brightly colored pompano. All was well until

evening came. In my fanciful mind's eye, I had idealized the island as a tropical

paradise where my only need would be enough money for bait and food. Equipment, such

as a tent, sleeping bag, and rainwear seemed superfluous. I would simply lie down

among the dunes at night and go peacefully to sleep, lulled by a gentle tropical

breeze. I quickly paid the price for my youthful naivete. Immediately after lying

down upon the sand to sleep, I was attacked en masse by hordes of mosquitoes and

hungry sand fleas. I tried to ignore the maddening insects, but after a brief

struggle, I decided to try sleeping on the pier. That plan was also quickly foiled

when a monsoon blew in. Rain fell in torrents without letup for six hours, and I

spent the night sleepless, cold, and soaked to the skin. Though the clouds quickly

dissipated the next morning, my spirits remained dampened. To add insult to injury,

my nose began to blister in the scorching sun as I spent another day half-heartedly

fishing. By late afternoon, I admitted defeat and began the long journey home.

 

So now, as I stood by the roadside 200 miles from home, I was becoming rain-soaked

for the second time in less than 36 hours. In the interim since departing my

shattered island paradise, I had ridden buses and waited in terminals, trying to

fathom what had gone wrong with the vacation for which I had worked so diligently.

My present plight began after a relief driver boarded the bus. I reached in my

pocket as he came down the aisle checking tickets. With growing panic, I double and

triple checked every pocket and the area around my seat, but my ticket was gone.

"Ticket please," said the driver when he came to my seat. I informed that I had

apparently dropped my ticket when the bus stopped for lunch, but that the claim tag

on my suitcase in the baggage compartment would confirm that I had paid for a ticket.

"I'm sorry sir," he replied, "but it's company policy that you must have a validated

ticket. You'll have to either buy another ticket or get off the bus." Although I had

just enough money left to pay for another ticket, I knew how hard I'd worked for it

and stubbornly opted to get off the bus.

 

Dumbfounded, I remained for a minute after the bus departed, deciding upon my next

move. As the rain began to pour more heavily, I noticed a nearby military surplus

store. Resolving to at least try to stay as dry as possible, I preceded to the store

to buy a raincoat. I found a selection of rainwear so severely limited, I deliberated

for some time before reluctantly choosing a trench coat that was four sizes too small.

I returned to the roadside to begin hitchhiking, feeling like a buffoon in the

raincoat that lacked five inches of reaching my wrists. Before anyone stopped to give

me a ride, I noticed a bus approaching from the opposite direction. To my surprise, it

turned around and came to a stop beside me.

"The crew mutinied," said the driver after opening the door. "Get in!"

"Excuse me?" I replied, not comprehending, as I climbed aboard the bus.

"The passengers," he answered, "they made me come back for you. Don't tell anyone

about this! It could cost me my job."

 

Bewildered, I moved to the first seat and sat down beside a silver haired woman who

offered me a lace hanky to dry the rain that dripped from my wet head. The remainder

of the trip was pleasant and uneventful. My heart was warmed by the thought that a

group of strangers had intervened on my behalf. I learned from my companion that one

person had gone so far as to offer to buy a ticket for me. The driver had declined

the offer, returning for me despite his company's policy.

 

On those occasions I recall the comic opera events of that August of 45 years ago,

it is with a sense of humor and gratitude. I used to believe that the most important

lessons of my life would come in dramatic fashion, words carved on stone tablets and

voices speaking to me from burning bushes. The reality has been that most of my

valuable lessons have been written in small print on the pages of day-to-day

experience. The crew of compassionate strangers who mutinied to help me, provided one

such lesson: the majority of people care about the welfare of others. Given the

opportunity to demonstrate their caring, they will extend a helping hand when it is

needed.

 

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