When I was 22, I had to move from my hometown of Peoria, IL to Chattanooga, TN for a job transfer. I wasn’t making a lot of money back then and was driving a 1968 Chevy Impala with bullet holes in it from where the previous owner had been shot at.
Needless to say, not the ideal car you want to take on a 700 mile road trip, pulling all your earthly belongings in a trailer hooked behind it.
But while it was in no condition to make the trip, I had no choice; I had to be in Chattanooga by Monday if I wanted to keep my job. It was my only car. I didn’t have enough money to buy a new one. It was this or nothing.
So on a back road in southern Illinois not far from the border of Kentucky, my car overheated and broke down. I was on a side road heading back to the interstate because I had stopped off to visit friends at my former university the night before.
This was not good; it was the middle of nowhere, and despite the land being extremely flat, I couldn’t even see another house. I would have to walk many miles with all of my things left in a trailer behind the car that would offer little resistance to even a casual robber. I began to wonder what was going to happen, and how I was ever going to make it now.
Just then, a guy who appeared to be in his mid-30’s drove up and stopped. He seemed to already know what was wrong with my car. “Looks like you’re overheated. Let me help you out.”
He opened the door to his car and told me to get in. Normally, I’d have been extremely hesitant to get into a strangers car, but something told me I could trust him. He gave me a ride to a nearby town to get some additional coolant and a few other things he thought I might need.
What’s interesting is that I was in the middle of deep Southern Illinois… the accents there are as thick as mud. Sometimes so thick, you can’t even tell what the people there are saying. Think of a cross between Kentucky southern and Midwestern twang.
This guy had no accent of any kind. Zero.
He also seemed to know where everything in town was… but didn’t live there.
When I asked him where he was from, he answered, “Oh, from all over.” He was friendly and offered lots of advice. He asked where I was traveling and I told him my story. He seemed to know I was about to face quite a few challenges in my new life as well… which I did. He told me to not give up, that pretty soon things would very likely work out, but that in this situation, the first few months would likely be an adjustment challenge.
He was spot on. I’d explain, but that’s another answer.
He was calm, cool, peaceful… and extremely wise for his age. He looked a little like a young Robert Redford crossed with Greg Lake if that makes any sense at all. He seemed to have a bit of a glow about him, too. I attributed that to the sun hitting the window. Honestly, I was just happy to have been rescued from the middle of nowhere.
Eventually, we got back to my car, he helped me get it started (and it cranked on the first try, also highly unexpected), and I went to give him $20 for his trouble. He said he had no use for that, but thanked me for the offer. He said that his payment was knowing I was going to make it safely to Chattanooga, and that to repay him, I should help another motorist in need one day. And he drove off.
This is where it gets strange.
I get in my car. He had just driven off. I check to make sure everything is still in the car where I had left it. But in less than just a few seconds, I look up and he is gone. I even rolled down the window, stuck my head out and looked both ways—remember, it’s flat for miles here—he was nowhere to be found.
I shook my head… what had just happened??? I put the car into gear and pulled onto the road.
I wound up making it to Chattanooga on time. I attribute this 100% to his intervention. I have always felt that he must have been my guardian angel who knew that if I got stuck there for any length of time on this desolate stretch of road, something bad was going to happen.
Thanks to him, it did not. I went on to launch a new chapter of my life.
I am still incredibly grateful to him, whoever, or whatever he was.
Yeah, it’s weird… there was never a moments hesitation… and I’m normally the guy who would tell people to never get in a car with a stranger, but I just had a sense that it was OK. Looking back on it, it really was an incredibly unique experience. I’m glad the question was asked, it’s helped to remind me of important things in life.
No, I didn’t, as I had so much going on with my new life and I didn’t really have a lot to go on. I didn’t think to look at a license plate. His car was an innocuous one—a small Japanese car of some kind. I was just incredibly relieved to have a ride and that was what was primarily on my mind—getting to Chattanooga. It was only afterwards that I realized how unusual the scenario had been. Whenever I asked him questions, he would answer but always be a bit evasive. Not rude, but it was if he didn’t want this to be about him—he wanted it to be about me. And I promise, every bit of it is true. For years I have told people I met an angel on the road that day. The area I broke down had some bad characters in it—some that were not great people. There are currently a lot of meth labs and dog fighting rings in the area from what I understand. I’ve always had the sense that he likely saved me from something bad that would have happened otherwise.