It ain’t all sunshine and roses out here in the Vatican of the South known as Nashville. As I drove up the parking lot known as I-65 this morning, I was happy in the cloistered cockpit of my faithful little automobile. Inching forward every ten minutes or so, until finally, I took the exit that would hopefully transport me, pain and delay free, to my awaiting job.
I’m a simple man. I like to drink coffee and listen to Dan Fogelberg…every once in a while a Lovin’ Spoonful fix and spattered with an occasional Billy Joel hit but NEVER Cream, Foghat, or The Police. We have standards for crying out loud… I once had a guest riding in my passenger seat suggest I play some Meatloaf, and I left them at a Pilot truckstop in Omaha near the showers. I miss my cousin.
Grand Funk also makes an appearance on my sound system and of course the classics…ELP, Yes, and …The Carpenters…ahem, Todd Rundgren. Easy listening…that’s my motto. But today, after all the bluster of my “sanctified imagination” blog a few days ago, it is as if God has decided to show me that I don’t have the answers to the peace-filled life I thought I had. In fact, after this morning’s events, I have suddenly remembered that the Lord loves to laugh as much as I do and sometimes, during a trial, a test and a tribulation…The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit grab some popcorn and watch ME. I become contemporary Christian entertainment.
So, wending my way down Old Hickory Blvd…I see a guy in his truck in the center turning lane, losing his load of cardboard and having a hard time trying to push it all back up and tie it down. So…I pulled up behind him to help…right? Why not?
He appreciated the help. He got up on the top of the load as I handed him the big refrigerator boxes that had slid off the side. His name was Grey…no…not Greg…Grey- he corrected me…and yes with an E not an A. We begin to strap down the cardboard and he is saying how nice it was for me to stop when we get jolted to reality by the sound of a siren burst right behind us. Flashing lights, a Metro police cruiser pulls up and two officers step out of the vehicle.
Grey speaks up. “Thanks for stopping guys, but I think we got it!” One officer gets back into the cruiser and begins running the truck license plate. The other officer walks toward us and asks us for identification. As I reached into my back pocket the officer shouted…”S-L-O-W-L-Y”!
Now…I don’t carry a conventional wallet. I carry an RFID proof case that protects my cards and ID from being scanned by an RFID reader. It doesn’t have the look of a classic black leather looking he-man wallet…it’s; well…. it’s kind of tender looking. A print of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. It snaps shut and contains various cards and a couple of ID’s. The officer saw me pull it from my back pocket and…I’m swearin’; a smile cracked across his face. He looked into the crack of the window where his partner sat and said, “Wait til you see this!” I’m sure he wondered why I didn’t keep it in my fanny pack.
Of course Grey, he has a black leather wallet with a chain attached to it. It was bulging with papers and money. Grey removed the drivers license and handed it to the officer. I also handed my drivers license to the officer. The cop asked why we were pulled here in a center lane doing the adjustment. Grey answered that he knew if he drove to a side street he would scatter cardboard all over Old Hickory Blvd and wanted to avoid hitting people with it. I added that I had stopped just to help him, that I was not actually in the truck.
The officer in the car got out and handed our ID’s back to us. The officer asked for proof of insurance, which, I thought was interesting, since there was no accident. Of course, Grey went to his glove box with the officer keeping an eye on him and pulled out his most recent copy. I; being the hi-tech dude that I am, pulled my proof of insurance up on my phone…which is accepted by law enforcement.
All things being copacetic, the police told Grey he should move across the street to finish. They asked me…however…to go and sit on the hood of my car. Grey thanked me, said if I was ever anywhere near Memphis…he was my man. I thanked him and off he went. When the female officer came back to me after seeing Grey safely across the road, the partner, who; also happened to be female, asked me, “How long have you been in the Nashville area?” I smiled and said, “My wife and I moved down here about two years ago…from Indiana.” No smile came on her face. “And, is the address on your license your current address?” I smiled and said, “Yes”. She looked at the photo on the license a long time and looked back at my face, then back down at the license.
My car was still running, and she asked me to turn it off. I was beginning to get a weird feeling. I asked, “Is everything alright?” I noticed that the partner had gotten back into the cruiser and had, pulled behind Grey on a side street. Another cruiser had appeared and pulled up next to Grey’s truck and the other officer. Two other cops emerged. “That man’s license came up that he has warrants.” I ran your plate and found you don’t…but I want to know how you know him.” I said, “I don’t know him…I just saw he was having trouble with the cardboard and stopped to help.” She looked me over…and said, “just like that? You saw him and just like that you pulled over?” “Is that what you’re saying? I nodded confidently. She asked, “So, where were you heading this morning when this chord of human love came into your heart and you stopped “just like that” to help a stranger?”
It seems to me that I frequently do the wrong thing at the wrong time. I remember my sister making me laugh at a funeral once and I couldn’t catch my breath because I was silently laughing so hard that tears were in my eyes. I was once in a church play, when the guy playing Jesus appeared wearing a wig that I swear he stole from the set of “That Girl” with the brunette ends flipping up and I lost it…no Easter program ever matched that one. I knew today, at this moment I was going to do something that was going to get me in trouble…but I just couldn’t help it. I began laughing…..
I said, “I’m sorry…but;” then I tried to explain about laughing when you’re not supposed to…like at a funeral…she didn’t break a grin…nothing. I continued, “I’m sorry, I was on my way to work…to answer your question.” She stared at me, getting really close to my face, looking at my pupils. “Why are you laughing”? I explained again, only this time, I stood straight and told her, “Listen, I try to help people, Jesus tells me to love my neighbor…I was doin my best today…that’s why I stopped and helped. “Where do you work?” I told her what I do, and also told her who I work for. I gave her the phone number of my partner. I looked over at the truck and they were placing cuffs on Grey. The female officer saw me looking and said, “Who can you call to meet him at our precinct to corroborate his story?” I looked at her and said, “I don’t him officer…I just stopped to help.” She said, “Oh, that’s right, out the goodness of your heart!” I stayed quiet, but I didn’t appreciate the snarky attitude.
She said,” I need your phone number, email address and your wife’s phone number. We are going to search his vehicle and if we find any controlled substance or stolen property, I will need to come by your home and pick you up to determine if you know anything about it…so, you want to tell me anything?”
I said, “absolutely…I stopped to help him because that is what we do. We help people and show them the love of God…without preaching, without asking for payment. That is why I stopped.” She finally broke a smile. Okay, Gerald…(my name on the license is Gerald Douglas Pacheco), I think I believe you!”
I sighed, “Thank you Jesus!” I said. She looked me over and said, “However…NOT a good idea to stop and help every stranger on the road…you know?” I nodded yes and she continued, “God isn’t short on help you know…we can serve God sometimes by praying when we see people on the side of the road. You don’t have to stop…in fact, I would make praying for people on the side of the road your default strategy…not stopping.”
Her partner came over to us and said they had called a tow truck. Grey was being placed in the back of the other cruiser. The officer looked at me and asked her, “So are we taking him down too?” She said, “Well, he’s the real deal…you know…do gooder.” I hate that saying…and I don’t like do gooders either…you know? They are the ones that stop and wave you across a lane of traffic when another car comes and whacks you…or they have the right of way, and wave you into the intersection, throwing everyone into chaos and no one knows who’s next at the four way stop. Do gooders…don’t be one!
The other officer looked at me, kind of like, “I hate do gooders…” Marked with the Scarlet Letter “D” for do gooder, I stood like Hester Pryne, on the side of the road for all the rubberneckers to scoff at on their way to work. The female officer looked at me and said, “oh, your license plate is expired”. I thanked her. She started laughing and looked at me and said, “You know when you are at a funeral, and aren’t supposed to laugh?” I began to smile and then laughed too. She laughed out loud and said, “Dude, you are gonna have a story to tell today when you get home aren’t ya?” I nodded yes and as I got in my car and started it, my window was down and she heard a riff from “And You and I” by “Yes” playing and she rolled down her window and said, “Play something good if you’re gonna play something…like, Sting! I smelled the faint aroma of popcorn in the air. God loves a good comedy!