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I baked about nine dozen ginger crack cookies to take with me on my trip to San Juan Capistrano. I planned to hand them out to people along the way. I titled this trip, “Cookies to California, or bust.” Each time I stopped for gas, I would take the big bag of cookies into the store with me, offering them to the clerk and maybe customers who were in line with me. I enjoy the smiles I get from doing so.
It was going well. I would hold the bag open toward folks, “Would you like a cookie? I made them myself.” Most people would smile, take a cookie or two and thank me. Some were skeptical; they had to be wondering, “Why is a stranger offering cookies?” “No thank you.” they would say, respectfully declining.
One lady at a gas station in Nebraska, was a little grouchy. “You can’t have those in here!” she said, speaking of my cookies. “We’re only allowed to sell food that was made in a licensed, commercial kitchen.” I justified, “But I’m not selling them, I’m just giving them to people.” That seemed to agitate her more. “I sell cookies and snacks and you can’t have those in here. Now take your cookies and go.” she insisted, motioning toward the door. I had more to say to argue my case, but felt it would be best to just move along. Once stirred, its better to move away from a hornets nest before you get stung.
I didn’t mean to upset anybody, I was just making a kind gesture. Walking to my car, feeling rejected, I heard somebody call, “Hey brother!” I didn’t think they were talking to me. “Hey buddy.” They called again. I turned around. A man and woman, in their thirties I would guess, followed me out of the store. “Could we have a couple cookies?” he asked. With a big smile I gave them a proper Minnesota reply, “Ya, sure. You betcha.” I said, holding the bag open, “Take a few.” They really lifted my spirits, and I kept handing out cookies as I made my way down the road.
In the middle of nowhere, west of Grand Junction, Colorado, my temperature light flickered a few times on the dashboard. “That’s weird.” I thought. Then the light came on solid. I immediately pulled over on the shoulder. Turning on my flashers, I stopped the car and turned off the engine. Thick steam began pushing out from under my hood, through the grill, from the cracks between the hood and the fender and near the windshield. The distinct smell of antifreeze was strong. I got out of the car, raised the hood and stood back waiting for the billows of steam to clear. “This isn’t good. Isn’t good at all.” I said, shaking my head.
When life presents me with a situation where I don’t know if I should laugh, or cry, I try to remember, crying isn’t going to help anything. “California or Bust, eh?” I started laughing, “I guess sometimes you bust.”
When the steam cleared I saw the lid to the reservoir was off. I waited for the engine to cool so I could remove the radiator cap to look inside. As I suspected, it was low. Fortunately when I travel I always carry a couple gallons of well water for drinking. I started the engine and slowly topped off the radiator, then filled the reservoir. The temperature light stayed off, so I continued down the road until I reached Green River, Utah - a town with history that always causes me to smile.
In the early nineties, my buddy Stuart and I were taking two of my younger brothers, Steve and Richard, out west. We were going camping and fishing in the Colorado Rockies. Four grown men driving almost a thousand miles in an extended cab, Ford Ranger. It was tight to say the least. We towed a small trailer to carry our gear.
The first night camping, it poured rain. In the morning the water in the stream was cloudy. The fish weren’t biting, the skies were overcast and it was cold. Stu and I talked. We decided a road trip from here would be good. “Where would we go?” he asked. I shrugged my shoulders, “I don’t know. L.A. I guess. We can surprise my brother Dan with a visit.” We packed up and hit the road, I-70 west bound.
Along this route you’ll come to this small town of Green River, Utah - just under 1,000 residents and just over one hundred miles west of Grand Junction, Colorado. There was a sign on the side of the road by the exit, about two feet wide by three feet tall with hand painted white letters, “Next Gas 110 Miles.”
Even if my tank was over half full, I always stopped to top it off with gas in Green River before heading into that long stretch of road I called, “No Man’s Land.” At the bottom of the exit ramp were two gas stations. Both were rather primitive with gravel driveways; there wasn’t even concrete around the pump islands. Each had a convenience store in an old mobile home. People didn’t mind the conditions, they were just glad to have gasoline way out there. We chose the fancier of the two stations - the one with a doublewide trailer.
Inside there was a line for the restroom, which was the original mobile home bathroom (pink bath tub and all) that served both men and women. While waiting his turn, Stu picked up a water bottle with a big red heart on the side. He held the bottle in the air and read the message out loud - very loud, “I love Utah? What’s to love? The Rocks?” he questioned, then started laughing. Everyone in the room turned to stare at us, with scowling faces of disapproval.
Now Stu is a pretty big guy at five-feet, fifteen inches tall. But he looked kind of small compared to the herd of cowboys who seemed like they wanted to tan our hides. They all looked eight feet tall in their pointed toe cowboy boots, slim jeans with huge silver belt buckles, plaid western shirts with pearly snaps and ten gallon hats. A couple of them we’re even wearing spurs on their heels.
My voice had to be a little shakey when I quivered a nervous laugh, “He’s Just kidding, right Stu?” Stu said, “No I’m not. There’s nothing here but rocks!” I don’t know how we got out of there unscathed, but we did. My brothers and I laughed about that for hundreds of miles, and then for years to come. We still mimick Stu, “What’s to love? The rocks?”
I laughed recalling that day as I pulled off the interstate at exit 160. The old sign has long since been replaced by a modern yellow warning sign with slightly different wording, “Next Services on I-70 110 Miles.” The two old stations have been raised and a big Pilot Truck Stop, now sits on the lot. Times change, I guess.
The radiator was on my mind as I pulled up to the pumps. I needed to make a decision whether to head into No Man’s Land, knowing the next services were 110 miles away, or to come up with another plan.
The car wasn’t overheating anymore, so I decided I’d buy some antifreeze to carry with me just in case, and go for it. I set two, one gallon jugs on the counter, and paid my bill. I asked the cashier, “Would you like a cookie? I made them myself.” “No thank you.” she said. The guy at the register next to her said, “I’ll take one.” “Take two.” I insisted. The lady who waited on me changed her mind, “Well maybe I will try one.” I smiled and held the bag open for her.
I wasn’t far down I-70 when I came upon a semi with its hood open, stalled on the side of the road. The driver was walking a distance up the shoulder, holding his cell phone. I glanced at my phone; no signal, so I pulled over. He was a little bit older, well groomed with gray hair and glasses, wearing black polyester slacks. The collar of his blue dress shirt folded neatly over the neck of his yellow pull-over sweater. “Are you getting a signal?” I asked him. He spoke with a gentle voice and a Portuguese accent. “No. No signal. My truck broke down. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” There was worry in his voice.
He told me he was going to walk to Salina, to see if he could get someone to tow his truck. “Salina is 85 miles from here.” I told him, showing him my GPS. He didn’t realize it was that far. “I can give you a ride back to Green River, if you’d like.” “Do they have a tow truck there?” he asked. “I don’t know, but there’s a Pilot truck stop. I’ll bet they’ll know who to call” I told him, “It’s about 16 miles behind us and a lot closer than Salina.”
The driver explained that another tucker had stopped earlier. “The man said he would call my dispatcher when he got a signal to let them know where I am stalled.” He considered my offer then decided, “I better wait here with my truck.”
“No problem,” I said. I wished him good luck and started to pull away. I stopped again and the man walked up to my window to see what I needed. I held up the bag, “Would you like some cookies? I made them myself.” He was very appreciative and took two cookies. “Take a few more my friend, you can enjoy them while you’re waiting.” He grabbed another hand full, thanked me, and began walking back toward his truck. I pulled out onto the highway.
Still about 40 miles from Salina, my temperature light started to flicker again. I pulled over to add a little more coolant. As I was finishing a Chevy pickup stopped. The driver got out and walked toward me. “Do you need any help?” he asked. “Nope, I’m good” I replied. “Are you sure? You’re still at least 40 miles from the next gas station.” he said. “She just needed a little antifreeze.” I told him. I closed the hood and pulled out my bag. “Would you like a cookie? I made them myself.” I told him. “Hey, molasses cookies! Those are my favorite.” He took a cookie, biting into it right away. “This is good.” he said to me, asking, “Would you mind if I took another one for my wife? She’s in the truck.” “Take a few.” I said, then I thanked him for his concern and stopping to check on me.
Not too much farther down the road I stopped to see if I could help an elderly couple with a flat tire. “We’re okay.” The man said, “we’ve got help on the way.” “Were you able to get a cell phone signal out here?” I questioned. “I called with my OnStar service.” He said. I offered the couple cookies. “No thank you,” the man said, “We can’t eat cookies anymore, but they sure look good. Are those ginger cookies?” “They are.” I said. “I love ginger cookies. My wife used to make the best.” He said, still looking at the bag of goodies. He shook his head, “I better not.” I wished them luck, and moved on down the road.
In California, I stopped for gas. The card reader at the pump didn’t seem to be working. While I fidgeted with the machine, a young man walked up to me. “Excuse me sir. Would you happen to have have any spare change I could have to get a gallon of gas? I need to run my wife to work.” Having heard that a million times, I told him, “I don’t have any change, just a card, but if you pull your car over here, I’d gladly give you a couple gallons of fuel.” He thanked me and said he would go get his car.
I honestly didn’t think he would come back. Often when people ask for gas money, they don’t want gas - just the money. The reader still wouldn’t accept my card so I went inside to pre-pay. Estimating how much my car would take to top the tank I had the cashier put $60 on the pump. I was surprised when I came back outside and the man who asked for gas money, was waiting in his car along with his wife and child, near mine. By that time a SUV had pulled up to the other side of my pump.
I filled my tank; my car didn’t hold as much fuel as I thought it would. I was ready to give him some gas but the hose wouldn’t reach his filler and I couldn’t hang up the nozzle as it would close out the sale. His wife got out of the car to hold the hose while I moved my car clearing the way for her husband to pull into my spot. As she took the hose she said, “We really appreciate this. I hate having to ask people for help, but we’ve just run onto some really hard times lately and we don’t get paid until Friday.”
There was such a humble gratitude and sincerity in her voice, it really touched me. I told her, “There’s around $20 left on the pump, go ahead and put it all in your car.” “Are you sure?” She asked. “I’m sure. Keep your chin up kid, things will get better for your family.” She thanked me again. I just smiled, then got in my car to pull it forward.
I stopped a few feet away, and walked back to their car. The man was pumping gas. I handed him the bag with the last of the cookies in it. I suppose there were eight or ten left. “Here. These are for you my friend. I made them myself.” He looked at the cookies and smiled big. “Thank you, sir.” he said, “my little girl loves molasses cookies.” He was a little choked up when he said, “You must be an angel to help us out like this.” I smiled at him, “I’m not an angel, but I do work for Him whenever I can.” I wished them a good day and returned to my car.
I sure got a lot of good from those nine dozen cookies.
I finished my business in California and headed east to Las Vegas. My friend Schuyler was getting married Saturday evening. Attending his wedding was part of the plan on this trip.
Saturday morning I was at a shop in Las Vegas to have my car looked at. In their waiting room they had a lot of tables and chairs and a big refreshment counter for their customers. There was coffee, tea, water, a big modern Coca-Cola dispenser with all kinds of flavors, hot chocolate, cappuccino; fresh fruit, snacks and more. It was really nice.
A young mom with two babies in a double stroller was fixing a beverage. A little kid in a green soccer outfit, sporting the name “Noa,” across the shoulders and the number 21, was trying to get a glass of pop behind her. He couldn’t have been but four years old and cute as could be. In his tall green matching socks, he jumped up two or three times, until he was able to tap the “Coke” button, then he jumped repeatedly trying to select the Fanta Orange.
The mom with the stroller turned to help him. She took the cup he was holding. “That’s a coffee cup,” she said returning it to the coffee area, then handing him a Coke cup. “This is a pop glass,” she said and continued to help him get an orange soda. Watching all of this from my seat at the snack bar counter, I asked, “Is that your son?” I was going to compliment her on how cute he was. “No, I don’t know who’s kid he is. He just looked like he needed help.” “That was sure nice of you to help him.” I said. She said thank you and went about her way. I wished I had some cookies to offer her.
I started thinking about all the good things I’d seen and good people I had run into over the past couple days. People helping other people. It made my heart warm. Isn’t that what we’re really here for, to help and serve one another?
I reflected on the gas station and the sign on the highway at Green River, Utah. The old sign read “Next Gas 110 Miles.” The new sign reads, “Next Services...110 Miles.” I don’t mind having to drive 110 miles for gas, but there is always someone much closer to serve - to lend a hand, or offer our services to. How ironic I was having these thoughts in the “service” department of a Subaru dealership. I said to myself, “I liked the old sign better.”
Sunday morning came. After church, I would have breakfast with my friends before I started the long journey home. Schuyler text me asking, “Are you going through Des Moines on your way home?” I replied, “I can. What’s up?”
Schuyler explained, “Taylor’s brother left for home and forgot to take her wedding dress with him, and the flight were on won’t allow us to check a bag. I was wondering...” “Sure, Schuyler. It’s no problem, I’ll be right there...”
Despite my car giving me trouble in the desert, this has been a great trip, but I still like the old sign better.