Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Coincidence? That would be too EZ.

 Vacationing near Lake Havasu in Arizona, we started our morning, as per our routine, with morning prayer. In that prayer, I asked that, if it be God’s will, that he use as as tools in his hands to provide service in some way to his children here on Earth. 

Around 10am we drove out to take care of a quick errand with a plan to leave the hotel at around 11am to drive to our next stop, a La Quinta Hotel near McCarren Airport in Las Vegas. The errand took us to a part of Lake Havasu City that we would not have gone to simply in our drive out of the city. Coming back to the hotel, we spotted a gas station with an attractive price of less than $3.00 a gallon posted, so we chose to stop and fill our car for the drive.

At the pump on the other side of the island was a couple close to our age filling a pickup truck and a beautiful blue and white ski-boat. In a pause, I complimented him on his boat and how well cared-for both the boat and the truck looked. This led to a conversation. He noted I was a veteran (from my Arizona affinity license plates). I noted he was a retired fire-fighter from stickers displayed on his pickup truck. We chatted and compared notes on a few items of mutual interest. He introduced himself as Richard Reichle. When his wife joined us he introduced her as Nancy. They were from Dana Point, California.

In the conversation, it came out that they were preparing to drive Nancy to McCarren Airport so she could fly home through John Wayne/Orange County airport. As a nurse, she had to be back to work in a day or so. Richard planned to stay a bit longer to do some boating so would be returning from Las Vegas to Lake Havasu. Hmmm, I said, “That’s where we are going today—our hotel is next door to the airport.” We exchanged information, including snapping photos of drivers licenses and sharing mobile numbers.

And so it came that Nancy rode with us from Lake Havasu City to McCarren Airport. She was lovely company, and picked up the tab for lunch at a Carl’s Jr in Needles, California. Richard was saved the round trip drive to Las Vegas with the attendant cost and time involved. The kicker: Both Richard and Nancy claimed to be prayerful people, Christians, and we have no cause to doubt them. They told us that they had, that morning, prayed for God to bless Nancy’s trip to the Las Vegas airport and to make it as simple and stress-free as possible. 

You may recall we prayed that we could be of service. Richard and Nancy prayed for some help. We were placed together and discovered a painless and cost-free way for us to be an answer to their prayer. 

Events such as this, you may call a strange coincidence. I call it a faith-building experience. We bid Nancy goodbye at the curb in McCarren Aiport. Our hotel was two minutes away.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

EZ's Luck

Do you believe in miracles, or do you call it fate? When the inevitable is unexplainably avoided, Is it luck, Karma, grace, or just the roll of the dice?

In the mid-1980s, we set out to drive as a family from San Antonio, Texas to Las Vegas, Nevada. That’s 1,295 U.S. miles (2,084 kilometers) by the most direct route. At that time the national speed limit in the U.S. was 55 miles per hour on the open highways and less in built-up areas. Luckily, there weren’t that many built-up areas there. With gas and rest stops the drive was planned to take about 28 hours of otherwise continual driving. My wife and I planned to take turns driving while the ‘off-duty’ one slept—our car was equipped with a big, reclining seat for the front-seat passenger to make sleeping a bit easier. Our three kids would have the back seat with pillows, blankets, snacks, and Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong on a crude hand-held Nintendo to occupy them. And fighting. They always had fighting amongst themselves for entertainment.

We left San Antonio just after sunset on a Friday evening planning to drive across the West Texas flatlands in the cool of the August night. The gas stops are laid out across that stretch of Interstate Highway 10 West to allow stops every couple of hours and there’s always food and coffee as well as restrooms available at the gas stations. I had enjoyed a long afternoon nap, so I felt fresh and took the first driving shift. Even after our second gas stop, I still felt great and wanted to continue driving. I had a cold Diet Dr Pepper (heavily caffeinated carbonated beverage) and my ‘tunes’ to help me. I had wired a headphone jack into the car’s audio system so that I could listen to Men at Work, Toto, Bonnie Tyler, and Spandau Ballet on the car’s built-in stereo cassette player while the family dozed with only the highway sounds to lull them.

By two in the morning, we were a few miles east of Fort Stockton, Texas; 300 miles and six hours from home. The wife was curled up with her seat reclined, a huge pillow between her head and the passenger’s side of the car, another pillow wrapped in her arms. It had been silent in the back seat for many, many miles. There wasn’t even a green glow of a Nintendo screen visible in my interior mirror. Traffic had become as sparse as lakes in the West Texas desert. The car’s engine hummed; the tires smoothly sang their highway song. The cruise control was set at 55 mph. I planned to make a fuel stop in Fort Stockton and change drivers so I could sleep. I sipped my Dr Pepper and sang along silently to Total Eclipse of the Heart for the seventh or eighth time. I congratulated myself on planning such a stress-free family car trip. All was well. I thought.

A sudden and very loud WHACK got my attention. My eyes popped open (when did I close them?) We were no longer safe on the smooth pavement of IH-10. The passenger side wheels were in the gravel on the road’s shoulder. My training as a driver allowed me to avoid panic—fortunately—I did not slam on the brakes. Statistics and studies show that is the worst thing to do when a car’s passenger wheels leave the pavement. Rather I quickly but gently touched the brake pedal to cancel the cruise control. Then, steering very, very slightly to the left to avoid going further off the road but not to lurch the car back onto the paved surface, I began to apply the brake gently but in earnest. The car came safely to a stop. I couldn’t see ahead of the car from the dust thrown up by our wheels as we ground to a halt. I put the transmission in Park, killed the ignition, and turned off the headlights. The stop, and the WHACK, of course, awoke the family. By the time we were stopped, everyone was like, “What?” “What’s going on?” “Why are we stopped.” I couldn’t answer. I was too busy shaking and trying to breathe, wondering why we were all still alive and not broken and bleeding out on the harsh desert floor.

After explaining to my wife and the children that I had dozed and run off the road, but we were stopped and all safe, so not to worry, I stepped out of the car with my flashlight, a 3-battery MagLite, to survey the situation. I first looked at the car for damage. There was some: The passenger’s side door mirror was gone—just gone! I could see no other damage. No dents, no scratches. Walking back alongside the road about 200-300 feet, about 60-100 meters, from the way we had come I found an upright steel roadside marker post, its reflectorized top badge bent in the direction of our travel. Shining the flashlight around further from the road, I could see fragments of broken mirror on the desert floor. A miracle! We had apparently left the paved roadway at just the right time and at just the correct angle for that roadside marker pole to wipe the passenger side mirror off the car, make a huge WHACK sound to awaken me, and do no other damage. I momentarily marveled that we had not only survived unhurt but still had a sound and usable car not having rolled across the desert floor or shattered on boulders. As I walked back toward the car, I raised my MagLite beam to shine ahead to see if we had an easy route back onto the paved highway. What I saw caused my heart to stop and I fell to my knees. My breath just wouldn’t come! I thought I had been frightened and shaking when I first controlled the car to a stop. Now I was in shock. Not twenty feet (<4 meters) in front of the car was a solid concrete abutment making up the base of a highway overpass to allow a secondary road to cross over the top of IH-10. Miracle, indeed! If…if…

If our car had drifted off the highway a second or two later…if the highway roadside marker had been six inches further from the roadway…if…if… We would have gone head-on into that concrete abutment with the cruise control set at 55 mph. While we were seat-belted, automotive airbags had not yet been invented, and in any case probably could not have saved us from certain, sudden death. I don’t know how long it was before I could stand and return to the car. I didn’t tell or show my family the truth of the situation, but I did tell them we were very ‘lucky’ that the roadside marker had awakened me and done minimal damage to the car. Apologizing to all for my failure and assuring my wife I was now more than wide awake, and that I’d drive the very few miles into Fort Stockton, after which she could drive, I started the car, engaged the gear, turned on the lights and left flasher and bumped back up onto the roadway.

Call it what you may. We must surely owe our lives to some type of intervention.   



Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Camping is not EZ

 In 1990 my family and I were living in Okinawa, Japan, as part of my military assignment. 

The military had a ‘retreat’ at Okuma Beach. Okuma was truly beautiful. On one occasion, my wife and I left the family in our eldest daughter’s care (she was 18 and a high-school graduate by then) and went to Okuma Beach for the weekend. We took a small pop-up tent and not much else as this was intended to be a real ‘get away’ for us. We had a great day and dinner at the club. Our campsite was all set up in the crowded campground. Night fell and we crawled into the low tent and retired to our sleeping bags by about 10pm. Okinawa is hot. And very often, humid. This night must have been trying to set a record on both counts. Dead still, not a sign of a breeze, the temperature hovered around 100F and the humidity was so high it felt like a sauna inside the tent. This tent had a removeable ‘fly’ at the top, which we had taken off to allow us to view the heavens through the screened open top of the tent. The flaps were all open and tied back in an attempt to capture any vestige of moving air. There was no moving air. There was no idea of getting INTO the sleeping bags, rather we lay on top trying to sleep. Pajamas were abandoned for underwear. In the sticky heat, that clothing was soon clinging to our sweat-covered bodies and even that light material was too much, so was removed. Finally, probably around midnight, despite the discomfort of the heat, we drifted to sleep, skyclad, as my Wiccan friends would say. 

FLASH! CRASH! BANG! Then SPLASH! Thunder, lightning, then torrential tropical rain awoke us, fierce wind shook the tent—a severe thunderstorm had moved in. What was it, 2:30am or so? Remember that open ‘fly’ at the top of the tent? It now served as a direct conduit for rain to drench in as if through a funnel—and the rainwater felt cold after the earlier steamy heat we had experienced. Looking outside through the tent-door-flap screen, I could see that all was in total darkness—the electricity must be off, as all of the security lighting around the campground was out. My wife, muttering, had pulled a sleeping bag over her nakedness to fend off the rain. Well, there was nothing for it but to try to get that ‘fly’ fastened back onto the top of the tent to protect us and our belongings from the rain. I told her, “Zip up all of the side flaps to keep the rain out!”

Fortunately, the fly was inside the tent and I knew exactly where it was. Unzipping the screen flap, I grabbed the fly and forged out, on hands and knees, onto wet sand and into the driven rain. Desperately holding the flapping nylon fly material in the wind, I stood and felt for the loops to which secure the flap with its clips. FLASH! BANG! The world was briefly illuminated by lightning as if it were noon. That meant I could see the first of the clips. It also meant, that if anyone were looking, they could see me. In all my glory. In the wind-driven rain. Fighting with a piece of nylon tent material. Snap. One clip done. FLASH! BANG! With each bolt of lightning the world was daylight again for a second. Snap. Two clips. Snap. Three clips. FLASH! BANG! Finally, I finished fastening the fly, dropped to hands and knees, and with one final FLASH! I crawled into the tent. 

As I pulled the door flap shut and zipped it, the rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The storm moved on to the east, but it had, at least cooled the temperature and left a gentle and steady breeze in its wake. We were able to once again open the side and door flaps, with screens in place, and while wet, we were comfortable enough to get some sleep, awaking to a gorgeous sunrise.