I was by myself when the motor cut off and my wife’s tiny Geo Metro convertible coasted to a stop on the shoulder of I-40 near Rose Hill, N.C.
Was this going to be a bad dream come true?
My wife, Donna, and I drive by Rose Hill when we go to the ocean, to North Topsail Beach. We had joked about how we sure didn’t want to break down anywhere near that little town. Rose Hill was ground zero for a critical series of stories I helped report and write in the mid-1990s, called “Boss Hog: The Power of Pork,” a series led to tighter state environmental regulations and a moratorium on new hog farms. I was not beloved by folks in the hog business.
And now it had happened. I was broke down near Rose Hill, the hog capital of North Carolina.
I didn’t have a cell phone, but a woman who saw the car on the side of the interstate, hood up, pulled over and called a wrecker for me. When the wrecker arrived the biggest man I think I ever saw face-to-face got out. His name was Skippy.
He looked at the car, told me the timing belt was broken, and offered to tow me back to Raleigh, to Wilmington, N.C., or wherever I wanted to go. Or he could tow it to his shop outside Rose Hill and fix it himself. He quoted me a fair price for the tow and the timing belt and I said OK.
Skippy hooked up, I got in his tow truck, and off we went. On the way this huge man asked me what I did for a living.
I told him I was a newspaper reporter, that I worked for The News & Observer in Raleigh. And then he asked the question I had not wanted to hear: “Did you have anything to do with those hog stories?”
I did not tell Skippy that I had worked on the hog series an average of 12 hours a day, six days a week for seven months.
What I said was, “Matter of fact, I did.”
And he said, “Pretty hard on them hog boys, weren’t you?”
And I said, “We were.”
His auto repair shop was in the middle of nowhere. Several hearses were parked outside. His Dad was in the used hearse business, he said. Did that make me nervous? Oh, yea.
But there was no more talk about the hog stories and Skippy turned out to be a good guy. He waited in his office with me for an hour or so, chewing the fat, until I could get a message to Donna. And then he drove me to a restaurant in Rose Hill where we ate supper. Donna drove back from the beach to pick up me up and when she arrived Skippy and I were standing in the restaurant parking lot, talking, waiting for her.
“Pat,” she told me later, “you looked like boy standing next to him.”
Made me feel good, actually.
She could have said “Little boy.” Or “Tiny boy.” Or “Itsy bitsy boy.”
Coming Friday: Attacked By A Dead Tree
NOTE: I was out of town all last week kayaking on the Roanoke River with a friend I met on the Appalachian Trail. [Brother Dave posted for me last Monday and Friday.] It was interesting, and fun, and I’m going to blog about it soon.
In the meantime I want to celebrate the six-month anniversary [May 25] of “The Final Edition” by posting the 10 most read stories. The top two are newspaper stories and the next two are hiking stories. That’s good, I guess, because I have lots more of both kinds.
Oh, I know, stories posted late last year or early this year have been out there a lot longer than stories posted in the last few weeks so this is not a fair comparison.
That said, here are the Top Ten, with the posting date so you can easily look them up if you want to:
#1 “Oh, Copyboy?”, Jan. 30
#2 Those Mean Old Newspapermen, March 20
#3 Lost on Blood Mountain, Part I, Feb. 16
#4 Nursery Rhymez, Nov. 25, 2016
#5 The Accident, Part 1, Dec. 30, 2016
#6 He Might Be A Redneck, Dec. 26, 2016
#7 Bear Bryant Called, March 13
#8 “You’re Fired!”, Jan. 16
#9 The Accident, Part 3, Jan. 1
#10 His First Name was “Sir”, Dec. 16, 2016