The “Good Guy” Debt Collector

One Saturday morning, when I was in school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of our Victory Village neighbors asked me to go with him to collect from a fellow who was behind on his furniture payments.

My neighbor, who was also a student, worked part-time as a debt collector.  He told me that debt collectors at his company worked in pairs, one was the “good guy” collector, the other was the “bad guy” collector. My neighbor said he was the “good guy” debt collector.

The is not the road the debt collector took, but it looks like it.
This is not the road the debt collector took, but it looks like it.

He headed his Volkswagen away from Chapel Hill on a four-lane highway, turn onto a two-lane secondary road, then down a gravel road, then onto a dirt road. Finally he turned down what looked like a wide path covered with pine needles.

The man’s house, which had not been painted in years, was deep in a pine forest. He had no neighbors.  There were holes in the floor of the porch and the screen door was busted.

The front door was open.

The debt collector turned off the engine, got out of his car, walked up the steps onto the porch, and knocked on the screen door.

A man wearing a dirty pair of used-to-be green trousers and a clean, sleeveless, white t-shirt came to the door but he didn’t come outside, onto the porch. He and the debt collector talked through a hole in screen door.

I sat in the car with the window down, listening.

The debt collector talked friendly like, reminded the man that he had missed several payments, and asked him to pay up.

The man said he didn’t have any money.

The debt collector told him he was trying to be nice.  He said the man didn’t have to pay everything he owed, but he had to pay something on the bill.

Again, the man said he had no money.

The debt collector began tightening the screws.

“If you don’t pay something,” he said, “they’ll send another fellow out here and he won’t be so nice — he’ll take your furniture.”

“You sent him out here,” the man behind the screen door said, “and you won’t see him no more.”

It took the good guy debt collector all of, oh, 10 seconds to say goodbye, hustle back to his car, and boogie.

Coming Friday: “Go Tell Daddy What You Did!”

The Crazy Hiker – Part 2

The woman who showed up at our Appalachian Trail shelter just before sundown was dead serious about leaving right away and hiking 10.6 miles, in the dark, back to Clingmans Dome.

She and her family –husband, father, and three young children– had unwittingly hiked the wrong way, south from Clingmans Dome when they meant to go north.

They were day hikers so they weren’t carrying tents or sleeping bags. Except for water bottles, which we had refilled, they weren’t carrying anything, including flashlights.

Looks like time at Derrick Knob Shelter.
Looks like nap time at Derrick Knob Shelter.

While her husband and her father stood there with their mouths shut, she decided the family would retrace its steps and walk back to Clingman’s Dome.  Think about that for a second: three tired, out-of-shape, adults [including a grandfather], attempting a 10-mile hike on the Appalachian Trial at night without flashlights, with three tired children in tow.

She couldn’t be serious. But she was.

When my three friends [Lynn Muchmore, Mark Ogden and Tony Goldman] and I realized that she had made up her mind we gave her two headlamps and a lot of trail mix.   But we continued to urge her to leave the kids at the shelter, a girl about 12 and two slightly younger boys.  Let them walk out tomorrow, when it was light. She finally agreed. Her husband would stay with children, she said, and she and her Dad would hike back to Clingman’s Dome.

When she said she would leave her husband with the children, he went berserk, and that’s the right word, berserk.  He took off running up the trail, north toward Clingman’s Dome, yelling, “No, I’m going! I’m going!” I had never seen a man act like that. She should have fired him on the spot.

But his bizzarre reaction didn’t seem to upset her. She just told her father to stay with the children and then she left to catch up with her husband.

That night a good time was had by all, all of us, at least. We built a fire. The kids played until dark, ate a good supper, and slept warm in borrowed sleeping bags. After breakfast, the old man, he was in his 60’s, and the children started walking north. My friends and I continued our hike, south toward Fontana Dam.

We didn’t hike far that day, just 9.2 miles, and that night a fellow caught up with us who knew the rest of the story.  He had sheltered the night before at Silers Bald, 5.8 miles north of Derrick Knob Shelter, where we had met the lost family.

About midnight, he said, the woman and her husband stumbled into Silers Bald Shelter almost hysterical. They had been terrified by noises in the woods, hidden from their their small beams of light. Bears? Boars?  Or just their imagination?

Backpackers at Silers Bald Shelter fed them and put them up for the night and, after breakfast the next morning, the woman and her husband left.

My question for you is this: Did they hike south, to make sure their children were OK, or north, the shortest route back to Clingmans Dome.

You know the answer, don’t you.

Coming Monday: The “Good Guy” Debt Collector