It was a classified ad in one of those nickel newspapers. It read:
“Gray Ford. Half-ton. Stick-shift. Some rust. Needs TLC. Sneads, Florida. $800.”
My pal called about it. He needed a truck in a bad way. His old one had gone to be with Jesus, his wife was pregnant, and he’d just lost his job.
And in the days before texting, the only way to do business was to use the interstate.
Before we left, he went to the bank. He liquidated his account into a wallet-full of eight hundred dollars.
I gave him a ride. We stopped at a gas station outside Cottondale. He filled my tank, then paid inside. He bought two sticks of beef jerky, two scratch-off lottos.
After a two-hour ride we hit a dirt road leading to a farmhouse that sat on several acres of green. Out front: an old man, smoking. He was bony, friendly-faced, tall.
The truck was ugly, painted gray to hide rust. The bumpers were missing, the interior smelled like oyster stew.
“Runs good,” the man said.
“I’ll take it,” my buddy answered.
He reached for his wallet. And that’s when it happened.
His pocket was empty.
My friend went nuts. He retraced his steps. We tore apart my truck, dug through seats, and cussed. When he finally gave up, he sat cross-legged on the ground. He cried until his face looked raw.
The elderly man sat beside him. He wrapped his arms around him. It had been a long time since a man had done that sort of thing to my pal. He was a fatherless orphan, like me.
When things calmed down, the man’s eyes were red and puffy. He wiped his face and said, “C’mon, son, nothin’s THAT bad.”
My pal didn’t answer.
The elderly man removed keys from his pocket and placed them in my friend’s hand.
He said, “Listen, that thing’s gonna need an oil change when you get home.”
And then he hugged him hard enough to break him.
Anyway, that was a long time ago. I haven’t seen my buddy in a hundred years—I’ll bet his baby is already drawing Social Security by now.
Still, I’ve replayed his story in my mind until I’ve worn out the record. Because the truth is, the world isn’t all flowers and rainbows. It’s angry, mean-spirited, selfish. Another day; another good man dies. I’m no fool. I watch the news.
I know people have quit hoping. I know it’s fashionable to believe this place has already landed in the outhouse. I know a lot of folks think love is an elaborate myth that comes straight from a Sunday-school lesson.
They’re dead wrong.
And I’ll bet eight hundred bucks on it.