he’s a happy man and in twenty minutes, he’ll be off work. He’s excited, he tells me, because tonight’s a big night. He’s going to introduce his girlfriend to his parents.

Colorado Springs—I found a twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk. And because I am a competent, responsible adult, I raced toward the money, shouting, “MINE! MINE!” at my wife.

There they were, two Andrew Jacksons, crumpled. I made the same sound a five-year-old boy makes when he discovers the Tootsie Roll center to a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop.

I don’t often find money. It’s not one of my skills. I have a friend who finds money everywhere. He once found a hundred big ones outside a convenience store. I happened to be with him when it happened.

I never forgave him.

Thus, with my newfound wealth, I walked into a giftshop to do some dutiful vacation-junk purchasing. Here in Colorado, I am a tourist, and a tourist can never have enough plastic junk to clutter up his home, office, garage, guest bedroom, or storage unit.

Then, I overheard his voice.

He was behind the cash register, talking to a customer. His accent was pure Alabama. It had to

be. He drew out his vowels the same way Good Ole Boys have been doing since the invention of the beer koozie.

I waited in line with an armful of overpriced trash. I was buying more than twenty-bucks’ worth—three T-shirts, a snow globe, a coffee mug, and a few bumper stickers for my accordion case.

That’s right, I play accordion. My grandfather played, too. Grandaddy told me long ago that the accordion was a great way to pick up chicks. He was grossly misinformed.

When it was my turn, I asked the gray-haired man at the cash register where he was from.

“Montgomery,” he said.

Bingo. Alabamians, you’ll note, don’t say “MONT-gomery” like the rest of the free world. They say, “Muh-GUM-ree.”

“How’d you get out here?” I asked.

“Long story,” he said. “I came here for my parents. They’re old…

A man loading groceries saw the boy sprinting toward an oncoming vehicle.

Fayetteville, North Carolina—the middle of the night, on the interstate. She was on her way to start a new life in a new place.

She pulled over at a rest area.

It was dark. She was young. A man came from nowhere, forced her into a car, and held a gun to her. He told her what he was about to do to her.

Then, someone kicked open the window and pulled him off. There was a fight. Her attacker was never caught. Her hero was never found. She was unharmed.

“My mom thinks it was an angel,” she says. “I think so, too.”

Birmingham, Alabama—Daryl saw a man walking the highway. He offered the man a ride.

The man said, “No thanks,” and mumbled something nonsensical.

Daryl dove past him the next afternoon. And the next. One day he pulled alongside the man and said, “Please let me do SOMETHING for you, sir.”

The man said, “I’m so scared, dude. Help me.”

Daryl brought him home. He made contact with the man’s sister, who said her brother suffered from schizophrenia. He’d gone missing days earlier.


a few hours, the family was reunited on Daryl’s front lawn.

“You saved my brother’s life,” said the man’s sister. “And mine.”

Flowood, Mississippi—on Tuesday afternoons, Mary instructs a gymnasium of women, of varying ages and fitness levels, how to dance hip-hop.

One of her students—an elderly woman—had chest pains.

The ambulance came. Mary rode with her to the hospital. She lied to nurses, claiming to be the woman’s daughter so they’d let her into the woman’s room. She called the family.

One emergency open-heart surgery later, the old woman is alive and moving.

“Anybody woulda done what I did,” said Mary.

No. They wouldn’t have.

Southside, Florida—a boy and his mother walked into a supermarket. He pitched a tantrum and kicked her. She let go of his hand. He ran through the…

People have been so nice to us you wouldn’t even believe it if I told you. They have given us food and money and rides and advice and anything we needed, until we got back on our feet, all just random people who didn’t want any credit.


My family went through some real hard times during the last two years before my husband found his job. It got so bad my kids were eating Chicken Helper casseroles (the store brand) without any meat or oil. My husband and I were taking turns skipping dinners...

Now everything’s good and my husband has this good job…

People have been so nice to us you wouldn’t even believe it if I told you. They have given us food and money and rides and advice and anything we needed, until we got back on our feet, all just random people who didn’t want any credit.

[My husband’s] boss has even given him three different bonuses and what not. To make a long story short, we’ve actually got savings accounts for the first time in our life and it’s all because of kind people.

I was going to see if you have a story about how nice people can be to each other, ‘cause I want something special to

read to my kids tomorrow when we buy our first house.

Have a good day,


I’m going to tell you about a family. The first thing you ought to know about this family is that they were poor. Deep-fried poor. So destitute, they didn’t have running water. And according to my sources, they cooked meals over an oil drum. The kids had hardly any meat on their bones.

They say the pastor visited their house with money. The father refused the money, claiming things were looking up. But this was a Great Depression. There was no up.

The pastor left a check anyway. And I understand he cashed it before lunchtime.

The first thing school kids noticed were her new shoes. Red leather ones, she loved red. I don’t know what it is about shoes and poverty. They’re the first things…

He used to play make-believe with me when I was little. Daddy would wear a cowboy hat and play Old West Saloon. I was Wyatt Earp; he was Billy the Kid.

Colorado Springs—I’m standing on Pikes Peak, fourteen thousand feet above sea level. I’m looking at the world from a mountaintop.

Twenty-four years ago we scattered Daddy’s ashes here. He came packed in a cardboard box. I was a child.

The day we turned him loose, I prayed for something grand to happen. Maybe a gust of wind, a big cloud, or even snow. I’d heard it can snow on Pikes Peak during the summer.

That’s what I wanted. I wanted nature to deliver something. But there were no gusts. No clouds. No snow. Only hot sun.

Anyway, my father’s death happened suddenly. I was twelve. And this view takes me to that age again. The scenery up here is breathtaking. I can see clear to Kansas, and the sun is shining so hard it burns me.

The altitude is getting to me. There are tiny sparks in my vision. The EMT at the visitor’s center told me this means I am in oxygen debt.

Twenty-four years. It’s been so long since

he’s been gone that I often forget his face. I have to open a photo album to remember.

I have a favorite photograph. A faded Polaroid. He’s wearing his denim, his boots, and his work jacket. He’s all iron worker.

I loved him.

He used to play make-believe with me when I was little. Daddy would wear a cowboy hat and play Old West Saloon. I was Wyatt Earp; he was Billy the Kid.

We’d have gunfights at high noon. Our living room became the showdown at O.K. Corral. I would take him down with a cap gun. I was the best shot in the West. He would grab his gut, then fall on the floor.

Then, I would jump on his chest. He would kiss me on the forehead. He’d say, “That’s my little cowboy.”

How could a…

Thelma Lou interrupts me. She doesn’t want me to think. She wants me to play.

I just crossed the border into New Mexico. I’m only three hours from Colorado Springs, where I’ll visit my father’s resting place.

And I am lost. Not poetically, but worse. Literally. My GPS quit working a few minutes ago. I’m running blind.

Still, after two days of driving across the eerily flat Texas dirt, it’s nice to finally see some eerily flat New Mexico dirt for a change.

My wife is asleep in the passenger seat. We are traveling with two dogs: my late bloodhound, Ellie Mae,—God rest her soul—her ashes are in a cedar box, riding on my dashboard.

And my other dog, Thelma Lou—a twelve-week-old bloodhound whose bladder is the size of a zipper pea.

Thel sits in my lap while I drive, staring out my windshield. We are wandering across the Middle of Nowhere. This two-lane highway is bumpy, and jagged. In front of me: prairie. Behind me: prairie. There are no cars for miles.

But I’m enjoying the drive. So is the puppy. And I’m remembering


Mostly, I’m remembering the dog in the box. She was the sort who rode shotgun. Always shotgun. Even when my wife was in the car, Ellie would sit between us. If you rolled down the window, she’d poke her head out. Her long ears would flap in the wind.

Ellie was my friend. She was born in Georgia, raised in the Panhandle of Florida. She loved all things that hounds love: pine trees, children, long walks on the beach, raw sewage, Lawrence Welk.

I think Ellie would’ve liked the West.

Thelma Lou certainly likes it. She is taking in the view like it’s the first time she’s ever seen earth.

She wears a look I can’t explain—like she’s thinking very, very hard. And all of a sudden, my vehicle smells like four-day old cabbage. Gurgling sounds come from Thel’s…

After she laid him to rest, she couldn’t figure out what to do with herself. So here she is, with her barbecue pit-master nephew, serving brisket.

I’m in the Texas Panhandle. I wish I could tell you where, specifically, but I don’t know. Outside Amarillo.

There are no landmarks. No trees. No water. Just dirt, wind, and prairie. I am at a rundown barbecue trailer, parked outside a filling station. I am ordering food. My wife is waiting in the vehicle with our bloodhound.

The woman at the window is a gray-haired sweetheart.

When I first arrive, she is smoking a cigarette out front. When she sees me, she moseys into the trailer. I’ve always wanted to use that word—“mosey.”

She gives me a Texas barbecue lesson. Her voice sounds like a tuba.

“Our barbecue’s different than your Southern style, baby,” she says. “You need to know that.”

Fair enough. Since I am a Southerner, I ask her what the regional differences are.

“Oh, lotsa differences. Mainly, in Texas we actually know how to cook.”


“Also,” she adds. “We don’t care ‘bout side dishes like y’all do.”

Say it ain’t so. Side dishes are sacred to people in my parts. In

fact, each year local heathens visit Southern Baptist barbecues simply to eat their yearly requirement of coleslaw.

The fourth time I got baptized, for instance, I ate so much coleslaw I had to ask the congregation for forgiveness the following Sunday.

I order a pulled pork sandwich.

“Pork?” The old lady gives a hoarse laugh. “We don’t do pork. This is Texas. Brisket.”

“Okay,” I say. “A brisket sandwich, then.”

“No sandwiches, neither. Brisket.”

I order brisket and ask for extra sauce on the side.

“No sauce,” she says. “Brisket.”


So I’m eating brisket that’s wrapped in foil. And we are having a conversation.

Beneath the woman’s rough skin is a lady who was born in Amarillo. She married a man in the military. She saw the whole world with him. Top to…

Anyway, I’m not a boy anymore. I’m braver, and I’m happier, and I’ve learned a lot about me. I’ve known happiness in many different forms. And kindness. Today, I am a grown-up. A skinny, long-legged redhead with freckles.

Louisiana—I’m driving a sunny highway. The weather is perfect. The cane fields are brilliant green.

I am going to visit my father’s grave.

I still have a long way left to go—four more states left, to be exact.

Louisiana highways are jagged. When I was eighteen, I drove these highways to Dallas in a ‘79 Ford. The uneven roads were so bad they nearly rattled my truck apart and gave me permanent drain bamage.

Daddy rests fourteen thousand feet above sea-level in Colorado. His ashes are part of a mountainside. We scattered him when I was a boy. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t been back since.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve meant to visit, but I haven’t. I don’t know why.

My father was a stick welder. He traveled wherever work was good. Work led him to Colorado, as a young man. He lived there in a trailer. He always said he loved that period of his life.

He used to talk about those days and tell me

things that I was too young to understand:

“Every man needs to find himself,” he once told me. “And that mountain’s where I found me. When I die, it’s where I wanna be scattered.”

He only said it in passing, but it was stenciled into my mind.

Mama said he lost weight in Colorado. She said he ate a steady diet of canned beans and beer. When Mama went to visit him, she said he was so skinny he only needed one back pocket.

She tried to fatten him up, but that was impossible. Daddy was a long-legged, red headed sack of bones. He had freckles that weighed more than he did.

I was angry with him after he pulled his own curtain. I wasn’t furious, mind you. I felt the same kind of anger you’d feel when you bite your tongue…