Monday, August 17, 2009


If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

There’s a common phrase that all of us have heard at least once in our lives. If you’re like me, you’ve probably said it yourself more than a few bazzilion times; “if it ain‘t broke, don‘t fix it.” I am a firm believer in this philosophy on life. If something is running along well, or as well as you think it should, then leave it alone. It doesn’t need any tweaking, adjusting, modifying or otherwise, monkeying around with.
If it is “broken”, however, leaving it to go on it’s own, without intervention, makes absolutely no sense either. Indeed, another cliché comes to mind. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get, what you always got.” It depends entirely on your perspective of whether the wheels are grinding away as they should, or if things appears to have a bit of a wobble to them.
It’s when you add the factor of “perspective” that things begin to become a bit hazy, and we need to do some deeper research into what “broken” entails.
Our perspective of what broken amounts to is determined in a large part by our own attitude. Are we looking at a certain situation from the “half full cup” perspective, or is our cup mostly “half empty” all the time?
My personal thought is that before we can determine what broken is, or if indeed, something is really broken to begin with, we need to take into consideration what all the factors are. And that, my friends, amounts to the $64,000 question. How do you know if it‘s broken?
Being mortal as we are, we have absolutely no way of knowing what lies beyond the boundaries of our physical perceptions. Better said, “We have no way of knowing what we don’t know, until we know it.” You might say, “Learn!” Which is a valid statement, but once something is learned, it then falls within the realms of our physical perception. No longer the unknown, and therefore part of our responsibility.
Okay, all that sounds like so much psycho babble and isn‘t making a whole lot of sense, right? It might even appear as though even my thought process was “broken”, eh!? Maybe it needs fixing?
Let me put a bit of a spiritual spin on things and maybe I can clear things up.
If we were to take a hard look at our life at this very moment, would it appear that things were running along smoothly? Or, might it appear that things had a bit of a wobble to them? What if we look at our life, and a wobble is evident, but, because we don’t know what we don’t know, we don’t know how to straighten the wobble?
Hear is where “perspective” comes in again. Hear is where we put the spiritual spin on the wobble.
God wants a relationship with you. Ultimately, when all is said and done, He wants us at his side. He has a plan for us that engulfs all the necessary factors to make that happen. Even if our life is broken, at some point, maybe in our youth, or maybe later on, we may come to know of the “plan”. That isn’t to say that we know all aspects about the plan, just that we know it exists, because He calls us, and we trust Him to fulfill it.
I suppose there are those fortunate few, though I’ve never met one yet, who, from very birth have it all together. They are raised in a loving house, have loving parents, know God from infancy, and live the fairy tale life, never knowing failure, hurt, brokenness.
But say we belong to the remaining 99.9999999%, and say we are rolling on through life, a really nice person, doing really nice things, either to other really nice people, or even sometimes, to people who aren’t nice. Does that make us a candidate for a seat on the bus to heaven? Within the realms of my belief doctrine, no. That doctrine says that we must acknowledge God, His Son and His Sacrifice in purchasing the ticket for us. If we don’t, we fall short of His “plan” for our life by refusing to admit that we are broken and need His help.
That’s where intervention becomes necessary. If He wants us, He is going to reveal Himself to us, and give us the chance to acknowledge Him.
Conversely, the enemy has a plan as well. That plan is to keep us in the dark about God’s Plan. Whether by ignorance on our part, or diversion on his part, either way he is successful. This is where his perspective on “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” comes into play. If he can convince us that, either; 1. God doesn’t exist, or, 2. God doesn’t care, he wins. We can be really nice people, but because we don’t recognize God’s plan, still end up toast in the end.
When things begin to shimmy and fall apart, often times we say things like, “The devil made me do it.” That statement only has any validity at all if you know God, and are trying with all your heart to be obedient to His calling. If you’re not, if you don’t know Jesus, and Him crucified, the devil has no reason whatsoever to waste any time, or effort on your life. In this case, from his perspective, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, means you are doing exactly what he wants without any intervention on his part.
It isn’t until God’s plan has been revealed to us, and we are actively participating in that plan, that the enemy of our souls will exert the effort to try and alter our path. Omnipotence isn’t one of his characteristics. He can’t be everywhere at the same time like God can. He has limited resources and doesn’t squander them unnecessarily.
If we aren’t “saved”, meaning we don’t know Jesus, and Him crucified, the enemy of our souls could care less who we are, or what we are doing.
Let me drive this whole point home with a bit of “personal perspective”. I love telling stories, and I often been told that the best way to convey the truth of a story is from the perspective of a “witness”. As one who was there. As one who saw it and felt it. This is the story of how one person came to know that they were broken. How one person, although realizing that the wheel was indeed wobbling, (and rather severely!), had no idea they didn’t possess the means to balance it on their own. I witness.


The summer of 1993 molted around us in typical southern fashion. It was hot, sticky and languid. Cicadas buzzed in the afternoon heat and lightning bugs blinked during the evenings hazy gloom. Life in the south has it’s own particular flavor during the summer. Things have a way of “sauntering” along as opposed to any kind of a clipped pace. Nothing, or nobody, moves very fast. It takes too much energy out of a person to hustle. The air is thick with humidity, heat and the smell of a flora that thrives in the sultry stillness of a land gone almost dormant.
I was working as a logistics manager for an asphalt paving company out of Charlotte, NC. TC was working as an office manager in the city as well. We lived in Monroe, a smaller town some twenty miles to the south and east of Charlotte and made the commute each day. TC to a fixed location, myself all over hell and back. My job had me moving large pieces of equipment from one project location to another. I had recently acquired the position after having left a company that had me moving around states instead of just one city.
We had been in North Carolina for a little more than two years at this point, with most of our work being in the city of Charlotte. TC was pretty well situated with her job, she’s the stable part of this union, while I had done my usual by moving around a bit, working here and there where opportunity and attitude dictated.
My boss had lured me away from my previous employer by offering me both a local, stable job, as well as a possible role in his Amway product distribution business. I didn’t know too much about the Amway stuff, but he talked a good story about a stable family life, a spiritual basis of living and the prospect of making a great deal more money than I previously had. I was more interested, by far, in the “more money” aspect than anything else. I had made a pretty good living up to that point, even if I hadn’t done a good job of using it or stashing any of it away.
We lived in a double wide trailer about six miles to the south and east of Monroe, which put us almost thirty miles out of the Charlotte local districts. Neither of us had good vehicles. TC’s was a twenty year old Cadillac and mine was a thirty year old four wheel drive behemoth that had climbed many, many more rocks and trees than any one vehicle should be allowed. Both were gas hogs without working AC. Not good in a southern summer. Ray, my boss, had all but convinced me that it would be best for us to re-locate to the Charlotte suburbs.
We were speculating that this would be best on several accounts. The most important was the commute issue. Between the two of use, we were driving close to two hundred miles a day, with me running way out in front. Not only were we driving back and forth to work, but we were also making several trips a week into Charlotte in the process of attending meetings for the Amway business.
The boss’s primary reasoning, also related to the commute issue, was that it would place me closer, and therefore more accessible to his business. The nature of the Amway business being that the upper echelons had a vested interested in those functioning below them. He wanted me closer to his area of influence.
The third issue was our social life. Living where we did put us about a hundred years away from any recognizable form of modern culture. Twenty five miles outside of Charlotte and you travel 50-100 years back in time. No kidding. Aside from rubber wheels, things haven’t changed much since the turn of the century. My wife and kids were going crazy. I wasn’t. That’s not so much that I could deal with the local situation any better, it’s that I cheated. I added more miles to my weekly commute by spending most of my time in the bars and pool halls dotting the miles between where we lived and the heart of the city.
Spending time in these environments was nothing new to me. I had spent a goodly portion of my adult life in smoky, noisy, stale beer smelling watering holes from one side of this great country to the other. And I loved it!
Whenever I landed in a new city, finding a cool, shady spot to hang out was first, a place to lay my head to rest second, with finding work taking up third. Unfortunately, looking out for my family’s best welfare fell somewhere after that.
That’s why I had a two hundred dollar a week party budget and we lived in a double wide trailer that was thirty years old with the water heater falling through the floor boards. So long as it kept the rain out and the beer cold, I was in hog heaven. Literally.
As you might expect, all good things must come to an end. Pool halls, booze, and long distance driving most often lead up to one conclusion. The inevitable occurred and one night I got stopped. Actually the inevitable had occurred on several occasions prior to this, but through some constant shucking and jiving, bobbing and weaving, I had managed to stay one step out of the jail house.
The night I got stopped that final time it was sincerely for the good of all associated with me. Me first and foremost. I was doing a really bad job of keeping it between the ditches. Good for the common man, because it wasn’t my fault I didn’t run him over. My wife, because she was flat fed up with it all. Me, my activities, and the life it forced on her and our children.
When they came to get me in the middle of the night, because I blew off my court date, she said she was through. She wasn’t going to bail me out and had every intention of using this as breaking point between herself, the kids, and me. I couldn’t rightly blame her. I had put her and the kids through nine stages of hell in the preceding ten years and she was through.
Fortunately for me, the soft side of TC’s heart faintly glimmered through her disgust and she agreed to bail me out. Not before leaving me sitting in there long enough to get a good dose of “I definitely don’t like this and I wanna go….NOW!”
Upon bringing me home, she informed me that while she had agreed to get me out, she was through with me. She had a good job, she had good kids and she was going to make a good life, with or without me. Preferably at that point, without me.
This was not something that she hadn’t told me on prior occasions, yet there was a big difference this time around. This time she wasn’t crying when she said it. That may sound for all the world like part of the lyrics to a country song, but it was pretty profound from where I stood. I believed her. I believed her enough to feel the world tilt on its axis. I believed it enough to realize that I was standing on the brink of living the rest of my life without my wife and kids. I believed it enough to want to change.
That particular moment for me might very well have been my defining moment. The little ping I heard in my ears, the little flash I saw before my eyes, might very well have been that instant in time when God first made His presence known. Not by virtue of horns blowing, angels singing, or rainbows glistening across a the sky. But through sheer, unadulterated fear. I had never known fear before in my life like I knew it that day.
A hole opened up in my heart. A portal became visible through which I saw the rest of my life devoid of her presence. A life without access to my kids. The thought of it all hurt God awful bad.
In so much as I had spent the largest portion of my life, up to that point thinking about number one, never giving thought to what life might be like without my family, I suddenly knew I would really hate that life. I mean, really, really hate it. I had felt the loneliness that comes from separation before, yet in the back of my mind I guess I always knew that no matter what, I could convince her to take me back. For some reason, this time around, I knew she was bone weary tired of me, and my antics, and she was indeed through.
I told her I’d change. She said, “Maybe, maybe not.” It didn’t make much difference to her. She was going to move forward on the assumption that I couldn’t. There was another room in the house, it was mine to occupy or leave, as I chose to do. So long as I didn’t consume anything the family required without replacing it, I was free to stay. She closed the door and locked it. That’s the way it stayed, for months.
From there, I walked out into the light of day and really saw it for the first time. Suddenly I realized that there was life after Coors and Saturday night. What was once a driving force for me, going out and partying on any and all occasion, became unacceptable. I simply stopped hanging out at the places I used to. I stopped associating with the people I used to and I stayed at home. The crazy part was, I never once got a call from any of those people wondering where I was. Not one single person that I knew from the night life questioned why I was no longer there. Sadly, three years later , I happened to be in the area of my favorite hang out and stopped out of sheer curiosity. Absolutely nothing had changed. Same faces getting the same slack look as evening faded to night. I left and never looked back.
By the end of summer we had located a place in a north western suburb of Charlotte and made plans to move. We wanted to make the transition prior to the kids starting the new school year. TC and I had moved into a marginally better relationship. We still slept in separate spaces, but we had an uneasy truce in affect. She was warily watching me to see signs of my past life creeping in and I was doing my very best not to overtax her graciousness. I knew the change was all about me getting my act together and about her feeling safe about the change. So we moved.
We packed up what was worth moving, a lot wasn’t. The garbage of our lives we left behind. I say that in both a physical and metaphysical sense. Both of us perceived this move as a profound one for us. Something had changed. I don’t believe either one of us could have put our finger on it at the time, but we knew that things were definitely different. Life wasn’t all roses for sure, but for some reason there seemed to be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Though I couldn’t feel the warmth of it, I could sense the presence of it. Like the faintest glow of a pre-dawn sky.


The new house wasn’t much. Unless you add a factor of relativity into the equation. It was a castle compared to the dump we left. Small, by normal standards, but just large enough for us. It was what they call here in the south, a mill house. Originally constructed on a cookie cutter design, it and every other house in the neighborhood had exactly the same exterior layout. I’ve been in several of the others over the years, and they all are variations on the same theme. This one was owned by a German woman who had spent a fair amount in renovating it. The upstairs attic had been converted into two more bedrooms and a small bath. The rooms, though ideal for children, were a hazard to adults. There was one narrow strip down the center that had a full ceiling, the remainder sloped down to four foot walls on the outside. The bathroom was built into the sloped portion so while using the shower was okay, the standup/sit-down facility presented more than a small challenge to anyone over four feet tall. But it worked.
We plugged the kids into the local school district and settled into more of a suburban life as opposed to the country life we had just left. The kids enjoyed the school and seemed to fit in nicely. Our youngest, born just prior to moving to NC in ‘91 was preschool age and TC, being the ever resourceful one, quickly found daycare for him.
The house had a reasonable rent schedule, one we could afford, that was actually better than what we had been paying out of town. The neighborhood, though rather redneck, was quiet and on the quaint side. There were a number of families close by who had children close to the bunch of ours in age. We gradually melded into a routine that kept everybody busy, if not entirely happy.
In actually going through with the move in the first place, which took me geographically out of my earlier haunts, and put a reasonable distance between them and myself, I had gained some points with TC. That, and the fact that the physical characteristics of the house left just enough room for the five of us to fit comfortably, lent to my exile of a sorts coming to an end. That isn’t to say that everything was back to normal, because it decidedly was not. While a certain tension did still exist, TC and I were getting along better than before.
Being home every night lent to a more solid family atmosphere and I think my bride was beginning to regain some trust in me. As for myself, while I had felt on several occasions the urge to drift back, the thought no more than entered my mind and I broke into a cold sweat. A few of those moments and I was ready to concede that the lifestyle was behind me. My “want to” had changed, the desire to stay out all night and drink rather repulsed me to be honest. Other than the stated fear, I couldn’t have told you why though. It seemed enough at the time to stay busy with work, save some money, save some peace, and rebuild our lives.
The move brought us closer, by design, to my boss’s house and life. We began to reach out socially with some of the other members of his group. This reaching out involved some church attendance, dinners at others homes, and long nights spent going to, and from meetings in other towns with the other members of the Amway group. All of which made TC blossom.
I had kept her in such a state of reclusion, not intentionally really, but through my absents from the parent pool, that she had all but forgotten how to mingle with others in a social environment. The stress of it all had also manifested into a clinical depression that at times overwhelmed her. Without a good support unit from me, she had withdrawn into herself to the point that putting her in a room with more than just a few people often induced panic attacks. Expecting her to speak in any type of formal surrounding was impossible. So the mingling with other women her age, and good people at that, was immensely therapeutic for her.
The Amway branch we belonged to based their social structure on Christian ethics. So while we actually had a pretty good time rubbing shoulders with most of the couples, the essence of their theories went over my head.
I had never had any great respect for religion. The few encounters I’d had throughout my childhood and early adult life had left a rather bitter aftertaste in my mouth. My childhood memories were sprinkled with occasions when my folks would attend church for a short period of time. These periods only lasted as long as they were “friends” with the folks who had prompted us to attend. My stepfather was a rather enigmatic sort of individual who was hard to take on the best of occasions. Friendships didn’t appear to last too long, so our stints in church were all short lived as well. We never stayed long enough to really get to know anybody, or to understand any of the doctrine or philosophy, so I never understood much about it. My stepfather would start complaining about the time we got familiar enough with the church for the tithing expectation to come into effect. Newcomers aren’t normally expected to give, so when we were no longer newcomers, and the expectation was that we invest in the church, we left.
In my early twenties, while in the Marines, my grandmother got tangled up with a dicey sort of cult church out of Tucson, AZ. Seems they didn’t recognize her divorce from her first husband, so forbade her to live “in sin” with her current one, my grandfather. This created a bit of a rift in the family that took until the church was busted for fraud to work itself out. It also further lent to my not taking the church, religion in general, or God, for that matter any too seriously. I rather looked at religion in general as a crutch, with Christians, or any other faith for that matter, as being weak. I guess I felt it had it’s uses, such as a good place for kids to go on Sunday mornings, we always endeavored to keep ours in Sunday school. I just figured that as an adult, one needed to bootstrap themselves up and move on.
So, while I tolerated the exposure to the prayer sessions and the occasional trips to church, I only did so because it appeared to be helpful for TC, and thereby helpful to me. That all changed one Sunday, and as fate would have it, had nothing to do with business.
My oldest son, Chris, had been introduced to a set of twins at school. A good looking set of boys, they were the sons of a Pentecostal preacher from a nearby community. After the first few days of school, they had invited him to attend their church. He needed the exposure to new friends so we agreed he could go. Each Sunday he, and my daughter, would be up and prepared to go. Each Sunday he would come to me and ask for a ride to the church. I did that without any negative reaction, like I said, a great place for young people, but I was far too set in my ways to believe any help from “church” would be forth coming.
Each and every time I took him down to the church, he would ask me in. I would pull up in front of the church and he would tell me that it was different from any of the churches we had ever attended in the past. On occasion, when the kids would be involved in some play or production in Sunday school, we might attend a service to watch. I always felt uncomfortable and pressured when we went and I think, even as a child, he picked up on that. At any rate, he made it a mission to convince me that this church was different.
Each week I had a reasonable excuse why I couldn’t, or didn’t, attend. I had someplace important to go, something important that needed being done. I needed so talk to someone about something. A car, or lawnmower or tennis shoe lace, needed to be fixed. For weeks he asked, and for weeks I answered with an excuse. For what its worth, which isn’t much in hind site, I really did do those things.
Then one Sunday morning, the Sunday morning after an encounter I had had that week, it all changed. Something had happened to me that cast an entirely different light on this whole God, and church thing. My sons perseverance had overlapped with a life changing experience from that week that lent a credibility to my perception of God, and my faith in Him working in my personal life.


As I had mentioned previously, I had a bit of a drinking problem in years removed. Mine wasn’t one of those day to day things, and I never looked at myself as an alcoholic. I could, and often did, go for days and weeks without drinking. No, mine was more an issue of association than anything else. When I went out, I drank. Didn’t seem to be much point in the one without the other. When I played pool, I drank. When I played cards, I drank. Again, I could go for days and weeks without the game, but given the game, the drinking went hand in hand. I have a high tolerance for alcohol, people that associated seldom saw me overly effected by it. But, given the circumstances, and the associated activity, I could tie one on.
I had, and it had cost me. A year earlier I had gotten a DWI, and it wasn’t my first. I had an attorney. We had managed, through some very creative bobbing, and weaving, to keep me out of jail. But my time was running out. .
One afternoon in mid September, I was sitting at the Crackle Barrel Restaurant off of an Interstate 85 exit. My boss, of the asphalt company, had just called and redirected a major move of equipment that I had just then gotten placed for the next mornings project. It was a major pain getting it all to where it needed to be, and to have that all undone and redirected that late in the afternoon meant that it was going to be a long evening. I had no more hung up the phone from him than it rang again. This time my attorney.
My attorney informed me that the piper wanted paying, I needed to post the $1500 fine at the courthouse by 5p.m. or bring my toothbrush to the county lockup.
I sat for the next several minutes seriously considering several different options I might have. Hairy carry, flight from the scene of the stupidity, curling up in a ball and crying uncle, or stepping across the fence to the freeway and kissing a passing bus. None appealed all that much, so rather, I just sat there and thought. A niggle that crept in was, with all that I had been hearing recently about faith and religion and God being benevolent and expressing mercy on us poor, ignorant fools down here on earth, maybe I should pray. I hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to go about doing that so I just shot one from the hip.
“God if you are there, and you can hear me, fix this!” And then I waited. I must have waited all of five or ten minutes. Thinking to myself all the while what an idiot I was, and on several different counts. First that I had gotten myself into the mess in the first place. I’m really not a stupid person. Actually pretty smart, comparing myself to most I come in contact with anyhow. I’ve done some stupid things, and this ranked right up at the top of them, but all in all I was smarter than the average bear.
Second, that in the last year prior to this, I hadn’t saved up enough money to cover the fine. I reminded myself at that point that I had paid the lawyer over five grand in that last year to effect the shuck and jive routines, but still, another fifteen hundred shouldn’t have been impossible to come up with.
And, then lastly, that I was stooping to the silliness of asking a God I had never seen, nor ever heard, nor ever really acknowledged, to help me out of a situation that I myself had placed me in. It all seemed pretty lame so I just sat there fingering the handset to the first generation bag phone I had in the truck.
As I started to punch the phone number to my wife’s office, so I could break the good news, at the same time muttering, “That’s about what I thought”, out loud, the phone rang in my hand.
The fact that it did it with the trailing words from my mouth still in the air, literally scared me speechless. For a fraction of a second it rattled through my brain pan that maybe it was God, and surely he was ticked. But it wasn’t. It was rather, my boss’s brother, our bookkeeper.
Wayne was a nice guy but we didn’t talk much. He was one of the more vocal “Christians” that belonged to our Amway group and I had always looked at him as being a bit weird because of it. I had heard of “holy rollers” in my day, and though I’d never seen one, he fit the description pretty close. Talked a lot about “the laying on of hands”, and “speaking in tongues”, and other radical Christian gibberish I didn’t understand, nor care to. I guess he liked me well enough, yet I always felt a little uncomfortable around him.
I couldn’t fathom him calling unless he needed something specific so I asked him what that might be. What he stated kind of blew me away. He related that he had been sitting there going over the books for the week and had felt compelled to call me. He asked me what I was up to and I told him that aside from being up to my arse in alligators, not much. Wondering out loud about that statement prompted me to tell him what was really up. I didn’t figure I had much to lose at that point, given that in a couple of hours I was going to be in jail and not need a job anyhow. When he responded to amount I told him I needed my heart nearly stopped.
He told me that specifically, while he had been talking to me, that he had been bouncing his pencil eraser on a bank account statement. As I was relating the amount I needed to stay out of the hoosegow, he had been doodling circles around a dollar figure for a small saving account he had acquired by dropping change from his pocket into a jar each night. He told me he had saved $1495 and that in digging in his pocket had found another five spot. I felt my throat constricting along with the faltering heart beat.
Say what you want, but I felt that God, maybe out of spite even, had answered a sarcastic prayer from a virtual non-believer. If that won’t shake up your faith base a bit, nothing is going to.
Wayne met me at the courthouse, we paid the fine and he walked away singing a popular song, “Our God is an awesome God, He reigns from Heaven above…”. Me, I was considering whether God might actually have a phone in heaven.

Above the Clouds

Chris came to me that Sunday morning, as usual, and asked me to take him and my daughter to church. I had heard them fumbling around upstairs, so I knew they were up. While I waited for them to get ready I was skipping through the channel guide looking at what was on the TV that day. Watching westerns on the weekend mornings was a favorite past time of mine.
We made our way over to the church, which really wasn’t much of a church, by my standards. Just an opened up apartment unit, upstairs from a greasy spoon café and a curio shop right down town in Hayseed Ville, USA.
Chris was chatting about the twins. About how involved they were in the church stuff. He babbled about how cool the twins dad was and how he talked to Chris every time he showed up. How this pastor made the kids feel part of the church, even though they had only been attending a few weeks. And again, as we were pulling up in front of the café, he asked me if I would come in. He said Reggie, the pastor, had asked if I would at least come in and introduce myself so he could put a face to a name. The pastor had told the kids he liked to get to know the parents of the kids that were being dropped off.
I was thinking about a movie I had seen in the guide and was about to tell my son that I couldn’t make it. About to tell him I had something more important to do, when a thunderbolt struck me. Just like Marlon Brando said in “Apocalypse Now”, when he said the idea hit him, “Like a diamond bullet in the forehead..” I realized I was about to lie to my son. Fibs or feigning ignorance are one thing, telling a lie, and knowing it, is an entirely different thing.


Rural America is populated with small, quaint towns. These towns, placed along the back country roads like beads on a necklace, usually are seldom more than a street or two wide, yet may extend for a mile or two of the “town square” in either direction along the highway they are situated on. Sometimes they have a few streets that bisect the main artery, but for the most part, the merchants of the burg cluster along the highway and the residential areas exist within a block or two back from that.
The little town of Mt. Holly is much the same. For all practical purposes, life hasn’t changed much since the days of Mayberry, RFD. Opie’s character may well have been taken from one of many of the denizens of this small town. Although there actually is a Mayberry, NC, any one of these “beads” may have been the mold from which the TV town was cast.
Like most of them also, few have buildings that are more than two stories tall. Even the town hall has only two levels. Many of these two story buildings today utilize a more modern term of “multitasking”. Downstairs restaurants and shops may support apartments upstairs that in days gone by housed dentist, barbers, or attorneys. Now days they are singles flats, multi-family dwellings or empty.
The building we pulled up in front of sat on a street that actually runs parallel with the highway serving as the bead “string“. Train tracks run parallel to that in between the highway and the building fronts. Cross-over’s every two or three blocks allow traffic to intersect the tracks.
On the downstairs level, there were a series of doors and store fronts that opened up onto the sidewalk. To the left was a small café that served a breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu was specific to the day, and usually involved some grits, chicken and cornbread. It was limited and you pretty much got what you got depending on what day it was. Chicken might be available on Monday, and only Monday. Salisbury steak the same deal on Tuesday. Grits, greens and biscuits or cornbread came with most meals. A slice of apple pie or peach cobbler with a scoop of ice-cream might also be available on any given day.
To the right was a second hand curio store. Old sewing machine, butter churns, toasters, doilies and knick knacks lined shelves that had been built sometime back in the thirties. The doors were narrow, with six block panes of glass, diamond shaped glass knobs, and a bell suspended above that tinkled with that familiar sound when the door struck it. Windows partially covered with vertical, collapsible blinds, and glass blemished by cats eyes and warbles common in glass manufactured before the great wars.
In between the plate glass windows of the two shops there stood a narrow door with only one small glass window centered in the top half of the door. There were no signs, placards or other indicators as to what might exist on the other side of the door. On Sunday mornings & evenings, Wednesday evenings, Friday nights and the occasional Saturday afternoon, it was sure to be unlocked. Though the door opened onto the sidewalk, and the adjacent street, it was actually the “back door” that allowed entrance into a small landing marking the bottom of a set of steep stairs leading up to the original shop or apartment space above.
The “front” door leading to the establishment upstairs, was located on a large landing, or porch attached to the back of the building. This landing had a broad set of stairs that lead to a double door entrance. The stairs were fixed to, and supported by, the back of the building on the inside, with four by four posts gradually growing in length on the outside. A large banner hung above the set of double doors proclaiming this to be “Mighty Warriors Ministries” , under which, in smaller print read, “A Full Gospel Pentecostal Church”.
Though, in times ahead, when circumstances required it, I used the double door entrance in the back, I invariably used the small, single door opening to the sidewalk if I had the choice. I liked parking my car on the curb in front of the café, and making my way up the narrow incline to the church using the stairwell. I see ideas in terms of pictures, so when I describe the following, I’m sure you’ll understand my preference.
I parked the car at the curb, and after locking it up, followed my son to the small door situated between the two stores. Chris opened the door and disappeared into the dark void beyond. He immediately began to ascend a very sharply angled set of stairs. They reminded me a lot of ladder wells that are employed in large naval ships designed to get foot traffic from one level to another using the smallest amount of lateral and vertical space as possible. Handrails situated on either side weren’t just for the occasional support, you almost felt compelled to use them to “pull” yourself up the stairs.
My daughter had bolted from the car, and skipped on up the stairs and into the beyond before we had reached the door. With Chris ahead of me, I was forced to look, almost literally, at the back of his heals as we ascended the stairs. Prudence bid me to hesitate for a few of his steps in order to remedy this situation. I could see me catching a heel on the end of my beak if not careful.
Initially, as we had opened the door, strains of music I recognized as southern gospel reached the bottom of the stairs. I had heard it often enough on the radio and the occasional service we had sat in on in. Much of it carried the soft twang of country melodies I was accustomed to, also coupled with the piano or organ. A tambourine could be heard jingling to the beat as well. Mostly what I heard though were the voices of the people. Voices of people lost in heart felt harmony. Though not familiar with the words themselves, I could feel the emotion in the melodies they sang. Music has always moved me so it sparked a mood as I transpired the steep stairs. A mood I couldn’t have explained at the moment, but upon reflection later realized was all part of a very exceptional experience. It all served to more than occupy my conscious mind as I climbed.
If you have ever taken off in an airplane from an airfield encased in clouds on a gloomy, rainy day, you’ll appreciate the visual experience as well.
As I cleared the last step with my head, my first view was of the carpet knap at eye level. The steepness of the stairs lent a proximity to the carpet that one would only experience if they were laying on it with their chins extended in front, sort of like how Spot lays his chin on his paws on the floor. Hard to describe the perspective unless you perhaps are a carpet layer and have seen that perspective close up.
The next sight was of the backs and sides of peoples feet. There was a three sided hand rail that encompassed the stair “well” that opened only to the front. The well itself was situated in what appeared to be the center isle of the sanctuary. Perhaps five to six feet on either side of the side rails is where the first of the pew seats were situated. With the small first floor landing, and the subsequent steepness of the stairs, the opening was situated mostly to the rear of the room, yet there were still several rows of pews, or chairs that extended on behind of the well opening.
A persons first frontal picture coming up the stairs was of the pulpit. Situated maybe thirty feet in front of you, it was the first thing you saw after the knap of the floor.
One came up literally facing the preacher, and rising out of the floor. Quite an extraordinary experience to say the least.
Most remarkable for me though was the personal perception from my emotional and physical point of view. I literally felt like I was rising up from that point in the sky where we break free from the cloud bank, and seeing for the first time the clear blue sky above, feel as though we could actually walk on the solid upper surface of the clouds. You’ve seen this from the airplane perspective.
In my case, though, it was as if I had spent my entire life encased in that cloud bank, and for the first time in my life, I could see clearly. Not only where I was, but in the direction where I was going. Maybe, not so much, in the final destination possibly, but surely I could see a few mile posts ahead.
I felt like maybe I had spent my entire existence wearing a pair of finger smudged, fogged up glasses, that constantly distorted my view of the world. Like a partially blind person regaining full sight. Like looking through a dirty window all your life, then having someone wash it for the first time.
All I know is that for the first time I felt as though I could see without hindrance. With clarity and purpose, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. More importantly, perhaps, than the where, was the when. My eyes were open. I could see and feel the presence of God, and He was here.

Once known, forever owned

I have had a number of extraordinary experiences in my life since then. Some more profound, and miraculous in nature, to be sure. But, like ones first love, though possibly eclipsed by others, never forgotten.
There has never been a moment in my life, since that experience, that I have felt as though God weren’t somewhere, very near. I have had times, many more than I care to admit, where I have felt as though I might be far from Him, but never once felt like He was more than a prayer away from me. This might be hard for some to understand. Either God is near, or He isn’t. But in the Christian walk it’s not an unheard of concept for a persons “self” to get in the way of their relationship with God. Sometimes we can’t see Him. Sometimes it feels as though He is unreachable. But, invariably, as Christians, we know that it is pilot error on our part more than a separation from God. It is “our” thinking that is skewed. Our “sight” that is impaired. For God is never changing, always the same, always loving and always near.
See it this way. I walked into a small restaurant up on the Blue Ridge Parkway several years ago. It was a travel stop on a route we take a couple times a year, early to see the spring flowers, later to see the fall leaves, and maybe once in the winter to see the snow. In that restaurant, hanging on a wall is a small wooden plaque. It is a cut out relief. Meaning someone, using a jig saw or small ban saw, has spelled out a word with the emphasis on the space between the letters, as opposed to the letters themselves. At first glance, and actually for several glances afterward, it makes no sense at all. Looks like hieroglyphics or something. Or a puzzle with some of the pieces missing. But, like those crazy pictures on the back pages of the funny papers that you see sometimes, if you let your eyes drift out of focus, a pattern comes into view.
In this case, it was several trips, and frustrating moments trying to guess what it said, before I recognized it for what it was. Once, I looked through the plaque instead of at it. I realized that the “letters” were actually comprised of the blank spots between the wood that was left. Kind of like focusing on the shadow of a letter instead of the letter itself. Ironically, the word spelled out “JESUS”. The significance wasn’t lost on me either. Once I could see that, I could never look at it again and not see that. I actually wondered why I had a hard time seeing it in the first place.
Using this as an analogy for my “eye opening” experience, I’m saying that once I saw, and felt the presence of God, it was impossible to dispute His presence ever again. I could never un-know what I now knew. My eyes had forever been opened.
Oh, to be sure, there have been many the time when I thought I might wish that I were still unaware. There is a price to be paid for knowledge. Innocence is never realized until it is lost. We never know we are doing wrong if we are unaware of what right really is. This being one of the basic reasons why the world turns it’s back on Christianity. It doesn’t want to be held accountable for it’s actions.
But, unlike the judge telling a jury to disregard something it just heard in testimony, we always know what we have seen and heard. I could never understand that statement. “Disregard what you have seen and heard.” Un-know what you know? Forget that God loves you after you have proven to yourself, time and time again that he does? How does one truly apostasies from the Christian Faith? I don’t believe that it is possible. We might be able to revert back to a selfish, uncaring, and immoral state, but we can never forget.
As a family, we didn’t stay overly long in that small fellowship. It was more like a spiritual boot camp than anything. I, and most of my family, was baptized there. It was there that we learned the basics of the Christian doctrine. Call it theological grade school. We learned to learn. We learned how to study. We learned how to love when things are unlovely, and we learned how to give when we thought we had nothing to give. Eighteen months later we had outgrown the fellowship and moved on to another. We stayed there nearly thirteen years.
I’ve learned through my Christian experiences that my family is more important than anything in life, short of loving God Himself. I have learned that there is abundant life after wanting, and love after loosing. I have learned that one can be content with sitting at home with nothing more than the ones he loves, and miserable beyond words living a life with everything else but them. Most importantly, I learned that God loves me. I have learned that in that Love, He is merciful, and gracious to forgive the mistakes I make. I have learned that when He feels that we are ready for a relationship with Him, He will reveal Himself to us. That once drawn to Him, He will never willingly let us go.
I have also learned that while we do have these “mountain top experiences”, where we have respite and we see things with the clarity of being “above the clouds", it is in the valleys that we learn the most. It is in these vast, low stretches of fog, and darkness that we fight, gain scars, lose battles, win victories, and grow strong. It is here we learn to depend on the wisdom, vision, and guidance of the Holy One who perpetually dwells “above the clouds”.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Shotgun Cash"

(Excerpt edited from "Puppy Breath")

Cash was pretty scary when he first showed up during a February freeze five years ago. I opened the front door and there was this 90 pound, broad shouldered, regal looking boxer standing on my front porch.

My first thought, as I saw him standing there, head up and alert (clear intelligent eyes, clipped ears, docked tail and a pure classic boxer face) was that he must be some official type dog. I wasn't aware of any boxer K-9's, but he looked way too confident and purposeful to be wandering unfettered. He wore a wide, studded leather collar with several tags attached. I assumed he had a home and was someone's master, for he had that self assured air of "owning".

I ran him off after I figured out there wasn't anyone accompanying him. He didn't argue, just trotted off the porch, giving me a disdainful look, as if to say "thanks pal" as he headed across the front lawn.

It was freezing outside so I quickly went back inside. After a bit I heard some commotion on the front porch again and, opening the door to peer through the storm door, saw that he was paws up on the porch rail where the cat's food dish was placed. I noticed that while he had a sleek coat and had obviously been well cared for, he was just a bit on the gaunt side in the flanks.

When I said, "hey Sport, are ya hungry?", his ears perked up and he looked me with eyes that said, "oh yea!".

So I took him into the kitchen and rattled out a bowl of dry food with a half can of Alpo mixed in for good measure. He looked like he might have missed a meal or two and could use the extra calories. I set the double bowl of food and water on the floor and he looked at me expectantly. I motioned towards it and he promptly swallowed the food whole, and then washed it down.

We kinda looked at each other for a few minutes, just checking each other out while he licked his face clean. I finally gathered the nerve to actually approach him. He sat warily and watched me, but didn't argue with me when I reached for his collar to inspect his tags. They were current, among them being a tag that bore the name and number of his vet.

The hour being late, I figured we had a house guest for the evening. He seemed content to lay on the throw rug under the coffee table, and just watch the room. About an hour later the inevitable occurred.

I looked at him and grimaced. With his head on his paws, he cut his eyes in my direction as if to ask, "what did you expect?" I asked him if he thought that was necessary, and he just blinked.

When I let him out the back door, he danced around the frozen snow for a few minutes before taking care of business then made his way back up on my porch.

I called the vet first thing the next morning. They indicated that they knew "Cash" well, and that he was a frequent visitor to their clinic. His file contained a phone number for the owners and the receptionist said she'd make some calls, then let me know.

I run a bail bond business. The weather had made it difficult to get around for several days and I had some "running" to catch up on. The snow had thawed enough to move around a bit, so I figured I was gonna have to take Cash with me to prevent any possible problems on the home front while gone.

I walked out to my car and motioned him in the open door. He took one look at me and hopped in and over the console, into the passenger seat, and sat up like he was gonna be my co-pilot. Looking over at me, he cut his eyes as if to say, "what are we waiting for"?

I dropped the car in gear and we headed toward town and my office, where I tackled some paperwork and planned a couple of stops to collect some funds owed. While I did my business, Cash seemed content to snoot around the office space and check things out. Occasionally focusing on various people walking by the plate glass window on the sidewalk. Shortly, we were back on the road.

Several days passed without a call from the vet. Then one day at the end of the week I made contact with a client, who owed me money and had been avoiding me. He didn't seem to grasp the concept that there's no such thing as a free lunch, and that I'd be forced to put him back in jail if he didn't pay. That's part of the business.

Sleuthing him out wasn't hard and using some trickery, I coaxed him into the passenger seat on the pretext we were gonna update some paperwork. When he settled in the seat, I punched the door locks with the override engaged; (I drive a retired police car). Junior got the picture pretty quick that he wasn't gonna get to leave on his own, and started getting noisy about his displeasure.

Shortly after we had left the office, Cash had lain down in the back seat to take a siesta. He was there when I pulled up to Juniors place, and I didn't give him a thought as the young man sat down in the front seat.

When Junior raised his voice in protest, we both heard a low grumble coming from the back seat. We glanced back at about the same time and there was Cash...standing up in the back seat, muzzle about six inches away from Juniors ear. His own ears were pointed forward, as was his whole body posture, and while he wasn't really baring his fangs, he wasn't just smiling either.

I was a bit surprised myself, for while looking tough enough, Cash had expressed a rather tolerant, and laid back, attitude up till now...Junior, on the other hand, was clearly about to lose control of some critical body functions.

I chuckled and said "Cash, ease up pal, he ain't gonna be a problem". Cash cut his eyes at me once as if to say "he better not be!", and sat down on his haunches. He didn't lay back down but rather remained alert and intently focused on Junior, never blinking. My charge muttered an expletive referencing Cash's possible ancestry, and slowly extended his wrists in my direction.

It was a short trip to the sheriffs lockup where we unloaded Junior. One of the guards I knew was passing my vehicle as I was saddling back up, and noticing Cash, asked me if I had a new partner. I chuckled and said he was auditioning for the spot and I think he just took it! We then headed back to the house.

The next morning I called the vet and told them, "Sorry, Cash is off the market." A week had passed with no calls for him and he was now part of my family, and my business.

Cash now wears a small "recovery agent" badge amongst his tags and has ridden shotgun with me every since.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Where do you think you're going?


Out of the blue the other day someone asked me, "Where do you think you're going?" It was one of those rhetorical questions that gets thrown down from time to time. We had been talking about the general terms of life, the ins and outs of it, if you will. Noting that things are pretty dicey these days with an uncertain government, world chaos, wars and a mixture of other assorted challenges to staying sane.

The question was one I couldn't really answer. Not then and not now. But it ended up being a conversation breaker because the second time it was asked without a clear cut answer I got a bit aggravated (I was talking to a step brother). He can get a bit pushy at times and I didn't feel inclined to be pushed in that direction.

Long after the call had terminated, I found I was still thinking about that question. Where did I think I was going? Invariably this kind of mind mushing can lead to other questions like "where have I been and what have I done?"

I've been a lot of different places and I've done a lot of different things. Some unremarkable, yet others having left a lasting impression on who and what I am.

For example.

I spent four years in the US Marine Corps pushing a pencil. Well, that might be a bit of an understatement, but I was what was generally referred to in Marine Corps vernacular as a "pogue". More colorfully, a Hollywood Marine. One all flash and no bang. Marines are commonly associated with the "grunt" mentality. Cannon fodder with no particular skills other than pointing a weapon down range towards some other grunts' probable demise.

I spent my entire active duty service stationed in San Diego, CA on a recruit training base doing background investigations as a liaison with Naval Security Group. One of their many responsibilities was investigating the backgrounds of those recruits coming out of boot camp who qualified either through training scores or education for a chance at officer candidates school.

My time in the service wasn't an overly dangerous one to be sure, but it did set me up with a set of personal skills that I would use for the rest of my life. On top of our jobs and the continual training that required, we were trained as basic grunts. Lots and lots of physical stuff every day.

Though I learned a lot about a variety of different things, I realized that I was best at investigations. Of whatever sort. Digging in and finding out what happened, or where did it go, had become a passion. Whatever "it" might be.

Like riding a bike, or driving a learns certain motor skills that enable them to operate just about anything with a steering system and pedals. A little orientation with the new piece of equipment is all you need, then away you go.

The thought process of investigating is much the same way. In the Corps, investigating people, I looked at reports, I talked to people, I looked at photos etc. After a while the picture of a persons life begins to appear. Officially, I didn't analyze that information, nor did I make any determination as to a persons worth or not with reference to the program, others elsewhere did, I just compiled it. You can't, however, do this day in and day out without developing a bit of "muscle memory". I developed a "habit" of studying. I study people, I study literature, I study pictures, I study behavior, I study things.

Lots of service people get out and have a hard transition into civilian life. Most military taught skills don't translate well, mine did. Leadership training is essential anywhere, anytime. The forensic skills I learned would stand me in good stead on a number of life's endeavors that I engaged in over the years.

When my term of active enlistment was up, the Marine Corps did it's best to convince me to stay. A common question posted by those counseling me to stay was "Where do you think you're going?" It was tough to field that question in those days. Because of an aversion to all things politic, what I wanted to say was, "anywhere but here!" What I actually said was, "I reckon I'll find out when I get there."

Lick the thumb and turn the page...


I put my hand to a multitude of occupations over the years but seemed to have a natural aptitude for woodworking. Crafting things from wood came easy and figuring out why they failed, for whatever reason, became a passion.

I usually started with a given company where most the bottom. Invariably though, it didn't take long before I was again working with the movers and shakers. Adapt, improvise and overcome was a Marine Corps motto that worked just as well in the "world".

As I stated a moment ago, one of my greatest obstacles then, and now, was that I have a low tolerance for the politics that invariable infests organizations. Whether they are small companies or large corporations, they all seem to involve politics. Some good, some bad....most intolerable to me. This is most likely manifested from a character flaw on my part (the intolerance), but there you have it. About the time that my aptitude got in the way of someones plans and "politics" came into play, I figured that I had worn out my welcome. I recall seldom ever actually quitting a job....they always just seem to dissolve from under me.

So twenty years later and having crisscrossed the nation a dozen times.... 9-11 has come and gone and the country is looking back up that hill and saying "What the hell was that!?"

I found myself standing on my front porch in Charlotte, NC, where I'd been living for ten years, talking with my wife about "where I think I'm going." I've lost most of the contracts that I had on the back burner because people were then, and still are, scared to spend "squirrel" money. They're hiding it in mattresses again, like they did back in the depression of the thirties.

I'm trying to figure out where to go from there. What do I do to make a living? I've been out of projects for almost six months struggling to hold onto the business I've been building and beginning to realize I've nothing to hold on to. I ask my wife...."what do you think I should do?" She says..."what do you want to do?" I said, "Investigate." She says, "do it!"

So I went back to school. I started working on a criminal investigations degree with the intent of obtaining a private investigators license. I signed up for a basic law enforcement training class and took some classes in criminal justice at a local community college. Nine months later I was certified to be a police officer in the state of North Carolina. I had what I had wanted for a long time. But at 44 I just couldn't see myself as a rookie cop making 20 grand a year, right back in the politics of a command structure. No way. Not as cynical and rough edged as I had come to be. While the certification assisted in obtaining the PI license, I still required a couple of years education before I could apply.

A shorter route to getting employed quickly lead to obtaining a license through the state department of insurance to write bail bonds. At the outset it never really interested me much to be involved in getting people out of jail who needed to be there...but the prospect of locating and apprehending those who failed to fulfill their civic duty and report to court did. And that's what I do.

Oh, I piddle around from time to time when things are slow by falling back on woodworking skills. I spent a couple of months recently tending bar. I've had more than a few security gigs throughout the years and done some executive protection details. But by and far the thrill of locating someone who doesn't want to be found is the most fulfilling occupation I have ever engaged. I have no bosses. There is no rank structure...(other than me and my partner Cash.....and he just sits around and looks tough...oh, and eats!).

Of course I actually do have a boss...anybody that's married will understand that. For the most part she isn't too happy about this passion of mine. She does however, see the release it gives me when I do what I do. I think for her it's more likely the lesser of two evils. She fears for my safety and clucks at my midlife romping...but she also realizes that this is what makes me happy and she really doesn't like me much when I'm unhappy. So she lets me go. Never without cutting me the "eye", but she lets me go.

She lets me go because she knows that while there is always an inherent amount of danger involved in this type of activity, it's mostly the "hunt" I engage in. I've cuffed a fair amount of skips in the last few years and not a few of them under circumstances of extreme intensity. A few of those times have been solo, which is not advisable, but sometimes there isn't an alternative short of letting them go. After you've spent a considerable amount of money locating someone, and stand to lose more, it's usually pretty unacceptable to let them go free because you're alone. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

But those occasions are not the norm. Usually I have plenty of backup when backup is required. For the most part it's the hunt that matters. Like Earnest Hemingway once quoted..."There is no the hunting of man."

I used to hunt deer and elk and other four footed creatures when I was younger. I had a problem killing something I couldn't, or wouldn't eat though. Trophy hunting was never an option. The last time I went deer hunting turned in a fiasco that netted a Pittsburgh, PA headline that stated..."69,000 deer and 8 hunters shot on opening day". I saw seven of them throughout the course of that day, shot with their heads removed....deer, not hunters. Though I might have preferred the reverse. Never went hunting again, animals anyway.

The unique perspective that comes from hunting a person who has shied from their responsibility is there is no question of guilt. They are not being pursued because of anything to do with any alleged crime they may or may not have committed. Our Constitution states that a person is innocent until proven guilty (though through my own experiences I have to heavily question the validity of that statement). These folks that run may very well be innocent of the crimes for which they have been charged. But if a person such as myself is involved in the investigation to locate them, it is because without a doubt they are guilty of missing their chance to prove that innocence in a court of law...whatever the reasons for missing it were.

There are occasions when I feel bad about having to return someone to court. The world is full of hard luck stories. And to be sure, more than once I've let someone go if they were able to come up with the money required to cover the bond that was posted. I qualify that by saying that none ever involved any heinous crimes, I promise. Though there is that thought that I played judge to a certain extent. Issues like child support payments missed, minor driving charges overlooked, etc. If it ever involved a matter of public or personal safety, there was no option other than going back.

So anyway, I'm not perfect and never said I was. I've already admitted to a soft side of my brain. The reality of it is that those occasions seldom befall me. Few people that run have the funds available to pay off the full value of a bond plus my expenses. They usually run because they don't have any money. So by rote it's a moot point.

Man, above all creatures when running, has the capacity to connive. Given that he has a marginal amount of sense, common or otherwise, he has the capacity to manipulate and possibly out think his pursuer. The challenge I find is out thinking them. Trying to locate someone who is working real hard (if not smart) at not being found is intense. They hide their tracks, double back or hunker down. Sometimes you find them under your very nose...other times five or six state lines (or more) away. But invariably, unless they are really smart (and they wouldn't be running if they were) they fall into familiar patterns and they get lazy or complacent or feeling too safe and they make a mistake. One mistake can get them caught. If it doesn't it can turn into a comedy of errors that usually does.


On one occasion, I pursued a couple (man and wife) who were bonded out on some aggravated driving charges. Mostly aggravated because it was a chronic set of circumstance. He with multiple DWI's. She, because when he had lost his license, they put the car in her name she kept letting him drive it. They both got popped and had twin $10,000 bonds on them. Time came for court and they knew that they, he at least because of the repetitious nature of the circumstances, were likely going to spend some serious jail time.

They had a son and a daughter. But though still a minor, the son was estranged from the family unit and was staying with grandparents. The runners took the daughter with them and left the state.

Often times when people run, they feel that if they get far enough away they are safe. "Surely no one is going to follow us all the way to New York!!!" To be sure, sometimes that does factor into whether or not it is practical to pursue. If it's a small bond and it would cost you X number of dollars in expenses to apprehend and that figure is more than the cut your loses and pay it. Like pulling teeth, but you pay it.

In this case with 20 grand to lose, it was well worth the attempt to locate. My initial problem was that I didn't have a clue as to where they went.

This is where good investigative skills come in. Sometimes after a long enough period has transpired, you can simply google in the name and if they have gotten a new address, or had any type of municipal, civil or criminal contact, their name will pop up. But if they have been flying under the radar it can be a bit difficult.

In this particular case I made contact with the grand parents and found out they weren't too pleased that the parents had fled out of state towing an eleven year old girl with them. Though it would have been legal for them to under normal circumstances, they felt that the parents on the lam lead to an unsafe environment for the child. And I would have had to agree. The grandparents were cooperative in that they knew that it was likely that the couple had fled to New York, and while they could guess that it was probably the rural, upstate part....they didn't have a town or an address. They just knew that the mother had once lived up there years prior and probably had some existing contacts.

The downfall of our dynamically ditching duo came in the form of government checks. Both were freeloading on the system and had disability checks that were auto drafted into a local bank account. On one occasion, when speaking with the twelve year old son, I learned that the bank account information was still being addressed to their previous address locally. The new residents had been gracious enough to hang onto those articles (and others) of mail and the boy had them in his possession. It appeared that the duo were using their banking account debit cards for purchases in the upstate New York area. It was a pretty wide circle they were functioning in so a fixed address was still a long way away. The list of purchases included the usual...groceries, liquor, clothing, convenience store stuff and the like.

There were several of them and as I said before, scattered over a pretty large area. More than would have been reasonable under normal circumstances. It appeared as if they were purposefully making their purchases in as many different places as possible. I knew they were in the area, I just couldn't pin point it close enough to make it worth a trip up there. You miss a person by a few feet in this business and you've missed them by miles.


Whenever planning a long distance trip to do a pickup, I always applied the principle of three's. If I could put together three different indicators that a person was in a given area, incorporating factors of time, location and contacts, it gave me what I classify as a "greater than not chance of success".

In this case, I knew that they were in a given area...though large, they were somewhere within that circle of purchases. I knew that it was a current situation. The purchases we had proof of were within the last few days/weeks and they were constant.

A few other things I knew that had to be tied together....I knew that unless they had sold it, they had a late model Ford T'bird that was turquoise and had ground effects with North Carolina plates. I knew that they had several pit bull dogs, he raised them and had taken no less than eight of them when they fled. And I knew that the two siblings, the twelve year old boy and his eleven year old sister, were communicating via e-mails.

The boy was already cooperating, he had given us the financial information. I needed to find out if the girl would cooperate. I learned from the boy that she wasn't any too happy to be uprooted and hustled off to upstate NY in the middle of the winter. She missed her brother, home and family. So I talked the boy into sending some probing questions via their messaging. We quickly learned that the father was monitoring her traffic and would not let her give away any indication as to where they specifically lived. No towns, street stores close by, nothing that would give us enough information to pinpoint their location......until they were discussing how she liked school one day and she was able to slip in a description of the mascot for her school.

I looked at all the information I had available. I had a circle of operation (for them) that was perhaps 80 miles in diameter. Spotted all through that circle were maybe thirty stores they frequented. Again, too many to get a valid fix. I knew the make and model of their car and I knew they had dogs. Lots of dogs. Lots of dogs equals lots of Spot fuel. And I knew that the mascot of the school the girl was attending was a wolf.

They had put a lot of energy into shopping at various places to throw a wide curve into their personal buying habits. But the dogs were another story. When I again focused on the card purchases I noted that by far the most frequent purchase to the same place was a feed store. Rural areas depend on agriculturally oriented outlets for animal feed. They specialize in animal husbandry...meaning feed, seed, equipment and other such items common to the farm life.

These folks might be buying their dog food from local super market chains, but I can attest to the expense of buying there. It made much more sense to believe that they were buying eight dogs (large dogs) worth of feed in bulk form...and from that feed store.

I figured I had my "three's" in place. I had the feed store almost dead center in the circle of overall purchases, I had the time because the kids last e-mail session had the girl stating they hadn't moved since arriving and I had a school within five minutes driving distance from the feed store. Which made it all school bus route handy. So I started planning.

Any time you are going to initiate an operation of this sort, another "three" must be considered. This is a concept I learned while serving in the Marines. "Beans, Bullets and Bad guys". I already had the bad guys. They were the ones I was going after.

"Beans" references the means by which the operation is fueled. Whether that is food, fuel, accommodations or any of the other necessities of travel, for one or a million, remains the same, namely funds. You gotta have money for food, fuel and lodging.

Another is "bullets". That represents the tactical support that you will need. First, I was going all the way to New York to pick up not just one, but two skips, and a husband and wife at that. Any law enforcement agent will tell you that domestic situations are the worst of the worst. Highly volatile in nature to begin with, you seldom can see the worst turn of events before it sweeps you away. So I needed an assistant. And more than my buddy Cash (the boxer) was going to be able to provide. Upstate NY is at a minimum of 14 hours driving time one way. One person can't drive all that way and still be in shape to haul two (maybe highly unwilling) fugitives back.

These weren't violent criminals I was pursuing...they were pretty much normal people who got themselves into a legal fix and mistakenly figured that running and hiding was the best course of action to take. They raised dogs for a living and had a couple of kids. That doesn't mean they couldn't, or wouldn't be dangerous, but all I figured I really needed was a warm body with a decent set of eyes and ears. I needed help driving and someone to watch my back. The rest, though a bit of a challenge, wasn't undoable by myself. I had a friend that was a truck driver who had gone out on a few local skips and he was available. He had a pretty level head on his shoulders, had good driving skills and was good company to boot.

I also needed someone on the home front who could field phone calls, forward information and generally watch our backs from a fixed position. I had that in the form of an associate who worked for the same insurance company.

So we were pretty much set. I had my bad guys and my bullets. Last to procure was my beans. Often times working skips like this you find that you are not the only agency that the runner has skipped on. In this case another agency had substantial money invested in these folks as well. I had collaborated with them on various pieces of information (they had put me in touch with the family initially) in the investigation. Their particular challenge was they didn't have the physical resources or capacity to travel.

I did. I've got a good car, I mentioned a decommissioned police car, set up with a laptop incorporating all the necessary GPS, internet and personell file capacity required. The car is also excellent for transporting fugitives safely.

They didn't have that, but they did have a substantial amount of liability if the fugitives weren't returned, actually with less time till the critical court deadline that did I. So they funded the trip.

I had my Beans, Bullets and Bad guys. So we saddled up and hit the road.


I had been to the general area a decade or so before while in my construction mode. I built (or supervised the building of) a Bob Evans restaurant just outside of Erie PA. During the six months or so it took to complete it, I had sojourned out into the rural area on several occasions. One of those jaunts lead me into the wine country of north western NY. Watertown area to be precise. But that had been summertime and this was the dead of winter. We only had wet conditions here but they had had some significant snow fall up there a week or so prior and were looking at the strong possiblity of more coming soon. I had a relative window of about four days to work in. That involved the weather as well as the "beans". We didn't have unlimited funds. I figured it would take a good day to drive up...maybe one to two to locate and apprehend and another to drive back. That was if all went as planned. The other agency had told me (reluctantly) that they could wire more funds if absolutely necessary but they'd rather not.

My first intended point of contact after checking in with local law enforcement was the feed store. I figured the frequency of the visits there as well as the "country" atmosphere might lend for a bit more personal information about our target than a grocery store. So I punched the address to the feed store into my gps unit and we made as much of a straight line of approach as possible. It also occurred to me that as most of the visits to it were made in the middle of the week, that a worst case scenario, if we couldn't find their home was we waited for them to come buy some dog food.

We left late in the afternoon, drove all night and kept to the schedule, arriving in the area some 15 hours later, early in the day. Traveling over the mountains of the Virginia's we encountered some snow, but not enough to slow us down much.

I had noted that the feed store was some six or so miles away from the town of Watertown so we proceded on into town. I located the local cop shop, in this case the town was small enough that the State Highway Patrol and the local police inhabited the same office space.

We possessed all the documentation required to substantiate our mission and I provided that information to the police. They didn't seem to have a problem with our mission, but were a bit "concerned" with the tools we might be in possession of to augment it. New York has a bit stiffer arms laws than does North Carolina and the statement presented by those law enforcement officers was "We know you don't have any illegal weapons in your possession and we'll leave it at do what you gotta do to catch your folks, without involving us, and everybody will be fine...get them and leave as quickly and as quietly as possible". It appeared they were more eager to dispose of possible miscreants, and the cost of prosecuting them, than questioning us as to what we might or might not possess in terms of hardware.

I possess all the necessary permits and authorization to carry firearms that North Carolina requires. There is some state to state question of reciprocity that might have created some commotion had they pressed the point. All in all, we had their blessing to continue.

I plugged the feed store address into the gps unit and a few short minutes later we were there.

It was indeed a rural type setting located at the crossroads of two county highways. The people were polite and quite literally put us on top of our quarry. They remembered the Ford as well as the frequent copious amounts of dog food. It appeared that they had occasion to speak with our runners at lenght on at least one occasion about lodging...this right after they arrived. They didn't know exactly where they had found a home, but did know that it was relatively close by. They also knew of a local school with the mascot we mentioned....some seven miles up one of the highways from our current location. We thanked them and left.

I googled in the highschool once back in the car and found it's exact location in a little town called Wilson just up the road. With the intention of going there to ask what questions we could, I initiated a route. I was studying that route when the wisdom of bringing along that second set of eyes manifested itself.


We hadn't gotten maybe two miles up the road, I was watching the road and the map and Neil was gazing out the window of the car. Quite suddenly he says, "there it is!" I said, "there what is?" He says, "the green T'bird, with ground effects." I said, "no way!" He said, "yes way, seriously, turn around!"

So we did, and there it was. It was parked in an awning overhang built onto the side of a barn. In the back yard appeared to be a large fenced kennel that had a gaggle of dogs in it.

We cruised on by, went a short distance down the road and turned back. On the third pass I went slow enough for Neil to hit the car with some binoculars and he noted it had North Carolina plates. Wonder of wonders.

I turned in the drive and pulled up to a side door of the house. There appeared to be two entrances visable from where we parked, the standard front and back door. The front door had a small landing porch and was just around the front corner of the house. I went to the back door, it appeared to be the more frequently used.

I knocked on the door and my runner answered it. He didn't recognize me initially, but did once he looked out in the drive and saw the police car with the "North Carolina Most Wanted" plate I had on the front advertising a website we use.

I said, "Where do you think you're going?" He replied, "I'm guessing back to North Carolina!" Good guess.

The problem was, the dogs had started to go crazy. I was standing just inside the back door brandishing a set of cuffs and Neil was still outside the front door, visible from an inside window. Mrs. Runner was yelling at her husband to speak up, the dogs to shut up and screaming "what do you want?!!" at us. With Neil still outside watching the front door, I instructed her to come into the kitchen where I had her husband. She chose instead to bolt, ran into another room and dialed 911. I'm guessing maybe she thought we were kidnappers.

Very soon we had local LEO, including the very same officers I had spoken to earlier on the scene. The trooper, casting a baleful eye in my direction said, "What did I tell you about getting in, out and gone that was so difficult to understand?" I told him all was just fine until Mrs. Runner decided to call the police....go figure that a crook would do that. So we had a bit of a quagmire.

Curiosity had led the officers to run some checks on the folks after we left their station house and they had discovered that these folks hadn't really been just raising dogs since their arrival in New York. It appeared that they might also be wanted for questioning involving some local drug activity. Mr. Trooper called the local district attorney's office to get some advisement on what they should proceed with.

What saved our fannies was one document in particular that we had brought with us. That being a release, signed at the time the bond was posted by the defendants, that they would voluntarily agree to extradition from another state should that circumstance arise.

The state of New York had a right to hold them, as well as make life difficult for us, if they so chose to do so. Ultimately the DA said, let 'em go, they'd take care of the daughter and the dogs. The trooper gave us two hours to exit New York and said, "Glad to have met ya, don't plan on seeing you again, if you get my drift." I agreed that was a good plan and we cut out for Dixie.

The rest, as they say is history. We made it back without incident albeit with several exlamations from our dipsy duo of, "how in the heck did you find us?" "Trade secrets!" was all I said.


Now I've given you the recount of this little romp through the country side and it may well appear to be a bit of a rabbit trail merely expressed for the enjoyment of my telling it. But there is a moral to the story. One I learned a long time back and one that has been edified each and every time I've ever departed one place and located to another. Whether that "place" is a geographical place or a metaphorical place.

That moral is...

"No matter where you go, there you are."

Those folks left here and went there. They left behind everything they had except that which they could take with them. They took a car and some dogs, but those things are interchangable with anything else. What they took with them that matters were their habits. The essence of what makes them individuals. In their case, that was the downfall of their plan.

In my case, I sit here some 25 years away from the active duty service I left at the beginning of this tale. Lots of stuff is behind me and lots more before me.

I don't know where I'm going. In life or otherwise. But it is a sure bet that where ever that is, I and all of my lifes experiences, all of my memories, all of my idiosyncrosies, dreams, asparations, loves, likes and all, will be "there" with me. I am the sum total of what I've done and who I am because of it. That's what life is. The journey. Who we are and what we are when we get to where we are going is far more important that the destination.

For although God holds the final decision over the His infinite mystery, He has granted us control over the former.

When somebody asks you, "Where do you think you're going?" Before you answer, look to your motives. Look to your character. Look to what is most important to you and the telling of those tales will determine what lies ahead...and what answer you give.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

An Awesome God

In the summer of 1993 B.C (...that's Before Christ for me) I was sitting in the Cracker Barrel parking lot at Billy Graham Parkway and I-85. I had been speaking with my boss on a first generation car phone. One that had a battery like an ammo can sitting between the seats. My job was working as the logistics manager for an asphalt paving company and I had just been given the news that I had to move all of the equipment we had just placed at a job site to another one across town. I really detested it when someone else meddled with field operations so I was a bit upset, to say the least. I stabbed the off button on the phone and was sitting there watching the traffic flow on the interstate fuming when it rang in my hand.
I stabbed the green button and barked "hello" into the phone, thinking it was my boss again. A voice I recognized, all too well, said "Keith, this is Larry". My attorney. I can think of very few times in my life when a call from one's attorney is good. This one didn't disappoint the theory.
I had gotten a drunk driving charge almost two years prior to this, been convicted and we had been bobbing and weaving within the system for eighteen months trying to keep me out of jail. He was informing me that my time, options and appeals had run out. I was either going to have to pay a fine of $1,500.00 (U.S., CASH) or I was going to jail, that simple. The fine had to be paid by 5p.m. that afternoon or I had to turn myself in. Fifteen hundred may not seem like a lot now...but in those days it represented almost a months net wages for me. We pretty much lived paycheck to paycheck anyway so that would mean taking a chunk of food off the table....if it were even close to payday, which it wasn't. Short money. I was going to jail.
When I said B.C for was the truth. I was not a big fan of God. Life had been rough and though I was fully aware of God and never for a second considered that He wasn't there, all powerful or hadn't made all that was...I didn't like Him. Kind of like the Big Boss....covers your check each week but doesn't really know you or care about you and would just as soon get the job done without you if he had his way. The few encounters I had had in my life with church had left a nasty taste in my mouth. God, and church, was for cripples. Religion was a crutch. This is a bootstrap world we live in and we are in it on our own. He might have made it, but it was like the discarded tree house out in the back yard after the little ones have grown up... a nice piece of work, but of little value now.
The flip side of this situation was that my boss (not the Big Boss noted above) was a pretty decent guy. I was working as a super on a job site he was paving a few months earlier. He approached me and offered me a job running his asphalt paving crew. He also had an Amway distribution business on the side and I think I fit their "sharp person" profile, hence the job offer. I took it...both of them actually, as he and his wife started mentoring me and mine into this sudo-Christian atmosphere of Amway. We had attended church with him a few times and a prayer session preceded each of the business meetings. I had, however, yet to "get it".
I always felt a bit hypocritical about these sessions because my own thoughts still centered around the Big Boss Theory. I am an avid reader though. I was reading a lot of the stuff they were throwing down. Some of it, like the bible, was starting to make sense....on Sunday morning....after some really moving worship where the "feel good" ripples were weaving and waving over all. But come Monday in the real world I was back on the Big Boss's Timeclock. Bootstrap bully.
So with the ridiculous jingle of "you're going to jaaiil, you're going to jaaiil....!!" ringing in my ears I threw out a surly "well there's a fine one for you....gee God, what're you gonna do about that?!!!" My first prayer in life ever spoken audibly was "if you really exist God...fix this!" and that not kindly spoken, I might add.
I sat for several minutes watching the traffic flow...thinking how I might meld into it and just head farther south for a bit. It was coming on fall and I had already lived up north far longer than I wanted....south sounded pretty good. I have some renegade family on the gulf.
I had been in tougher spots than this...had actually been in jail before, but the prospect of three years of it was pretty daunting. North Carolina was just then setting the pace for these sorts of things and it was pretty definite my world was gonna get real small, real soon.
I was also thinking about how I was going to break this wonderful news to my wife. She had seen me through a lot in the preceding few years and had been great, but she was tired of it. Real tired of it. I didn't really have much hope in her being around after I got out.
So after about ten minutes... with all that rolling around in my mind, like a sick stomach on a high sea, not really knowing what I had expected to happen, I said out loud, "there you go God, that's about what I thought!".
At that moment. At that very precise moment. As those words were still echoing off the phone rang again. I looked at it for several seconds as it rang, thinking "you gotta be kidding me, what's the point in answering that thing now? It ain't like it's gonna be God on the other end".
But, even though my freedom was but for a few more minutes...I've always had a dedication to the job. My philosophy is, "Ride for the Brand, as long as you're on the clock, you're on the job". So I answered the flipping phone.
No, it wasn't was my boss's brother, our bookkeeper.
Wayne was a gentle soul and as I look back on it, the driving force behind the spiritual side of the business and personal dealings. We weren't really friends. I actually looked upon him as a kind of pansy because of his spiritual bent. He was always saying things like..."you gotta have faith", "God is good, all the time" and "thank you Jesus" and it generally turned my stomach. I hadn't ever put him down for it...but I never really took him serious either. I can remember, and count on one hand, the number of times that we had ever actually spoken directly to each other.
I answered the phone and asked him what he needed. He stated nothing really, and that he had just been sitting at his desk going over some books when the thought of me popped into his head. He said he didn't know why but he felt compelled to call me to see what I was up to. I said, "gee Wayne, that's really kinda funny 'cause at this particular moment I'm up to my a** in alligators!"
Not knowing precisely what I was referring to he parted with a casual "don't worry Keith, God is great all the time, and whatever this is will be behind you by tomorrow". I told him I didn't think that was likely this time around. He asked me why I thought that was so. Knowing that I wouldn't be employed with them but for a short time more, I proceeded to tell him my predicament. Something I hadn't revealed prior to this. Nobody knew about the DWI and subsequent challenges with the courts. Remember, bootstrap mentality. So I told him I was going to jail at 5 that afternoon because I couldn't come up with the money. He asked me how much the fine was. I told him.
There was a very long pause.
So long I thought the connection might have been broken. I asked if he was still there and he responded, "yea, but I gotta tell you this is pretty crazy." I said, "do tell Wayne, I appreciate the call, but I gotta go see my wife. I can't spill this to her on the phone and I don't want to leave your company truck sitting in the jail parking lot either...wouldn't look good for you guys."
He said, "no, you don't get it Keith, I'm sitting here listening to you talk and doodling on the margins of a savings account bank statement. It's what I've called my pocket change account. Each day I empty the change out of my pockets and put it in a the end of the month I take the jar to the bank with the other receipts and put it into a specific savings account. This is a rainy day account I've been working on for about five years now and it's outside of anything I need. As you were telling me how much you needed to stay out of jail, I was doodling circles around the account balance.....fourteen hundred and ninety five dollars. I've got...uh..(rustle, rustle)....a five spot in my pocket. How much time you got, and where do we need to be?"
I said, "you're kidding right?" He said, "nope, where can I meet you?" I looked at my watch....3:45p.m., the money had to be at the court house by 5.
We walked back out of the court house doors at 4:55. He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, smiled and walked away singing, "Our God is an Awesome God, He reigns from Heaven above...!!!"
Me, I was thinking, "I wonder if The Big Boss has got a bag phone up there?"

Now, I won't profess to know the mind of God. It might very well be said that He would have found another way to reach me. From my perspective, however, I choose to believe that God used that situation to trick me (heh, heh!) into loving Him.
Maybe, if Wayne hadn't listened to that still, small voice...Maybe, if he hadn't had the exact amount of money needed...Maybe, if I hadn't heard the "knock"...
I might not be sitting here at my computer keyboard, 16 years later, still trusting Him, whistling to the tune of "Our God is an Awesome God...!!"
But I am!