Mutiny on the Highway
Rain began to fall as I watched the bus which had just abandoned me disappear down
the road. It seemed to be just one more fiasco in a week filled with misadventure.
I had spent that summer in 1967 working at two jobs. I took a second job, not
out of economic necessity, but due to my romantic spirit. I was in love for the
first time in my life. Unfortunately, the object of my affections lived 600 miles
away, and my need to earn money for college left me with little time or resources
to visit her. By working evenings in addition to my day job, I had earned enough to visit my Guinevere.
Although convinced of my maturity as a 20 year old, I was still largely callow and inexperienced
in the ways of life and love. In many ways, that vacation was a right of passage
for me. It was my first trip of any distance apart from my family, the first
vacation I financed by myself, and included my first ride on a jet. The visit with
my girlfriend began well enough, but soured quickly after she informed me she had
fallen in love with another young man and was engaged to be married. She hadn't
informed me of her engagement in advance of my visit because she felt she should
tell me in person. Grudgingly, I accepted the futility of trying to sustain a long
Crestfallen, I attempted to salvage what I could of my vacation by preceding with
the second romanticized objective of the trip, a visit to Padre Island on the Texas
coast. On my prior visits there I had experienced something magical that invigorated
my spirit. I arrived on the island early in the morning, and spent the day
blissfully catching sea trout and brightly colored pompano. All was well until
evening came. In my fanciful mind's eye, I had idealized the island as a tropical
paradise where my only need would be enough money for bait and food. Equipment, such
as a tent, sleeping bag, and rainwear seemed superfluous. I would simply lie down
among the dunes at night and go peacefully to sleep, lulled by a gentle tropical
breeze. I quickly paid the price for my youthful naivete. Immediately after lying
down upon the sand to sleep, I was attacked en masse by hordes of mosquitoes and
hungry sand fleas. I tried to ignore the maddening insects, but after a brief
struggle, I decided to try sleeping on the pier. That plan was also quickly foiled
when a monsoon blew in. Rain fell in torrents without letup for six hours, and I
spent the night sleepless, cold, and soaked to the skin. Though the clouds quickly
dissipated the next morning, my spirits remained dampened. To add insult to injury,
my nose began to blister in the scorching sun as I spent another day half-heartedly
fishing. By late afternoon, I admitted defeat and began the long journey home.
So now, as I stood by the roadside 200 miles from home, I was becoming rain-soaked
for the second time in less than 36 hours. In the interim since departing my
shattered island paradise, I had ridden buses and waited in terminals, trying to
fathom what had gone wrong with the vacation for which I had worked so diligently.
My present plight began after a relief driver boarded the bus. I reached in my
pocket as he came down the aisle checking tickets. With growing panic, I double and
triple checked every pocket and the area around my seat, but my ticket was gone.
"Ticket please," said the driver when he came to my seat. I informed that I had
apparently dropped my ticket when the bus stopped for lunch, but that the claim tag
on my suitcase in the baggage compartment would confirm that I had paid for a ticket.
"I'm sorry sir," he replied, "but it's company policy that you must have a validated
ticket. You'll have to either buy another ticket or get off the bus." Although I had
just enough money left to pay for another ticket, I knew how hard I'd worked for it
and stubbornly opted to get off the bus.
Dumbfounded, I remained for a minute after the bus departed, deciding upon my next
move. As the rain began to pour more heavily, I noticed a nearby military surplus
store. Resolving to at least try to stay as dry as possible, I preceded to the store
to buy a raincoat. I found a selection of rainwear so severely limited, I deliberated
for some time before reluctantly choosing a trench coat that was four sizes too small.
I returned to the roadside to begin hitchhiking, feeling like a buffoon in the
raincoat that lacked five inches of reaching my wrists. Before anyone stopped to give
me a ride, I noticed a bus approaching from the opposite direction. To my surprise, it
turned around and came to a stop beside me.
"The crew mutinied," said the driver after opening the door. "Get in!"
"Excuse me?" I replied, not comprehending, as I climbed aboard the bus.
"The passengers," he answered, "they made me come back for you. Don't tell anyone
about this! It could cost me my job."
Bewildered, I moved to the first seat and sat down beside a silver haired woman who
offered me a lace hanky to dry the rain that dripped from my wet head. The remainder
of the trip was pleasant and uneventful. My heart was warmed by the thought that a
group of strangers had intervened on my behalf. I learned from my companion that one
person had gone so far as to offer to buy a ticket for me. The driver had declined
the offer, returning for me despite his company's policy.
On those occasions I recall the comic opera events of that August of 45 years ago,
it is with a sense of humor and gratitude. I used to believe that the most important
lessons of my life would come in dramatic fashion, words carved on stone tablets and
voices speaking to me from burning bushes. The reality has been that most of my
valuable lessons have been written in small print on the pages of day-to-day
experience. The crew of compassionate strangers who mutinied to help me, provided one
such lesson: the majority of people care about the welfare of others. Given the
opportunity to demonstrate their caring, they will extend a helping hand when it is