Sleep deprivation and the smell of stale cigarette smoke lingered from the contents of our overnight bags and consumed the cab of my husband's pick-up. My girlfriend and I had taken his truck to Atlanta because our mission was two-fold: to celebrate a good friend's 29th birthday and to deliver a sofa to said good friend.
Headed to Durham north on I-85, Megan and I engaged in a really good conversation, dissecting the weekend which flowed into dissecting the world. No topic was spared: religion, politics, the war, family, environment, social responsibility--all of our thoughts spewed with ease and eloquence. "Argh," we growled in frustration, "Why don't people have these kinds of conversations more often? Why don't people want to think?"
As Megan gave me her two cents regarding the glutinous, consumption-stricken citizens of America, something caught my eye. The thermostat gauge had shot up to "H." It inched into the red.
I looked at her and said, "Oh, fuck."
We exited at the next ramp and pulled into a BP station. Two college guys were parked at a pump. Megan walked over. They claimed to know little about cars but enough to add water to the radiator and said to sit about 20 minutes and see if it cooled down.
We sat in the truck for an hour waiting for it to cool down.
We had no idea where we were. While we were verbally saving the world, we had lost all track of time and location. I thought we were still in Georgia; turned out we were in some town that starts with a "P" in South Carolina. Except we saw no town, just the gas station where we sat, hood of our pick-up propped open. We were stranded.
All of our rhetoric, fine education and good intentions could not will the truck to cool. For the first time that day we were speechless.
Then it happened--the arrival of hope. Our knights in shining armor appeared in the form of a loud yellow pick-up with huge tires driven by two young men clad in camouflage. They walked up to our truck, peered in and asked, "You ladies need some help?"
We joined them at the hood as they dissected the situation. I heard one, a handsome soldier, last name CRAFT stitched in bold, black letters on his uniform shirt, say, "Thermostat's shot, it needs to come out."
"What do we do?" I asked.
Craft replied, "I live about 10 miles up the road. I'll go home, get my tools and take it out. It will get you home but you should get it replaced as soon as you return. Mind waiting?"
We were stunned by our luck. Fifteen minutes later, they reappeared. Craft tackled the truck's guts while SUMERALL flirted with a local brunette.
We thanked them over and over again and inquired about our fortunate twist of fate. They explained how they were on their way home from a National Guard meeting. The agenda had been to find volunteers for a year and a half tour in Afghanistan.
"Did you volunteer?" I asked.
"Yes, we did," replied Craft, still very intent on his work under the hood.
Sumerall, full of pride, chimed in, "Me and him, we volunteered. We're going to Afghanistan." His smile was as wide as the stretch of road home.
Craft made a gasket out of a Pop-Tarts box and in 30 minutes the truck was fixed. Sumerall asked, "What year is the truck?"
"Not sure," I said. "'97, '98, '99.... I really don't know."
He looked at Craft and laughed, "Damn, I guess you were right." Looked back at me, "I called the parts store to see if I could get a new thermostat for y'all and they asked me what year the truck was. I guessed 2000."
Sumerall said coolant was lost in the fix and I would need more. I went inside and made the purchase. He poured in what he needed, walked around to the bed of my truck, and placed the half-empty jug directly under an anti-Bush sticker.
It was a white-knuckle drive back to Durham. I trusted I would get home but still was anxious and emotionally spent. The experience forced me to confront my feelings about the military. I had always been skeptical of the idea that if you're against the war, you're against the troops. And now I knew it was a bunch of bumper-sticker bullshit. I don't want to see any more faces of dead soldiers on the television until the television can tell me exactly what they died for.
Things are so different than when my grandfather was my age. There's a lost sense of duty among young men, and I'm ignorantly nostalgic for a day when it was unbearably sexy to see a man in uniform, just as I am for a time when every young man knew their way under the hood.
Megan said it best before the truck broke down in the midst of our really good talk: "We give our children everything but teach them nothing."
Someone taught those boys well.
I am not against our soldiers but I am against the war.
I am going to fight harder to keep Craft and Sumerall here.
We need real men, true patriots, right here at home.