Last Thursday evening, on the way to a tennis tournament in Winston-Salem , I spotted a parked mini-van on the shoulder of I-40 East. Just as I was passing, I caught sight of a woman standing in front, wildly waving her arms. In the seconds it took to process and then decide I wanted to help her, I was too far down the interstate. I took the next exit and looped back around. I should have asked my friend and tennis mate, Sara, if it was OK, but she was along for the ride now.
Sara reported the stranded vehicle to Highway Patrol on her mobile. It took us about ten minutes to get back to stranded vehicle. We pulled up beside the driver's side and a young woman rolled her window down and started thanking us effusively. She had run out of gas. Sara told her we had called the Highway Patrol, which produced a strong wailed objection from her drunk passenger. UH, OH. They didn't want the cops involved. Then the driver, swore she was "straight", as in sober. Their boyfriends were already walking toward the next exit, but I told her I wouldn't pick them up. So we made room in the back seat and drove her to the next exit for gas. She didn't smell like she had been drinking, but her hyper behavior, including talking almost non-stop the entire time she was in my van, led me to believe she wasn't "straight" at all. But maybe she was just nervous getting in a mini-van with two strangers.
Starla,(that was her name) seemed harmless, though. We heard about her divorce and her two kids. She told us about a trip to Fayetteville AK where the supermarkets have "buggies where you put a quarter in to get it, then when you are done you put your buggy back and you get your quarter back! Isn't that the neatest thing you ever heard of? If ever I move from Wilkesboro, that is where I am going." Sara and I tried to hold it together. It was an amusing story but also a bit sad. I told her they had carts like those at airports. "Really?" she exclaimed.
She told us she and her friends were on their way to Gastonia. I asked if she meant Greensboro, because she was going the wrong way to Gastonia. Maybe when we get back to my van, you can look at a map and show us how to get there, she said. Oh boy, I thought. Luckily, the State Trooper was already on the scene, the drunk passenger in his front seat. Starla hopped out of our van to greet the young trooper. Leaning into the trooper's car, she chirped, "How ya doin' my name is Starla and I'm straight, I promise I'm straight." The poor trooper looked like he didn't know what had hit him. Starla never even turned around to close the door. We drove away, van reeking with gas fumes, thankful that Starla was someone else's problem.