A Good Samaritan is who we all strive to be, and after a long day of celebrations of the birth of the Prince of the Most Profound Peace on Christmas we are especially encouraged to be one of those the angels sang about that first Christmas night, those of good will who have the peace of God provided to them and who want to bring that to others.
But that doesn’t mean that one is to be so naive as to think that there are not those who are not in peace in this dark world. [Three negatives in one sentence! :-) ] After all, that’s why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, radiating Light so as to illumine our darkness in which some nevertheless choose to remain. There are bad things that happen also on Christmas. My situational awareness was a bit edgy, as usual.
Christmas is, as one might imagine, super busy for a priest. After all the Christmas Masses, away I went to add some hundreds of more miles to the day. Not a particularly safe day to be on the roads, mind you. But now the long day was over and I was driving back to the rectory from some hours away. Up to this time, the entire trip had been wonderful, peaceful, everyone driving in a safe and courteous manner. And then I saw the headlights breaking through the darkness of night.
As I headed down the last super steep descent into the Nantahala Gorge on Highway 19 – 74, just where the speed limit goes from 45 to 35 after the “Gem Mine” on the right, I noted in the rear-view mirror the extraordinary velocity of a car just cresting the hill more than a half-mile up the hill behind me. I immediately pulled off into the gas station on the left to get out of the way. Well… “pulled off into…” It was more like entering the parking lot full speed and slamming on the brakes, ripping the steering wheel to the right to be pointed back in the direction of the road just in case. Yes, I actually thought of that. I pulled up near the road so that I couldn’t be blocked in by his stopping in front of me. If he did that it would have escalated things right quickly.
I’m guessing the Speeder guy was doing well over 100 mph on the straightaway down the hill and no sooner had I stopped than he – how to say it – violently pulled up next to me – driver door to driver door, meaning that he was pointed away from the road. He was just far enough away to be able to open his door. It was night, and it seemed that his windows were darkly tinted. But my windows are clear as clear can be, and he could see me by way of the bright lights of the gas station. I didn’t wait for him to stop but chased back out on to the road heading steeply down into the gorge on the curvy two-lane road once again, going the speed limit (only) as I tend to do.
Here’s the deal: when someone is in trouble and needs help, they are full of adrenaline and do stupid things, inappropriate things. They are not thinking correctly. I know that. However, such people in need of help are going to be erring on the side of getting help. Thus, in this situation, such a distressed person would have the window rolled down and have an arm out (with no gun) beckoning for help. Other helpful things would be emergency blinkers, or flashing one’s headlights, or honking. But none of this was happening. This guy knew how to drive and seemed to be fully in control.
Not that I know anything whatsoever about cars, but it looked to be a 2019 Mustang Bullitt, pricey, powerful, and you gotta really, really know how to drive to handle this kind of a car.
Was this a car-jacking, the ol’ switch the gem of a sports car for a tin-box of a car trick? Could be. When you’re on the run after committing a horrific crime, you just don’t care. You just want to escape. It’s hard to go unnoticed in a super flashy sports car. But, that wasn’t it. The back of my car is rather unique, not generic at all. Immediately recognizable even from great distance. This is not the car you would switch to if you were trying to remain low-key. There was another, easier because still unsuspecting car right after this that he did not chase after, and then another, and then another hundred cars and a dozen businesses just some hundreds of yards away.
Anyway, he forthwith got on my back bumper going down the curvy road to the “river’s end” of the gorge. He decided to drive alongside me – not speeding so as to pass me – on a double yellow coming up to a rock-wall-on-both-sides-blind-curve-section of the road, you know, with a car coming in the opposite direction, a situation that was going to make for a head-on collision with him. So, whatever he intended to do while driving next to me, now he was wanting to run me off the road to save himself. I oblige. There was a pull-off right then at a house to the right side. I ripped over and only then slammed on the brakes, going to the end of that pull-off, so that there was no room for him to do the same. He didn’t need to, since he was now in “my” lane on the road and could and did successfully avoid the head-on collision. But you could see the frustration. He had a thing about doing something with me, and that was again his concern, but now with two failures in a row racked up, the second potentially deadly, he knew he had been had.
At this point, whether he was a good guy looking for help in a stupid manner, or a bad guy looking to do harm, it would clearly speak to nefariousness to try something for a third time when he could go to any other car or any business. The weak little 2016 Subaru Forester had beat out the ultra-powerful Mustang Bullitt. He then took off, not heading back up the hill to some emergency or other.
It’s surprising how much situational awareness will serve you. It’s saved my life countless times. Never let your guard down. Never.
Mind you, I had 911 up on the phone, ready to call, but didn’t need to do that. And anyway, it could have taken hours for anyone to get there when seconds count. But had he tried the third time I would have let the call go through and let the scenario that was surely to follow be recorded at dispatch, you know, because a guy driving a zillion dollar sports car surely doesn’t have money for a phone.
Meanwhile, I think my guardian angel is sporting a wry smile, knowing that he saved the day more times than I know. I guess this was his Christmas present to me.