“Ridin’ with The Bridge Ladies”
It was early morning. The sun had just come up and the air was sweet and fresh. Everything, the rocks, the roads, the bark on the trees, all had that scrubbed-clean look from the storm the night before. I had been traveling the previous day with a guy driving through from eastern Wyoming to Madison Wisconsin. I asked him to leave me off a couple exits west of the city where it was still wooded and out in the country; thinking that I might find a place to camp for the night. I found a comfortable spot in some tall grass and was starting to unroll my sleeping bag when it began to drizzle. I remembered a large heavy-duty plastic bag given to me a few days earlier by a guy in Missoula, Mt. He worked for the railroad and said it was used to cover large shipments of fruit. I used one of my tent poles to prop up the open end and prepared for the storm; and what a storm it was. It was the grandest display of God’s power I had ever seen, and I had a front row seat. All that separated me from its fury was a thin layer of clear plastic, my personal picture window to this awesome event
The thunder was like a bombing raid that shook the very earth beneath me. The lightning was a continuous display. I remember lying in one half of my makeshift shelter with my backpack on the other side. The beating of the rain was so intense that it flattened the plastic against me and my backpack, forming a trough in between. I would watch the trough fill in a matter of seconds. Then I would lift the plastic to empty it only to have it refill over and over again. I thought of a friend back in Chicago that had gotten married and was raising a family. I wondered what he was doing at that very moment. What a different path I had chosen for myself but I was feeling the hand of God in my life and this storm was another of His gifts.
I don’t know how I ever fell asleep but I did for I awoke to the morning sounds of the birds and insects that accompany a sunrise. The storm had loosed every last bit of moisture and there wasn’t a cloud left in the sky; which was now the most beautiful azure blue. Remembering it was Sunday and realizing how close I was to my destination, I had this intense desire to get to my parents home near Chicago as soon as possible. They would be going to morning Mass followed by a big Sunday breakfast. Maybe I could arrive there while it was still morning.
“Lord”, I said, “You’ve showed me so much in the last few days. I sure would appreciate a good ride that would get me home soon”.
I hurried through a quick breakfast of sunflower seeds, raisins, and a handful of granola, and headed for the highway. I got a ride almost immediately. It was only going ten or twelve miles but I was on my way. I was left off near a small town. I could see the cottage-like homes from my vantage point up on the highway but little was stirring yet. Just then, a police officer pulled up and stopped.
“You can’t hitch a ride up here on the highway”, he said. “You’ll have to wait at the bottom of the ramp.” He asked for some identification and ran the usual check. “I’ll let this be a warning this time”, he said, “but if I come back and you’re still up here on the highway, I’ll have to give you a ticket”.
I felt like a little kid getting his hand slapped for getting into the cookie jar. I wanted to say, “Don’t you know that I’ve been talking to God”. But that would have probably sounded as crazy to him as it did to me when I really thought about it. I felt a wave of anger come over me as I put on my backpack and started down the ramp. It was a long ramp and far below the highway. Who would see me down here? But then I thought, “How can I be angry, Lord, after all you’ve done for me these past few days. After all, it is a beautiful morning. The sun is shining with no sign of danger or rain. I’ll stand here as long as you want me to”
I had only stood there a short while when a Cadillac full of older women and a young man shot past me, went up the ramp, and pulled out on the highway. Not a likely prospect, I thought to myself. This could be a long wait.
Just then I heard the grind of an engine in reverse. I looked up only to see the Cadillac backing down the ramp and stopping at my feet. The young man in the back seat got out as the trunk swung open.
“Throw your pack in here,” he said, “and hop in.”
As I found a space in the back seat, I was barraged by questions from the three women in the front. “Are you Jim Slokum’s boy?” asked the women in the center. “ Do you live around here?”
“No,” I said. “My name is Tom. I’m just passing through heading home to see my folks in Chicago.”
“Well, That’s where we’re going. There’s a big Bridge tournament there today. I was sure you were one of the Slokum boys. Do you play Bridge?”
“No,” I said, and that was the last exchange of conversation we had until they left me off almost two hours later. They just jabbered away in their Bridge talk, which sounded like a foreign language to me. So, I leaned back and enjoyed the ride in air- conditioned comfort. They paid little attention to the posted speed limits, so we cruised at about 85mph the whole way. We were making good time so I didn’t mind.
As I stared out the window at the familiar terrain of the Wisconsin countryside I thought of how the Lord had powerfully directed my steps these last few days, how He had been there all along, even before I was aware of His presence, and how He was answering my prayer now. I thought of how He moved me to the bottom of the ramp so that I would look familiar to these women, thinking I was one of the locals, less threatening perhaps. Had I been up on the highway they probably never would have stopped.
We finally reached the intersection of highways 90 and 294, and they left me off. There really was no ramp at that juncture, just a cloverleaf where the two highways converged. I knew I’d be in trouble if I didn’t find a ramp to stand on soon so I threw on my backpack and started walking as fast as I could. I had only taken a few steps when a car pulled up behind me and honked.
“You can’t stand here,” said the driver, “you’ll get in trouble, quick, get in.”
I threw my pack in the back seat as fast as I could and hopped in. Again, I was on my way and in a short while I was left off at Ogden Avenue, a familiar road, and only seven miles from my destination. Again, my next ride came swiftly. The driver would be traveling through my hometown on his way further south. When I told him where I lived he assured me that he could drop me off at home without going out of his way and in minutes I was home.
So, less than three hours after I asked the Lord for a quick ride home I was walking up the driveway to my parent’s house. I thought of the sequence of events that lead me here. I was starting to see how the Lord was answering my prayers, noting too, the small tests in faith and surrender that were required along the way. I thought too, that had I held on to my anger at the police officer, or tried to sneak back up on the highway, I would probably still be waiting for a ride.
As I rounded the corner of the house I could see my parents eating their breakfast, so I tapped on the window. My Mom was talking to my Dad and had just said, “I wonder where Tom is this morning. I hope he’s alright.” when I tapped.
So, we ate breakfast together and I related how God had answered my prayer for a quick ride home with a little help from, among others, the Bridge Ladies.