Yep. That happened. To me. And some of you know its true. Cause you were there. Did nothing about it. Had the audacity to say that I made it all up.
I was riding on a charter bus on my way home in the middle of the night somewhere in Tennessee when the bus driver stopped at a truck stop. Everyone on the bus was asleep.
It was a sleeper bus. You can see what it kind of looked like here. Basically, we had booth type seating, like in a diner, that could transform into bunk beds.
We were returning from a weekend business conference in Knoxville, TN. We left the conference late on a Sunday night, so everyone converted their seats into beds as we boarded the bus. Soon the bus was rolling down I-40 with all its passengers sound asleep (except the driver.)
A few hours into the trip, the sensation of not moving awakened me from a deep sleep. I sat up. My bladder demanded relief. I slid off my bunk. Looked around somewhat confused about why we were not moving. Walked down the aisle and out the door as two of my fellow travelers were getting back on the bus—my brother and a good friend. No words exchanged.
I stood outside the bus for a moment to get my bearings. I stood in the middle of a huge parking lot with 18-wheelers, tractor trailers, buses as far as I could see. About 100 yards away, I spotted the store. I took off across the parking lot to find a bathroom. Passed two other fellow bus-riders as I entered the store.
Went in. Did my business. Walked outside. Still not fully awake.
Is. That. My. Bus. Pulling out of the…YES! It is.
Running through the multi-football field size parking lot filled with idling trucks waving my arms as if I might fly, screaming at the top of my voice—”STOP! STOP!” To no avail…
I was a speck among many, big, noisy trucks. No way for the bus driver to see or hear me.
However, one truck driver saw me running and screaming like a possessed man. I saw him attempt to contact the bus driver on his CB radio.
Now I was wide awake. And spitting mad. Rock throwing mad. Dirt kicking mad.
Where was I? What time was it? How do I get in touch with my friends on the bus?
I hear you saying, “call them on their cellphone silly!” But it was the early 1990s. Only a few people on the bus had a cell-phone. I was not one of them. I didn’t even know what their cell numbers were. Surely someone knew that I was not on that bus.
Most of us did have a personal voicemail. So, I called my best friend’s voicemail and left him an angry, desperate message that I was left at a truck stop somewhere in the middle of Tennessee. I asked the store clerk where we were, but it didn’t mean anything to me.
Went outside now feeling nervous, dejected. Walked around the large parking lot. Clearing my head. Looking at my strange, new surroundings. Devising a plan.
I had to find someone who would give me a ride. Maybe we could catch up with the bus and flag them down. Yes, that will work!
I returned to the store observing the different truck drivers looking for one that was not a wanted murderer. I spotted a middle-aged couple walking to the store. I chose them.
I introduced myself to them. Told them my story. They had just arrived. They didn’t know if I was telling the truth. Mind you it was around 2am.
They looked at each other. Asked if they could discuss it as they went in the store and let me know when they came back out. “You bet!”
I waited, knowing my bus was barreling down the highway further away from me. The couple returned and agreed to give me a ride. I quickly made another phone call to my friend’s voice mail to let them know I was on the road.
I climbed up into the front passenger seat. I had only slept for an hour or two that night after a long weekend. I was sleepy, but needed to stay awake. Exchanged names and hometowns. Small talk. Long periods of silence.
Truck driver finally says, “What do you think of Rush Limbaugh?” Now how do I answer that? What if I give him the wrong answer, and he not-so-politely leaves me on the side of the road?
Thankfully, we had the same opinion. More long periods of silence. He tried to find the bus driver on the CB to no avail. I lost track of time until dawn began to break. My angel of a truck driver informed me that we were close to Memphis. This was where he would have to let me off unless I wanted to go on to Las Vegas.
We pulled off the highway outside of town where there was a couple of truck stops and restaurants. It was about 6:30am. He suggested driving through both places just in case my bus was there.
THERE IT WAS! The bus driver was getting gas. I thanked my new truck driver friend, hopped down, ran onto the bus…it was empty except for 3-4 people sleeping. I got off the bus and ran into the convenience store. Yep, there was my bus driver. But no one else. I felt very strange.
I decided that I should get back onto the bus and not get off. Finally the bus driver got back onto the bus, drove to the other side of the big highway intersection to a McDonald’s. The passengers who had been asleep stumble off the bus, me joining them. I walk into McDonald’s to see the rest of my friends. My friend that I left the messages for was on a pay phone with his back to me listening to my desperate message. As he told another friend that we had left me in the middle of the night, that friend was watching me walk into the restaurant.
Everyone had slept through the night never knowing what had happened to me. By the time they got my pleas for help, I was back with the bus. I am sure to this day that some if not all think that I somehow I had pulled off an elaborate prank.
What a night! I had experienced trauma. Not much different from a child in foster care, except I was in my 30s.
I was left. Didn’t know who to trust. Scared. Confused. Disoriented. Didn’t know what was going to happen.
I think about how strong those emotions were. How I can remember the event 20 years later as if it were yesterday.
In the community where you live, probably 100s of children are experiencing trauma. They need loving, caring adults to help them overcome. Will you care for the vulnerable, at-risk children in your city or town?