One night, years ago, just six months or so since I’d begun living in the Mississippi Delta keeps coming to mind for me. It’s tangled up with the reality that a friend once lived in the hundreds of terrace streets in Kansas City. And that I’ve been lost in areas of the country where my phone failed me.
It was the eve of my first gin show since I’d moved South. There were so many things to do before I called it a day.
I ended up working really late but getting it all done which meant I could head out straight from home in the morning rather than going to the office for a bit on Thursday.
When I got into the Jeep with all the things I needed and turned the key, I realized I had planned to get gas at lunch but never did. The light had been on that morning.
It was after midnight. I drove north with my fingers crossed knowing I was 30 minutes from any gas station that may be open.
That night is the only time I remember running out of gas in my life and it’s a night that I can’t forget. And current events make it seem like yesterday.
So there I was on on the narrow shoulder of Highway 446, probably 10 minutes from my apartment or open gas stations.
I kicked myself for a bit for not getting gas at lunch. I knew I was low but was so busy getting stuff done it totally let my awareness.
I called AAA and they said it would be a couple of hours. Seems midnight in the middle of nowhere isn’t the place to run out of gas if you didn’t know.
I wondered if they would be sending someone from Memphis or Jackson with gas.
So I sat in the Jeep with a storm coming in so the wind was blowing. And I wondered if I should walk home. With the storm there wasn’t much moon light and I wasn’t too familiar with backroads yet. And I couldn’t help but think I may not want to meet up with anyone else who happened to be out on 446 that time of night.
So I sat in the driver’s seat….
I looked around, I knew I had passed someone’s shop and house. They were floodlights outside but nothing inside.
There was a trailer not too far away where it seemed like someone was watching TV or something, that flickering light… But the hair on the back of my neck stood up knocking on any door that time of night.
I finally thought about the possibility that my neighbor Mitch could be on duty with the Cleveland police force about 10 min away. So I thumbed through my car phone book (yes, this was pre-Google all things in an era when things like car phone books existed) and found the non-emergency number for CPD.
I called the number asked about my neighbor working & explained I had run out of gas and wondered if he could help me if he had break or help me figure something out. When the person asked where I was I said the on 446 just west of Skene. He asked where exactly & I said just west of the old hospital or school.
That’s when I knew he wouldn’t want to help.
He asked whether I meant Bayou Academy and I said I wasn’t sure, it’s an old building that was covered up with over-grown vines, trees, etc.
So he came back with “Who are you? Where are you from?”
I tried not to sound frustrated as I explained. “My name is Janice Person and I live at _____ in Cleveland. Moved here in November. Work out at Delta and Pine Land in Scott. My next door neighbor Mitch sometimes works nights. Thought maybe he could bring me some gas on break or something cause triple A said it will be a few hours.”
“Ma’am, you are in the county. You have to call the sheriff’s office,” he said as he hung up.
My heart was racing with questions and the wind seemed to punctuate my reality.
So I found the number for non-emergencies and called the sheriff’s department knowing I lived in a county so big that it actually had two county courthouses.
Calmly I explained the same story to the dispatcher. Adding in my call to CPD and he asked if there was a house nearby I could go to. I explained I didn’t know the people out here and was a bit worried about knocking on doors this time of night in the middle of nowhere.
He said, “I get it. Let me see who we may have close. Can I call you back?” I happily gave him my mobile number.
Nobody was close so he said he’d call CPD.
He called me back in a bit and said someone from Cleveland would be out there soon.
When a young officer pulled up, I got out telling him thank you and he said no problem. Not much happens on this shift. Glad to help kind of thing and he poured gas into the tank.
After thanking him and going to get back in my car, he said “Let me follow you over to 61 so you can put more gas in the tank.” I said it wasn’t necessary, I could just go home and deal with that in the daylight but he said this would give both of us more confidence for the evening ending well and I agreed.
We chatted as the pump filled the tank and I mentioned the first call I had with the dispatcher. He wasn’t surprised.
When I got home, I noticed Mitch’s truck wasn’t there. And it wasn’t in the morning either.
I went on to Memphis early and had a great show.
Getting back to Cleveland, I couldn’t help but think of the officer who helped me out. I made a bunch of cookies and a sign that said thank you officer name that escapes me now. And I knocked on Mitch’s door.
The story/explanation was met with his asking what night exactly and cussing the dispatcher who is known to be a jerk.
The feeling of being so worried, afraid, so clearly out of place and vulnerable has never left me. I HATE that feeling. And I don’t want others to have to face it.
I’ve thought of this event a lot as Ralph Yarl was shot for knocking on the wrong door in a normal neighborhood. One where his siblings were on a playdate or with a babysitter.
I thought about it even more as someone shot at a car of 20 year olds who turned into a driveway in Upstate NY, then realized they were in the wrong place. The reports sound like they were fired upon (killing the 20 year old driver who’s cell phone had failed them) as they tried to leave.
I always thought my fear may have been a bit irrational. But these stories aren’t pointing me that direction this week.
And it’s hard at times to remember my story proves there are more helpful people out there than jerks, cause the jerks have such loud voices, actions that leave some truly nasty injuries or in some cases take lives.
The damage done by the people with guns and so much animosity…. its hard to see past that.
Oh and for anyone worried, I did call AAA and cancel the request. They weren’t in a hurry to help anyway even though that’s why I had been paying them. Think about the complication that adds to my story.