Encountering my guardian angels during a trip from Las Vegas back to my home in Montana.
Some of you may be wondering about my sanity - angels indeed - but I'm not talking about the winged heavenly host or the angels of Rafael or Michelangelo. I'm talking about normal, everyday folks like you and me - but on that day in May, they were angels. Here's the way I remember it...
Memorial Day, 1995, I was flying up Interstate 15 heading home after visiting my Dad in Pahrump, Nevada. It was 5:30 a.m., just on the edge of sunrise - a pre-dawn twilight - 58?, the windows were down and I was cruisin' at about 85 mph. I could smell the clean, sharp scent of sage, pine and deer, a truly beautiful morning - then everything went to hell. In a matter of seconds I heard a loud pop, a bang, the check engine light came on, I whipped the car to the shoulder, slammed on the brakes and shut the engine down. Smoke poured out from under the hood of my '90 Cutlass Supreme as I popped the hood latch and got out of the car. My alternator was on fire - flames shooting out of it. I could see the serpentine belt had snapped then wrapped itself around the alternator causing it to seize. I searched frantically for something to put the fire out. Then I looked down and there at my feet was a full, 2-liter bottle of 7-Up that someone had thrown out of their car during the night because it was 'flat.' I uncapped the bottle and poured the contents on the alternator dousing the flames. All of this happened in 2 minutes or less.
With the fire out, I took stock of my situation. I had travelled this stretch of highway many times and figured my location at about half-way between Pocatello and Idaho Falls in southern Idaho. The nearest truck stop was at least 30 miles away. There was a house across the interstate, but no lights on and no vehicles around. A trucker went by without stopping, and two Idaho State Troopers passed by on the southbound lanes but didn't turn back to see if I needed help. Maybe they were in a hurry to get to Dunkin' Donuts! Not seeing any other options, I started to walk. Before I was out of sight of my car, I was picked up by some college students from U of Montana heading back to Missoula. At the truck stop, I called my Dad and told him what happened. He told me to get back to the car, that it was drivable without the belt - I just couldn't let it quit. While still within sight of the truck stop, I caught a ride back to my car with a family heading to Las Vegas. I was back on the road and it was just past 7 a.m.
Despite my best efforts, by 8 a.m., my digital dash was dark. The battery was wearing down. I had no speedometer, gas gauge, or lights. When I got to Idaho Falls I decided to top off the gas tank. My car died at the pump. It was 9 a.m. I went in and called Mom in Great Falls and told her what happened. While I was talking to her, a man kept edging closer listening in on our conversation. As I hung up the phone, he asked if that was my Cutlass Supreme at the pump. I said it was and told him what had happened. He got a couple of guys to help him push the car into a parking space away from the pump. I couldn't believe my luck! He was a General Motors mechanic from Billings, Montana, had his tools with him, and had been stranded in Idaho Falls for 3 days without gas money. He assessed the damage and used his pocket change to call the parts stores. Another surprise! Nothing was closed for Memorial Day in Idaho Falls. He found the alternator at one store, the serpentine belt at another one and had just enough gas to get us there and back. Then he went to work on my car. Three hours later, I was back on the road and he was able to head home to Billings. I pulled into my driveway in Great Falls, Montana at 6 p.m. - just twelve and a half hours after this all began.
As I think back on this trip, I realized there were a lot of 'guardian angels' on I-15 that day. There was the unknown soul who threw the 2-liter bottle of pop out of their car. Without that bottle of pop I would not have been able to put the fire out. Then there is the fact that I stopped my car less than a foot from the bottle. You really have to admit that is a bit strange - 150 miles from the nearest town of any size and I just happen to stop directly in front of a 2-liter bottle of liquid when I needed it. I often wonder about the college students who took me to the truck stop, as well as the family who took me back to my car. The students just happened to be from the University of Montana on their way back to Missoula and stopped only because they saw the Montana plate on my car. The family who gave me a ride back to my car was on their way to Las Vegas - what a coincidence - not to mention I caught my rides quickly - within sight of the car and the truck stop. How do you explain the mechanic at the truck stop in Idaho Falls? He had been there for three days sleeping at the truck stop and washing dishes for his meals before I came along. Without him, I would have had to call a tow truck, have the car worked on at the dealership - spend money I couldn't afford. The parts for the car cost $214 - $199 for the alternator and $13 for the serpentine belt and I gave him the last of my cash money for his work - not nearly enough - but it was enough to get him back home to Billings. All told, it 'cost' me $264 dollars to get the car fixed that day - the dealership would have cost twice that or more. The day before I left Pahrump, Dad and I had been to the casino at Stateline where I hit a quarter slot machine for $268 dollars - exactly what I needed to get back on the road.
I was working as a church secretary at the time so Tuesday morning when I told my boss about my trip, he got this really strange look on his face and asked me if I realized how many of God's angels had been looking out for me that day. Every time I share that story with others, they all comment on the strange events that took place, and how lucky I was. I will probably never know why the Idaho State Troopers didn't stop to help me. I couldn't blame the trucker for not stopping because there was no way for him to know if I might hijack his load - anyone could have been hiding behind the car or in the ditch or in the nearby trees and brush. I could have crossed the interstate and taken a chance on the house but without lights on or vehicles, I decided it wasn't worth surprising a 'trigger-happy' farmer at that time of the morning. I thought about how easy it would have been for me to become a statistic - one of the many hitchhikers or women who simply disappear never to be found again. I could have been the victim of any number of crimes, left for dead in some ditch in the middle of nowhere. The car wasn't vandalized while I was hitchhiking to and from the truck stop. It was packed full, had brand new 80,000 mile Michelin steel-belted radial tires on it and was still drivable though I didn't know that until after I talked to Dad. I do a lot of travelling and I am almost always alone but before that day, I had not considered the risks that I take every time I do. Now I am much more aware and careful about letting family know my travel plans and route as well as an approximate arrival time so they can be watching for me. I also have a cell phone now, but the chances are in that particular are of the mountains, I might not have had a signal. In the Bible, Jesus warns 'us' to be mindful of those we serve because we may be serving angels. I think on that day in May, my angels were serving me.
Author: JoAnn - CalicoJT