With God on my side and Jesus in my cupholder, Ace and I passed through the Texas panhandle Wednesday, revisiting the site where, 18 years ago, almost to the day, I nearly got myself killed.
This time around, the roads weren’t icy, there was no snow; only vicious winds that tried to blow me off the road.
Just to be extra safe — well before my dreaded approach to the tiny town of Groom — I stopped to fill my thermos with coffee at the Jesus Christ is Lord Travel Center, on the east side of Amarillo.
It was opened less than two years ago by Sam Kohli, who also runs a Jesus Christ is Lord trucking line, whose 100-plus trucks are all emblazoned with that phrase.
“He just felt there were a lot of people who didn’t know Jesus Christ is Lord,” the woman at the cash register explained to me, charging me a mere $1.18 to fill my thermos and wishing me safe travels.
In 1993, returning to Philadelphia after a three-year assignment in California, my Isuzu Trooper slid off icy I-40, turning over twice before coming to rest, right side up, at the bottom of an embankment.
Anyway, back 18 years ago, I managed to restart the crumpled vehicle and drive half a mile to the nearest motel, where I checked in, along with my dog at the time, a mutt named Hobo.
As I stood in the lobby, trying to contact my insurance company on the pay phone, the desk clerk kept pointing me out to new arrivals, and each time he told the story he added one more roll: “That’s him over there, rolled over four times, he’s lucky to be alive.”
For the next three days, the dog and I licked our wounds and waited for the motel owners to come through with a ride they promised to the Amarillo airport, where I could rent a car for the rest of the trip. The Isuzu was totaled, and I’d been ticketed for reckless driving, though I was driving slower than anyone else on the road.
I kept waiting for our ride to the airport, and I started fearing there was a conspiracy to make me a permanent resident of the town of 500. Groom, coincidentally, is where much of the filming was done for the 1992 movie “Leap of Faith,” about a faith healer who bilks believers out of their money.
Finally, on day four — my room bill rising, my faith waning – I left the dog in the room, walked to a truck stop (it’s gone now, burned down, they say) and hitched a ride on a chicken truck to the Amarillo airport to get a rental car. Then I went back to the motel, picked Hobo up and drove on.
Back to the present: My original plan was to avoid Groom, on this trip and for eternity, but Wednesday, on a route that was sending me right past it, I decided to confront my fears.
The first Groom exit is the site of what bills itself as the largest cross in America.
It’s made of steel, 19 stories tall, with a cross arm that spans 110 feet. It took 250 welders eight months to complete, and weighs 1,250 tons. The man behind it is Steve Thomas, who was disgusted with billboards advertising “pornographic” services and decided to send travelers a different message.
It wasn’t there on my earlier trip — not being finished until two years later — so it took me by surprise. At first I thought that America’s largest cross (Effingham, Illinois, claims it has one eight feet taller) had been built at the precise spot of my accident.
I realized later, though, that the spot where I almost met my maker was a mile ahead, at the next exit.
Rather than get back on I-40, I took the back route, turning left on Route 66, driving through town, and approaching the scene of the accident from a side road.
I parked on the side of the road and left Ace in the car — not wanting him anywhere near the Interstate, or the accursed spot. I did grab my camera and pulled Bobblehead Jesus (B. Jesus, for short) from the cupholder so that he could accompany me.
I felt chills as I gazed at the spot, though maybe that was from the 60 mile per hour winds.
Feeling I had successfully confronted my fears — that I had found closure (not that I’m a big fan of closure; it’s so … final) — I went off in search of the motel that held me hostage.
Next door, I stopped in at a restaurant called The Grill, asking what happened to the motel. The owner told me that what used to be called the Golden Spread Motel stopped being a motel about 15 years ago, changed hands a few times and ended up as a storage facility.
I told her Golden Spread sounded like something you’d put on a sandwich — or maybe a pornographic term describing some act with which I’m not familiar.
I stepped back outside, into the wind, and thought about the gigantic, non-pornographic cross, which, without any guy wires, can withstand gusts of up to 140 miles per hour. In the car, I gave B. Jesus a pat, sending his head to bobbing. Then I gave Ace one.
I was still a little sour on Groom, but I felt a vague sense of gratitude, and gave God that conditional nod I’m prone to giving him or her: I’m not sure I believe in you, but if you’re the reason Hobo and I survived that accident, thanks so much for the ensuing 18 years (in Hobo’s case, about four).
By then I was back on I-40, traveling eastbound, buffeted by winds, bolstered by Jesus Christ is Lord coffee, strengthened by having confronted my demons, and inspired by a giant cross.
Ace looked around, as if confused: What were all those stops about? I’m not sure I know. I get overwhelmed when I start thinking about God and the hereafter. I have enough trouble handling the here and now.
But this much I know I do have: A deep and abiding faith in dog.
Posted by John Woestendiek December 31st, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accident, amarillo, america, animals, bobblehead jesus, car, church, crash, cross, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, faith, god, god's country, golden spread, groom, hobo, ice, jesus, jesus christ, jesus christ is lord, largest, leap of faith, lord, pets, religion, road trip, route 66, texas, texasm panhandle, travel center, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, truck stop, trucks
When Kathy Wilkes-Myers of Love Me Tender Animal Rescue found a Rottweiler on the side of a highway in Tennessee, she immediately got the feeling the dog belonged to somebody — she wasn’t as timid and untrusting as most abandoned dogs.
“I could just tell right away she was somebody’s baby. She just didn’t act like a stray dog to me,” said Wilkes-Myers, who found the dog a few months ago, emaciated and drinking from a drainage ditch along the road.
Wilkes-Myers suspected there was more to the dog’s story, and began doing some detective work.
She returned to where she found the dog, and found the first clues - broken glass and tail lights. Not far away she found a pile of personal items — a toothbrush, comb, razor, and a candle with “Michelle” written on it — that had been gathered, apparently by the dog.
“It was like she was sleeping with them – or waiting with them,” Wilkes-Myers told Steve Hartman of CBS News.
It was then she remembered driving by a bad accident on the same stretch of highway, two weeks earlier. A car had flipped over and landed on the side of the road, crunched up so badly she was sure there were no survivors.
But it led her to wonder — might the dog have been in the car?
When the highway patrol told her the names of the victims — including a mother named Michelle, the pieces came together.
Ella apparently spent 13 days scavenging for food along the highway – and 13 nights bedding down with whatever she could find that smelled like her lost family, Hartman reported.
Wilkes-Myers also found out that all five members of the family survived the crash. After two weeks believing that their dog, Ella, had died, the Kellys got the good news and were reunited with their dog.
Because of their medical expenses, the Kelly family has had to relocate to temporary housing that doesn’t allow dogs, but Wilkes-Myers has promised to keep Ella for as long as they need.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 28th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: accident, animal rescue, animals, behavior, car, cbs, crash, dogs, ella, family, gathered, highway, items, kathy wilkes-myers, kelly, love me tender, loyalty, michelle, mystery, personal, pets, rottweiler, steve hartman, tennessee
Zak, the San Diego Tribune reports, is back.
The 1-year-old dog, who had been the traveling companion of truck driver Robert Shields for the past year, was returned to San Diego after Shields was killed in a crash in Omaha, Neb., on Sunday.
“It means everything to all of us,” said Shields’ daughter, Jamie Pickett, 25. “It’s the only thing we have left of my father.”
Shields, 59, a longtime Poway resident, had driven trucks for 14 years. His son, Bobby Garrison, 22, said his father traveled with Zak for companionship and to deter thieves at rest stops.
Zak was with Shields in Omaha Sunday when his big-rig drifted on Interstate 80 and hit a bridge support, witnesses told police. Shields, who may have suffered a heart attack while driving, was pronounced dead at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
When rescuers arrived at the crash, they found Zak, a 20-pound basenji mix, in the truck’s cab, said Pam Wiese, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Humane Society.
Pickett called the humane society Monday morning, trying to find out how to get Zak back. An Omaha TV station did a story on him, Wiese said, and news of the family’s plight quickly spread.
Donations were pouring into the humane society until Michele Henry, Omaha general manager for American Airlines, donated a flight Tuesday morning. Zak suffered only a scratched nose in the crash.
Photo: EARNIE GRAFTON / San Diego Union-Tribune
Posted by John Woestendiek March 7th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accident, american airlines, basenji, crash, dog, family, killed, nebraska, nebraska humane society, returned, returns, robert sheilds, san diego, truck driver, zak
Here’s one way to reduce the number of birds at airports, and cut down on accidents like the forced Hudson River landing of US Airways jet last week.
Her name is Sky.
Sky (click the link above for the video) is a 1-year-old border collie about four months into her job shooing birds away from Southwest Florida International Airport.
“She’s not aggressive at all, but to the birds, she looks like a predator — a wolf or a coyote,” said James Hess, airport operations agent and Sky’s handler. Big birds or flocks of birds, in addition to getting sucked into jet engines, can disable wing tips, dent the fuselage and break windshields.
Southwest Florida International is among about 20 airports nationwide using dogs for some form of wildlife control, according to Rebecca Ryan, owner of Flyaway Farm and Kennels in North Carolina, which has supplied dogs to both military and commercial airfields.
Southwest Florida International was among the first U.S. commercial airports to employ a bird dog, beginning in 1999, according to airport director Bob Ball. Sky is the third generation of her breed to patrol the airport southeast of Fort Myers.
According to USA Today, Charleston (S.C.) International and Canada’s Vancouver International also use dogs for wildlife control.
Posted by John Woestendiek January 19th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: accident, accidents, air, air safety, airports, birds, border collies, control, crash, damage, dogs, engines, flocks, fowl, geese, hazard, hudson river, prevention, safety, sky, us airways, wildlife
A dog left in his master’s idling van somehow shifted the vehicle into gear and wound up crashing into a Long Island coffee shop last week.
Bentley, a 50-pound boxer-Sharpei mix that musician Bryan Maher rescued from a shelter about a month ago, “drove” the vehicle through the front window of Cool Beanz in St. James, Long Island, according to the New York Daily News.
“I ran inside the coffee house to sign up for open-mike night, and I left my car running because it’s cold outside and I didn’t want my dog to freeze,” said Maher, 60. “The next thing I knew, I looked up to see my van coming at me in the window, with Bentley in the driver’s seat grinning at me.”
The crash left the shop’s glass front window cracked, some patio furniture busted and the van with minor damage, but there were no injuries.
Maher said he’d learned his lesson, and wouldn’t leave the dog in an idling vehicle again — even if it is cold outside. Instead, he plans to get him “a nice doggie coat for Christmas.”
Posted by John Woestendiek November 24th, 2008 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accident, advice, car, cars, coffee shop, cold, crash, dog, dogs, drive, gear, heat, idling, long island, parked, pet, tips, vehicles
Here’s a screwball story out of Florida (land of sunshine, and screwball stories).
Fire officials are investigating a St. Lucie County firefighter who allegedly pirated an amputated foot from a crash scene last week, took it home and used it to train her cadaver dogs.
The attorney for Karl Lambert, 46, of Melbourne, told WPBF News on Thursday his client’s leg had to be amputated at the scene of a crash Friday on Interstate 95 in Port St. Lucie. Lambert was airlifted to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, but his leg was left behind.
The attorney, Raymond Christian, told the TV station that one of the firefighters at the scene took the severed body part because “she was some kind of training person for cadaver dogs, and she basically took the leg.”
WPBF News 25 identified the firefighter as Cindy Economu.
Christian said Lambert was notified by a Florida Highway Patrol investigator Wednesday.
St. Lucie County Fire District Chief Ron Parrish said his department was told the firefighter only took the foot and not a leg. “After the patient was airlifted, it was alleged one of our firefighters removed a foot from the accident,” Parrish said in a news conference.
Standard procedure is for amputated limbs to brought to the hospital with the victim. “It’s not normal for remains or pieces or parts to be removed from an accident scene other than by the appropriate authorities,” fire district spokesman Buddy Emerson said.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 29th, 2008 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accident, cadaver dogs, crash, dogs, fire department, firefighter, florida, foot, leg, news, rescue, st. lucie, stolen, taken, training, victim