A college president friend of mine called and said something like this: "Do you believe in free speech?" I say, "Yes." He said, "Good. Do you believe in education?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Good, I want you to make a free speech for education at my university." On this particular occasion I agreed.
One of the college students picked me up at the airport. College students' cars are a cross between old clunkers and bicycles. I remember my college roommate's car was called "The Lucite Queen." He had painted it with semi-gloss Lucite wall paint because it was cheaper. I knew I was in trouble when the student asked me not only to buckle my seatbelt but also to put on a helmet. He said we would have to reach top speed in order to merge onto the Interstate.
We left the airport for the university, which was in another town. All of a sudden I heard a loud "boom!" It sounded like a truck backfiring. The student said, "Oh, man, that's my car." He pulled over and as the car died he asked me what to do. I said, "I don't know. In times like these guys are supposed to raise the hood and look inside." That's what we did. Then he asked, "What do we do now?" I said, "I don't know. If spraying WD-40 doesn't work then I don't have a clue. I suggest we try to find a phone." The next exit with a service station was a long way away, so I got out my suitcase and replaced my dress shoes with sneakers. I was dressed to give a speech, so now I had on a nice suit and tie with sneakers. It was the "dork" look.
We headed out down the road and as we got to the exit, I realized that this was not an area of town where we needed to be. It made me nervous. The traffic light didn't say "walk" and "don't walk." It said "run for your life!" The convenience store took Blue Cross Blue Shield. I knew this was going to be tough. It looked like we could walk another three blocks without ever leaving the scene of a crime. Even the doughnut shop didn't have any policemen.
We found a store with a telephone outside the door. When you look at a telephone and the area code is 911, you know it's not a good area of town. There were several guys standing around the telephone. I looked for the guy who looked like he had been out of the prison release program the longest. There wasn't much of a choice there. I finally asked a man, "Does that telephone work?" He said, "It works in the sense that you can call out but no one can call in on this phone." I was trying to make conversation, hoping this guy might eventually help me. I asked, "Why is this?" trying to be nice. He said, "Beaver..." I don't know why he called me Beaver, maybe it was from Leave it to Beaver. Maybe I looked like the Beaver, I don't know, but he said Beaver and I answered to that. I would have answered to anything under those circumstances.
"Beaver," he said, "the reason you can't call in is because they sell drugs here." I thought I would get the best possible spin on this as I could, so I said, "Well, do you have a drug store here? Maybe there is a hospital close by. Maybe I can get a cab." He looked at me and said, "Beaver, they sell illegal drugs here." I asked, "Is there any chance of getting a cab to come out here?" He said, "Beaver, pizza isn't even delivered to this part of town."
It was an interesting hour as we slowly watched the graffiti change colors in the sunset. I realized that we would eventually be rescued and we were. I also realized that I actually liked the guy who looked like he had been released from prison and that he probably liked me too. As I left, I wondered what he felt like, knowing that he would probably never be rescued in this world. I also thought that maybe I should wear sneakers more often than dress shoes and, maybe, I should walk to more places where people need help rather than just going to places where I feel welcome.
Charles Lowery is pastor of Hoffmantown Church, Albuquerque, N.M.