Lessons from the Road
I was the richest man in the world.
After finishing a summer working on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska, I had $10,000 in my pocket and no obligations or responsibilities. A friend from the boat joined me on a ten-day road trip exploring Alaska, after which I flew into Denver. My first purchase was a Kawasaki KLR-650 — I proudly rode out to the ranch in Salida where I had spent the previous summer and spent a few weeks baling hay and exploring dirt roads. Next on the agenda was making it back to Charlotte, North Carolina where I had promised to be present for my godson’s baptism.
I planned out the journey from Colorado to North Carolina in stages. My first stop would be at another ranch in New Mexico, then Dallas, to Memphis and culminate with the ride to Charlotte. I strapped my suitcase and a trash bag of clothes to the bike with a bungee and took off.
The first few stops were great — I met Nancy and Bill in New Mexico (who I had only spoken to over the phone), saw my sister in Dallas, and caught up with my cousins in Memphis. A couple hours outside of Memphis (in Walnut, Mississippi), my bike started making a weird noise, sputtered, then died. I tried to bump-start it but to no avail. I stood there scratching my head for about ten minutes when a Ford Expedition screeched to a halt and two guys jumped out.
“You having some troubles?”
One of them asked me. I sheepishly explained that I had no idea what was wrong but that the bike had died on me.
“Well sh**, my shop is across the road — how bout we take it over and have a look?”
I quickly agreed as I didn’t see a better option presenting itself any time soon. My help had come in the form of a man named Franky Jackson (who turned out to be a mechanic who owned a diesel and radiator repair service). We took the bike across the highway to his shop and in the time it took me to use the shop bathroom and return, Franky had the motorcycle completely disassembled.
“Well there’s the problem — you’ve got yourself a cracked rocker arm!” he announced.
I nodded my head knowingly, having no idea what a rocker arm was.
“So, what needs to happen to fix it?” I asked.
Franky told me that the part was past the point of repair and a new one was needed. He offered to give me a ride to the local powersport dealership and I quickly took him up on his offer.
The dealership did not have the spare part.
Next stop was a friend of Franky’s who collected broken-down ATVs. We arrived at his house, which was decorated with scores of rusted-out four-wheelers. I saw a man in the front yard wearing cutoff jeans — he was holding a hose and seemed to be watering the patch of dirt in front of him. The man peered suspiciously at me as I got out of our vehicle, but relaxed once he recognized my companions.
Long story short, Franky’s friend did not have the spare part.
I needed to get creative. I saw a used car dealership as we were driving back so we pulled in to check out the inventory. A 1980s Dodge conversion van caught my eye — for only $1200 it looked great to me. I talked to the sales manager, obtained the keys and to my delight the van fired up immediately. I put it in drive and tried to pull forward — unfortunately the brakes locked up after I had traveled about two feet.
Nothing else on the lot fell in my price range (I suddenly felt less like the richest man in the world). Franky suggested we get lunch at his house and I again acquiesced. As I devoured the sandwich he had made me, Franky regaled me with tales of his motorcycle, family, hunting in Colorado and his job as a mechanic. After about thirty minutes of conversation he paused.
“You know, I do have an old Bronco I could sell you,” he offered.
My ears perked up and I leaned forward. I tried to contain my excitement as I asked him how much he wanted for it. The number was so low that I didn’t even give a counteroffer; I agreed before he could change his mind.
There was only one more issue: it was now late in the afternoon on a Saturday and the banks were closed. Franky drove me around to different ATMs and I attempted to withdraw the cash, but the transactions were declined after I had pulled a few hundred dollars out. We sat in silence and tried to think of a way around the situation. After a brief pause, I turned to Franky:
“I can give you this cash now and then wire you the rest of the money on Monday.”
Despite only knowing me for a few hours, he thought it over for a few seconds, then agreed. We loaded my broken-down bike into the back of the Bronco, he drew up a bill of sale and we sealed it with a handshake. I made it to North Carolina by 4 AM and was able to be present for my godson’s baptism. And yes, I sent the rest of the money first-thing Monday morning.
Why do I share this story? Well, I recently had a conversation discussing special operations forces (SOF) and the “SOF Truths”. These truths espouse the philosophy of special operations forces regarding training and execution of the mission. They are as follows:
- Humans are more important than Hardware.
- Quality is better than Quantity.
- Special Operations Forces cannot be mass produced.
- Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.
- Most Special Operations require non-SOF assistance
I have been fortunate to be a part of a community that practices these principles. However, I did not learn them from somebody in special operations.
I learned them from a diesel mechanic in Walnut, Mississippi.