You all know I am from Texas, and there is a lot of weight and importance to that. But one of the important parts of my person is not just that I am from Texas; it is that I am from a small town.
There are great things about being from a small town, and there are great things about being in a city. I have spent a great deal of time in both, enough I think to garner the benefit of the culture of each. But let me give you an example of the feeling that makes small-town living a treasure.
I was working at my other job today. I am a contractor for furniture manufacturers. I get paid too much money to drive to a customer's house and fix whatever issue they may have. There are some pretty awesome things about it: I get to meet and talk to new people every day, I get to use power tools, hammers, pliers and wear a tool belt, basically just swimming through manliness, and each job is different, unique and challenging.
There are, to the contrary, some pretty frustrating things about it. It can be hot, people can be bitches, and (important to this anecdote) I do A LOT of driving. I easily drive 3-400 miles a day sometimes going all over central-southern Texas fixing furniture, from Galveston up to Waco.
But today I was driving between two moderately sized towns and I was jamming to the Man Of Steel soundtrack I had just downloaded, planning my book, and checking the map intermittently to prevent getting lost. One thing that unfortunately slipped my mind was my gas level. It wasn't the first time. Ask me about my gas story where I ran out near Marquez, Texas, there was an explosive chemical reaction, a twelve pack of beer, and a penis machine. Good times.
Anyway, I saw that my meter was BELOW E and I didn't want another interesting story like the other; you can't always bank on good, dumb luck. I immediately checked my GPS and it said there was a service station in a tiny little town four miles down the road. I prayed to the Lord that I could make that four miles and I coasted on down the road.
The GPS told me to turn off the highway down this one caution line street that ended at a dead-end near a church. According to the GPS, the gas station was on the left before that.
I could hear gears and cranks rumble in the truck as it decompressed from thirst, so I stopped in the church, right near a tiny town bank and I knocked desperately on the office door. I asked them if there was a gas station nearby. To my chagrin, I was directed back to the highway and was told it was still another two miles away. I would have passed it had I just ignored the GPS and continued on my way.
I thanked them, growled unchurch-like things under my breath, prayed again and apologized for what I growled and tried to make my fumes take me that two miles.
Finally, I arrived at the gas station. I hopped out of the truck and the sign on the door had only more bad news for me. "Cash Only." Yes, it was THAT kind of small town.
Knowing I only had a debit card, big-city boy that I am now, I walked inside and inquired about the nearest ATM, in hopes that the proprietor knew what an ATM was. She cheerily told me that it was at the bank, the one across the street from the church I had visited earlier.
I thanked her, and prayed again. This time, the Lord giggled at me. My truck wouldn't start.
This, my friends, is why a small-town has the kind of people you want to get to know. I went to the woman. I asked her if I could borrow five dollars of gas to get to the bank, pull money out of my account, come back and fill up.
Now, if I were in ANY big city in the world, she would have laughed at me, said no and called a tow-truck to haul my truck, and my dreams away...
But, I wasn't. I was in a sweet, small, kind, tiny town. She patted me on the shoulder and said, "of course, baby. Go right ahead. We close at six, so be back by then."
She was my angel that God sent down. It was the punchline to his joke he had been telling me all day. It all turned out great and I left with a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation for small town people like that.
I got a lot of things from living in the city. There is less ignorance in the city, and less of that ignorance is willful. There is less drama and gossip in the city. There is more education, progression, culture and stimulation in the city. I find myself yearning for it when my energy is high.
But, as I was reminded of today, there is no trust like in a small town. There is no compassion like in a small town. There is no love, magnanimity, etiquette, and diffidence like in a small town.
David in "For A Hero" has that quality. I wanted him to bring a small-town compassion to a big city life. I want him to have the best of both cultures and therefore be a special find in the cold city. There is purity in him, and he hopes powerfully. When Jenna sees it in him, she was never the same.
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Here’s an excerpt from FOR A HERO
Jenna held her effects tightly. The bus system in Austin was very nice, relatively, and convenient for a girl in a new city all by her lonesome. The first day in the new office was as nice as she expected it to be. She would eventually make friends with the people there, in fact, a girl offered to take her out for drinks tonight to welcome her to the town. No matter how nice it was, she still suffered over her promotion. Maybe she would be happy one day, but dang-it, she had earned the right to bitch about it for a little while.
She reached into her purse and pulled out the letter she received in the mail that morning. Maggie sent her a Hallmark card. Wow, she was so sweet. She pulled it from the envelope for the twentieth time today. The front of the card read “You’re on my mind so I decided to send you a hunk.” She opened it to reveal a very muscular, very naked fireman wearing nothing but his red hat. “Sex on Fire” by the Kings of Leon began to play and the caption read, “a hunk-a, hunk-a burning love!” Underneath the fire hose was a personal message to Jenna written in pen. “Hey Girl, miss you already! Scoop you up a hot one! The good ones are worth waiting for, I promise! With love, Maggie.”
The sentiment touched Jenna. Margaret had not given up on her. She gazed at the man. He was built, but there was no use getting excited about it. He wasn’t real. Real men don’t look like that. The only men who look like that are gay or criminals. Still, it would be nice. To be touched and held by a man with strong arms. To feel protected and safe, cherished by someone who could slay dragons for you if need be, something bigger than yourself. Her biting of her own lip snapped her back to reality. She folded the card and put it back into her purse.
Jenna looked up and out the windows. The city screeched by. She didn’t know it yet. She wouldn’t be sure she was close to home until she could see the tall building her apartment was in. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but the city was settling down. Austin came alive at night, she was told. Art, culture, and politics all had their place in the heart of the Lone Star State. Many people refuse to leave Austin once they visit and fall in love with it. Perhaps, one day, Jenna would feel the same way.
At that thought, a bustle of people shook the bus about as it slowed to a stop. Many strangers entered and among them, a man. It took Jenna a few seconds to realize what she was looking at. He was a REAL man. He must be 6’4” with shoulders as broad as a barn. A red t-shirt stretched across pecs and abs so perfectly defined that she had the urge to draw them. His jaw was herculean. His eyes were small, but wide and loving and a beautiful blue that could light up a darkened heart. She could see joy and love in them, as well as power and security. But there was something amiss about him. He looked angry. Jenna followed his gaze and found the source of his contempt. A slender little business man sat in the back of the bus talking on the phone. He was reclined and his possessions were so spread out that he was taking up three seats. There were women standing all around him, including one elderly lady. Wonder Boy there couldn’t be mad about not having a seat, could he? Was he angry that the other guy was not letting the women sit down?
Jenna shook her head and glanced at her hands folded in her lap. Probably not, that would be too good to be true. There were no men like that. Her excuse for a friend, Ben, was nice, but he would never become offended over the mistreatment of women, he was kind of a little bitch himself. Mr. McBride actually seemed like the kind of guy who would sit on the bus and take a lady’s spot. She must be mistaken. She must be reading the situation all wrong. The heroic looking man glaring at the little dweeb couldn’t be gorgeous AND sweet, could he?
Just then, a man behind Wonder Boy got up and moved toward the front of the bus. The handsome stranger tapped the elderly lady on the shoulder, stretched his arm toward the open seat and smiled. He guided her to the chair and eased her descent. After a pat, he returned to standing sentry over the asshole on the phone. Jenna wondered if he intended to say something when he hung up. She imagined his mom had taught him all of the manners.
Jenna watched him standing there with his arms crossed, and she realized something. She was attracted to him. It was a feeling she had never felt before. Curiosity. About a man. She wanted to know more about him; she was drawn to him. Butterflies fluttered around inside her belly. She felt like a school girl. Is this what she had been missing out on? Stealing glances at him, Jenna felt sick with attraction, and giddy with emotion.
The bus slowed again and the doors folded open. People filed off onto the street. Asshole stood up, still talking on the phone. He tried to get by Wonder Boy but Gorgeous didn’t budge. He wouldn’t even allow him an inch. Jenna smiled to herself. Justice.
Unable to get off at the stop, the man realized that he had missed his destination. The bus continued its long journey south on Lamar.
“What the fuck was that about, Buddy?” The asshole sounded obstinate. The spoiled kind of rich kid. He was probably a legacy in a fraternity and his dad gave him everything he ever wanted. “You made me miss my fucking stop! I’m going to be late because of your dumb ass!”
“Sorry, Sir.” The sultry voice of her Wonder Boy filled the bus. “I didn’t see you there. If I had known you were there, surely I would have let you pass, but unfortunately, I was distracted by all the poor ladies on the bus that couldn’t sit down. You see, there was this asshole on the phone taking up 3 seats in the back.” A low level of applause and validation began to grow in the air around them.
“Why, you Son-of-a-Bitch.” The asshole leaned back and threw a hard right hook at the nose of Wonder Boy. Jenna watched the events unfold and could not believe what she saw. Her angel was five inches taller than the other guy, seventy pounds heavier, he could destroy him, but instead, he stepped to the side.
The punch skimmed harmlessly to the left of Wonder Boy’s face. He instantly curled his arm toward the flying fist, wrapping his fingers around the little man’s elbow. Within a second, he pulled, causing the speed and momentum of the asshole’s attack to bring his face down, introducing it quickly, and painfully, to the rubber floor of the bus. Blood erupted from his nostrils and cheers and laughter filled the vehicle.
The bus driver clicked on his intercom and said, “Hey Rocky, get up here. What the hell are you doing? Fighting on a bus? Shit.” Jenna’s heart was beating a mile a minute as her angel walked by her to the cockpit of the vehicle.
‘Funny,’ she thought. ‘He doesn’t look very remorseful. Wow, his ass fills those jeans nicely.’
The driver had Wonder Boy stand by the door, like he was in time-out, until he pulled in at the next bus stop. As the bus came to a complete stop and the doors opened, several of the people shambled outside. The bus began to empty and Jenna looked down. She didn’t want her angel to know she had been staring at him, and with nobody else on the bus, it would be hard for her to blend in. However, the few other passengers made it easier. As they stepped off the bus, they stopped by Wonder Boy, shook his hand, patted his back and said nice things like “thank you.”
After the last passenger had departed, the driver turned to the angel with the most disappointed glare. As his eyes settled on him, his solemn expression broke into a laugh. “Chief!! It’s you! Of course you did something like that, you big softie.”
“You haven’t been talking to Blaine again, have you?” The ‘Chief’ answered with a smile.
“No, that hyena only gets on the bus when he rides with you. He’s too important for us normal folk, you know.” ‘Chief’ patted the bus driver on the back.
“Yeah, I know. It’s good to see you, Charles. I need to get down to the fire station, though. I’ve got a brisket cooking for the boys tonight.”
“Chief, now don’t you know I’ve heard good things about that brisket of yours? You better get gone before I wise up and come with ya!”
“You are always welcome, Charles. Please come by. I’ll save you a slice or two.” And with a handshake, Jenna watched her angel fly away. She thought to herself that maybe she could fall in love with this town after all.