Stranger in the Blue Pickup Truck

I owe someone an apology.

Last weekend my dog Topper and I were visiting friends in Atascadero. We decided to return home to Los Osos via Highway 41. I had promised my dog a stop by the beach in Morro Bay.

Topper appeared excited with that idea as he rode up front with me–images of romping poodles and fetching collies danced in his head as we hit the road. We were just driving past the entrance to Atascadero Lake Park when I noticed something strange in my rearview mirror.

A blue pickup truck had pulled up behind us. The male driver was acting rather peculiar. He started flashing his headlights on and off. Then, pointing with his finger, the man gestured for me to pull over.

Being from Chicago, I was tempted to respond with a gesture of my own. Instead, I pressed my foot down harder on the accelerator. I had bad feelings about this entire situation. Don’t stop. Keep going.

The blue pickup truck stayed with us, still flashing his lights on and off, still gesturing for me to pull over. I began to feel uneasy with each winding curve on Highway 41. This was not someone I knew. He was not law enforcement, I reminded myself. He could only be Trouble.

A brazen daylight robbery attempt? Some tough guy angry at me for cutting him off back in A-Town? How quickly the mind fills with possible Twilight Zone scenarios., I looked over to Topper for reassurance. He had crawled down behind the seat: You’re on your own, Dave.

I sped up. My mind raced with possible options. Get too the police station in Morro Bay. Try to lose the blue pickup truck somewhere. Stop at the Taco Bell and run inside for protection. Anything to avoid this stranger who was bearing down on us. My mind flashed to Dennis Weaver in “Duel” where the driver is terrorized by the mysterious truck.

The truck lights kept flashing on and off. Morro Bay suddenly seemed more like backwoods Georgia. Was I hearing dueling banjos somewhere?

We finally reached Morro Bay city limited and came to the first stoplight. It was red, of course. Damn. I could run no more.

The driver of the blue pickup truck pulled up next to me. He stared at me in complete disbelief, yelling through his open window.,

“HEY!”

I could hear the anger in his voice. Truth about to be revealed.

“You’re dragging a dog leash on your side door.”

Oh.

The light changed. The blue pickup truck blew past me and sped off, the driver shaking his head at my obvious paranoia and idiocy.

I leaned over and checked the passenger side of my truck. Sure enough, the door had closed on at least four feet of Topper’s leash. We had dragged it along for miles , exposing ourselves and others to possible injury.

Topper looked up with a “Hey, don’t blame me” expression of complete innocence. He was right. This was my bad. And the driver of the blue pickup truck had only been trying to warn me. He was being a good neighbor. Or at least trying.

Little could he know that he was dealing with someone grizzled from growing up in Chicago, where the rule of thumb typically is “Run first. Ask questions later.” Avoid, don’t confront. Nor could the driver realize that he was someone raised to play it safe. Keep your doors locked. Avoid contact with strangers. Pick up a hitch-hiker? Forget it.

We moved to Los Osos last summer in search of a kinder, gentler place to live after rejecting three separate offers to live in Los Angeles. We wanted a place where the air was clean and the people friendly, a place where you didn’t need eyes in the back of your head. We have grown to value what the locals affectionately call “The SLO Life,” a special place where people are still willing to help total strangers.

Unfortunately, it’s tough sometimes not to fall back on those long-established city habits. There is still that tendency to flip the deadbolt on the front door, remain suspicious of strangers and to “run first, ask questions later.” This isn’t Los Angeles. It’s definitely not Chicago. We’re still in that period of readjustment as we grow our Central Coast roots.

So I owe the driver of the blue pickup truck an apology.

Forgive me for thinking ill of you.

Please understand why I avoided you.

And most importantly, please don’t let my idiotic behavior stop you the next time you encounter someone in need.

We all depend on the kindness of strangers.

San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune (March 1990)

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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