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From The Frying Pan Into The Fire
by Ray Maxie
[Retired ~ Unit 1249 of the Texas Highway Patrol Service]

The year was about 1964, and I was on duty.

Cruising down I-30, I soon approached my exit to downtown Sulphur Springs. Exiting and looking north, I noticed a young man walking away from a new vehicle, an unoccupied car parked on the north shoulder. He walked briskly toward a service station he had just passed about a mile back. In his hand he carried a small, maybe two gallon, red plastic gasoline jug. He seemed to be in an unusual hurry.

I said to myself, “This young man needs a lift.” A legitimate assist is always the order of the day. Very often an “assist the motorist” contact is simply to check out a person, to see if he/she becomes highly nervous, untruthful, or perhaps gets fleet footed – to see if they are possibly engaged in something illegal.

After taking my exit, I made a U-turn over the overpass and proceeded back westbound. As I drove slowly along the road shoulder, I pulled up alongside the young man. Leaning over to roll down my window, I said, “Looks like you’re out of gas. Hop in; I’ll give you a ride to the station.”

He, without hesitation, hopped in the front seat with his gas jug. But we never continued to the service station. We sat there, talking – a good get acquainted session. He and I talked seriously because I had become suspicious. He had a few questions to answer.

I said, “I see there are no license plates on your car. What happened to them?” He said, “They (the dealer) haven’t given’em to me yet.” “Is it a new car?” “Yes sir.”

He was getting more nervous by the minute. I said, “Where did you buy it?” “In Hopkinsville, Kentucky.” “What type of work do you do?” “I’m in the army.” By this time he was hardly able to talk. Some things weren’t adding up.

I said, “In the US Army and you just bought a new car, without any license plates? I need to see your driver’s license and some papers on this car.”

After fumbling through his clothes, he produced his driver’s license and a military ID. Nowhere on him or from the vehicle could he provide even a scrap of paper about the car. No auto insurance card; no registration papers or dealer’s tag; no receipt; no authority to use it.

“Where are you headed?” I asked. “California,” he replied. “Where are you stationed?” “Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.” “Why are you driving a new car from Kentucky to California?” “To see my mom,” and he began to sniffle.

Soon, he completely broke down and began talking freely as he cried and sobbed uncontrollably, confirming my suspicion the car was stolen. Sitting there in my state patrol car on the shoulder of I-30 that cool autumn afternoon, a full confession was forthcoming from this young soldier.

He told me he was AWOL from the US Army at Ft. Campbell. He had stolen this new Chevrolet Bel-Aire from the sales lot of a nearby new car dealership very early in the morning two days previously. The car now had less than 1,300 miles on it and this AWOL soldier was boogieing west in it. That is, until he ran out of gas on I-30 about 80 miles east of Dallas. And in doing so he now had, much to his surprise and disappointment, encountered me.

He had become, as thousands upon thousands of soldiers have, miserably sick and tired of boot camp and the US Army. He was tremendously homesick to see his mother and family in California and to feel their support and loving arms around him. He had unwisely, in desperation, chosen this method of escape for freedom back to his mother.

This young AWOL thief was soon placed in the Sulphur Springs jail and the new car placed in storage. US Army officials were notified of his arrest. The new car dealership was notified of the car’s location. Both came to Sulphur Springs a day or two later to claim their property. The soldier was released to Military Police Officers and the car was released to the dealer’s representative.

Many of us (yours truly included) know from this type of experience that what we sometimes think will set us free actually imprisons us. As shortsighted, impatient, ambitious youths, we want to get out into the world and be free – get away from all the discipline, instructions and chores we have at home, naively not realizing what lies ahead.

My parents said it well, although I didn’t appreciate their wisdom till later. Their description? They called it . . . “jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.”


N. Ray Maxie is a former Texas highway patrolman and Special Texas Ranger. Following his long service with the state of Texas, Ray worked in loss prevention for the nation's railroads. Now retired, he enjoys writing personal essays and memoirs (no fiction) about his youthful experiences growing up in northeast Texas, the Ark-La-Tex area. Ray also shares his tales of career experiences from Texas highways, southern backroads and "pig trails." He lives near Houston with his wife of almost fifty years and five precious pets.

Write Ray at this address: piddlinacres@consolidated.net


Here are several more Ray Maxie stories at USADS:
* Caddo Lake, Texas
* A Country Kid's Thorn in the Flesh
* Shadows in the Moonlight
* Don't Go Near the Water...

And here are stories from other publications:
* Wanted for Murder
* TexasEscapes.com

Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.



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