"Tell you what," Bubba says." I'll turn on my overhead blue lights and you tell me if you can see them."
He did. I couldn't. Crap.
But Bubba feels like he's close and decides to reverse course. Ten minutes later, I see his flashing blues. I wildly wave the flashlight in his direction. There was a certain irony to it. In a world of smart phones, navigation satellites, and Twitter, it came down to using a simple battery and light bulbs to make contact, your basic signal fires, only one technological step up from smoke signals.
Bubba hooks me up, I slide in the tow truck seat beside him, and we're on our way to town. When I explain that I was on the prairie to take photos of birds and bison, Bubba begins telling me about all the wildlife that calls the TGP home. "We got coyotes, foxes, bear, and lion up here too. Some folks will try to tell you that mountain lions don't live around here but they're dead wrong. In fact, were about to pass a corner where two black panthers have been seen. More than once."
Despite my skepticism of such a sighting, I say nothing; reasoning that the last thing I want to do at this stage is piss off the tow truck driver.
Safely back in the town of Pawhuska, Bubba unloads my pickup in front of the tire shop. It is now 12:15 a.m. I lock it up, grab my two camera bags, and we head to the nearest motel. A sign at the entrance reads Rooms: $30 and up. Uh oh. Not your five star establishment. One star would have been an exaggeration.
I ding the bell on the counter and a woman looking to be of East Indian heritage emerges wearing pajamas and rubbing her eyes. She does not look happy to see me.
"The room is $35 dollars," she states.
"I'll take it." At least I'll be one step up from the $30 rooms. I hand her my Visa card.
"I no take credit card."
I point to several stickers on her window: Visa, Master Card, Discover, etc.
"Credit card machine no work."
I check my wallet and find two twenties, a five, and a couple of ones. Bubba, still standing behind me, speaks up.
"You're gonna owe me $48, pardner. Part of this isn't covered by AAA you know. But I can take your credit card."
I pay everyone, get a key, say goodbye to Bubba, and finally, finally, plop my tired old body on the bed and groan. Oh My God! It's nothing more than a thin stained sheet covering a palette of bricks. That's what it felt like. I must have gotten the $30 room after all. Oh well, it would only be for a few hours. I check my messages and have a call from the son requesting to call him back when all is well. Despite the hour, I dial him up. I express my concern about the security of the pickup and its contents, parked almost on the street as it was. The cameras were now safe, well, relatively safe, but the GPS unit and the Glock remained back at the tire shop.
"I think I'd walk back and get the Glock," the son advises. I concur. I would sleep better with it beside me anyway, the front door of the room being made of something not unlike cardboard.
The streets of Pawhuska are deserted. No one on the sidewalks, not even an occasional passing car. I hike about one block to the tire shop, retrieve the Glock, stick it in my waistband, and pull my long sleeve denim shirttail over it. Feeling a little like a drug dealer on the way to make a buy, I head back to the room. I'm halfway home when, for the second time that night, I detect the presence of flashing lights. This time it wasn't a tow truck. A Pawhuska police car is right behind me. The officer steps from his vehicle, keeping the door between us, and asks, "Everything okay?" Oh shit!
Consider: My jeans are filthy from wrestling with tires. I have gravel dust in my hair. I'm wearing a camo tee shirt under a faded and frayed denim shirt. I'm the only pedestrian in town. There was little chance that I would be mistaken for the mayor of Pawhuska. And there was that little matter of a loaded gun stuck in my belt. I can see the officer eyeing the bulge at my waist.
I point to my pickup in front of the tire shop and explain that I had to get a tow and am on my way to the no-star motel just down the block. Now came the critical part of the discussion. If the officer has any other questions, asks for an ID, or says anything, I will immediately tell him that I am armed and keep my hands in plain sight. At which point I fully expect his response to be, GET ON THE GROUND, GET ON THE GROUND. I would of course reply with DON'T TASE ME BRO or PLEASE DON'T KICK ME ON MY BAD SHOULDER.
Didn't happen. The officer took one more look at the odd protrusion at my waist, wished me a cheery good evening, and drove away. I wondered if this was nothing more than a delaying tactic to call for backup, but that didn't happen either. Must be my honest face.
By 7:30 the next morning, Shawn at the tire shop was selling me some very expensive new tires .
"We get a lot of customers from the Tallgrass Prairie," he says, grinning like a possum.
It was all I could do not to show him the Glock.