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Opinion - Karma on U.S. 81

DETROIT LAKES - Two years ago while coming home from Tucson, I ran low on gas on US Highway 81 in Kansas. On fumes, I pulled into a farmstead. After I found nobody home, I snitched a gallon of gas and left some money on their doorstep.

When I wrote about the incident, a few readers told me they felt I was a little cheeky. In fact, one local high school class used the incident as a case study in ethics. Their conclusion? I was out of line.

So, as I came home from Tucson on US Highway 81 last week, I kept thinking of a way to make up for the gas-theft incident. I decided not to stop at the same farmstead to apologize, but I was on the lookout for something I could do to even out the karma.

It didn't take long. As I drove through Columbus, Nebraska, the car ahead of me lost a hubcap. Good! I thought. Now is my chance to do a good deed.

Rather than pick up the hubcap and risk losing the car, I decided to chase down the car and then come back for the hubcap.

The car wouldn't stop. A few yards from where the hubcap flew off, the car's front left tire started to wobble. Soon it flopped from side to side. Even so, the driver pushed forward, oblivious to my flashing lights.

She drove and drove, taking corners, driving past several service stations, finally coming to a rest in the parking lot of the Heritage House Senior Apartments. At the end of the sidewalk, a friend awaited, decked out with a scarf and cane, ready for an outing.

I ran up and rapped on the driver's window. "You can't drive any further," I said, "You don't have a front tire." It was in shreds.

The lady got out. When she saw the remains of her tire, she gasped "Oh, my God!" over and over. I thought she was going into cardiac arrest.

I told the lady and her friend to stand right there while I drove back 1/2 mile to rescue the hubcap. When I returned, she was still in tough shape, gasping for air, worried that she had ruined her car.

We called the dealership. They said they'd be right over. I asked the two ladies where they had been heading.

They were off to a church dinner, they said, but they'd call a cab.

Figuring my job was done and that I had performed proper atonement for the stolen gas two years before, I jumped in my pickup and drove off.

Stupid. I could have hauled the two ladies to church and gotten a free dinner out of the deal! Instead, I had to stop at Taco Bell. What a waste.

Even so, I had done my good deed. My US 81 karma was once again in balance.

It didn't stay there for long. Five miles up the road I stopped for gas. As I filled, a truck driver ambled across the huge parking lot towards me.

"You want some chicken?" he said.

I had no pressing need for chicken, but I asked him what was up. I looked at his truck. It was emblazoned with the logo of Tyson Foods, one of the biggest chicken producers in the world.

Turns out, a customer had rejected a box of chicken because they didn't figure they had ordered it. It would be days before he returned to headquarters, so the driver was told to throw the chicken in the nearest dumpster.

"I just hate to see this good chicken go to waste!" he said, and I believed him.

I pulled over to the semi and he handed me the box. Inside was forty-five pounds of raw chicken. Because the temperature outside was 31 degrees and sinking fast, I figured the chicken would be okay in the box of my Ranger.

Now I am at home. It is twenty below zero. I have forty-five pounds of chicken on my porch, frozen in a block so big I can't get it in my freezer.

To top it off, I am back to a karmic deficit. Although I paid off the gallon of stolen gas by helping an old lady with a flat tire, now I am indebted to the nice people on Highway 81 for forty-five pounds of chicken.