Paoli, Oklahoma

Welcome to Paoli, OklahomaThirty-nine years ago today, I had one of the most frightening moments of my childhood. I had not yet turned twelve and was riding the Greyhound bus back to Dallas from Oklahoma City.

It was the day after Elvis Presley’s funeral, and I had the bright idea to get a newspaper. I wasn’t interested in reading the newspaper; I thought the paper detailing Elvis’ funeral would be a collector’s item one day.

Since I was traveling alone I rode in the front seat of the bus, opposite the driver. This was not the direct OKC-Dallas route, which I had taken on other occasions; this was the indirect, stop at countless places along the way to pick up and drop off riders. When we arrived at the Paoli stop, the driver announced that we would be stopping for a short break and asked if anyone wanted to get off. No one responded, and the driver proceeded to exit the bus and enter the mom and pop store, presumably to get a cold drink.

A few minutes after the driver exited the bus, I noticed the paper rack outside the store and it occurred to me to rush out and get a paper. Because he had already left the bus I didn’t tell the driver I was going inside, which turned out to be a big mistake. I jumped down from the steps of the bus and ran over to grab a paper and took it inside to pay. Somewhere along the way, the driver and I passed each other. But, I didn’t notice him and he apparently didn’t notice me.

As I was waiting in line to pay for my future treasure, I noticed the bus slowly pulling away from where I had left it. A feeling of horror washed over me as I realized I was being left behind, and I immediately burst into tears AND ran for the bus. (I don’t remember if I left the paper on the counter, or simply took it without paying.)

Thankfully, the bus was slow to gain speed. As it limped forward, I was able to catch it. And by catch it I mean I was able to run alongside it banging on the luggage doors, hoping the driver would hear me and stop. He did hear me, and he did stop. When he opened the door, I didn’t have a chance to be relieved before he started yelling at me. “Don’t ever get off my bus again without telling me!” he shouted. “Get in that seat and don’t get up again!” he added for good measure. Believe me, those thoughts had already crossed my mind, so he didn’t need to rub it in.

I was terrified that I almost missed the bus and embarrassed that the driver yelled at me in front of all the other passengers, but I was relieved to be on the bus and not left in the store in Paoli, Oklahoma … wherever that was, because I had no idea at the time.

It took me a while to stop crying and get a real sense of being okay, but I finally did. Though, I think I’ve been permanently marked by the event because I can’t pass the Paoli exit on I-35 without reliving that event.

 

 

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