The Keeper of the Highway:
A True Story

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Swamps like this can seem pretty intimidating when you’re
female and alone in the middle of the night.

In the early sixties, a petite female college student was driving home alone for the holidays across rural Louisiana. She attended school another state over, and the trek home after finals was both long and late. There were obviously no cell phones.

If you’ve never visited rural Louisiana before, it is a unique sort of place. The swamps stretch for countless miles in all directions. The jungle-like environment teems with alligators, water moccasins, and similar sinister beasties. The roads are typically elevated so as to avoid floods and storm surges from the inevitable hurricanes. Back during this era, nobody lived there. You could drive for miles without encountering a manmade structure.

Deep in the heart of bayou country this young lady had a blowout. Automobile tires were not then what they are today, and this was a not infrequent occurrence. She wrestled the car to the side of the road and took stock.

The Louisiana bayous are awash in creepy crawlies, many of which are large
enough to eat you. This can be a pretty scary place when you are stranded and solo.

Her vehicle was toast. The tire was shredded, rendering the car thoroughly undrivable. She had no idea how far she was from civilization. She didn’t even have a flashlight. She was alone, lost, and stranded in the dark. She felt the fear welling up in her gut.

The young lady had been on the side of the road for perhaps ten minutes when a set of headlights approached. She balanced the risks of being alone in the black of night on the side of the road against being in the same place with a total stranger. Before she could decide what to do, the car pulled over behind her, its headlights bathing her vehicle in brilliant white light. The car rolled to a stop prior to reaching her as though the maneuver was planned.

A man exited the vehicle and walked up to hers. By now, she was out of her car, feeling that she would have a better chance of running into the swamp if it turned out that the stranger had evil intent. She was, by this point, quite terrified.

The man was stocky and terse bordering upon unpleasant. He inquired concerning the nature of her problem. She explained that she had a flat tire. He pondered for a moment and queried her regarding the location of the spare and jack. With great trepidation, she popped her trunk, pushed her personal stuff around, and exposed these items.

Without further discussion, the man retrieved what he needed, jacked up the car by the light of his headlights, and changed the tire. My friend was dumbstruck. Throughout the process, he said not a further word.

Now overcome with curiosity, my friend asked, “Who are you, and how did you find me out here?”

Without looking up from his lug nuts, the man stated flatly, “I’m the keeper of the highway.” He apparently felt that should explain everything.

The chore complete, the stocky little man put the dead wheel in the woman’s trunk and replaced the tools. Without another word, he returned to his car, pulled around, and drove off into the darkness. My buddy was left standing alone in the night. She eventually climbed back into her car and completed her trip home.

The lady in question relayed this story to me some 30 years later. Her voice still cracked with emotion as she told it. In my travels, I have been lied to more than my share. Believe me when I tell you, this woman was telling the truth.

I have no idea who the strange little man was who pulled up behind my friend and changed her tire on the side of that dark highway in rural Louisiana. She said he arrived like he knew she was there and then left without explanation. She had not passed a building or occupied structure for half an hour before the incident.

Modern science has indeed made great strides in explaining the world around us. We understand things today about which we might only have dreamt a mere generation ago. However, there remains an awful lot about life about which we haven’t a clue.

Who was that guy? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the quiet man was just a random good Samaritan who happened to be cruising down that desolate stretch of road on that black night so deep in the bayou. However, that’s not the way he described himself. He said he was the keeper of the highway.

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