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Yet another reason to kick the habit

“Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?
Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness,
and speaks the truth in his heart,” (Psalm 15:2).

Steve was certainly in a quandary. It was his fault, and he knew it. In addition, being a little older and more experienced, he was the responsible party. As a college student trainee, I was still new to the office, with Steve showing me the ropes. And he was clearly working on a good lie to cover his tracks.

It all started with a hot, end-of-the-summer afternoon at the Metro Traffic Office in Nashville, the department charged with maintaining traffic signs and signals. Actually, the idea was mine. “Could we ride Old Hickory Boulevard tomorrow looking for signs needing replacing?” Old Hickory Boulevard rings the city of Nashville and provides a variety of scenery. At that time it even included a ferry ride across the Cumberland River. The trip would be good for five or six hours. Steve thought it was an excellent idea; so did our supervisor Ray.

But the only city car available was P-4, which was just a few bolts short of a terminal trip to the salvage yard. Clunky and not air-conditioned, this ancient vehicle was the pariah of the department. But it was also our ticket to a day out of the office.

The following morning passed without incident, its fresh air and sunshine wafting in through the car windows. At first, I was driving while Steve voiced our observations into a portable tape player. Steve was a smoker, so I was grateful for outside air rushing in.

Just before noon, however, we began to notice a hot odor. We expected old P-4 to run hot or have other troubles, so we paid it little mind. But were we also beginning to see smoke. To stop and check under the hood might mean not getting started again, so we continued to drive as long as we could. And being near Steve’s house by this time, we decided to stop there for lunch and investigate the vehicle more closely.

But I had already found the problem. We had been looking forward at the hood. A glance backward revealed a cloud of smoke. One of Steve’s tossed cigarette butts had blown back inside and was now burning a large hole in the rear seat. It was time to stop and put out the fire.

At Steve’s house, we quickly doused the gaping 5-inch hole with a pitcher of water, and then retired to the kitchen to have lunch. Upon our return, all traces of smoke were gone. Nevertheless, the seat felt quite hot to the touch. It was still burning inside. Therefore, we grabbed the seat, pulled it out, stuck a garden hose inside the upholstery and ran the water for several minutes. We finally extinguished the fire.

Then Steve had a new problem. His cigarette had started the fire and even if it was just P-4, it was still clearly city property. It was obvious damage, and Steve was responsible.

“Bill,” he began, nervousness belying his authoritative voice, “Let’s just tell Ray that some guys in a car next to us flicked a cigarette butt out the window and it landed in our back seat.” I said nothing. I liked Steve, and he could say what he wanted to our supervisor, but I wasn’t going to lie for his sake or P-4’s.

The closer we got to the office, the more nervous Steve looked. Would they believe his dubious lie? Once inside, Ray began to question us on our day’s excursion. Suddenly, Steve blurted out what had really happened. “We had the windows open because of no air-conditioning, and my cigarette butt must have blown back in. It burned a hole in the back seat,” he said.

I was relieved Steve had come clean with our boss. Ray, for his part, thought it was funny. After all, it was P-4. Any damage could only improve that vehicle. Steve’s conscience, however, was more valuable and still intact.

“The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion,” (Proverbs 28:1).

Bill Horner lives in Campbell County. His column appears regularly in the Faith section. He also started a blog with human interest stories at www.aweintheordinary.com.