Maybe it’s because I have been so influenced by the Parable of the Good Samaritan that when I see trouble along the road, I am inclined to stop, or at least slow down. People have done that for me over the years when my car broke down, and I was always grateful.
Now picture Karen and me driving home from a little shopping on Black Friday. In a world of bland-colored cars, her Toyota is a shade of orange the company calls Hot Lava. You can easily spot it from a distance.
We were headed east on 54th Avenue S in St. Pete and made a familiar right turn onto 22nd Street.
Out of nowhere, we caught sight of a young girl chasing down a cute little white dog, who hopped from sidewalk to grass over the curb onto a street where cars are always speeding.
The girl — she looked to be about 15 — screamed.
To understand her fear, you must understand that segment of 22nd Street S that stretches from 54th Avenue to the stop light at 62nd Avenue. It is one of the main intersections of that southernmost part of the city, known as Pinellas Point. We’ve lived there for 40 years.
On either side of the street is a large apartment complex. When we arrived in 1977, we lived in one of them until we bought our first house the following year.
South of the apartments, the street passes Bay Point Elementary and Bay Point Middle, where all three of our daughters graduated. I wrote my first book, Free to Write, about my experiences as a volunteer writing teacher at these schools. This is sacred territory for the Clarks, but 22nd Street — except on school days — invites a driver to speed to make the light.
That was my first thought when we saw the girl chasing the dog and the dog running toward the street: “This dog is going to be hit by a speeding car, and it will ruin everyone’s day.”
Reflexively, I slowed down and pulled the SUV to the curb, confident that its bright color would be immediately visible to anyone turning the corner. Two drivers slowed down behind me, alert to the doggy danger that was unfolding.
The reckless pup was back on the grass now, but still running from its young human, who seemed even more desperate to catch her.
I put on my warning lights and the cars behind me carefully pulled out and passed me. I looked at Karen. “Go help her,” she said.
Girl and dog were now running back into the complex, where there was still plenty of car danger. I don’t run anymore, but I managed an old man hustle.
“Can I help you catch him?”
“We just got her,” she said, out of breath. “She isn’t trained.”
I am no expert on dog retrieval, but I learned something over time from our feisty Jack Russell terrier Rex, who was a glorious terror for most of his 19 years.
The dog stopped at a distance, peed on a bush and stared at us defiantly. I found a patch of grass where I could kneel. When it comes to language, well, I’m kind of a genius, which includes an expertise in baby dog talk. It turned out our rascal was a girl named something like Gogo, which seemed appropriate since she was clearly on the go. Gogo turns out to have been my nickname for years at the Banyan coffee shop, so we had that in common. She was a funny mix, a thin body covered with curly white hair, sharp little ears and a flat puggy mug.
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I leaned forward, getting as small as I could manage, and offered this soliloquy. (You must imagine the sound, climbing up and down the pitch ladder, varying the speed and the volume.)
“Look at the little baby…she so cute…oh look at her…she so sweet… COME HERE baby…she’s a good girl…she’s a sweet baby, oh look… (very high voice now)… YES, YES, you can do it … (my hands outstretched)…your mommy loves you, baby…oh she is so good, so sweet. Come on, baby, come on.”
Gogo was checking me out. At first, she just stared. But then she took three steps forward. Then three more. I got smaller, and smaller. I held out my hand. She sniffed it. She licked it. She took a scratch between her ears. Then she flopped on her back so I could rub her belly.
As girl and puppy walked back to their apartment, she shouted back to me. “Thank you so much. We’ve just got to train her.”
Not exactly the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but a rich enough experience to make me and Karen and that girl happy — along with one lucky dog.