Somehow, Patrick McDaniel is able to conceal his angel’s wings under a work jacket.
It’s a bit easier for Missouri State Highway Patrol Corporal J.W. Huff to hide his halo under his trooper’s hat.
And I am sure that MoDOT’s Hector Ortiz keeps his harp in the front seat of his Missouri Department of Transportation truck, because this trip of guardian angels restored my faith in mankind, the holiday season and the real meaning of Christmas.
Let me explain.
I was invited by William Chrisman High School boys basketball coach Jake Kates to join him and the Truman High School team for a private tour of the Negro Leagues Museum, along with some other teams who were competing in the second annual Phog Allen Invitational at Chrisman a few weeks back.
I was so excited. I made sure I knew what time the team bus would arrive, because I didn’t want to miss the welcome from NLBM President Bob Kendrick, who turns a tour into a rich history lesson of the days when only the baseball was white in glory days of Satchel, Cool Papa, Josh and Double Duty – some of the most colorful names in sports lore.
When I left Buckner Tarsney Road in Grain Valley and hit Interstate 70, I could feel my car shimmy and shake.
I feared the worst – and the worst happened.
As I passed the Missouri 7 intersection in Blue Springs, I suffered a blowout. Luckily, I was in the far right lane and I was able to guide my hobbled vehicle to the shoulder of the interstate – and that’s when panic sank deep into my soul.
For over a year, I have dealt with a torn rotator cuff, and I wasn’t sure if I could manhandle a spare, remove the flat and get back on the highway in time to make it downtown for my 11:30 a.m. appointment.
Soon, panic turned to fear as I looked in the wheel well and saw no spare. I didn’t see a jack or a jack handle, and I wondered if I would have to camp out on the highway because I did not have my insurance agent’s card in my billfold.
I remembered that some SUVs have the spare under the vehicle, so I gingerly got to my hands and knees as cars sped by at surprising speeds – and looked under my car.
There it was – the Golden Ticket – my spare tire. OK, so how do I lower it? Again, panic took over.
That’s when I crawled from under the car and saw Patrick McDaniel standing by my vehicle.
“It looks like you could use a little help,” he said.
Look, I cry at McDonald’s holiday commercials, I am an emotional guy, and I couldn’t believe he had stopped to help.
I hadn’t been on the side of the road five minutes before my first guardian angel arrived.
McDaniel, a former tow truck driver and all-around great guy, took a tool from his jacket, popped off a seal in the trunk of my vehicle and began to slowly lower my spare tire to the ground.
When he picked it up, the look on his face retriggered my panic stricken state.
It was flat – and I mean flat as a pancake.
OK, I’ve experienced one miracle, how about a few more?
He had a generator on the back of his truck and pumped the flat spare to its full, glorious capacity and was ready to put it on the wheel base.
Then, more trouble, as we – and by we I mean me watching him do all the heavy lifting – couldn’t get the flat off the rim.
He kicked, he prodded, he used some tool from his truck – nothing worked.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a red, glowing light.
Had Rudolph been sent from the North Pole to rescue me?
No, even better, it was Corporal J.W. Huff, a man who has changed a few tires in his time and rescued more motorists than he could recall.
He saw our predicament, and offered a suggestion.
“Excuse me guys,” he said, as he faced away from the tire, making sure Pat and I were well away from the traffic stream on I-70, “all this needs it a little Missouri mule kick.”
With his perfectly polished boots, he kicked the base of the tire and it immediately popped off the rim as Pat and I gave a gleeful high-five to each other.
Before the tire had hit the ground, MoDOT emergency driver Hector Ortiz pulled in behind Corporal Huff’s car and offered his assistance.
A half hour earlier I was sure I would be stranded on I-70 throughout the holiday season. But this trio of guardian angels had me back on the road in no time, and I wasn’t even late for the NLBM tour.
The only way this tale would be more dramatic was if I looked behind my car and Pat, Corporal Huff and Hector had magically disappeared.
They hadn’t. They told me to get a new tire as soon as possible, wished me holiday joy, shook my hand and left with smiles that matched the one on my face.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all.
– Bill Althaus is a sports and news writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC