Driving with Jim Pepper
I think the rain knew what I was up to and was determined to make me work for it. It seemed like the downpour started coming down twice as hard as soon as I stepped out of the van. Before I could take a breath, before my feet even hit the pavement as I dove into the airborne deluge, there was already a rushing river, a tidal wave, a Niagara Falls cascading down the back of my head and under my collar. For a moment, I flashed on the image of me, the gas station, and the phone all being swept away in a sudden, great flash- flood that made the Mickey Mouse "Sorcerer's Apprentice" cartoon look like a minor household mishap. I think I even saw Noah for an instant, on the highway, waving from the bow of his interstate Ark.
With the phone number on the slip of paper held firmly between my lips, and the receiver wedged between my shoulder and ear, I fished around in my jacket pockets and found a lone quarter. I dialed. A young woman's voice answered.
"Do I have time?" I blurted out. "Can I make a pledge and get the t-shirt?" Water pouring off my nose and spraying from my mouth. God knows what it must have sounded like from the other end of the line. She laughed and said "Sure."
"Tell Eric that this is for Jim Pepper - from Bill, standing in the rain to make this pledge."
She took down my information, told me to look for the pledge card in the mail in another week or so. I was to put my check in the envelope, mark the size shirt I wanted, and won't I please mail it back as quickly as possible, OK? "Sure sure," I told her through the splashing and inhaled rain. "Just make sure to tell him - this pledge is for Jim Pepper from Bill, standing in the rain."
She promised to tell him, and said maybe he'd even read it on the air if there was time before he signed off for the night.
Soaked, waterlogged, every wet step squeaking in my sneakers, but victorious against the storm, I waded back to the van and headed for the highway. The last Jim Pepper tune of the night was winding down, the show was about to end. I had gotten my pledge in, promised my support to jazz on night-time public radio, got my t-shirt reserved - and did it for Jim Pepper.
When the song ended, Jackson came on to thank his listeners for supporting the fund drive. But before closing, he had one last announcement to make.
"And we have one final pledge tonight - for Jim Pepper ... from Bill Standing-In-The- Rain. Thank you, Bill."
Thank you, Eric. And thank you, Jim. From Bill, who doesn't mind the rain so much any more.
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