It began with a Swiss Army knife.
March 8, 2018. The mammoth Thrasher Brothers charter bus stops at the gate surrounding a Neoclassical style mansion. I step off the bus and feel the biting wind on my face. The sky is as coral blue as the waters of Cozumel. A sign on the corner reads PERRY STREET. I’m in Montgomery, Alabama, with the Leadership Walker County and Youth Leadership Walker County groups. The mansion before us is currently occupied by a former high school teacher named Kay Ivey. Since April 10, 2017, she has served as Governor of Alabama.
After touring the mansion, we visit Dexter Street Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott back in 1955. From there we head down the street to tour the Alabama Supreme Court, which requires passing through a security gate. I toss in my wallet and personal items, including my red Swiss Army knife, a gift from my brother-in-law, Donny. It has two knife blades, two screwdrivers, a bottle opener, a toothpick, and it files your income taxes.
As many times as I’ve flown, I should know security personnel strongly frown on folks carrying a pocket knife, Swiss or otherwise, into a government facility. The first officer, an older African-American gentleman, calmly says I’ll have to leave it with them. He takes down my last name and says I can retrieve it later.
An hour later, I’m having lunch with the group when I realize I’ve forgotten the knife. I make a mental note to go back for it before we leave at 2:30.
1:30 p.m. I’m perched in the House Gallery, snapping photos of our legislators on the floor. Ten minutes later I dash upstairs to the Senate for more pictures. At 2 p.m. I hop off the elevator and schlep several blocks to the Supreme Court building. I spot the security officer right away. “I left my red Swiss Army knife. It was a gift from my brother-in-law,” I say.
“Oh, we sold that!” the second officer jokes. The older officer grins, glances at the name tag on my suit, and hands me the knife. I laugh, wish them a good afternoon, and make a hasty exit.
I cross street after street, my face stinging from the wind, as I head up the hill to where the buses will be parked.
Behold, they are not there.
But wait. Is that a bus I see just off Dexter Avenue? I turn and head in that direction. Within a minute I see the name on the side.
It’s not Thrasher.
2:15 p.m. I’m getting nervous. My bus leaves in 15 minutes. If I don’t find it soon, I’ll be spending the night in Montgomery. Alone.
Eureka! I see a group gathering on the Capitol steps. Ignoring my aching feet, I button my jacket and trudge back up the hill. As I move closer, I see no one is wearing a suit. They also appear to be rather short.
These are not the droids I’m looking for.
2:30 p.m. My feet ache. Despite the cold, I feel sweat trickling down my back. I begin calling my LWC teammates, starting with Lisa. She doesn’t answer so I text her: Where are the buses?
I dial Kelli’s number, blurt out a brief message, then message Debbie. I see Lisa’s name pop up on my phone screen and I stop walking.
Where are you?
I tell her I’m at the corner of Dexter Street.
Stay there, she replies.
2:49 p.m. I get a text from Debbie that they are on the move. Minutes later, I see a bus rolling down the hill. I squint to read the name on the side:
We have a bingo!
The bus slows, then stops at the traffic light opposite me. I sprint across two streets, necktie flapping like Old Glory in a hurricane. As the doors swing open, I sling the camera over my shoulder and dart up the steps, muttering a quiet thank-you to the driver. Suddenly the entire bus breaks into cheers and applause. Slightly embarrassed, I laugh it off and take a seat.
Well, at least no one at home will see that. Wrong.
“I got it all on video,” Debbie grins, holding her phone. Oh. Swell. I watch a clip of me in my gray suit, running up the steps, punctuated by loud cheering and applause. Despite my embarrassment, I have to grin.
I should have left the knife there. Maybe the security guys could have picked up some quick cash.
Sorry, Donny. 78