In Monday's paper, you may have noticed this column I wrote from the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
There's a little story behind that story, and here it is.
Talladega is about a six-hour drive from Charlotte. The race started Sunday, Nov.1 at 1 p.m. Eastern. I had nothing I had to do prior to the race -- I just needed to be there to cover it.
So I decided to stay as late as I could on Saturday night in N.C. so I could take my 4 kids trick-or-treating. They range in age from 2 to 11, so Halloween is a big deal in our house.
Around 9 p.m. Saturday, with Halloween duties complete, I took off in a hurry with the intention of driving to just outside of Atlanta that night. Then I would get up early and drive the last several hours in the morning, arriving in plenty of time for the race.
Just past Spartanburg, at around 10:30 p.m. and about 90 miles from home, I stopped for gas. I reached for my wallet and...
I started to panic a little. I looked all through my car. I had about $1.25 in quarters, 1/8th of a tank of gas. No credit cards, no photo ID, nothing.
I called my wife. "Yes, I'm looking at your wallet right now," she said after I asked her to go look in the drawer where I sometimes keep it.
So now what?
Option 1: Go back home, arrive a little after midnight, then get up at 5 a.m. and do all 352 miles of the drive in one day?
Option 2: Try to skate through and skip the extra 3 hours of driving?? My parents lived only a few miles outside of Spartanburg. Maybe I could figure something out with them.
I decided on Option No.2. My parents could loan me some money and a credit card. Maybe I could talk my way into the race the next day without a photo ID.
So I drove over to my parents' house. It was nearly 11 p.m. by the time I arrived. I was afraid I would wake at least my Mom up; my Dad usually stays up late.
Instead, neither one of were home! My parents are close to 70 years old! Where could they possibly be at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night?
I have a key to their house, so I let myself in. Then I started to act like I was one of those grown-up kids on drugs that are always in the news for robbing their parents -- ransacking the house in a desperate search for cash and credit cards. Even while I was doing it, I was embarrassed for myself.
I found nothing, but their ugly and very sweet dog Stella happily nuzzled me wherever I went. She has never carried a wallet and thus had no idea of my rising sense of panic.
Eventually, my folks got home -- they had been to a local play and were quite surprised to find me there. But they loaned me money and a credit card. They have always been wonderful parents, and I have to say it was their right to enjoy the hearty laugh at my predicament that they enjoyed.
The next day, at Talladega, I contacted the track's excellent PR staff ahead of time. They allowed me to pick up my credentials outside the track.
But then I still almost didn't make it inside. I got to the track gate, only to be stopped by a young but ornery security guard who demanded my photo ID.
"No photo ID and you don't get in," he said.
I tried to explain that I had been through this once before already. I tried to be nice, because he looked like he would enjoy very much the idea of beating me up.
Then I tried to call the PR folks, who were a half-mile away at this point. I got one on a cell phone but, as I talked to her, a raucous jet flyover made conversation impossible and the call got dropped.
Meanwhile, the race engines were gunning and the green flag was about to fly. I could hear them -- I was so close, but yet so far. I tried the cel phone number of the PR woman again. No luck.
The security guard watched all this with some amusement. I don't think I looked too threatening as he saw me fumbling in my backpack for various items.
Then, after making me suffer awhile longer, he jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the track.
"Go on," he said. "I guess I'll let you in."
And so I made it, and wrote my column from Talladega.
And on the way back home, no cop stopped me. But it was still a nerve-racking 36 hours, and I'm still sort of amazed it all worked out in this post-9/11 world. I had to depend on the kindness of strangers (and family members), and they all came through for me.
But you better believe I'm checking my pockets 10 times each for my wallet before every trip from now on.
If you're a guy, you know that sickening feeling when you check for your wallet and realize you don't have it. I'm determined not to have it again for a loooong time.