This Friday night, August 5, my mountain town of Waynesville, NC will see its second annual Main Street Mile, and I’m excited. Not because it pulls our community closer together. And not because all proceeds go to support Shriners Children’s Hospital of Greenville, which gives free medical care to seriously ill babies and kids.
Sure, those are important.
But frankly, I’m in it for the bright orange vest.
First, a bit of backstory: The Main Street Mile was the brain child of my friend and local physical therapist Eric Yarrington, whose daughter Sophie has been treated at Shriners for torticollis and slight scoliosis. “We were so moved by the tremendous, compassionate care we received that we decided to give back,” says Eric. Together with a few close friends, Eric decided to organize a fundraiser for the hospital—a series of mile-long races for adults, kids, and first responders. When he pitched the idea to the governing bodies of this tourist-friendly town, they were nothing but supportive. Further, local businesses have donated pizza, beer, sodas, kids’ games, and goodie bags for participants. A local band has volunteered to play at the block party afterwards.
My husband and I have been friends with Eric and his lovely wife Shannon for over a decade. (We met in childbirth class; once you’ve fake-labored together, you’re friends for life.) During the first Main Street Mile, my husband and daughter easy-jogged the course together while I volunteered. After helping walk-up participants register, the volunteer squadron leader handed me an orange vest and ten minutes later my trepidation and I were stationed at an intersection leading up to Main Street—a well-used cut through for local traffic. When the first car came toward me I stepped from the curb and raised my palm. The driver slowed, rolling down her window.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “This part of Main Street’s closed for the next hour.”
I cringed, waiting for her complaint. Instead, she took in my bright orange vest, nodded, and turned her car around.
But yes! It happened repeatedly! Some drivers didn’t even stop—they just saw the vest and turned aside. I smoothed my violent orange nylon lapels. Dang. I’ve got to get me one of these things. Would it work in other situations? The next time my kids were arguing, could I leap into the hallway, vest flowing around me, my arm raised, and bring about peace and even a few blessed moments of quiet?
My winning streak ended in the form of a two-tone Lincoln Towncar. The elderly gentleman driver made as if to steer around me when I stepped out in front of his vehicle. (I was, in retrospect, reckless with power.) He braked hard and growled, “I’ve already been waved on by your buddy down the street. What exactly is going on here?”
“It’s a charity run for Shriners Children’s Hospital, sir,” I said. “Sorry for the inconvenience.”
He wagged his finger at me (2 parts finger : 1 part gold nugget ring). “Well I’ve got to get across the street.”
I tried for an engaging smile. “If you go about a quarter mile further, you should be able to cross without a problem.”
“It’s already a problem,” he hurrumphed. “I could sue you.”
“Oh, Howard,” the woman beside him said irritably, “It’s for a children’s hospital. Let’s just go a couple of blocks down and circle back. It’s not a big deal. ”
He furrowed his bushy eyebrows and drew an angry breath, but I touched my neon polyblend meaningfully. What? Did he think they gave these out to just anybody??
“Fine!” he growled in an unfine way. I pitied him as he began his 3-point turn. He had tried, but what mere mortal can stand against the combined forces of good citizenry and orange nylon?
“The children thank you for your cooperation, Howard!” I was startled to hear myself call out. I looked down at the vest. “Stop that right now,” I admonished. “You’re hardly Kevlar.”
I haven’t thought about that night much during the past year, but when Eric sent me an email about this year’s Main Street Mile, I can’t deny my heart beat a little faster. The power of the vest is calling to me.
***Angela Dove is an award winning columnist and author of the true crime book, No Room for Doubt: A true story of the reverberations of murder (Penguin Group, 2009). For more information visit www.AngelaDove.com.