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Clues and cues in Founders Park

Susan Epps • May 26, 2018 at 8:15 AM

Sometimes a walk in the park is just that. Other times, it’s something entirely different.

Last summer I was walking Ridley in Founders Park as I did most nights. As we came down the stretch near the water, we passed two men who I would describe as “sketchy.” Something just seemed off. Ridley thinks everyone is his friend but when we got close to these guys, he stepped up his pace and seemed to skirt away from them. It was about 10 p.m. but the park is well lit, so I just kept going. When we came around the other side of the park, I noticed the men were near a parked vehicle and it appeared they were trying to break into it. I kept watching and wasn’t sure what to do. I know, “Call the Police” should have been my first reaction, but I think I wasn’t sure what I was seeing.

A couple of my son’s friends were on the other side of the park so we all stood and watched these men as they pulled something off the car and then looked like they were going to mess with a window. At that point we decided to call 911. One of the boys called and they said they would send someone. We waited and waited. No police came. So I called and the dispatcher got enough information to confirm that we were talking about the same people and she said that the police had been out earlier and that the car belonged to the men and that they had locked the keys inside.

The boys and I watched a little longer and it occurred to me that those men had been locked out for quite a while. And I was just standing there. What kind of person does that? I immediately thought about my friend Patty, a pastor at Munsey Church, and asked, not WWJD, but WWPD? What would Patty do? Of course I knew what she would do — she would mark herself over and ask if they needed assistance. And for the record, she wouldn’t have taken nearly as long to do that as it took me.

So I did just that — I said, “Come on Ridley, we’re going over.” The boys grabbed their skateboards and said, “We’re going with you.” My bodyguards.

I walked up to the man who seemed to be in charge, let’s call him Ray, and asked if they needed help, if they needed to borrow a cell phone to call someone. “Oh, thank you!” he said. “I locked the keys in the car and my phone battery is dead.” I handed him my cell phone and felt terrible I hadn’t come over earlier.

Ray called a family member who said she would send someone to get them. In the meantime, I’d been watching the other man and something wasn’t right. I asked Ray if his friend was OK. “That’s Tom, he’s my brother and no, he’s been having seizures. He’s diabetic, too.” I asked if Tom had eaten anything and Ray said he’d seen him eat some potato chips, but that was probably sometime in the morning. I told him I was going to Wild Wings to get some orange juice and would be right back. I asked the boys, who were still standing nearby, to hold Ridley and they said, “No, we’ll go, we can go faster.” (I should have been insulted, but they were probably right). They shook off the cash I held out and raced off. They were back in no time with a cup of orange juice for Tom.

Ray used my phone again to call his family for an update on their ETA. I told him I would wait until they got there in case he needed to use the phone again — because that’s what Patty would have done. For the next 45 minutes, we stood in Founder’s Park and I learned all about his kids, his brother, his job. Then he saw his relative’s car turning at the light. Yea! Family to the rescue!

That’s when I realized that Ridley had been sitting quietly and calmly between us at our feet for almost 45 minutes, the same dog who had acted so uncomfortable earlier. Then it hit me, hard. When we first passed by Ray and Tom, maybe I hadn’t taken my cue from Ridley, maybe he had taken his cue from me.

Susan Epps of Johnson City is an associate professor in East Tennessee State University’s Department of Allied Health Sciences and a mother of two teenage boys.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed by all Community Voices columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Johnson City Press.


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