An Inspiring Encounter
May 07, 2018 12:00AM ● Published by Brian Saucedo
Life is full of fascinating surprises. Two days before Christmas, my wife Janice and I were traveling up the New Jersey Turnpike to visit family in New Jersey and Massachusetts. There was plenty of traffic, but people seemed polite on the highway as I am sure everyone was in the Christmas spirit. Many colorfully wrapped packages were piled up in the back seats of most vehicles. A few years ago, I calculated that I have driven up and down the Jersey Turnpike over 600 times in my life (I grew up on the Jersey Shore). After decades of construction, the Turnpike is now one of the best highways in America. Our routine journey got more interesting.
Near Exit 7, we stopped for a short break. I pulled into a remote part of the parking lot to avoid all the congestion. When we returned to the car, another couple had parked alongside. Janice and I both recognized the man right away. He and his wife were rearranging presents in the back seat of their silver Subaru wagon with Washington, D.C. license plates. Just one week earlier, a long time sailing friend named John Rousmaniere showed me a picture of his high school ice hockey team, circa 1962. In the picture was former Senator and Secretary of State, John Kerry. And, as it would turn out, the driver of the Subaru was front and center in the picture and was the captain of the team. My friend John graduated from Columbia, John Kerry from Yale, and the team captain attended Princeton. Smart group.
I felt compelled to introduce myself to our parked neighbor and shook his hand. I told him about the hockey team photo. The man smiled and said, “I remember Johnny, great guy.” His wife smiled too. My wife watched in disbelief as I engaged in conversation. Next, I thanked him for his very impressive service for our country in the past, and especially today. He answered with a humble, “Thank you.” I told him I admired how he was handling his current assignment with all the abuse he was receiving. The man shrugged his shoulders, smiled, and said, “It’s not a problem.” With that, we all said a pleasant “Good bye.” We got back into the car and continued our journey north.
As we sped away, I thought about the friendly couple. There was no security around. They were just a couple of senior citizens like us, looking forward to visiting with family, and enjoying the Christmas holiday.
Oh, by the way, the name of the fellow driver/hockey captain was Robert S. Mueller, III.