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The Man Scout: A prison of my own making, and a lesson in why it is crucial to always be prepared

By Chris Cole
Special to NKyTribune

Before I started reading my Boy Scouts Handbook, if you’d asked me what I knew about the Scouts, my answer would have been pretty simple: they have badges and their motto is “Be prepared.”

Be prepared. It’s such a simple idea that I don’t think I ever gave it much thought. Sure – you should be prepared. That makes sense. Now what’s on TV?

The Handbook shares the story of a family in Oklahoma that learned first-hand the importance of being prepared when one of their children got too close to a gas heater and her clothes caught fire.

“The little girl shrieked and the other children cried,” the story goes. “The mother stood filled with horror.” Just then her father and her 13-year-old brother rushed in, but the dad was little help. “I stood confused,” he later said.

Illustration of the 13-year-old Boy Scout saving his sister from serious injury by smothering the flames with a rug. (Courtesy of the Boy Scouts of America Hand Book for Boys, 1952)

The brother, however, was a Boy Scout and had completed first aid training. He grabbed a small rug, rolled the screaming girl in its folds and quickly smothered the flames.

The book explains that the motto means a Scout must be prepared at any moment to do his duty and to face danger if necessary to help others. “Wherever you are, whatever you are doing,” it reads, “think through in advance what you ought to do. It will be too late if you wait until the emergency happens.”

I’m reminded of the time I moved to Colorado Springs for my first real job after I graduated from Northern Kentucky University. I was so excited to start a new chapter in my life that I moved clear across the country with nothing but a backpack full of clothes. I’d figure the rest out when I got there.

In my first week, I started the new job, bought a new car and found a nice apartment near Pike’s Peak. Who said adulting was hard?

It was time to buy furniture, so I drove downtown and picked out a bed and a TV. I balked at the $100 delivery fee and decided I could get the stuff home in my new Honda Civic. After all, the apartment was only a few miles away – what could go wrong?

I put the TV in the back seat, and then the friendly sales associates strapped my new box spring and mattress to the roof of my car using two thick ropes that they ran through the open windows on either side. And off I went.

I remember holding onto the mattress with my left hand out the driver’s side window as a drove. In my mind, I’d have enough strength to hold it down if the bed were to start to blow away. And I’m not even left handed.

Two thick ropes and a Honda Civic became a temporary prison of sorts for The Man Scout in Colorado Springs.

Somehow, though, it worked. The bed stayed put and I got back to my apartment without incident. That’s when the trouble started.

You see, I weren’t no Boy Scout, so I wasn’t prepared. The ropes holding the bed onto the car also ensured that neither door could be opened. I was trapped inside my Honda Civic with nothing but the owner’s manual and a television, and neither of those was going to help me in this situation.

I calmly started pulling on the rope, thinking perhaps I could work the knot around to where I could reach it and then free myself. The rope wouldn’t budge. I pulled harder and harder, but it was no use. I was stuck.

I kept trying to work the rope for the next hour, and panic was beginning to set in. But each time one of my neighbors walked by, I acted like nothing was wrong. Too embarrassed to admit I was trapped inside my own car, I pretended to be on my cell phone.

This was a bold strategy, given that this was 1999 and I wouldn’t own a cell phone for another year and a half. I literally formed a telephone with my fingers, held it up to my ear and proceeded to have an imaginary conversation with my mom every time someone walked by. If anyone noticed, they were too kind to let on.

I finally decided to use my car key as a miniature saw and went to work on the ropes. Several hours later, I cut through the second rope and was finally free. It was 3 a.m. More than a little frustrated, and exhausted from hours of sawing, I gave the rope a good yank and the heavy knot had the temerity to come whipping through the open window and smack me in the face.

Sure – you should be prepared. That makes sense.

Eventually, I will read about “carrying and passing your knife and axe.” While I’ve never really carried or passed a knife or axe, ever since that frustrating night in Colorado, I have at least kept a utility blade in my glove box. You never known when you might need it.

Until next week, Do a Good Turn Daily!

Chris Cole is Director of Enterprise Communications at Sanitation District No. 1 and a deacon at Plum Creek Christian Church in Butler. He lives in Highland Heights with his wife, Megan. The Man Scout chronicles Cole’s journey to acquiring some of the skills of the head, the heart and the hand he failed to learn as a child of the 1980s growing up in Newport. His field guide: a 1952 Boy Scouts Handbook he found on eBay.

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  1. Chris Cole says:

    This was one of the most unprepared moments of my life. Which raises the question – when did you find yourself the least prepared for the situation you were facing?

  2. Chuck Rust says:

    Chris – this is great stuff! A very positive contribution to male culture. What has been your biggest revelation so far? Has there been anything where you were like “man I wish I would have known that growing up?”

    • Chris Cole says:

      Hi Chuck. That’s a good question. The nature of this journey is that it starts with more conceptual readings, such as learning about the motto, slogan, etc. So I’m not into the skill-building stuff just yet. I will say, though, that I have been surprised at how much history is included in the book. I’m only 50 pages in and have learned things I didn’t know about topics ranging from George Washington to Nazi Germany. There is already a strong emphasis on understanding the world around you, and from that foundational appreciation will come skill building.

      But I definitely do wish I’d known to always have a blade nearby!

  3. Olivia B says:

    Another fun read. Thank goodness for those keys!

    Your question reminds me of my first driving experiences alone in Ohio: Here I am in an unfamiliar neighborhood, trying to locate a new friend’s house in the dark and my phone dies without a charger- and with it, any sense of newbie-driver confidence I had. Maps, you say?… Um, you mean the app on my phone? After many single-lane roads, turnarounds, and deep breaths, I finally found a Wendy’s- beautiful home of the 4 for $4 and, more importantly, free wifi for my data-less iPad. A couple of minutes later, I drove away with wondrous screenshots of my route, relieved to be free of my own car prison.

    I guess both situations show how, with or without technology, you should always be prepared for the unexpected. -Whether you’re actually stuck inside your car or feel as if you are.

    -Looking forward to your next article!

    • Chris Cole says:

      Hi Olivia!

      Yes, if I hadn’t had those keys, I’d probably still be inside the car. Haha.

      And I’ve had similar experiences with a dead cell phone and no GPS. Eventually I’ll get to the part of the Handbook that includes navigation using the positioning of the sun. Until then, keep those phones charged!

      Have a great day.

  4. Jack Gordon says:

    Hello Chris,

    I enjoyed your article once again. Thank you for sharing your view on this time honored part of life that I took for granted as a young boy. My father was a pack leader, so I did not have a choice but to emerge myself in the scouting world. I do hope we may hear a correlation between a chapter in the manual and the pamper pole at Camp Joy.

    Take care my friend.

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