The Road From Malibu to Searcy Runs Through Birmingham

Pepperdine.jpgI didn’t graduate from Pepperdine University. In fact, I’ve never set foot on the beautiful Malibu campus nestled by the jagged shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. But thanks to our youth minister, Jason, who recently attended the annual lectureship there, I am the proud owner of a bright orange Pepperdine t-shirt with arched, blue letters and a school seal with motto that reads “Freely ye received, freely give.” It was the first shirt that I pulled out of my drawer last Friday as I prepared to travel to Ozark, Alabama to spend Memorial Day weekend with my younger sister and her family. But before the day was over, that shirt had led me to yet another “chance” encounter with an old aquaintance from times past.

We had stopped for lunch just south of Birmingham and were standing in line to order at Wendy’s when a women about my age walked up to me, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “I’m a Wave.”

Okay, I thought, what have we here? I’m a little slow sometimes and I must have looked a little confused (I was) because she pointed to my shirt and repeated, “You know, a Wave.”

Ah, a Pepperdine Wave. “No kidding,” I exclaimed. “I didn’t graduate from there, but a friend of mine visited there recently and all I got was this stupid t-shirt.”

She laughed, obviously impressed with my elephantine wit. I asked her the inevitable question, “Are you Church of Christ?” When she replied, “Yes,” I went on to explain that I had graduated from Harding.

“Really,” she said excitedly, “you may know my husband then. He’s gone to get gas for the van, but he’ll be back in a moment. His name is Hubie Smith.”

I did indeed know her husband, or least I knew who he was. Hubie Smith had played point guard for the Harding University basketball team in the early 1980s and had been a year ahead of me in school. He was also a golfer as well, and as I recall, won All-Conference honors in both sports. When he walked in the restaurant a few minutes later, I introduced myself, and although he probably didn’t remember who I was (nerdy psychology majors typically don’t have quite the face recognition on campus that jocks do), we had a pleasant chat and a few laughs at our “random” rendezvous far from Searcy, Arkansas and even farther from the California coast.

Having just written a story that morning about our unlikely meeting with an old friend on the streets of New York a year prior, the irony of yet another such encounter struck me full force up side the head, like a mailbox-bashing Louisville Slugger on Halloween night. Why is it that whenever I travel, I run into someone from my past? Maybe I have a little bit of Forrest Gump in me, possessing that certain serendipity for always being in the right place at the right time. My friends and family have noted on many occasions, after all, that I am not a “smahutt” man.

As I left the restaurant and continued on my way, it occured to me that once again the Rand McNally Road Atlas was wrong. It’s true that in order to get from Malibu to Searcy you’ve got to drive over to Barstow and pick up Interstate 40 for 1500 miles, all the way to Little Rock, and, from there, you follow U.S. 67N for 47 miles to Searcy. What the map doesn’t say is that the road from Malibu to Searcy runs through Birmingham as well, a fact I recently learned as I stood in line to order my Roasted Turkey & Basil Pesto sandwich, side salad with honey mustard dressing and Diet Coke.

  1. Ed

    Statistically, what are the chances of that occuring? You have a better chance of winning the lottery. As I have grown in my faith, I’ve realized that things such as coincidences and chance meetings are not totally random. In such cases, I find myself asking “why did that occur and what am I supposed to learn from this?” It may not be anything, but sometimes it is.

  2. Mike the Eyeguy

    Ed, thanks so much for pointing me toward the meaning of this encounter. Obviously, I’m supposed to head immediately to Ardmore, TN and buy a Power Ball ticket! I’m on a roll! 🙂

  3. JRB

    I no longer believe in coincidence, and, Ed, the odds are a lot higher if the magical Spirit is at work among His dumbfounded people. I have a thousand of these stories, too. My wife, who did not come up in the CoC tradition, or among our schools, used to call it the Church of Christ Mafia. It has taken only a few years before she started having her own “coincidences,” so now she calls it the Underground.

    La Harding Cosa Nostra.

  4. Jason

    Glad I could play a small part in your serendipitous encounter. Just think…if I’d purchased the gray soccer shirt you really wanted, none of this might’ve happened. It’s a sign, man.

  5. greg

    Cool. I don’t recall if I’ve ever met Hubie personally, but I watched him play a lot during those years. We used to go over and watch a lot of games during his years there. My brother was at HU at the time, and he knew Hubie. And, my sister in Memphis and her family are friends with Hubie and his. They used to go to church together there in Memphis until just a few years ago.

  6. Mike the Eyeguy


    La Harding Cosa Nostra–I like that. Does that make President Burks the Godfather?

    To date, I’ve probably been a mere foot soldier in La Harding Cosa Nostra, but perhaps the meaning of this incident is that I’m becoming a “made man.”

    I just hope I fare better than Joe Pesci’s Tommy DiVito did in Goodfellas when he got “made.”

  7. Mike the Eyeguy


    I’m glad you read this. You’re right, it was probably the bright orange that first grabbed her attention. Of course, in these parts everyone thinks orange and blue signifies Auburn. The other day an Auburn man said, “Nice shirt,” and gave me a thumbs up. I said, “thanks,” but I didn’t have the heart to tell him it wasn’t what he thought–he saw what he wanted to see.

    Gray out of stock, orange in. A certain shirt the first one off the stack in your dresser drawer. On such small building blocks are the foundations of our life stories laid.

    I’ve resolved to not remove this shirt for the rest of the summer. That includes my forthcoming trip to Ardmore, TN to buy a Power Ball ticket.

  8. Mike the Eyeguy


    It figures that you and I would have yet another “basketball and Harding moment.” I’m still having trouble figuring out how we could have possibly missed each other while you lived here!

    Hubie played before the day of the three-point shot. As I recall, he would have benefited greatly from that. Not as good as Redick, mind you, but still pretty darn good.

  9. Ed

    You also have a better chance of getting hit by lightning :0

  10. Mike the Eyeguy


    I’ve already been hit by lightning once in my life, thank you very much. But that’s a story for another day…

    Lightning is not supposed to strike in the same place twice. Hopefully, not the same person either.

  11. DAVID u

    Mike, my buddy Keith Riley bought a t-shirt JUST like the one you were given when he was with me at the PU lectureship earlier this month. Did you see where PU got a home seed in the NCAA baseball tournament? Yep…..they did. Maybe you can come with all of us next year to the Lectureship?!?!? You would be blessed. And yes, the road from Malibu to Birmingham DOES run thru Searcy……..and Possom Grape! 🙂


  12. Mike the Eyeguy


    Not only did Pepperdine make the baseball tournament, but the men’s tennis team just won the NCAA championship! It figures they would be good in that, in addition to their championship caliber volleyball and water polo teams.

    Hey, I heard that Harding had some individual national champions in track and field this year. Bisons may look slow, but they are actually quite speedy animals.

    A trip to Malibu does sound good. I may have to give that some serious thought.

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