In December 2004, I headed to Jackson, Tenn., to spend Christmas with my mom. The plane touched down in Nashville in an atrocious snowstorm. From there, I planned to take a bus to Jackson where my mom would pick me up at the bus terminal.

When I entered the station in Nashville I was taken aback by some unsavory looking characters. I chose a seat in the corner by myself, clutched my purse tightly and took out a book.

An older guy in a dirty navy blue tank top with frizzy hair that shot off in all directions asked if I was an Olympic swimmer. I said no and stuck my face back in my book.

When it was time, I hurried to board the bus and chose a window seat near the front so I could get off quickly. The ride would only be about two hours. To my dismay, frizzy hair sat next to me. I drew my arms in and scooted toward the window. I think he noticed because he did not ask further questions about my Olympic aspirations.

The bus set off and I stared outside, noticing the roads were solid ice and several cars had slid into ditches. I was thankful to be on a sturdy bus with a professional driver. I took out my book and cut myself off from the rest of the world.

About an hour into the journey, the bus jerked slightly and then in what seemed like slow motion, it swerved to the side and then to the other side into the oncoming lane. I tossed my book in the air and began screaming along with the other passengers.

The bus jerked back into our lane so sharply that one side of its tires came off the ground. My face was pressed smack against the window and I was staring at the ground thinking we were about to tip over. Bags were flying around.

We swerved back into the oncoming lane, the opposite tires coming off the ground so I was flung in the other direction. At that point, I noticed frizzy hair was in a state of frenzy as well. He looked at me. I looked at him. We grabbed onto each other, shrieking in each others' faces.

This felt like it was going on for a long time. We clung tightly to one another as the bus careened down a steep embankment into a muddy ditch. We were tossed around and terrified but I held onto him for dear life. Finally, the bus came to a halt, on its tires, crooked, but upright nonetheless.

By now, I was crying into frizzy hair's chest and he patted me on the head comfortingly and hushed me in a soothing tone.

"I can't believe this just happened," I said, tearfully.

"Me neither," he responded.

We both looked out the window as the snow continued its lazy trickle from the sky. As my crying subsided, we introduced ourselves and shook hands. His name was Julius. He said I reminded him of his long lost daughter.

I thanked him for his kindness and we talked for the next six hours while we waited for all of the passengers to be interviewed by the highway patrol and the National Transportation Safety Board.

I learned many things about him and quickly realized I had been wrong to judge him so quickly as some odd fruitcake. He was sweet and optimistic with a quirky sense of humor.

A gas station attendant in Nashville, he had a terrier named Milo and a love of baseball and Jesus. He was heading to Jackson to spend Christmas with his brother as he did every year.

Another bus eventually came along and took us to Jackson where my mom was frantic. I said I was okay and then introduced her to my new friend. He told her I reminded him of his daughter. We said our goodbyes and walked away.

It's been 10 years since that traumatic incident. I thought of Julius the other day as I was waiting in a seat at the Wal-Mart pharmacy.

"Is that good book?" asked an older man with an orange spiked mohawk and a t-shirt that read "Captain Obvious."

"Yes, it is. You should read it," I said, putting the book down as I do more often these days.

You see, I learned something that day. Accidents and tragedies can happen at any moment but why wait for one? A potential shoulder to cry on could be anywhere ... anyone could be a Julius.

Heather Hill is the community news editor for The Battle Mountain Bugle. She can be contacted at at