It would have been almost fifteen years ago now.
It was a Sunday afternoon in spring. I was driving US Route 29, from Lynchburg north to Charlottesville.
It’s a four lane highway the whole way, and a little north of Lovingston, a small town in Nelson County, the highway turns twisty, and for the next twenty miles you drive through a whole lot of mountainous nothing. Indeed, even once you’ve reached Albemarle County, there’s nothing on 29 until you reach the Interstate 64 interchange; for whatever reason, Charlottesville has never expended south along the major highways.
When you come out of Nelson County into Albemarle County, US 29 straightens out, though the road bounces up and down for a good half mile. Then, the windyness resumes, the road snakes up, the road slopes down, and this continues for another twenty miles.
Around one of the turns in southern Albemarle County, you come to a crossroads. US 29 banks down off a hill, you reach a crossroads, and then the road banks the other way back up another hill. At the crossroads, though, there’s a convenience store.
It’s an incongruous store. The building has the look of an antebellum Georgian plantation. Inside, the store has a rustic, country store appearance (wooden walls and wooden ceiling and wooden floor), and there’s the smell of wood dust and years that hangs in the air.
Though I made the Lynchburg to Charlottesville run hundreds of time, I stopped at that convenience store perhaps only a half dozen times over the years.
And this particular day, I stopped at that convenience store. To be honest, I really had to take a pee.
That business taken care of, I grabbed a newspaper off the rack and an ice cream sandwich from the freezer, and I got in line.
In front of me in line, there stood a man. He wasn’t especially tall. Something about him caught my attention, as though I’d seen him before and my brain was suddenly working on overdrive trying to figure out where I’d seen him. He turned and looked at me; perhaps he sensed that I was staring somewhat blankly at him as the gears turned.
And then I knew.
“You look like the picture I’ve seen on a book dust jacket,” I said.
“Oh?” he said. “And what would that be?”
“A John Grisham book,” I said. “You look like Grisham’s dust jacket photo.”
“It should,” he said. “The picture’s me.”
I didn’t press the conversation. There was no need to.
I met John Grisham in a country gas station.