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Follow the Cheese

Herald columnist Jim DeFede's odyssey across the United States as he delivers the Virgin Mary cheese sandwich to Las Vegas.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Smokey and the Virgin 

Cutting through the cold, Texas night air, the VMGCS and I are doing about 80 mph along Highway 6. It is almost midnight and there is not another soul on the road. Dean Martin is blaring from my CD player.

And then that's when I see them. A pair of headlights coming at me from the opposite direction. As they pass me, I can see it is a Texas Highway Patrol cruiser. Before I can slow down, he's turned on his flashing red lights and is making a U-turn to circle back around behind me.

As I pull over to the side of the highway, I wonder how this could be possible? Am I or am I not riding with God's grace?

Patrolman Clint Cole is all business. He wants my license. He wants my proof of insurance. He wants the rental papers on the Cadillac. It's clear he is going to write me a ticket.

As I'm fumbling to find the car rental agreement, he asks me if there is a reason I was going so fast? Was there some sort of emergency? He was scolding me with his questions. Finally, he asked, where I was going in such a hurry.

"Las Vegas," I said. "Did you hear about the woman who sold a grilled cheese sandwich on eBay for $28,000?"

"Yeah," he said.

"Well, I'm taking it to Las Vegas," I said. "I've got the sandwich here in the car."

"You have it in the car?"

"Yes," I said. "Would you like to see it?"

"You're kidding me," he said. "You don't really have it."

I get out of the car and place the VMGCS briefcase on the trunk.

When I snap open the latches, Patrolman Cole shined his flashlight on what was inside.

"Oh my goodness," he blurted out excitedly. "That is it."

"Yep, that's it," I confirmed.

He told me he wanted to show it to his sergeant. I didn't see anyone else in his police cruiser, but I took the VMGCS out of the briefcase and handed it to him anyway.

As he walked to the front of his patrol car, I realize there is a video camera mounted on the dashboard recording everything that is happening. Holding it carefully to his side, Cole stood directly in front of his cruiser and began to talk to the camera.

"All right Sarge," he said, "here is the grilled cheese sandwich with the Virgin Mary on it. The one you saw on the news. It looks like Poppa Smurf to me though."

When he wrapped up his report, he handed it back to me.

"Well sir, tonight you are going to receive a verbal warning on your speed," he said, an appreciative grin on his face. As cars and trucks whiz by, he looked around in amazement that he would encounter the VMGCS on the side of the road.

"This is really odd," he confessed.

I tell him I'm a reporter with the Miami Herald and am writing about people's reaction to seeing the VMGCS.

"Well, it looks like Poppa Smurf to me," he said. "See there is his hat and his nose and his ear."

I ask him what he thinks about people who believe the Virgin Mary appears to them in objects like a grilled cheese sandwich or on screen doors or on the side of a tree.

"I believe in God and all, but stuff like that, no I don't think so," he said. "On every tree out here in these woods I could find you shapes and faces of the Virgin Mary or anyone else. It's like looking at the clouds, it's whatever you want to make out of it. But it does cause some faith in people.

"Well sir," he continued, "you have a safe trip. And take good care of that thing. Take good care of that grilled cheese sandwich."

posted by Jim DeFede at 3:57 AM

Jim DeFede and Cheese

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