77 in a 55: Officer Robert Soule, Clovis, NM

Officer Robert Soule

Uh oh. Uh oh. Uh oh.

Meeting Robert Soule cost me $161.00. That would be Officer Robert Soul (pronounced SOUL), of the New Mexico State Police in Clovis, NM. In May, I was on my way from Santa Fe, NM to Austin, TX, minding my own business, and somehow missed the part where the speed limit dropped from 70 to 55. (Ok, so maybe I wasn’t really paying attention because I was thinking up blog ideas… ooops.)

I suggested that he give me a warning, and he politely declined. I then suggested that he give me a stern warning, and this time he smiled – and super-politely declined.  I’ve never been one to come up with outrageous excuses on the fly (literally), so I accepted the “no” and let my curiosity take over.

Who was this guy, really? Was it unnerving to walk up to speeding strangers every day? What did he like to do with his time off?

In some ways, Robert Soule is responsible for the Best of Strangers blog. Our chance encounter was the tipping point that made me say, “I cross paths with interesting people every day! I want to know more!” Or, maybe I wanted to turn 161 lemons into lemonade.

So, last weekend, I passed through Clovis on my way back to Santa Fe from my family reunion in Texas, and made an appointment to interview Robert Soule. I discovered a man who is devoted to his wife of nearly 22 years; who spent 21 years in the Airforce and served seven tours in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia; who loves animals; and who genuinely uses his position as a New Mexico State Police Officer to keep his community safe.

Officer Robert Soule

Stop and think for a moment. What's the traffic stop like from the officer's point of view?

When I asked Robert what a traffic stop was like from his side of the equation, he said, “Every now and then people are uptight about getting pulled over, but not too many. I’m not out to get them, and I recognize that everybody makes mistakes. So I just treat them the way I want to be treated – with respect.” I know that not all officers are as classy as Robert, but I can say from experience, that’s exactly how he treated me.

I was also curious about misconceptions about officers, and asked what he wished people knew. That question struck a chord. “We don’t make a lot of money, and we don’t get paid per ticket,” he said with a chuckle. And then he became a little more serious. “And we don’t make the laws, but we’re doing the best job we can to enforce them and keep the public safe.”

Like anyone else, officers have good days and bad; happy moods and sad. I personally can’t imagine stopping speeding vehicles over and over and having to manage the drivers’ moods. It’s bound to wear on even the sunniest disposition. The bottom line is: officers are human, and sometimes people forget that little detail.  “We have families,” Robert says, “and we work long hours, so we’re away from them a lot.” The look on his face clearly said that he missed them when he was away.

It was Robert’s Airforce service that took my breath away. During his tours in Iraq, he volunteered for First Convoy Duty. This assignment didn’t involve flying the cargo, but rather physically escorting supply convoys along some of the most dangerous roads in the world. Armed with a .50 Caliber Browning known as the “ma deuce,” Robert’s team ensured that everything from vehicles to weapons, ammo, and other supplies, made it to the troops who were counting on them.

Thank you, Master Sergeant Robert Soule, for your service.

When Robert retired a few years ago to care for his wife who’d suffered a stroke, he also began volunteering with the local Sheriff’s department, and for a time, led the volunteer mounted patrol for the State of New Mexico.  As his wife recovered, she found that work was the best therapy, and re-opened her Thai restaurant called Saeng’s Orient, something that locals call one of New Mexico’s best-kept secrets. That was when Robert decided to join the State Police.

“It’s a great job,” he says. “I’m not out writing tickets all the time. I get to meet some interesting people. And, when we help somebody out or catch someone who’s a real bad guy – that’s the rewarding part.”

Craziest excuses?

“Here’s one that made me laugh,” he says. “I pulled over a lady driving 15 miles per hour over speed the limit. When I asked her why, she said ‘I have to, because I just got my oil changed at Walmart and the mechanic told me I have to drive fast to break in the oil. She had her receipt, and her daughter, riding in the passenger seat next to her, backed her up. When I explained to her that you just drive like normal, she grabbed her phone and called to yell at the Walmart manager. I’m sure someone was just having a little fun, and I let her go with a warning.”

And here’s another one. “One guy, going 90 in a 70, said his girlfriend was having an asthma attack at the IHOP. Another time, a serviceman tried to tell me he’d been called to the Airforce Base. I knew the manager of the IHOP and I knew the First Shirt [military slang for the First Sergeant of a US military unit] at the base.” Two phone calls later, the first guy glumly decided to pay the ticket rather than face the judge, and the military guy was ordered to report to his commanding officer once the citation had been issued. The moral of those last two stories? BS just doesn’t work in a small town.

Bucket List?

What’s on the bucket list for a guy who’s lived in Iceland, served in Iraq, watched camel races in Kuwait, and toured volcanoes? Seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids. I haven’t seen the Eiffel Tower (yet, although I have every intention of visiting my friend Mary when she moves to France next year), but I have been to the Pyramids, and I hope Robert gets there. It’s worth the trip!

Favorite Music

All kinds of music, from “good” rap to classical music. (Think AC/DC, KISS, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, and Black Eyed Peas – now there’s diversity!) Classic rock, however, seems to top the list.

Last Book Read

I, Sniper by Stephen Hunter. This suspense novel about a Vietnam sniper falsely accused of murder gets four stars on Amazon.com, and received great reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews.

Favorite movie

The whole Star Wars series, with a special nod to Return of the Jedi. This is also one of my all-time personal favorites too. I’m still convinced I can use the Force!


Collecting guns, stamps, and comic books, not necessarily in that order. Robert has about 80,000 comic books, and his favorites include the X-Men series.

Kids and Critters

3 kids, 4 dogs (one, a rescued husky, is his faithful running partner) and 3 cats.

Officer Robert Soule and Max

My dog Max, happily crawls out the window to meet Robert.

I think a guy’s relationship with animals says a lot about him. Robert likes my dog, Max, and that makes him a winner in my book.

To Robert and all our U.S. Servicemen and women and law-enforcement officers of every stripe: thank you!

Readers: Would you care to share your best “I got stopped when…” story? Do you know some really great men and women who serve in law-enforcement? Tell us about them!

Hello, stranger! Betty Gregg, Florence, SC

Today, we’re headed to Florence. No, not Italy.  This one’s in South Carolina, and I discovered it after I took out the map, gave it a twirl, closed my eyes, and put my finger down. I’d never heard of Florence, but it’s about 80 miles west of Myrtle Beach.

When I went to the Internet, the very first story on the Florence Morning News’s site was about Florence community activist Betty Gregg.

Florence Community Activist Betty Gregg

Community activist Betty Gregg speaks with North Florence resident James Hilliard in a field inside Iola Jones Park in Florence. Photo by: Patricia Burkett/ WBTW News13

The term “activist” really seems to apply here. Betty heads up a community watch crime prevention group, works to revitalize parks, and generally tries to improve the quality of life for everyone who lives in Florence.

After repeatedly approaching the Florence City Council with her concerns, she was recently offered a position on the City Planning Commission. Betty overcame her initial fears and accepted the challenge. “Now I get a chance to see what the city is doing before the people realize what they are going to do,” she said. “And now that I’m a commissioner, I will let [them] know what’s going on.”

Betty’s the kind of person who makes me stop and think about what’s happening in my home community. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the “big news” of war and terrorism, politics and natural disasters (hmmm… are those two things the same?) But I’m sure if I look a little closer to home, I’ll find dozens of “little things” that can make a big difference in the lives of those around me.

Thanks, Betty!

What about you? What projects and causes are you involved in close to home? When did you overcome your fears to take on a whole new challenge?

Enjoy your weekend, and go get involved!


P.S. Here’s a little-known fact about Florence, from Wikipedia: On March 11, 1958, an H-bomb was accidentally dropped on a small community, Mars Bluff, outside the city. Although the 200 pounds of TNT detonated causing some damage, the nuclear portion remained intact. (Oooops!)

Sustainability Guru Dr. Deb Tolman, Clifton, Texas

Dr. Deb Tolman lives in an oat bin. I met her after my friend, photographer and videographer Bill Smith, insisted that I would enjoy writing about her. After all, who wouldn’t be intrigued by a woman living in an oat bin?

Bill Smith Photographs Dr. Deb

Bill Smith photographs Dr. Deb next to a keyhole garden.

Before our visit, I watched a couple of videos of Deb, a super-enthusiastic “pioneer” woman talking about planting raised bed “keyhole” gardens in abandoned boats and discarded tractor tires. You can form an amazing number of assumptions in just 60 seconds. Someone who’s living in a 10×10 room previously used to store feed, growing all her own food, and showering outdoors must be a 50-something, liberal hippy chick who never made it past the 1960s. Right? I had to wonder just how… um… eccentric… she would be in real life.

When we arrived at Deb’s place on the StarHaven Ranch in Clifton, Texas, my assumptions plowed headlong into a well-spoken Ph.D. with degrees from Texas A&M and Portland State University. Deb’s a landscape designer who is willingly turning her life into one big science project. She had no vegan agendas, was not wearing Birkenstocks, and didn’t hug one tree the entire time we were there.

Wood-fired Pizza

Dr. Deb makes gourmet pizza in her cob oven, built by hand.

What she did do was make me a gourmet pizza in the cob oven she built by hand, showed me her exquisite Thai jars (also handmade and designed to collect rainwater), and introduced me to the art of keyhole gardening, which is something I’ll be writing about in an upcoming issue of Texas Co-Op Power Magazine.

Bottom line? She’s a hoot. Deb returned to Texas from Portland, leaving behind what she describes as a “raft of bad things” to take on the challenge of fine-tuning the term “sustainable living.” She launched a series of workshops in Seriously Fun Sustainability, which have included how to make mozzarella cheese and how to sculpt elegant Thai jars from ferrocement and chicken wire. She also teaches about cob construction and shows off her 15×15 straw bale and cob greenhouse built for a mere $50.

Thai Jar

Dr. Deb collects rainwater in the large, gray, Thai jar. A hose attaches to the spigot on the bottom, allowing her to water her gardens.

Fun Facts about Dr. Deb


She loves to read, and often has five books going at once. This means trying to choose a favorite took several minutes. She finally settled on two: Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.


When asked about music, she said, “There’s a bunch of good music out there! I’ll listen to any genre – any culture. Check out Charanga Cakewalk and Cantoma!” I had to look it up. Charanga Cakewalk is a Texas band led by Michael Ramos and described as Urban Latino Chic. Okay, that sounds fun. And here’s the Facebook description on Cantoma: For those of a horizontal nature, Phil Mison aka ‘Cantoma’ needs little introduction. Over the last two decades, the DJ, producer and songwriter has become one of the most celebrated names on the Balearic chill-out scene.  Whatever that means! Guess I’ll have to listen and find out.


Breakfast is her favorite meal. She’ll melt a little homemade butter in frying pan, sauté her home-grown onions and chard, toss in two local, fresh free-range eggs, scramble it all, and sprinkle diced, fresh tomatoes on top.

Bucket List

Deb’s sustainability experiments are happening on a friend’s ranch, so her bucket list includes owning two 2 acres of property and building her own house. “I’ve made a model,” she says. “It will native rocks around the base, and will be built into a berm so won’t need AC or heating. There are very few details I haven’t worked out. I can’t wait to get my property!”

If you want to see Dr. Deb in “sustainability guru” mode, there are several videos on YouTube. (I started to share one of the “serious” educational videos here, but the outtakes clip was too hilarious!)

I’m sure everybody whispered behind Thoreau’s back and basically thought he was nuts when he launched his “pond project,” but history now celebrates his two-year Walden experiment. My guess is that Deb’s time on StarHaven Ranch will be just as rewarding – for everyone – including those of us strangers who now call her, “friend!”

Interviewing Dr. Deb

Elaine and Dr. Deb sit on the porch of the oat bin Dr. Deb calls home.

Hello stranger! Dr. Maggie Chicka, Rhinelander, WI

It’s Friday, and I’m curious – what’s up in someone else’s corner of the world? Hold that thought. I’m about to close my eyes and pop a finger down onto the map…

Ready… Set… Map…

Hello Rhinelander, Wisconsin. It’s nice to meet you!

I just found a link to Rhinelander’s Northwoods River News, which ran an article on Dr. Maggie Chicka’s visit to Haiti. Chicka is a dentist who treated 500 children

Dr. Chicka treats Hatian boy

Dr. Chicka treats Hatian boy

in just 6 days, describing her trip as challenging and life-altering.( I can only imagine!) If you want a new appreciation for modern American dentistry, and people like Chicka who are willing to go share their talents, then read the whole story.

Dr. Chicka in Haiti

Dr. Chicka treated 500 children in six days.

I have more than my share of dental phobias, however, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go call my dentist, say, “thank you!” and make an appointment for that cleaning I’ve been putting off!

Way to go, Dr. Chicka!

(The photos are courtesy First Impressions Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics in Wisconsin.)