At a stop light in Corydon, Indiana, a young man jumps out of his pick-up truck and runs behind ours. Before we can even think what’s happening… “your gas cap was off”, he yells with a smile and thumbs up as he jumps back into his truck…
Young people learning summer jobs at the KOA campground in WaKeeney, Kansas… guiding campers into their spaces, maintaining the grounds, answering phones, learning the ropes of the office, and preparing ice cream sundaes in the evening. It reminded me of my own teenage summers, the jobs I did and the work ethic modeled. It shaped the rest of my life…
And the bus driver in Memphis, Tennessee, on a quiet Sunday morning, who gave us the run down on where to go and where to eat.
“But where do you eat?”, Doug asked. Gus’s Chicken. It may not look impressive, but inside was the best fried chicken I have ever eaten. Ever…
I love to remember these people. I must remember. Because truth is, we’ve only been home two weeks and it’s slipping away from me.
My mind is fogged with the everyday-ness of life. Bills to pay, groceries to buy. Phone calls, appointments, undone projects, and the TV news. It overwhelms.
Life rolls on. It always does.
So this may look a little crazy (nerd alert), but I actually sorted out all the receipts, leaflets, maps and advertisements picked up along the way. In date order. I just wanted to reassure myself that it really happened. That I really did have that great meal in San Antonio. that conversation in New Orleans, and our bacon saved by that mechanic in Orange, Texas. Yes. Yes. It happened.
I love thinking about the family we met at a bus stop in San Antonio. The father approached Doug to thank him for his service. (Doug’s ball cap gave him away) The man was flanked by teenage sons. His wife surrounded by smaller children, three of whom were adopted. Turns out they were at the same campground as us. Turns out camping is about the only way they can afford to travel together. I shared the laundry room with father and sons later that day. Piles of clothes and towels belonging to little brothers and sisters. Turns out they were having fun. They made the chore into an event.
We camped next to a fifth-wheel outside Roswell, New Mexico, containing a dad, a mom and three daughters. They sold their home in Maine, and are taking one year to travel the USA. Daughters are home schooled and dad does web design. A very mobile lifestyle. They were an encouragement to us after our rough start. The first three months they were on the road, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. But they kept going. Things got better. Keep going, they said. We did.
There was the waitress in Price, Utah, upon hearing our tale of woe and flat tires, offered to drive us back up the road to the repair shop. We thanked her and assured her we were well able to walk back and reclaim our ride. When asked why we were traveling across the U.S., I told her “because we want to”.
She shook her head saying, “wow, guess it’s better late than never”.
Apparently, we looked especially old that day.
And by the way, there were people older than us on the road.
In New Orleans at the KOA campground, we met a large, multi-generation family group who joined us on the shuttle going downtown. They camp there every year. Why? I do not know. Other than eating beignets and drinking coffee at Cafe’ Du Monde, there is nothing about my New Orleans adventure I’d care to repeat… but that is another story.
The matriarch of this group, almost 90, was small and frail. She applauded our cross-country trip, saying she had done it many times when younger. Her love of travel seemed to have passed to her children. They were kind. attentive and committed to getting her from point A to point B. She climbed into the shuttle on her own, but returned later that day in a transport chair. Soaked to the skin, as we all were by the afternoon rain storm, she was all smiles. No complaining. She’d had a great day.
Over the course of 39 days of travel, we met a small assortment of rude, entitled people. Just normal life.
But they were far outnumbered by the spunky adventurers, the hard-working, the thoughtful. They were overshadowed by those who enjoy the simple things, who are good to grandma and grandpa, who are busy walking out integrity for their children to follow after.
We even met a few who made space for us. Space that wasn’t convenient…
Almost out of Texas, the oil pressure gauge was alternately dropping and spiking. Doug pulled over to make some calls and found a garage in the town of Orange that would fit us in.
The owner, an older gentleman, listened to the symptoms, advised us he wasn’t a diesel mechanic, but suspected it might be a sensor. While Doug dealt with that end of things, I sat in the small office chatting with the owner’s son, a man about 50 and the office manager. He was wearing a bright pink t-shirt, emblazoned with local fire department logo. The office had an odd smell of flowers, grease and cleaning solvent. His Texas twang… I wish I could provide audio.
‘where y’all going’?
“where y’all from”?
“are y’all hungry, cause there’s a great steak place just around the corner”.
“I’m sure my daddy can get y’all fixed up in no time”.
“hey, we can run y’all to the restaurant if you’re hungry… no trouble”.
I wanted to ask him why he was wearing a pink t-shirt. But Doug came back in and asked him if he was in the fire department instead.
No… he was just supporting breast cancer awareness because his mama died of it.
Then I saw the picture of mama, flanked by a bouquet of silk flowers and a scented candle… which explained the flowery mingling of oil and solvent.
He told me some about his mama, that she’d been his best friend and he truly missed her. Every day he missed her. I learned that he and his daddy had never been close until his mama died, but now they are best buds.
They decided they needed to do something special awhile back, so they flew to Las Vegas. And it scared him to death. He’d never flown before (nor since) and he was worried about “that 9-11 thing”, as if it had happened yesterday… and well, you know, “there’s lots of crazies out there”.
I felt honored that he shared so much. But then, maybe he tells every wandering traveler that story. I’ll never know.
I do know they collectively turned a stressful day into a relatively pleasant time. Eventually a new sensor was installed and we were on our way. There were several mechanics working, other cars and trucks in the shop, but they stopped and got us on the road. They made me feel like our problem was all that mattered for that bit of time.
It was a little tricky getting our truck and trailer out of there. They offered to block the highway, shut down traffic. But Doug had developed mad maneuvering skills and was working it out.
The entire shop stood outside trying to “help” with hand signals. I’m sure it did not help, but they tried anyway. They were still waving as we hit the road.
I felt like I’d just left Mayberry.
I agree with my friend in Orange… there are a lot of crazies out there. But there are a lot more that aren’t. In the meantime, I will do my best to hang on to these memories and hundreds more like them.
There’s still good out there. I’m hanging on to that too.