Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A tale from the road…

A few years ago, 1997 to be specific, a friend and I took the first of many ‘road trips’ we’d end up taking before he moved to Kansas City. This particular trip took us from North Carolina, through West Virginia, Pennsylvania into New York and then back through PA, Virginia and finally returning to North Carolina.

We had a wonderful time and met many interesting and varied folks along the way as well as encountered about every kind of weather you can, in June, on the East coast.

On this particular morning, we’d gotten up early and were hoping to make Winchester, Va. by nightfall so we could spend the next few days riding the Parkway through the Shenandoah Valley and into Roanoke before finally heading home.

It was raining fairly heavily and there was a fog clinging to the hill tops with occasional dips onto the road as we headed out. As you might imagine, the going was pretty slow, and with us both paying more attention to the road, traffic and riding conditions, we inevitably missed one of the turns we needed to make.

Once we realized we’d missed the turn, we also needed a break, and some fuel, so we pulled into the next gas station we saw to fill up, grab a hot cup of coffee and get out of the rain.

The station in question had a large covered area over the pumps, so Tim and I got our coffee and stood outside under that cover, talking and watching it rain. It was really pouring, along with some fairly frequent lightning. As I recall, we were mostly discussing how to get back on a course that would get us where we intended to go, and about the very bad riding conditions.

While we’re doing this, as happened nearly every time we parked the bikes anywhere there were people, folks would stop by, ask about the bikes, where we were from, where we were headed and so on.

Most of the time it’s just someone who’s always wanted to just ‘take off’ on a motorcycle ‘adventure’, maybe they saw the TV show “Along Came Bronson” with Michael Parks, or the movie “Easy Rider” and have some vision of the freedom, or perceived freedom, of taking a trip like that. Maybe they actually had a bike once, or have one now, but have never taken anything other than short, around town trips. For whatever reason, folks just seemed to want to connect with us whenever we’d stop.

That’s most of the time though… every once in a while, we’d have some strange characters strike up a conversation with us. This little tale is about this one particular stop, and some of the stranger things that occurred as we attempted to drink our coffee.

The first guy I remember, drove up to the pumps in a fairly nice mid-sixties Impala, nothing really flashy, just a sharp ride, with a very ‘healthy’ sounding engine.

On his way back out of the store, after paying for his gas, he walked directly up to us and started talking; about bikes in general, then bike trips and the weather ‘hazards’ on long trips. For the most part he talked, Tim and I listened and nodded our heads at what we felt were appropriate times.

I know I felt compelled to respond though when he said, and I quote: “I’ve been married… four, five or six times”. (After asking if we were married, I was, Tim wasn’t.)

My reply was, “Well that would explain why” (meaning of course if you can’t remember the count, they couldn’t have been very important to you) … but, without skipping a beat, he says: “If you two want, you can come and crash at my place, I’ve got plenty of room”

I think Tim and I both had visions of some sort of “Jeepers Creepers” scenario playing out of we did, and I know it was Tim who said, “Thanks, but we’re expected in Va. tonight”.

Interestingly enough, the fellow just nodded, went to his car, got in and drove off. End of conversation.

We speculated for a bit on what might possess someone to offer their home to two, totally unknown to them, bikers… In the best scenario he was just doing the Christian thing… in the worst… well let your imagination fill that one in… I’m sure we thought about it too. We didn’t get to speculate all that long though….

Guy number one, and I call him that as we’d never even exchanged names, had only been gone about 30 seconds when a beat up black Charger pulled up to the front door. Now this wasn’t a sixties “Dodge”.. but rather one of those late 80’s Chargers, that was a Charger in name only.

As the guy got out of his car and walked past us (remember it’s only about 8:00AM) Tim and I both detected the guy had the distinct smell of what we’d call a “Liquor Package”…

If you’ve been around a person who’s been drinking, and you haven’t, then you’ll also know there’s a different smell to someone who’s been drinking say, Jack Daniels heavily, than one who has been tossing back a few beers.

This fellow had that ‘brown liquor’ aroma for certain.

So, we’re standing still in front of the store, pondering the origin of a package like that at 8:00AM, and I’m facing the store with a view inside through the window. As we’re talking I notice that this same fellow, is in the back, at the beer coolers, and he’s extracting a 6-pack! My immediate thought was that he worked some strange ‘shift’ and was at the end of his “work day”.

At this point we’re about finished with the coffee, and lightly lamenting the fact that we have about 300 miles to cover, in the rain, for the third day in a row, when this fellow exits the store.

Instead of heading to his car, he of course decides he needs to talk to us.

As he’s crossing the maybe ten feet from the front door to us, he pulls a beer from his 6-pack, opens it, takes a long pull on it and starts in talking with us.

The actual first thing he said was: “Y’all want one?” as he sort of moved the 5 beers cradled under his arm. Although I have no doubt the offer was genuine, he also looked relieved when we declined.

In the course of the conversation he told us he had an evening job as a bartender, and that he’d closed up the bar, and had a ‘little’ after party, and was now on his way…. To work!

I had to ask…. “So, what is it you do?”

“I’m a heavy equipment operator” was his reply.

“Oh, so like what kind of equipment?” I asked

“Well, today I’m going to be operating a large trencher for buried cable” he responded.

“So, you work with different equipment or just this type?” I asked

“Well, it’s hard to say.” He said, once again prompting another question from me “Why is that?”

“Well, today is my first day on the job with this company” was his answer.

Then, and I swear I’m not making this up, as if to emphasize what he’d just said, lightning (remember the lightning?) struck a transformer not 200 yards down the road. The transformer exploded in a shower of sparks and when the sparks had died off, the top 5 or 10 feet of the pole was burning…

This fellow, obviously a practical man, said “Shit, that’s gonna bring the cops out, I gotta go, been nice talking to you guys” and with that, he was in his car and gone.

I remember later, that night, as Tim and I were eating dinner, we kept wondering how that guys first day on the job had gone. Did anyone notice he was drunk? Did they care? And how in the hell do you operate heavy equipment, intoxicated?

It’s made for a good story over the years… and the sad fact is, I know we also talked to several other people that morning (we were only there about 30, maybe 45 minute total), and the only two I really remember are these two. The rest were just too ‘normal’ I guess, or at least I perceived them to be!! I also remember we talked about writing all this stuff down, making a book out of our travels… but we never did… and unfortunately he and I are 1,000’s of miles apart and at our age it’s easier to remember our age, than what we did five, or ten years ago!!

So, I’ve decided that when one of these ‘characters’ drifts into mind, I’m going to write it down and post it.

I hope you enjoyed it.

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Lorna said...

I did enjoy it, and I also totally understand the "tell-it-now" need. Be sure to do that.

Nina said...

I did enjoy it, and I tend to remember people like that too. Instead of the normal people who cross my path. Keep writing them down they are fun to read.

Beth said...

I enjoyed it as well. I love the little nuances of life ... especially the odd ones.

Spirit Of Owl said...

Good or even sometimes bad, I love people who live where the life is.

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...


Loved the story! It's always fun when Dear Hubby and I go on a "road trip" - - we always tend to meet up with some . . . umm . . . "interesting" characters! But that is one of the best parts of the whole trip :-)


Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...


Dear Hubby Steve (sitting here wearing his "Victory Motorcycle" shirt - - the only motorcycle shirt he owns) says he knows exactly what you are talking about on that trip - - he and his Dad took a trip out West - - 4,000 miles in 8 days, and saw EVERY kind of weather! He will have to send you some pictures of his trip. Be watching your email - - hopefully he will send them this weekend or early next week.

He says he wished they could have enjoyed the parkway you were on - - his Dad still talks about wanting to see that parkway. Steve says he has heard it is one of the most beautiful drives in the country. Someday Steve and I will have to take a drive out East and check it out.

ALSO - - guy number two sounds a lot like a guy who used to be our neighbor - - he now lives in South Carolina, and you never see him sober and you never know what he will be driving (depends on which car starts that day!). This guy was a never-ending source of entertainment!


Jada's Gigi said...

What state did you say you were in?? Gotta remember not to hang around when I stop there for gas ...haha
The world really is full of strange I continually remind my kids.
We used to have a neighbor we fondly called "crazy Steve" who sounds a lot like a combo of your visitors....except I don't think he was allowed to

Firehawk said...


I think those weird encounters always stay with you longer than standard, "How are you?", "I'm fine, and you?" conversations.

I come across some highly unusual individuals at the library, and the stories are generally quite funny in retrospect, even if I was a bit freaked out at the time.

Good story, and good point...

Bill said...

Lorna> - I only wish I'd done it *then*!!

Nina - I wish I could remember them all! So many interesting, normal and not, folks have crossed my path over the years.

Beth - it is the little things after all isn't it? To me, these are the moments some of the best times are made of!

Spirit - Man, motorcycling puts you where the *life* is, like nothing else I've ever done!

Liz - To me, the folks I've met 'on the road' are definitely one of the high points of every trip I've ever taken!!

If you ever make a 'road trip' this way, and want to ride the Blue Ridge... PLEASE let me know you're headed this way, I'll make a solid effort to grab a few days off and show you some *great* back roads!!

Cheryl - I think we were in West Virginia, or possibly southern PA... definitely off the beaten path!!

Firehawk - Absolutely... I love the characters I meet... they sometimes make me uncomfortable... but, in retrospect, they almost always make me smile.