Friday, September 20, 2013

Acts of Kindness

I was comfortably sprawled on the sidewalk in front of the dinky Alda post office seeking shelter from a gusty, wet northly wind with my fixings for lunch spread in front of me--a loaf of bread, peanut butter, honey and some apple sauce.  As I was spreading the peanut butter a woman in a work uniform with her company name on her blouse came around the corner and surprised me with the question, "How long has it been since you've had a hot meal?"

That's something I've never been asked.  As I pondered if the two 99 cent hot dogs I ate at a gas station yesterday counted or if I had to go back to the day before when I gorged on a stack of hot cakes, she said, "I'd like to pay for whatever you'd like at the grill next door."

I was perfectly content with what I was eating, but I didn't wish to discourage such magnanimous gestures.  One of my roles as a touring cyclist is to make people feel good.  Sometimes it is by doing something someone has dreamed of doing or that they wish they could do.  Or, as in this case, allowing someone to do a good deed.

"That's very kind of you," I replied.  "Thanks a lot."

I hadn't even noticed the restaurant. It was just a small, dirty-spoon of a grill attached to a meager two-pump gas station, about the only business in this dot of a town.  When I walked in several minutes later, the woman behind the counter said, "You must be the cyclist.  Marie said you could order whatever you'd like."

The menu was several daily specials on a chalk board and the usual grill items posted on the wall behind the counter.  I could have had a chicken-fried steak or any one of a number of burgers, but I went for the burrito.  This being beef country, the burrito was bean-free and mostly hamburger meat with a few sliced black olives and shreds of cheddar cheese and lettuce.  But the most unusual thing was it was served barely warm.  No complaints from me though.

It was the second act of out-of-the-ordinary generosity in two days, putting Nebraska one behind Colorado, but with a couple of days to go.  The day before a retired guy, who had pulled over at a historical marker, waved me down as I  passed, holding out a bottle of cold water.  It was a ninety degree day, so I greatly welcomed his offer.  As I approached his car he pulled out a bottle of Gatorade as well, as if he were a magician, and asked, "Or would you like some Gatorade?"  Before I could answer, he said,"Here, have both, you look good and thirsty."

He was an exceptionally friendly guy who said he made a practice of driving around the Kearny area in hot weather looking for joggers to give cold drinks to.  He rarely encountered cyclists, though he was one himself and his teen-aged son and daughter were national-caliber BMX riders.  He said if I needed a bike shop I should go the Bicycle Shed and tell 'em, "Johnny sent me," and added, "Put whatever you need on my account." I actually did need a bike shop, as I was down to my last two patches after putting four on one tube thanks to an encounter with a patch of the goat's head weed.  But I couldn't take advantage of his extra generosity, especially when I didn't get much of a reaction from the bike shop owner when I mentioned Johnny.

Johnny said his wife didn't approve of his stopping and talking to strangers, particularly after he picked up a hitch-hiker on Interstate 80 who turned out to be an escaped felon.  Johnny said he never would have known it, as he seemed to be a nice guy.  He didn't admit he was on the lam until Johnny stopped and bought him an ice cream cone.  The escapee said he wasn't guilty of his crime and had managed to give the prison the slip when he was being transferred.  Johnny drove him a bit further before letting him continue on his own.  

I happily sipped my cold drinks while Johnny happily told me story after story.  The other day he brought home somebody who had a surfboard on top of his car.  Johnny had once surfed when he lived in San Diego and wondered if this surfer had come to Nebraska to ride the rising Platte River. No, he was just passing through.  When I noticed the face of my cyclometer had switched from displaying mileage to giving me the time, indicating it had been inactive for fifteen minutes, I figured I ought to get to the Bicycle Shed before it closed.

A day later, after I passed through Grand Island, I crossed over the Platte River, still at a trickle, and bade it farewell.

The surge of water wasn't due for six days, and there was no telling how much would be left in it.

Grand Island was a cosmopolitan city by Nebraska standards with a university, an art museum  (Museum of Nebraska Art--MONA) and a grand old Carnegie that was significant enough when it was built for President Teddy Roosevelt to be at its ground-breaking in 1905 with a shovel.  Among those on hand was Elizabeth Abbott from the library board and mother of Edith, who left her fortune to the city to build a new library, which has been named in her honor.  The lobby of the library has her bust and a pictorial display of her devotion to the Carnegie.

The Carnegie now is home to a financial company.

Earlier in the day I visited the Carnegie in Shelton, a town that has not grown much over the years and has adopted "A Slice of the Good Life" as its slogan.  Its Carnegie remains much as it was when it was built in 1913, though it has added a Coke machine out front to entice patrons.  It was another constructed of brick mirroring the street in front of it, similar to many of the small Nebraska towns I've passed through.

The Carnegie in Aurora, a town that had out-grown it, was also off on a network of brick streets and now served as the Faith Community Church. 

It still looked magnificent and was unaltered other than an intricate ramp to its side for the handicapped.

Three of the four Carnegies on my route yesterday still stood, more than the day before, with only the one in Gibbon torn down.  At least its new library had photos of the former library that stood on the plot of land where the new one had been erected in 1998.

The Carnegie in Seward now houses a property management company.  The new library is just down the street a block from the town square that has a sign pointing north with the distance of 4,135 miles to Seward, Alaska.


Rick Oberle said...

You are clearly on your way back to CHicago. You might be interested in visiting the Carnegie Library in Tama, IA. I think the building is still there but the library itself moved to the municipal complex where I once worked. The countryside is very nice around there so you will enjoy the area too. It's a lot better than the 1-80 corridor 30 miles to the south.

Rick Oberle

Rick Oberle said...

Plus, that route could take you through Stone City, just east of Cedar Rapids, Grant Wood's old stomping grounds. Being a Chicagoan, you surely know Grant Woods for "American Gothic". THen if it were me, I would detour through NE Iowa. The countryside near Decorah is as beautiful as ANYWHERE. While you are in the area, you could stop in around Spillville, where Anton Dvorak, wrote the New World Symphony.

george christensen said...

Rick: Thanks for the suggestions. Unfortunately they'll have to wait for another trip as I already have my route set through southern Iowa with Fairchild my main target. It is home to the first Carnegie west of the Mississippi. I'll pick off a few other of Iowa's 108 Carnegies on the way.