Simple Pleasures on and off the Bike
All week long I was itching to write something for the blog but I couldn’t think of anything significant. I’d ridden the bike four days this week up to Dalton where I work, a 100 mile round trip, and there had been no disasters or even near misses. No mystical encounters with folks, no flashes of insight or wisdom. Just the usual slippery tar snakes (tar patches on the road) to watch out for and the scattered road gators (strips off tire that have come of the wheels of trucks) randomly lurking across the lanes.
Comfortable, fun rides all week. Reminiscent of what Garri Garripoli had written: “There is something about being on a bike alone, cruising down the road in the silence of a loud engine and pounding wind. In these moments, everything can seem perfect”.
If I can get away early enough in the morning I’ll usually stop at a fast food place and treat myself to breakfast. Fast food places usually get bad raps; some are well deserved but I’m not going to talk about those ones. There’s enough written about them. My two favorite places are Krystal and Hardees, even though they’re examples of these chain restaurants that span the globe, impersonal and imperialistic.
I had a teacher once who talked about gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, two words the fancy Germans sociologists had for describing societies. Gesellschaft were the societies based on business and growth and formal, impersonal relations. We know these kinds. They’re echoed every day in the universal, obligatory fast food banter: “Welcome to ….Would you like to try our new bacon doughnuts?” Gemeinschaft societies were the ones that were informal, friendly, where relationships and customs were still important. Amazingly, these societies spring up in the most unlikely places like Krystal and Hardees and probably other places you’re thinking about.
Usually when you come into these restaurants in the morning and sit down you’ll find there is a group of people, usually older and retired, sitting in one area. The Germans have a word for this too (They have a word for everything!). It’s called a stammtisch and it’s an informally reserved area where a small gathering of people meet regularly to talk, joke, share their woes and maintain friendships. Usually the group has been coming there for a while and many of the restaurant staff have gotten to know them very well. The klatch (Those Germans! You’ve got to love them!) begins to form a small informal community, a gemeinschaft inside of a geselschaft, if you will. I stopped at the Hardees in Adairsville the other day. Since I’m both a writer and a rider I like to be friendly and sit near these groups. Surprisingly, I even overhear some of the conversations.
“Who y’all got cooking the biscuits today?”
“She a new person?”
“Yep, her first time.”
“They’re falling apart.’
“You want me to get you another one?”
“No, this one’s fine.”
“I’ll talk to her about them.”
“They’s too doughy.”
“Well, look what the cat dragged in! Robert is here everybody.”
Robert smiles. (All over the world all you have to do is say a person’s name excitedly and they will smile.)
Some folks bring in their own coffee cups. One woman sipped from a white china mug with flowers on it. A man brought in a plastic container with cut up fruit and passed it around. There was talk about who wasn’t there and whether they were all right. One man shared that his tomatoes had wilted because of all the rain.
At a Krystal in Rome there was similar banter. It’s a smaller place and so the space is shared with non-regulars who get pulled into the conversation. Whites, Latinos, African Americans all relate easily and freely, as it should be. A skinny elderly man spots a small, beautiful Latino child running back to her table. She’d forgotten her orange juice. He says: “You better get that there juice. I was gonna go over there and drink it!” She laughs and runs away, with the drink.
There’s talk of the Braves and the Falcons, hip operations, and gastric disorders. But underneath the jokes, the telling of exploits of children and grandchildren is an undercurrent of warmth, of a feeling that you matter, that someone was glad you showed up. One staff carried a tray to the trash can for a man who walked with a cane. When I was leaving I said to one of the staff: “Thank you ma’am”. She replied: “You be good now.” I smiled at her. She smiled back and said: “Okay, you don’t have to be good, just don’t get caught.”
On the road a few months ago I remember saying to my buddy Jeff Stafford that I thought our job everyday was to show loving-kindness to everyone we meet. I remember his reply:
“Where’d you get that crap from?”
I was about to explain when I realized he was just joking with me. He knew. He has a heart of gold.
But sometimes we’re so busy racing to or away from the big things that we forget about doing the simple acts of kindness, and experiencing the brief moments of happiness, in the only real place we live, the here and now. Simple pleasures on and off the bike.