Searching for Angels: Part Two

In my last entry I wrote about looking for angels in the ordinary people that we meet. I used a quote from Hebrews to underline the fact that they may come to us in disguise. It reminded me of a Celtic Rune that I managed to track down.
A Celtic Rune of Hospitality
We saw a stranger yesterday.
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place.
And with the sacred name of the triune God
He blessed us and our house,
Our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:
Often, often, often, goes the Christ
In the stranger’s guise.

It’s been a busy week so far looking for angels. Instead of getting up in the morning with only one thought – coffee, I have to get up with two –coffee and angels. It means, after my coffee, I hop on the Harley and ride down the road not complaining about the drivers but instead wondering if they might be angels? It was a huge shift in my way of thinking. Have you tried it?
My first stop on the way to work was by this meal program that feeds homeless people. The door to their small roadside shop was open and so I pulled Big Red into the parking lot. The helpers were inside getting things ready for their meal that would be happening in about an hour. They were also packing up bags of take home food and water for the folks camping in the woods. I’ve come to know these helpers fairly well and we talked and joked for a while. Five of them, ages 18-65, are all certifiable angels, without a doubt, disguised as normal people.
I went to teach my class. I teach college students and, having been one a few times myself, I know that angelic behavior, at least in my case, can be rare. Not as rare as sighting “The Lost Camellia”, last seen in the wild, in Georgia back in 1790, but pretty darn close. I bet there were a few angels in my classes that day, but as a teacher you don’t want to stare at anyone for too long.
What about the man that keeps the place clean? Our secretary, who I know has done some angelic things in her life? God forbid, could my fellow faculty be angels?! (I add that one in particular because one of them reads this blog!). This was proving more difficult than I had imagined. What about the woman mopping the floor at McDonalds I spoke with? The polite, respectful young man at Krystal who helped a frail older man who was of a different color with getting coffee and taking his tray away? A funny aside here- the same guy was in line behind me and was edging forward. He said to me: “I hope you weren’t thinking I was trying to cut in front of you. I don’t want to get my butt whipped by a biker today.” I laughed and remembered I was wearing my “Willie G.” Harley vest with the skull and crossbones on the back. I assured him that he had no worries.
Tuesday night I went looking for angels in downtown Rome, Georgia where I live. I ran into two former girlfriends. Could they be angels? I’ll just say that for the record both of them are wonderful women and I’ll respectfully leave it at that. I could be wrong but I don’t think either of them would describe me as angelic!

Thursday, I definitely saw angels at this different free meal program that I sometimes visit. Big Red and I rode over there after work. The two women running the place are amazing. So friendly, helpful, supportive and loving to everyone. No doubt that they’re angels. Then there are the helpers –ones who bring and prepare the food, pass it out, clean up afterwards, help the children, the adults and older people. But were there any angels amongst the folks that ate the food? When I think about that quote from Hebrews and the Celtic Rune it seems more and more obvious to me that angels often travel around in disguise, as people in need of basic food, shelter, and clothing.
This was going to be tougher than I expected. On the way home Thursday I stopped at McDonald’s to get some iced tea. The woman was there again, mopping up. I said: “Are you still mopping? Have you been doing this since I last saw you?!” We had a good laugh at that. When I was leaving I saw a skinny man walking by the road. I knew I could get my helmet on and Big Red cranked before he got there but I thought: Hell, he might just be an angel. So I stopped and talked with him. He was limping because he had hurt his foot. He was homeless and camping in the woods and asked if I knew somewhere he could take a shower. I didn’t know. He told me the shelter he goes to in that town told him that this was the last time they’d let him have a shower there. I told him about the free meal place that I had visited on Tuesday. He said he would check them out. I gave him some money for some food and he thanked me and we shook hands.
Friday, I’m pretty sure I spotted one angel. This one was disguised as a man who walked up behind me and a friend when we were at a gas (petrol) station. He was pulling a wagon with his stuff in it and used the outdoor faucet to wash his face and hands. My friend and I decided to give him a few dollars and I took it over to him and chatted with him a while. When I gave him the money he smiled a toothless grin and thanked me again and again. He looked at me and pointed at me and then the sky. He said: “God always gives me what I need when I need it.” He said. “God bless you.” And smiled again. Now, I know for sure he was an angel. But Big Red and I are gonna keep looking and we’ll report back to you. You keep looking too!

Searching for Angels: A Field Experiment Via Harley Road King. Part One.

Okay, I want to warn you that this entry is going to be a bit unusual.
In my last blog I talked about that passage from Hebrews 13:2 where we are admonished: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” It got me thinking about a psychological experiment that was conducted over forty years ago. A professor knew that the psychiatric profession was pretty good at labeling people with a mental illness diagnosis, but he wondered how good were they at detecting “sanity”. Yeah, sanity. How do you tell the difference between sane and insane people? And if a person is ever given a mental health diagnosis, can they ever recover? Not have to carry that diagnosis with them their entire lives? Bear with me for a minute because this does relate to the blog’s topic of “searching for angels”. Anyway, this professor (See: Being Sane in Insane Places) decided to conduct an experiment. He sent eight people (including himself) to twelve psychiatric hospitals in five states in the USA. They were to tell the same story to the admissions officers about hearing voices (auditory hallucinations). They were all admitted. Once in the hospital they told the staff that they felt fine and were no longer hearing voices. So how long would it take for the hospitals to decide that these people were now sane? Well, the fact is that none of them were ever identified as being sane, healthy. Their stays were from 7-52 days with an average stay of 19 days. That’s with them acting entirely normal once they were admitted. In fact, in order for all of them to get out they had to admit to having a mental illness and agree to take anti-psychotic drugs. Before they were released all but one were diagnosed as having schizophrenia “in remission”. Nice label to take with you the rest of your life, huh? When the professor published his findings the hospitals “flipped out”! They complained that his experiment wasn’t fair. That he should have informed them that he was sending fake patients to the hospitals to give them a fair chance at catching them. Fair enough, he replied and he agreed to redo the experiment with one particularly aggrieved hospital. He would send patients to them over the next few months and see if they could identify the fake ones. Over that period of time that hospital had 193 admissions and they reported that they believed that 41 of the patients were fakes. That’s when the professor informed them that he actually hadn’t sent anyone into the hospitals!
Can you see where I’m going with this? If the professionals couldn’t detect sane people then how good are we at detecting angels among the strangers we meet? That quote from Hebrews gives us a warning that we might not spot them! Emerson said that they might be “disguised and discredited” folks. I know that the story in Hebrews was a long time ago but there’s no reason at all to think that God has stopped sending angels in disguise to us. Maybe God is running the same kind of experiment. “I’m going to send angels to you disguised as strangers and I want you to treat them with hospitality. I’m watching. I want to see if you can identify them.” Well we were kind of warned in Hebrews. And this idea of showing hospitality to strangers is highly recommended in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and the Koran.
So, I have decided to do an experiment. Over the next week or so I’m going to see if I can identify angels in the strangers I meet and I’m going to treat them hospitably. Should be a “piece of cake” as we say in the USA or “wee buns” as they say in Ireland (I have no idea as to where these expressions came from!) Wherever I go I’m going to be scouting them out. I’m going to be eagle-eyed so I can catch these rascals. Think they can pull one over on me and Big Red, do they? We’ll see about that. I’ll report back to you in due course. And, I’ve got an “insane” idea, or is it “sane”? Why don’t you try doing it too and see how many angels you can find? We can compare notes.

To be continued…

Charity Motorcycle Ride and Entertaining Strangers

About a week ago when I was walking across the parking lot at Hardees restaurant in Adairsville, Georgia a man stopped in his pickup truck and told me about a charity motorcycle ride on August 22nd. Well, that’s today. I showed up on Big Red at the 9 am registration time and I was the second rider there. They welcomed me like a lost son.They were getting nervous. It was the first benefit ride they had done for the North Bartow Community Services and they were hoping riders would show up. They were worried they hadn’t done enough publicity, or the right kind. One organizer told me she hadn’t slept the night before anxious that no one would come. She was standing next to a table filled registration forms and tee shirts they had printed to commemorate the ride. Under the covered picnic area I could see raffle prizes, a coffee stand, some coolers and three tables full of food. Scattered around them were various men and women who had shown up to help. I decided at that moment that I was gonna ride regardless of whether anyone showed up. I conjured a scene up in my mind of me and the other rider being escorted by the three motorcycle cops that showed up, along with a police car from one of Adairsville’s finest, through the back roads of northwest Georgia. Yeah, that would be fun!
After thanking me profusely for coming the woman told me about the services her nonprofit provided to the community. There was a whole string of them and the ones that stuck in my head were a food pantry, help with the cost of medical prescriptions, clothing, baby products like diapers and formula, emergency assistance, and some free meal programs. They also ran classes in jewelry making, basket weaving and line dancing. I love to support programs such as these where they show compassion, help, and “entertain” strangers. Somewhere in the Good Book, probably every religion’s good book, it talks about showing hospitality to strangers, that you might not know it but that you could be entertaining angels. Emerson called them: “Disguised and discredited angels”.
I grabbed some coffee and began talking to the only other rider there. As the minutes ticked on it looked like we were going to become close friends. He was taking his fourteen year old grandson along for the ride. Then another rider strutted in, disappointed with the turnout and said he might leave if no one else showed up. (Wrong thing to say!) Then a few others trickled in. Over coffee, sitting at various angles on the picnic tables we swopped stories about favorite rides we’d been on – up in the Smokey Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Tail of the Dragon, animals and other objects we had hit, or nearly while riding, other bikes we had owned. Then we switched to talking about weather conditions and I was about to tell my story about the time when Big Red and I were caught up late one night on a snowy pass in the Rockies, must have been zero degrees, no, make that 20 below and if it hadn’t been for my heroic “Nanook of the North” courage and abilities, well, I shudder to think what would have happened. Somehow, I managed to save myself, Big Red and some stranded, pioneer Quaker women, including one who was eight months pregnant. I heard tell later that a red haired child born to the woman was named in honor of me and my motorcycle. He was called Big Red.
A few other riders trickled in and we were up to about eight now. I wandered around and glanced at the raffle items which included: The Patsy Cline Collection (in cassette tapes), a floral candle set, an authentic (?) Jesse James pocket watch, a handsaw, a million candlepower hand held flashlight (“torch”) powerful enough to illuminate pretty much everything that the Dali Lama hasn’t. Also good for signaling UFO’s and changing tires at night, which was handy because there also was a Slime Standard Digital Tire Inflater right next to it. There were also a couple of embroidered leather vests and other items.
Finally, as the time for “kickstands up” rolled around we had about 14 riders, many with passengers. The organizers were happy and soon we headed off in our police escorted cavalcade. We rode about 60 miles through the beautiful countryside of northwest Georgia, past yard sales, car washes, fruit and vegetable stands, places selling boiled peanuts where you could see the steaming pots hanging on tripods, past log cabins, mansions, double wide trailers with porches, ramshackle leaning barns, buildings with weathered grey tin roofs that looked like they had been crying rusty tears. At almost every intersection we had a choice of any kind of Baptist Church one could imagine, like Abundant Holiness Baptist Church (As opposed to what? Churches without abundant holiness? Meager holiness?) Signs proclaimed that “Jesus Loves Us”, that “Son Screen Prevents Sin Burn”, and that “A Lot of Money is Tainted, Taint Yours and it Taint Mine”. (Okay, I admit the last two I’d seen somewhere else.) There were fields splayed with buttercups, cows and trotting horses, blooming mimosas and small towns with flowering  crate myrtles. The sky was hazy blue with wispy clouds.
After the ride we had some barbecue, cole slaw, potato chips and some Little Debbies cakes. The raffle started and folks were eager. A woman won the hand held flashlight and shouted: “We’re going frog gigging tonight!” Another one, a healthy sized woman, won one of the vests and somebody shouted: “Your boobs won’t fit in that!” Folks laughed and she held it up and acknowledged that it might be a challenge. As the auction continued I slipped out.
As I rode home I realized three things that I knew for certain: first, that Jesus clearly loves me, that there’s nothing more beautiful than a speckled brown horse romping in a green field filled with buttercups and that people can be amazingly kind and loving to strangers, or angels, whichever they may be. Who knows?

6025 blog hits, from all 50 states and 89 countries from around the world (where else would they be from around?), 508 followers and we’re still growing!

Actually, now I don’t know what else to write. That’s just about all I had to say. I should have led with something mysterious, intriguing, like: “New Milestones Reached!’ Looking at the statistics the thing that surprises me is that the largest number of hits outside the USA have come from Brazil! We’re big in Brazil! Thank you Brazil. United Kingdom-England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland come second, followed by Italy and Ireland!
The last countries on the list are:
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
And Macedonia.

This has been fun and we hope you have enjoyed the blog so far. We’re not finished. Already in the works is a trip to Alaska for next summer. Sign up to follow the blog and they’ll email you when new posts come out (They don’t send any other stuff.). Tell your friends! Especially if they live in Brazil and Macedonia!

Real Kindness Only Happens When You Slow Down

Being both a rider and a writer I spend a lot of time in coffee shops and fast food places. Yeah, I’m the guy that’s a little sweaty, wearing bulky, black riding gear who’s hunched over a tall glass of iced tea, or maybe warming his hands by wrapping them around a steaming mug of coffee. I may look a little dazed depending on how far I’ve just ridden, how hot or cold it is outside or whether I’ve just ridden through a feverish downpour. (Feverish downpour? Yeah, I guess that works.) But despite the look of wind-blown wild abandon on my face, regardless of whether I’m riding or writing, let me assure you that I’m listening and watching closely. Part of it is that I seriously buy into all of this Be Here Now and Mindfulness stuff. Another part of it is, as a writer, I’m listening and looking for unusual expressions and conversations. The last part is that I’m just flat out nosy (or nosey for some of you).
In this hectic world that relishes speed and quickness – how fast can you get there? – acts of kindness can just whizz right past us. We don’t see them. Hurrying and being preoccupied with getting somewhere else we devalue or become unaware of where we are now, of what’s happening around us. We don’t notice others’ acts of kindness, don’t feel them when they’re done to us and we miss grabbing chances to perform acts of them. We’re too busy trying to eat as quickly as possible, read and send text messages and check our Facebook page. Now I’ll hold my hand up right this minute cause I’m guilty of this too at times. I have to keep reminding myself that kindness comes only at one speed: slow. If you’re moving too fast you’ll miss it.
Let me give you a couple of examples. On my ride back from Myrtle Beach I stopped at a Hardees (if you’ve read my blog you’ll know this is my favorite breakfast place!) in South Carolina. There was a line at the counter and the woman at the register was slightly flustered trying to hurry the orders out to the customers. She didn’t say much to me. But when the line cleared I watched as she greeted a stooped grey haired woman who must have been one of her regulars. She welcomed her warmly and carried her tray to her table. But then she also inquired about her health (which I can assure you from what I saw and overheard wasn’t all that great.) A few minutes later she came back to ask the woman if she had been taking her medicine. The woman nodded but added that her brother was in the hospital. The worker said she was surprised because she had just seen him last week and that he looked all right. Later the same worker is talking to a guy with his trousers pulled half down. They have a playful banter going so I’m sure she knows him. She says to him that he needs to dress better. He replies that he just got up and that he ain’t trying to impress anyone. She says: You might be meeting your future wife in here. He says he don’t care. She replies: You need to work on your attitude if you’re going to make it. Later, back on the bike and down the road I got a hankering for a doughnut and some coffee and I pulled into my second favorite doughnut place and got them. It took the staff quite a while to come to the desk and I was beginning to feel impatient. Then a worker showed up, apologized and told me they had a water leak they were dealing with. I got my order and sat down. Next, an older man whose leg was deformed, came in steadying himself with a cane and dragging his leg behind him as he walked. He was laughing and joking around with people. Again, they brought him his order and took it away for him when he was finished.
I thought about the old man later and how tough his life must be, having to get around like that all the time. I’m not sure I could do it. I remember one time when my riding buddy Jeff and I were having breakfast somewhere in Arkansas and I spotted a man moving snail-like with his walker. I told Jeff that if I ever got this way I wanted him to just take me out back and shoot me. Jeff, being the great friend that he is replied: “If you get like that I’m going to trip you.”
Great to have good friends you can count on!
But I guess the point is that if you are hurrying too much, you don’t see what’s going on around you. And because you don’t see it you think nothing’s happening, that the place is, in a way, a non-place, with little value. One of the reasons I like Hardees so much, and I’ve written about this, is that for some reason older retirees feel comfortable gathering there, usually at breakfast time. It’s usually a group of people, some married, some divorced or widowed that seem to enjoy the almost daily gathering. It’s a slowed down place where they get to share news, maybe some vegetables they’ve grown, make jokes, tease each other and help sooth a bit of that almost unbearable loneliness that can happen to older people who have no families, or whose children live so far away. In the place I sometimes stop at on the way to work, I sit on the edge of their formally-unreserved/informally-reserved zone and have my breakfast. I smile and nod to anyone’s eyes I can catch. Folks wander over and talk to me about my bike, or share stories about the motorcycles they once owned. Believe me, like the TV maid Hazel used to say: “I’ve heard some real doozies”. I feel enriched by it all, grateful.
But I’ll confess, I don’t always slow down. On this last day of the ride I was tired and ready to be home, plus I knew if I could stick to the interstates I could make it home that evening before dark, possibly even in time for The Briar’s Club meeting, the weekly gathering of pipe smokers that meet at my “local” (as they would say in Ireland).
I rode over 430 miles that day but made it there, just in time to stop, slow down and visit with the friends I’ve so recently been blessed with. The ones that sit in their formally-unreserved/informally-reserved pulled together round tables, where they shake hands or give hugs, share news, make jokes, tease each other, but always, each in their own quirky ways, showing kindness to one another.
It can make the roads we’re all riding on less lonely, more loving. But you’ve got to go slow. If you’re in a hurry you’ll miss it. Real kindness only happens when you slow down.

If You’re Waiting for a Sign, This is It!


We’re all looking for signs, signs for wealth, good health, romance, adventures – omens, things that auger that good fortune is on it’s way. But we all interpret signs differently. In Ireland, a black cat crossing the road is a harbinger of good luck, whereas in the USA it’s the opposite. I had plenty of time to think about signs yesterday when I was barreling down Highway 501 in South Carolina. The first were the Glory Foods billboards. These were clever. They were everywhere. Sometimes there were three of them within 100 yards (91 meters for my metric friends.).

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The signs had different vegetables with such winning slogans as:

Throw your Taste Buds a Party!

Flavor and Spice and Everything Nice

and my favorite: Give Peas a Chance.

Then there were the signs for a place called: South of the Border.

Here’s a catchy example:


Well, what can I say? Bizarre, just bizarre. I remember driving down Highway 301 when I was a kid and seeing signs like these every 10 miles (16 km) or so. Pedro says… and Back Up Amigo You Missed Us.

Moving away from humor, my favorite signs were found near Conway where the Rotary Club had “signed up” to keep the stretch of the road clean and tidy. Every few yards/meters there was a sign from their Four Way Test, their non-partisan and non-sectarian ethical guide:

“Of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?”

Imagine how our world would be if we actually considered these questions before we said or did anything? If our politicians did? Okay, I know that’s impossible to imagine, but what about us? Seriously! Think about it! It made me think about my good friend Karl G Waechtler, a Rotarian and fellow pipe smoker whom I admire.

I’m going to write them down. Why don’t you? Come on – Give Peas a Chance! Love and kindness too, while you’re at it.

Off The Motorcycle: Oysters, Beer, the Beach and Your Grandfather’s Pipe Tobacco

I decided to spend another day and night in Myrtle Beach. I wanted to walk the beach, eat some oysters, have some craft beer and people watch. But most of all I still needed to dry out. Having spent 16 years in Northern Ireland, believe me I’m familiar with rain. The Irish have tons of words to describe their raining experience: a dry rain, mizzling, a skift, spitting, a wet rain, a slop, raining stair rods, rotten, pissing, bucketing, pelting, hooring, and lashing, to name a few. (See  note below). There’s the old joke about the American who came to Ireland for a three week holiday in which it rained every day. He’s leaving to return to America and spots a boy outside the hotel standing in the rain. Exasperated, he says to the boy: Does it rain every day in Ireland? The boy nodded his head. “Aye, I think so. But maybe you should ask someone older, I’m only 12.” Or the one where the man dies and he goes down to Hell. The devil’s standing beside a deep hole with flames shooting out from it. He’s pushing people into the fiery pit. Every once in a while instead of pushing a person in he tosses them to the side of the pit. When “your man” gets up to Satan he asks about the people tossed to the side. “Oh” Satan replies, “They’re Irish. They have to dry out before they can burn.”
I got up the next morning, paid for another night and began walking the few blocks to the restaurant. On the way the rain started bucketing. This time I had the last laugh because I had my Harley rain suit on. (All my other clothes were wet!)
Afterwards, I went down to the beach for a walk, came back and wrote my blog, then back to the beach, steamed oysters at Dirty Don’s Oyster Bar, a drink on the outside deck at the 8th Street Tiki Bar watching people saunter by on the boardwalk, and one more walk on the beach. I’m always lucky in that I fairly easily meet people when I travel. I guess despite the biker gear I don’t come across as particularly intimidating. It’s more likely that I seem fatuous and avuncular, or maybe grandfatherly. I met a nice woman on the beach who was from Utah and who was in town for a wedding. She’d spotted me staring at the clouds (I was practicing trying to read the weather) and she liked the smell of the cherry tobacco from my pipe. I get that a lot from women. I don’t get much else from women but at least I get that. Oh, and I get told that the tobacco scent reminds them of the grandfather. I need to switch to smoking a younger, sexier man’s pipe tobacco.


(Rainy weather forecast for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)

Looks As If It Might Rain: A Motorcycle Ride Comedy of Errors

I took off early from Washington, N.C. yesterday and decided to get a few miles under my wheels before breakfast. I headed south on Highway 17 and after about 40 miles the sky wasn’t looking that great. Over the years riding motorcycles I’ve gotten to be pretty good at reading the weather in the sky. Okay, well there was that time last year when I got caught in that dust storm in New Mexico, when the sky was blackening to the north and I thought I could outrun it. I ended up being consumed by it, not being able to see more than 10 feet ahead of me. I had to pull onto the shoulder of the road, put my head onto the tank and steady Big Red so she wouldn’t blow over. But that was then. Okay, there was also the year before that when I got caught up in a dust devil on my way to the Grand Canyon. I did completely miss a tornado once in Alabama the year before that but I guess I have to chalk that up to my buddy Jeff seeing it on his radar. But now I was more seasoned.
As soon as I saw the veil of gray lines in the distance I could tell the rain was falling. It also grew increasingly dark which is never a good sign at 10 in the morning. I pulled off into the town of New Bern and went looking for breakfast. Two things surprised me. One, for some reason there seemed to be a yoga mat convention. Everywhere I rode around in the downtown area there were women toting yoga mats. The other thing was the smell of bacon in the air (I apologize to the vegetarians). I could smell it I just couldn’t see the damn restaurant. After circling the town and seeing more yoga mats I finally parked and asked a grey haired man who was changing a light bulb outside his bookstore who gave me directions to a place I’d ridden by twice.
Just as I got inside and ordered some coffee the rain began falling. When I left the café the sky was looking less apocalyptic and I hopped back on 17 again. After about 95 miles, just outside Wilmington N.C the dark bruised purple clouds were staring down at me like an angry woman with her hands on her hips. I ducked into a McDonald’s. I got an iced tea and watched the rain just flood from the sky. It took about an hour before it let up. By then I’d made friends with two other bikers heading up to Michigan, a baby I was making funny faces at, and the lady at the counter who refilled my tea. Being fairly good at reading the weather I knew it was now pretty safe to ride. And I only had 76 miles to go to get to Myrtle Beach. What could go wrong? I put my rain jacket on just in case. I couldn’t wait to see the ocean!
After about 15 miles, with no sky warning signs whatsoever, it started pouring. I tried to find a gas station but couldn’t. I finally found refuge under the shelter of a church called Crosswinds with the apt slogan – “where faith and life collide”. It began looking like a hurricane – crazy winds, heavy downpour. I expected Noah to show up at any moment.
Finally, it cleared and I got back on the bike. Twenty miles later it hit again. Cars were pulling over because of the lack of visibility, the roads were flooding, even tire gators were swimming for safety. I made a U turn in the middle of the highway to get over to a Shell station. By then my socks, boots and nether regions were completely soaked. I filled Big Red up with gas and let her sit under the canopy while I went inside, bought a drink and dawdled outside. There was a thin female employee from the station outside smoking a cigarette and looking angry about something. First one, then two, then three other employees came out to console her about something. After they left she finished her cigarette and accidentally blew some smoke on me. “Sorry.” She said. I laughed: “It’s okay.” I replied. “Like a little smoke is going to kill me.” She laughed, waded through the ankle deep puddle I’d made and went inside.
Once again I read the sky and it looked pretty good so I headed out, only to be caught one more time by the rain. That sucker was going to teach me a lesson and it wasn’t going to give up until it had. This time a car stopped suddenly at a light that was just changing and I had to put on the brakes. The rear end of the bike shimmied a few times before I could get her to stop. Just in time.
Big Red and I somehow managed the last few miles to the motel.
I climbed off the bike and laughed. The woman behind the check-in countered laughed when I came inside. I got a room, picked up my gear and headed toward my room when I felt the sole on my Harley boot come off. I limped the rest of the way.
Okay, I surrender. I am terrible at reading the weather in the sky. I will never make this claim ever again!
I managed to get into some dry clothes and walked the few hundred yards down to the beach. It was windy and the tide was coming in, waves high, tumbling and crashing. I closed my eyes and just listened to the sounds and gave thanks.
When I opened my eyes I watched folks playing in the surf, children ambling with their parents along the shoreline looking for shells, lovers walking hand in hand. I just didn’t like the look of that sky. I got up and hurried back to the motel, but not before the heavens let loose one more time.

More Omens, Divine Providence, Fredericksburg, the Great Dismal Swamp, and Washington N.C.

I’m writing this from Washington, North Carolina. I left Fredericksburg before 8 am yesterday morning after two days of gallivanting around the town with my buddy Kevin Grigsby trying hot wings from Cowboy Jacks, banana ice cream from Wally’s, pizza from Bennys, and beer from Spencer Devon Brewery, and a few Irish pubs.
I need to head home to Georgia soon but in the absence of any clear ethereal, divine promptings, I felt a strong hankering to head for the east coast, the Atlantic. So Big Red and I barreled down another familiar highway of my youth- Highway 17. Familiar only in that the same highway passes through my hometown of Savannah, Georgia before disappearing in the miasmatic environs of Florida.
On the way to “little” Washington we passed the Great Dismal Swamp. Seriously, what a name for a swamp?! From what I’ve read, over the years some people have found it to be a paradise, others a foreboding place and still others, runaway slaves, found it to be a refuge. Apparently, a 20 year old poet named Robert Frost decided to end it all by hiking deep into the park and dying. He was poor, unemployed, unpublished, recently kicked out of college and had just been dumped, he thought, by his sweetheart. Kind of a reverse of the anthem of the beer commercials: “it doesn’t get any better than this.”
Though not being able to tick all of the boxes Frost did that year, I certainly have spent my own periods wandering in the ‘great dismal’. Haven’t all of us been there at some point? Physically or emotionally lost in some unexpected swamp? When you survive the ‘great dismal’ (and you will survive it if you get support and just keep going) you’ll come out a wiser, stronger and more empathetic, person, at least that’s what I’m hoping for. And sometimes bravely wading through that brackish water is the only way you can go if you want to keep growing.
In Frost’s case, rescue came to him in the form of duck hunters heading to Elizabeth city and Nag’s Head. They were traversing the swamp, hunting and drinking; two of the eternal, recurring pastimes of men everywhere. Frost left the Great Dismal swamp with them, went on to marry his sweetheart and became a great poet. He wrote about his sojourn in the swamp:

"Getting too befriended, 
 As so often, ended 
 Any melancholy 
 That I might have sung. 
 I fell in among 
 Some kind of committee 
 From Elizabeth City, 
 Each and every one 
 Loaded with a gun 
 Or a demijohn. 
 (Need a body ask 
 If it was a flask ?) 
 Out to kill a duck 
 Or perhaps a swan 
 Over Currituck."
Big Red and I decided not to take any chances this time. 
We agreed we’d just skirt around the edge of the swamp 
and just keep going. There will be more dismal swamps
ahead soon enough.