Crossing Paths

Earlier this year, a very large metal object destroyed one of my car tires. I was in need of tires anyway and found myself sitting in the waiting room of the only tire shop in the area with four of my required tires in stock.

What could have been a mundane two hour wait turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

I had brought some work to do so I simply nodded and smiled toward the other person in the waiting room – an elderly man who was fiddling with his phone. I settled into my work until he struck up a conversation, something or other about patience, waiting and how his career had kept him busy.

Being me, I couldn’t resist asking what he did and was delighted at the stories that followed.

He was retired Air Force and had once overseen the mechanics who worked on all the planes that fly in and out of an Rickenbacker Airport here in Ohio. Before that, his career took him all over the world, including to a hot spot in the Middle East where he planned the air strip and all the necessary buildings and plane parking necessary for American aircraft to efficiently fly in and out.

He has been to all fifty states and all but six countries. He has lived in many. Rather than just visit, he preferred to stay for a few months, make friends and really learn the culture. His favorite place is the South of France.

His career took him all over but he had a true passion for travel so he leveraged his Air Force benefits to travel even more.

He shared with me two lessons.

1. Travel as much as you can when you’re young enough to enjoy it. He said “don’t wait till you’re old and have bad knees like me. You’ll regret it because you won’t be able to enjoy walking around and won’t have the stamina to see what’s around the block.”

2. When you get a pay increase or any kind of windfall, save as much as you can, but don’t deny yourself travel money. See lesson #1 above.

Before leaving, he looked me square in the eye and said “go see as much of the country or the rest of the world as you can. If you like to travel, and you clearly do, you’ll never regret a single dollar you spend.”

I was delighted by this exchange and was a little sad to see him go but I went back to my work and reveled in the chat with my new friend and enabler.

A few minutes passed before a Hispanic man joined me in the waiting room. We smiled and nodded and sat in silence until an elderly woman named Victoria joined us. She was watching the news on television and asked if I knew anything about the story that was playing. She had missed the beginning.

It was about issues refugees are facing at a border crossing somewhere. I knew nothing about it but the man looked up and made eye contact. So I asked him and he shared a few things that he knew about it.

This led to a conversation about how scary it would be to leave everything you know to journey far to a strange land with an uncertain future for yourself and your family. How bad is life where you live that this kind of drastic move would seem like a good idea?

I will stop here to say that he spoke great English but with an accent. He occasionally used the wrong word or tense but these mistakes were no worse than any of the botched English I’ve heard from Ohio natives.

He seemed kind and open to conversation. It’s a good thing too because Victoria and I had many questions.

We asked him how long he has been in this country, how he found Chillicothe, if people are nice, does he like it here? He answered all of our prying questions both thoughtfully and patiently. He came to America legally when he was a young man. I suspect he was a migrant farm worker for some time because he said he traveled for work at first. He is a contractor by trade and is proud of his children. His youngest was to graduate high school soon and he mentioned a son who has a good job with a prosperous local employee.

He loves Chillicothe because people treat him well. It’s safe to walk down the street and people are friendly. They wave. He has a successful business and his family is very happy.

The conversation eventually turned to Victoria, a retiree who enjoys traveling and who has found the pandemic trying. She worked for a big employer in the area until it changed hands several years ago. She was in her early sixties with one eye on retirement a little later down the road. New management forced her into early retirement because she didn’t have a college degree. Never mind she had been doing her job for over forty years and could work circles around whatever young college graduate they got to replace her for a fraction of her salary.

At first, she wasn’t happy to be retired. In fact, she was kind of bitter. But then she realized she had time to travel and to do as she pleases.

She shared that she is single and childless. “I almost married a guy once but I dodged a bullet there. He was a jerk,” she exclaimed.

She talked about her wonderful life, friends, and saving money. She also talked about traveling and doing the things that make your life full and worth living.

Life lessons from Victoria:

1.”Never let anyone make you feel bad for being single or for not having kids,” she said. “Their choices don’t have to be your choices.”

2. Travel all you can, take up hobbies, fill your time with things that will make you smarter and happier. “Say YES as much as you can. By saying yes, you’re taking action.”

And just as suddenly as she arrived and sparked an amazing conversation, she was gone. Her headlight was repaired and Victoria was off, presumably on another adventure.

The gentleman and I continued our conversation with him showing me pictures and videos of recently completed jobs. He does remodeling work like kitchens and bathrooms. He also builds porches and decks and shared a video of a simply beautiful series of decks he built at a local home.

Here’s what I learned from him.

1. Love the work you do. He loves his job because he makes people smile when they get their dream kitchen or when he helps them select just the right shower tile. There’s meaning to each project, a deadline and sense of completion. You spend a lot of time at work so it’s best to be good at your job and to find it fulfilling.

2. Don’t listen to the pundits on television who tell you what to think about immigrants. Instead, sit down and talk to someone. Learn their history and why they chose to live where they do. Are their neighbors nice to them? Is there really such a great divide in this country? This guy loves his town more than most American born people and I found that inspiring.

My two hour new set of tires gave me much food for thought and made me think about people and the lessons we learn from them. Sometimes the people we cross paths with out in the world can teach us great lessons. Sometimes the lesson is in how not to treat people. Sometimes the lessons are substantial and life changing.

The lessons I learned that day were not new to me. Save, travel, engage with people who are different than you, and never let judgement of others wreck your life – these are things I already knew.

All the same, it’s nice when life hands you a refresher course when you least expect and maybe most need to hear it.

Rapid City Memories

Plans are underway for my 2022 Western Adventure so I have been thinking a lot about past western trips. Of all the places I’ve been, Rapid City, South Dakota is one of the most visually pleasing small cities and one I wouldn’t mind revisiting someday.

It is packed with things to to do, cute shops, amazing restaurants and public art galore.

We had some terrific meals, including dinner at Firehouse Brewing Company which is located in a 1915 era firehouse. Today it has the distinction of being the city’s first brew pub and it exists because a group of investors saw an opportunity, formed a partnership and went for it.

There are great old buildings and terrific vintage signage still in use today.

Plus, there’s an alley where local artists can apply for permits to practice their graffiti art. Some of the work is fun or cute while others deliver a message.

When it comes to public art, the city is actually best known for its trail of life sized bronze statues that represent each of our nation’s former presidents. There’s a reason why their nickname is “City of Presidents” and it isn’t just because Mount Rushmore is down the road.

Most of these statues are impressive and some are surprisingly moving like this one of John F. Kennedy with his toddler son.

They are all privately funded and it’s a non-partisan project all the way around.

Rapid City is close to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Badlands and a host of other regional attractions. That area is well worth your time whether you stop on your way somewhere else or are spending a chunk of time.

If you’re interested, type South Dakota into the search box here and you’ll find several pieces from my visit a few years ago!

You See What You Seek

Sometimes even the most seasoned adventurer needs a potty break and a cold drink. This McDonalds was the first option we found at Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Oddly, this is one of my favorite random photos from this trip. I like anything with a reflection and the shapes and colors are eye catching. The world is what you make of it and you’ll see what you seek. I was looking for a picture and I found one.

What will you seek today?

A Texas Sized Gas Station

You’ve likely heard the phrase “everything’s bigger in Texas.” Well, there’s a Texas based chain of gas stations that embodies this sentiment. Honestly, calling it a gas station is a gross understatement.

I encountered Buc-ee’s on our journey home from North Carolina last month. They just opened in Richmond, Kentucky this spring in one of their first ventures outside of Texas. While you may wonder why I’m telling you about a gas station, hear me out.

It’s a 53,000 square foot property with 120 gas pumps and a parking lot the size of one found at your average big box store. They employ about 230 people.

They claim to have the cleanest bathrooms in the world. I will give them that- the bathrooms are fabulous. The stall doors are real doors that go to the floor and everything is sparkling clean. The restroom is an oasis in an otherwise chaotic place.

Imagine Times Square with people in cowboy hats shouting about barbecue. Imagine a playground full of six year olds at recess with carts full of camping supplies, souvenir t-shirts and home decor in tow. Imagine a Madi Gras parade with a giant beaver mascot wandering past a wall of beef jerkey, refrigerators of assorted pudding parfaits, and an overwhelming variety of jams, baked goods and potato chips. There’s a burrito bar, fresh made sandwiches and nearly any kind of candy you could want.

It’s a sight to behold.

Vegetarians are not their target market but I was able to get a giant veggie burrito and a pretty little cup of banana pudding with real bananas cut up in it. And yes, I even found a couple of books that were signed by the author.

It’s one of those places everyone should experience at least once because it’s difficult to comprehend without seeing it for yourself. My introverted self was ready to go within fifteen minutes but I’m glad I went.

Also note that the construction of this gas station caused the State of Kentucky to create a new exit, install a traffic light and build a roundabout. A state had to alter its transportation plan for a gas station.

Buc-ees is located along I-75 near Richmond, Kentucky. Learn more about them at their website.

Mount Mitchell

There are plenty of opportunities to stray off the Blue Ridge Parkway. One of them is at Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi.

The 6,684 foot mountain is protected by Mount Mitchell State Park. Here, you’ll find hiking trails, a visitors center and a short paved trail to an observation tower at the very top. That paved trail is just 989 feet and steep but manageable and well worth the view.

The Cherokee people who once called this land home called this mountain Attakulla.

European settlers eventually renamed it for Elisha Mitchell, the University of North Carolina professor who proved in 1835 that the mountain is several hundred feet taller than Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

He died in 1857 when he fell to his death at nearby Mitchell Falls. He is buried at the summit of this mountain.

The lady in this picture is my hero. She is elderly and appeared to be traveling alone. She took her time walking to the observation deck where she sat happily and enjoyed her surroundings.

I want to be her when I grow up.

Mount Mitchell is a nice diversion if you have time. Want to learn more? Click here!

A Day On the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is said to be one of the most scenic drives in the country. It connects the Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. It’s two lane, following the Blue Ridge Mountains, so it’s curvy and lots of fun to drive if you like mountain driving.

Work began in 1935 on the astounding 469 miles long road.

I have not driven the entire thing but have been on sections at various times and it is always a treat. There are side trips to enjoy from the parkway, scenic overlooks, and hiking opportunities. Plus, the looks of the mountains change with the weather and time of day.

We started out early to avoid Saturday morning sightseers. As we drove up the mountain road that morning, we experienced rain and gloom, saw sunshine burning off fog, felt the wind whip through our hair and even drive through a cloud high atop one mountain section.

It was early spring at the highest points where things were just starting to come alive. Down the mountain a ways, spring wildflowers bloomed and trees were in full leaf. The contrast was great fun to experience

The birds were especially vocal everywhere we went and this made my heart happy.

There are some things to see and do along the way including visitors centers, a folk art center and Mount Mitchell which is the highest point east of the Mississippi.

We took a couple of side trips that are worth stories of their own so I’ll tell you about those spots another day.

If you want to do some sightseeing but struggle with walking, this is great way to safely enjoy your natural surroundings. Pack a snack, roll down the windows, and enjoy the ride.