Copyright 2004 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved

Crank's Corner
                                      I Wanted an Olive

    Last Monday evening, just before dark, I had a sudden desire for
something salty, so I went to my refrigerator for a Greek olive.  While I was
standing at the sink, eating my olive, I glanced out my kitchen window at the
carry-out on the corner.  I saw two bicyclists in the parking lot, standing next
to their bikes in an uncertain-seeming fashion, and I thought, "hmmn, trail
riders."  But the day had been cool and rainy, and it was almost dark, and I
know that the Slippery Elm Trail is theoretically closed during the night, so I
looked again.  Judging from the amount of luggage they were carrying in
panniers and front and rear packs, these cyclists were definitely not out for a
short jaunt.
    My husband has frequently told me about the way his parents used to
extend hospitality to the long-distance cyclists who came through North
Baltimore when he was a child, by providing anything from a short rest stop
to letting them camp in the back yard, use the shower, and join the family for
dinner.  Hubby was across the street at his weekly musical jam session with
friends, and I was bored with the "Antiques Roadshow" re-run I was
watching, so I decided to continue the family tradition by inviting the
cyclists, who looked like wet puppies, upstairs to warm up and dry off.
    I trotted down the stairs and introduced myself to Matt and Julie,
asking them where they'd come from, and where they were headed.  They
were riding their bicycles from California to New York City, to protest at the
upcoming Republican National Convention!  Shades of the Sixties......  They
were happy to have an opportunity to get out of the wet while they waited
for two other friends on bicycles to catch up with them, so, after asking
them, "you're not axe-murderers or thieves, right?" I had them bring their
bikes around back to our yard.  I offered them the use of our laundry
facilities, and they happily accepted, unloading several bags of gear before
we headed upstairs.
    Once I got them into better light, I realised I'd snagged two fresh-
faced twentysomethings, adorned with the jewelry, tattoos, and piercings
common to today's young folks.  I don't even have pierced ears, but I do
have a tattoo that's older than either of these kids, so I was less concerned by
the safety pin through Matt's eyebrow than by the blood running down his
leg from the knee he'd skinned during a fall in Deshler (or was it in
Defiance?)  Peroxide and cotton balls, coming up, but first, a beer for
anesthesia!
    More beers followed, during which I learned that they had no idea
where they'd be spending the night; all across the country, the four of them
had been camping when they could find campgrounds, staying in houses,
sheds, yards or garages when friends or strangers offered, and, if they
absolutely had to, "sleeping rough" in out-of-the-way spots, with the risk of
being rousted by the local constabulary and told to move along.  Since the
start of their trip on May 22nd, they'd slept in a motel only once.  By this
time it was fully dark, and, even though they'd left a note for their friends at
the carry-out, the stragglers had not yet arrived.  The only sensible option
was for them to spend the night with us; we have room, and they weren't
fussy.
    I suggested that they might like to take showers before doing their
laundry, so that they'd have enough hot water, and that was an offer they
couldn't refuse.  By the time Hubby came home (with our friend Gary in
tow), Matt and Julie were comfy, clean, warm, and dry, ensconced at the
kitchen counter, drinking beer, munching pistachios, and telling tales of their
trip.  Of course, Hubby thought it was a great idea that they stay the night;
eventually, Ryan and Stacia showed up, similarly drenched and exhausted, a
bit bewildered at being scooped up into our odd abode, but obviously happy
to be off their bicycles and able to sleep indoors.
    Hubby made sandwiches for us, the stragglers had their showers and
restorative beers, and, while seven people carried on several conversations at
once, Ryan asked if he could play Gary's guitar.  That eventually resulted in
us all going downstairs for more instruments, and the guys jammed around
for a couple hours while Julie, Stacia, and I chatted and looked at some of
our odd collection of stuff.  The party broke up around 2:00 AM; Gary had
to work in the morning, and the cyclists were beyond tired.
    On Tuesday, we let them sleep as long as they wanted; the weather
was dreary, and we didn't mind if they wanted to stay another night.  But,
after brunch, more laundry, some computer research about maps and routes,
and the obligatory exposure to the music of the Red Elvises without which
no visit to Chez Strange is complete, they decided to press onward.  We
exchanged e-mail addresses, and they gave us a booklet of recipes and
politics from their chapter of the group Food Not Bombs, an organization
dedicated to salvaging food that would otherwise be thrown away and
serving, in public spaces, free, hot, vegtarian meals to all comers.  They
packed their gear, pumped up their tires, and filled their canteen backpacks.
A final photo op, Hubby showed them the way to SR-18 East, and then they
were gone.
    Some people complain that North Baltimore is boring, but adventure
is in the eye of the beholder.  I looked out the window, and adventure was on
my doorstep, in the form of four nice young folks who plan to go back to
jobs and college after their big road trip.  Their beliefs might not be identical
to mine, but I enjoyed some blast-from-the-past nostalgia over their neo-
hippie idealism and dedication.  They weren't preachy about politics or
vegetarianism (the rigors of the road have turned three of them into "lapsed
vegetarians", and Matt cheerfully found enough to eat), and they provided an
interesting diversion on what would have been an otherwise ordinary night.
I had a lot of fun, and I made four new friends that I'll probably never see
again, all because I wanted an olive.

For photos of the group at our place, go to www.chezstrange.com
For photos and journal entries from their trip, go to the Food Not Bombs
section of www.communityactivism.org

Love letters or hate mail?
crankscorner@hotmail.com