Bryan, OH (06/16/2008) - By now I’m getting used to the questions from curious local residents;
"What you doing, Mister?"
"I’m taking pictures of this memorial."
"Because I’ve come 16,000 miles to visit it."
Today the exchange went a little differently. An old lady came toddling up to me and asked, "Are there any warnings posted?" What? "Weather warnings," she said, "that sky is pretty dark and with you on the motorcycle I think you probably keep up with the weather." Well, that’s a pretty good assumption from a lady that probably has other things to do rather than chat with a two wheel itinerant. But, I figure I should be respectful and I inform her there is nothing to worry over, the offensive looking clouds are only a narrow band of showers and will move off soon.
"Well, what are you taking pictures of?"
Now we are on familiar ground and I launch into my spiel. "Wow! You have a few minutes to spare? Follow me. . ."
Moments later I’m strolling beside this complete stranger down an unfamiliar street and into the local Cadillac dealership. As we walk toward the waiting area I spot another elderly woman patiently reading a magazine.
"Look, Esther", says my guide, "I found us a date!" Oh, oh! I’ve been picked up by Octogenarians on the prowl! How do I explain this to my wife?
Fortunately the ladies were really interested in the Ride Around America project and both had plenty of cogent questions about how I planned the route, what I did with the photos, and what I did to keep fresh and interested in the task at hand. We talked about places we had all been and enjoyed – when you are beyond 80 years it’s very likely there have been several opportunities to see America and the world beyond. Esther and LouElla were no exception.
Esther asked if I had plans to ride to Juneau, Alaska. I explained that wasn’t possible because there was no direct road. That sparked some strong disagreement between the ladies. Esther’s considered opinion was that a road DID exist and LouElla defended me with the admonishment, "Esther, I know he’s probably researched it fully – I think he’s probably right." It seems Esther has visited Alaska several times and just never considered that she had always flown there, never attempting to take the trip by automobile.
I excused myself after a few minutes and the ladies wished me luck. I hoofed back down the street to grab the monument photos . When I came back to my bike I found the ladies parked beside me. "Follow us to Lester’s Diner for lunch," LouElla shouts out, "my treat!" I have the feeling this really is going to turn into that date . . . but I’m hungry and I was going to Lester’s anyway.
For the next 45 minutes I dined on Alaska whitefish with the two sweet old widows. The pair had been friends over 70 years and delighted in telling me how they met as schoolgirls in another state. Each had married a boy from the same nearby town and somehow, though life had drawn them away from home, they never lived far from one another. Esther raised six children and LouElla five. Both taught school and their husbands were both successful upon their return from war; one as a banker and the other as a high school athletics coach.
LouElla especially had great stories of her adventures while living in Occupied Japan during the Korean War era. Both of the women understood the goals of Ride Around America – for each had been service wives during wartime. I guess that bond across generations never diminishes. They both worry about our current generation of service families and how they cope.
Soon it was time for me to leave. I grabbed a quick photo of the friends and then thanked LouElla for the lunch and Esther for the company. In the parking lot I suited up and rolled out to the road as the old friends waved from inside the diner. Yes, Ride Around America started out to salute our veterans, but today it gave me an opportunity to spend some time with a pair of genuinely gracious ladies from an era that is fading fast.
Only a few hundred miles more and I’ll be home for ten days.