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The Herald, Friday, March 16, 1990
Just so I don't forget: Tracy says hi
EEGHAD. I just now realized that in all my tales about my Rock Hill to Utah ride, I left out the most important part.
At the cafe in Enders, Neb., I met a pretty blonde named Tracy. She made me solemnly promise that when I got back home, I would tell everybody in South Carolina she said "Hey." I'm late, but it's done.
Tracy wasn't kidding. In the Midwest, spreading good will is serious business. At first sight, the folks treat you like a good friend until you prove yourself otherwise. They are open, unpretentious and unhurried. I spent a lot of time talking people out of doing me huge favors.
The motel operator in Stockton, Mo., begged to give me a ride into town if I could only think of a single thing I needed.
I turned down several offers to spend the night in the homes of people I met. These folks seemed hurt when I said I didn't want to impose.
In Oberline, Kan., I asked a waitress if there was a bike shop in town where I could buy some spare inner tubes. There wasn't a bike shop, and I almost never talked her out of taking me all the way to Nebraska to find one. These people are unreal.
Midwesterners even have their own friendly phrase. As soon as I crossed the Mississippi River, I immediately had to learn how to say, "You bet." It is pronounced quickly to form a single word, and its more complex form is, "Youbetcha."
It is the Midwesterner's universal affirmative response. It means, "Yes," as well as, "All right," and even, "You're welcome."
Could I have some mustard to go with this? "You bet." Oh, no, not 10 packs. I just need one. Thank you very much. "Youbetcha." Tell me, is this the road to McCook? "You bet." OK, I'm outta here. Y'all have a good day. "Youbetcha."
It was amazing how far that single phrase could go. It became part of my vocabulary, and I even brought it home with me. It soon wore off, though, as everybody around here gave me funny looks when I said it.
A midwesterner may forgo any form of introduction. He'll start the conversation somewhere in the middle. I was lounging beside my bike in front of a Missouri store when I was approached by a man who called me, "Brother," except he drawled it out, "bra-thuh."
He walked up and said, "Hey, bra-thuh. Kinda thought you'd be out fishin' today, bra-thuh." At first I figured he had mistaken me for somebody else, but I soon realized it was this man's way of breaking the ice. He had a friendly, homespun style. He quizzed me about my trip and finished with, "Oooh, bra-thuh. That's a mighty long ride." Without another word, he hopped into his car and left.
It took me a while to get used to folks being so open. "Hi. My wife and I saw you parked over here, and we were wondering how many miles a day you can make on that bicycle." In populated areas, it seemed like I was constantly being interviewed.
A well-dressed man at a restaurant in Sterling, Colo., took hospitality to a new level. I had been talking with him about my trip, and it was obvious that he was deeply impressed by how far I had ridden. He said he wished he had tried such an adventure when he was young enough to do so. He bid me good-bye and started to leave. He stopped near the door, thought for a moment and then came back. He quietly asked, "How are you doing for funds? Do you have enough money to get you through?"
I told him it looked like I had enough to do me, and he said, "Are you sure? I mean, I have plenty, and if you need some ..."
I thanked him for his offer and again said I had enough money. After he left, I was puzzled enough to ask the waitress if she knew who he was. She said, "Youbetcha. He's a great old guy. You'd never guess that he's filthy rich." For a fleeting greedy instant, I almost wished I had that conversation to do over again.
Given a way to live anywhere I wanted to, I might choose the Midwest, just to mingle with the people. Maybe I'd pick Hill City, Kan., where my gravely injured bicycle was repaired free of charge at a rural machine shop. The Hill City locals forbid me to end my trip on a sour note, and they rallied to find somebody who could perform the nearly impossible repair.
Maybe it would be Vernal, Utah, where Rex and Ray and Al treated me like family and made sure everybody else in town knew my name.
Wherever I lived, I would pay at least one more visit to Enders, Neb., where I met Tracy. I'll never forget riding away from the Enders Cafe. Tracy and a couple of other folks stood in the parking lot waving madly and hollering, "Good-bye! Be careful! Good luck! Glad to meet you! Thanks for stopping! Come back to see us!"
For all the world, it could have been the last scene of a corny old black and white movie, but I was a mighty long way from Hollywood. And this was real.
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