“Meet my future wife,” he said as he introduced me. This was the first I’d heard we were engaged. I’d only met him two hours earlier, but apparently I’d made an impression.
I’d left Virginia Beach around eight that morning, plugged “Raleigh, NC” into my GPS, then hit the button to avoid highways. Why? Well, it’s one of many ways I know of to find great stories. Just last week, driving a back road in New Jersey, I saw a billboard that said – in big huge letters – “YOUR WIFE IS HOT!” In much smaller letters it continued, “Get your A/C fixed – Call us.” You wouldn’t see that driving down I-95.
The other thing about avoiding highways is that you find a lot of towns that have not been infiltrated by Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. I know some of you can’t imagine living more than a few miles from either of these, but work with me here – open your mind a little. And step with me into Boykins Beans and Ice Cream. It’s on a two lane road, just past the railroad tracks, in a town of 500 people. There’s only one other car parked on the street outside, but there’s a guy sitting out front, and any place that advertises ice cream and “Fresh Baked Goods” can’t be that bad.
The guy sitting outside says hello. I smile and return the greeting, remembering I’m in the South – where people actually say hello to strangers. I know it’s a far stretch, but inside I ask if they have chai. No luck. So I get a cup of tea from the enthusiastic woman behind the counter. Looking around I think that I could probably spend a couple hours in here. They have plenty of books to peruse, comfy seating, and friendly staff. But for some reason, I decide to take my tea and go.
On my way back out, the guy out front says something along the lines of, “It’s too bad you’re going. We don’t see the likes of you around here too often.” I laugh and say I’m on my way to North Carolina.
“What do they have there that we don’t here?” he asks.
“Mountains,” I said.
“Well, you’re right,” he says, sounded dejected. “But this is Mayberry!” he retorts, referring to the idyllic fictional town portrayed in some TV show that came and went before my time. I’ve heard of Mayberry, but can’t for the life of me remember the show. (I just googled it – The Andy Griffith Show – which went off the air in 1968.)
He continued to try to entice me to live in this tiny town, so I asked, “What do people even DO around here?”
“Nothing,” he laughed.
“What would I do around here?”
“Nothing!” he says, smiling wide, arms opening as if he were Vanna White showing us the next puzzle to solve. He wasn’t so convincing, but continued to question me about my trip, so I had a seat and told my tale. His was even better.
There was the time after 9/11 when he heard some guy going to a mountaintop in Canada in case the US got hit again. He thought that incredibly cowardly. He told his friends he should just get on his white horse (he actually owned one) and ride to the White House to tell people not to back down. The friends said he should. So he did. He lived in Wisconsin at the time. He got a flag pole with the Wisconsin flag and the US flag, took his US Marines saber (he’s a former Marine), and in December, 2001, he rode his horse from Wisconsin to the White House. You can see a video of some of the coverage here. That song playing? That’s him. He wrote it. He’s singing it.
Then there was a time a friend wanted to go elk hunting out west, but had to have two surgeries to fix a brain tumor first. He didn’t make it. When he died, this guy figures out where in the country he can go elk hunting and takes off, as a tribute to his friend. He goes every year now. And just by being his friendly self in a small Idaho town, he got some land practically given to him where one day he’ll build a little cabin out there.
Two hours later, I left that little coffee shop. In that time, this guy had introduced me to all sorts of local folks, told me about life in Boykins, and apparently also decided I’d be the ideal wife. I accepted his number. Because elk hunting with a bow in Idaho sounds like a pretty cool prospect.
(To see my other posts about talking to strangers, click here and here.)