I scowled out at the grey sky that afternoon and then looked at the calendar one more time. Sure enough, it was the first Saturday of June 2000, two weeks before my favorite bike rally. For weeks I had been preparing for the Tour of Italy – that’s “It-lih,” a small Texas town, not to be confused with “It`-uh-lee,” as in Europe. My goal was the 100-kilometer “Metric Century” route, which translates to about 62 miles Texan.
When you’re training for a rally, two weeks beforehand is the time for the longest training ride, which should be about two-thirds of the target mileage. I needed at least 41 miles, then, and I needed them today. Sure, the forecast mentioned a chance of rain, but it hadn’t rained in forever. Besides, a little water never hurt anyone, right?
So I ignored the clouds and pedaled off to the south, then west. At the farthest point, just over 20 miles, I turned north again. Soon after, I turned off the main road, glancing back over my shoulder at the sky as I did.
Good news: Grey clouds no longer blanketed the southwest.
Bad news: Those clouds had turned into a towering mass of navy blue thunderheads, traveling in my general direction.
The first large, slow drops hit me within minutes, and soon it began raining in earnest. Plenty of trees grew along the roads but the raindrops drilled right through the canopy. As accumulated oil floated loose, the pavement became so slick that I had to slow down, practically walking around corners. By the time the oil had washed off and the road was just kind of slick, I was soaked through.
The terrain turned to fairly steep rolling hills. Naturally, that’s when the lightning started to strike. I ducked as I topped each hill, whatever good that would have done, and started looking for shelter. There were some houses out there, but I hesitate to knock on strangers’ doors. You just never know.
After nine miles in the storm, I was shivering with cold and the lightning had stepped it up. I decided I would stop at the first house that had “Little Tykes” toys in the yard, figuring that a family with young children was less likely to house an axe murderer. But then I saw the Railroad Crossing sign. I knew that the Banana Boat restaurant lay not far beyond those tracks, and they would have a phone and probably no axe murderers, so I breathed a prayer and made a run for it.
Never have I been so happy to pull a bike up onto a porch. I stepped inside the building and stood dripping on the indoor-outdoor carpet.
Suddenly a masculine voice rang out from the bar area, where happy hour appeared to be underway. “Dawrlinn,” it drawled, “would you cayre for a bev-er-age?” The speaker was a blonde man in work clothes, who had turned toward the door as I came in. He looked younger than me and had a longer pony tail.
An astonishing number of things ran through my mind in the next millisecond:
1 ) “Bev-er-age” = “beer,” which I don’t even like.
2 ) Who are you calling Darlin?
3 ) How dare this redneck try to pick up a respectable middle-aged wife / mom / church secretary?
Fortunately, in the same millisecond and before I could go all stiff and huffy, a few more thoughts popped up:
4 ) I am wearing helmet, sunglasses and Lycra, and am wringing wet.
5 ) As such, I look neither middle-aged nor particularly respectable.
6 ) I also bear no resemblance to one’s typical idea of a church secretary.
7 ) I’m the one who walked into a bar during happy hour. This is his turf, not mine.
8 ) This man is offering hospitality to a damsel in distress, so cut him some slack. Sheesh, give the guy props for speaking to me at all, the way I look.
And so instead of snubbing him, I told him cheerfully that I planned to get me some coffee. By this time I had been inside the building for about ten seconds. The owner appeared, solicitous over my bedraggled state. He let me use the phone, then handed me a pile of bar towels and invited me to go dry off in the ladies’ room. He also brewed fresh coffee and then would not let me pay for it.
Both my muscles and my heart had thawed considerably when Brent arrived to rescue me. I gave back the towels, thanked the owner – again – and bid a friendly farewell to Mr. Redneck.
Two lessons have stayed with me from that experience. First, don’t judge. Second, pay attention to the stupid weather forecast!
Thanks for reading–
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