“Sure you can stay with me tonight.” Said Robert in his calm, monotonous voice that came through the phone. “I am a professor at a local college, and we are having a holiday party tonight, so I won’t be home til around 11. I wish I didn’t have to go…you know how people are at these things.”
“Ohh yeah, haha” I said, not actually sure what he meant. Maybe he wasn’t the type to enjoy a big social gathering, I thought.
We agreed to meet at his apartment that evening. I hung up my phone and continued toward Bowling Green, excited to meet another bicycle enthusiast.
As I got closer to town, I weaved my way through residential neighborhoods to avoid the rush hour traffic on the busy main roads. I rolled up to a stop sign and reached for my cell phone to check my location. As I pulled my gloves off, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move in the front yard next to me. A round little boy of about 8 or 9 years was pointing an imaginary gun at me, shooting and making gunshot noises as he protected his ‘territory’ from me.
“Nice shot!” I yelled to the boy. This took him offguard, almost as if he didn’t feel like he was visible to me. He looked at me for a second, before answering.
“What?” he said tentatively.
“I said nice shot!” I smiled at him, and in a way that made me think he needed a brother or sister to play with, he bounded across the yard and up to me on my bike, obviously very happy to have someone to talk to.
He could barely contain his excitement as I answered questions about where I was from and what I was doing. His mind moved a mile a minute as he told me stories of his family, his favorite things to do, his friends and his school. I gave him one of my business cards, thinking that he would like to follow the blog after I left.
We talked for a while longer, and after declining an invite to his basketball game the following morning, I rode away having made a new friend. It wasn’t more than 15 minutes later when I heard the noise of my phone ring from my pocket.
“Is this Paul?!” a young voice came across the line. I knew who it was immediately. “I just wanted to say be careful on your ride! And if you can, come to my basketball game tomorrow!”
I told him thanks and that I would be careful, and that I would stay in touch. Not only did he make me laugh, but it felt good to be able to connect with and be cared for by a young person like that.
After making a good dent in the $11 all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet, all the while being asked repeatedly by the waitress if I was done, I waited until 11pm at a coffee shop near Robert’s house. Finally the call came from Robert, and I rode the last few minutes to meet my new friend at his condo, which was located outside of town, just off a five lane highway packed full of every franchise and big box store that our great country has to offer.
Robert greeted me warmly, and we sat and talked, trying to get to know each other. He seemed very nice, and was very talkative. He was a middle aged man, recently divorced, with two daughters who would be visiting later that night with their friend. He showed me his bikes, told me about his days as a green beret, and said that his daughters thought he was gay, though he denied it. He generously offered me use of his shower and laundry, and invited me to come on a tour of the place, which I accepted.
I remember feeling a little on edge since I first met him, and even briefly considered leaving and camping for the night. I had made an agreement with myself that if I felt uncomfortable at any point, I would listen to my instincts and find a better situation. In this case, I dismissed the fears, which were not terribly strong, and seemed irrational, and continued with Robert as he led me up the stairs.
He took me into his bedroom, where the shower was, and said I could stay for the night if I didn’t want to sleep on the couch in the family room. This seemed a bit strange, but I brushed it off and declined, and gathered my things for the shower.
I closed the door to his bedroom, and another to the bathroom, and started to strip off my layers and get out my toiletries while the water warmed up. Out of nowhere I heard the bathroom door handle move, and in popped Robert, looking at me innocently. “You forgot your cell phone. It was on the kitchen table, and I didn’t want you to be without it.” He said.
I looked at him as I stood there in my spandex tights. “Ohhh, thanks.” I said uncomfortably, not sure how to react. Robert shut the door and left.
I showered and wondered what I should do. There was definitely an idea in my mind of heading out. My laundry, however, was in his washing machine, and I couldn’t go without that stuff. After thinking it over, I put my pepper spray in my pocket and told myself that with his daughters there, it would be fine.
After another hour or so of somewhat uncomfortable conversation, his two daughters and one of their boyfriends returned from the movie they saw, one of the Hobbit trilogy. We hung out all evening until bedtime, and I was right, once there were more people in the room, I did feel a lot more comfortable. I decided to stay the night, and slept soundly ’til morning.
Soon after I woke up, Robert came downstairs and said good morning. “How did you sleep?” He said
“Really well.” I answered. “I have been pretty tired at night for most of this trip. It has been easy to sleep.”
“I was down here last night…you didn’t wake up at all did you?” Robert said.
“No…” I said, feeling somewhat uncomfortable by the fact that he was watching me in my sleep. I was happy I was headed out that day.
Robert made a great breakfast for his daughter and I while I told some stories about what the trip had been like up to that point. When I mentioned my friend Jim in Louisville who was all alone for the holiday and wanted chocolates for Christmas, Robert lit up. “I know a place that’s chocolate is wayyyy better than Whitman’s!” He said. “It is a little family-owned shop nearby, and their chocolate is unbelievable! I will ride you out of town and we can go to the chocolate shop and then my favorite bike store on the way out!”
I agreed, excited to give the business to a small local place, and we got ready to go.
Robert and I ready to leave his condo.
The day was mild, a nice temperature for biking, but a drizzle came down as we rode off to the chocolate shop. After a few miles, we pulled into the parking area of a simple strip mall. Tucked in among the other shops was Mary Jane’s. Unassuming from the outside, the inside evoked the warm and cozy feeling of your grandmother’s house.
Writing the Christmas card to Jim with my new friend Marie.
Robert introduced me to Mary, and her daughter, Marie. They were so friendly and loving, chatting and smiling. Robert and I walked around picking out chocolates for ourselves and relaying the story of Jim in Louisville. Robert generously announced that he wanted to buy chocolates for me, as well as pay for the package that we were putting together for Jim.
“No, no, no.” Marie said. “We would like to donate the chocolates for Jim’s Christmas gift!” She said with a smile.
“Well I will cover the shipping, then.” Said Robert. I was so happy, to have been able to share the story and the care of him with these generous friends.
Robert grabbed my butt at the moment this picture was taken.