Some offers of hospitality are great fun. Others are learning experiences.
By John Schubert
Damn, it was hot and muggy that day. I was lounging in the back yard guest house of an old friend near Rome, NY., four days from the finish of my 1977 transcontinental tour.
I was burned out from the hills of U.S. Route 20 all the way across New York state—my punishment for picking a nice straight line on a map and not thinking about geography. I didn’t want another day of riding in the heat, but I needed to move on.
So I rode swing shift.
I left my host’s home around 5 or 6 p.m, and with the worst of the day’s heat behind me I headed south towards Deposit, N.Y., a small town on the upper reaches of the Delaware River.
It was a lovely evening ride. The sun went down and took the temperature with it. The rural 2-lane highway was quiet, and the nighttime scenery was peaceful.
It was close to midnight when I got to Deposit, and I was in full mooch mode. I planned to find a bar, have some bar food, and see if someone (preferably a cute someone) wanted to offer me a place to stay.
I found the bar. That was my first mistake.
I dimly remember a bad pizza, one with a cardboard-like crust and flavor-challenged sauce. There were no cute someones to be found, but there were a couple guys in their early 20s who were friendly and curious.
They’d never heard of bicycle touring or seen anyone remotely like me. When I explained that I had ridden my bike with all that camping gear from California, one said, “You have to go to the Olympics!” I tried, without success, to explain the difference between a touring cyclist and a racing cyclist. They weren’t having it. They had met Superman, and that was moi. A celebrity athlete had come to Deposit that night.
The offer of a place to stay followed soon, and I gleefully accepted. No hassles with the tent and no motel expense. But first, we went to someone’s home to visit several other people. They shared what I will describe as a smoke-producing device that makes people laugh at really bad jokes.
The conversation began.
“If he needs that many more, I’ll go out and rip ‘em off myself.”
They were talking about their business enterprise: stealing citizens band two-way radios (remember those?) from cars. Apparently these guys all helped supply their fence with a quota of stolen CBs.
I marveled at the sociology of it all. These guys didn’t know me from Adam, and they felt quite free discussing criminal activity in front of me. They’d accepted me into their group. I, on the other hand, was very tired, and even more very weirded out. There was no way for me to politely leave. Where was I going to go at 1 a.m.? I made a plea for bed.
My host took me to the apartment he shared with his mom. Every window was shut tight. It was hot, stale and humid inside the apartment. I laid down on top of my sleeping bag, trying to relax myself enough to go to sleep. Wasn’t gonna happen. The heat and humidity were too much. Finally, I got up and opened a couple windows. My host heard the noise and got up. He was surprised that I wanted fresh air. I figured that his not wanting fresh air was another aspect of the intellect of a petty thief, but I kept those sentiments to myself. I was able to sleep, fitfully.
The next morning, my host fed me a nice breakfast and bid me goodbye. I hopped on the bike and headed for Port Jervis, shaking my head in wonderment at what had happened. I’d never been welcomed into a circle of thieves before (or since). These were guys I disliked and feared (I’d had a CB radio stolen from my own car a few months earlier, and it was big fat hassle), and they trusted me and expected me to trust them.
When I got to Port Jervis, I headed straight for a motel. I wasn’t going to a bar again. Weird people hang out in bars.
Today, John Schubert has no CB radio, no need to look for cute someones in bars, and no desire to return to Deposit.