I’m enjoying my second day off the bike in Peoria with a lovely lady friend who’s showing me around. So I’ve got some time to think and reflect.
Many bikers when planning a long trip want to get a feel for the “real America”. They plan on stopping only at Mom and Pop restaurants so as to hope to savor the local accent, meet some ‘real’ people. I have absolutely nothing against these restaurants and I stop at them if I’m spending the night in a town, and when I have the time and the money, because they inevitably require more of both. And, in general, my experience is that the food is better. But I’ve got some news for you: if you want to meet a lot of the locals you’ll often find them eating in the fast food restaurants, for a variety of reasons. They’re easier to get in and out of, are generally cheaper – large drink for $1 with free refills, free wi-fi and they don’t care if you linger for a while with your laptop. It’s easier to meet up with someone there or wait for a bus or a ride. Now, the ones by the interstates are different. They’re faster paced and less personal. In the fast food places (McDonald’s, Hardees, Burger King, Krystal) in small towns, the ones I prefer, people know each other, things move at a slower pace and you’re more likely to see a gathering of local eccentrics, and that includes the staff. I love watching the laughing and flirting repartee among the employees.
Often I’ve spotted a table in the back where a bunch of older people are gathered. I’ve written about this before. In Germany it’s a type of Stammtisch, a table reserved for a group of people that regularly meet at a pub or restaurant. I had some Stammtisch signs made for our group that meets at Old Havana Cigar Bar in Rome. I’ve seen these gatherings all over the country in all different types of fast food places. For many people it’s a daily or weekly event where they can meet their friends and socialize. It can be a lifeline for some lonely people. Often, somebody from one of these groups will introduce themselves by saying: “Is that your bike out there?” Before you know it I’m hearing stories and far fetched tales, but more importantly, it’s meaningful contact for me. The other day I was in a McDonalds and a woman asked me if I was from Oklahoma. I stared at her curiously (not remembering that the back of my shirt had an Oklahoma Harley Dealer’s Route 66 logo). I told her I was from Georgia. We talked about the heat and I told her and her husband that I rode through heat of 114 degrees in Utah. That it was so bad corn was popping in the corn fields. I know, bad joke, but they laughed and we talked more. When I left they showered me with all sorts of blessings for safe travels. I love that. A friend of mine in Dalton, Georgia pulled some folks together at a gathering we were at and they pray over me before I left. I guess I just have that look that makes people think: That boy needs some praying over. But I’ll tell you what – I’ll take all the prayers and good wishes I can get.
Another thing I alluded to above has to do with the employees at places like McDonalds. Sure they should be paid more but that’s true of most places, regardless of the job. Look at what teachers and social workers make. There are carpet factories in Dalton that start workers off paying them more than social workers with a college degree. So I’m not going to go there in this piece of writing.
But what I have noticed is that a lot of retired people are working in these places. Some have to and some enjoy it. There was a woman shaking with Parkinsons waiting on me the other day. And I have seen others with certain conditions working there that might not be employed elsewhere. So there’s my report on fast food places – long may they survive and prosper. And if you ever see me in one please come up and say hello. I’ll be easy to spot – I’m the guy that looks like he needs a lot of praying over.