Day 7: Following Signs, Omens and Portents; A Practical Guide for the Clueless.

I was filled with sadness heading out this morning. My eyes were burning. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my kids, Colin and Hannah, and Hannah’s husband Bill. They live so far away. I’d already been feeling sad what with the recent bomb in Manchester and the sudden death of a friend back home. But it’s time to leave.
This is the part of my journey that I’m leaving up to divine providence, so I have no destination in mind. I hope to be guided in my choice of direction by clear omens, hunches and uncertain feelings of certainty. However, it’s one thing to trust that the old signs and portents will appear and it’s another to find oneself stuck at an intersection in the middle of Anywhere, USA and having no clear inclination, or even funny feeling as to which way to go.
In one of my novels, Hope Bats Last, I address just such a possibility and come up with this guidance for the protagonist:
Always head away from bad weather, unless some omen tells me otherwise. When I don’t know which way to go, go left and then right the next time, and then left… If I must choose between two towns and can’t, choose the one that starts with the earliest letter in the alphabet. Trust the journey.
I’ve added a few since:
Don’t book any motels in advance because you don’t know where you’re going.
When you have a choice of motels and feel no preference, choose the one with a number in its name. If there’s more that one, pick the motel with the highest number. If there are no numbers pick the one whose name comes first alphabetically.
Talk to anyone who wants to talk with you for as long as they want to talk.
Don’t avoid homeless people; they could be Elijah the prophet in disguise.
If someone mentions a place I should visit, I must go there.
If I have a funny feeling about something, I should listen to it.
What can go wrong?

If You’re Waiting for a Sign, This is It!

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We’re all looking for signs, signs for wealth, good health, romance, adventures – omens, things that auger that good fortune is on it’s way. But we all interpret signs differently. In Ireland, a black cat crossing the road is a harbinger of good luck, whereas in the USA it’s the opposite. I had plenty of time to think about signs yesterday when I was barreling down Highway 501 in South Carolina. The first were the Glory Foods billboards. These were clever. They were everywhere. Sometimes there were three of them within 100 yards (91 meters for my metric friends.).

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The signs had different vegetables with such winning slogans as:

Throw your Taste Buds a Party!

Flavor and Spice and Everything Nice

and my favorite: Give Peas a Chance.

Then there were the signs for a place called: South of the Border.

Here’s a catchy example:

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Well, what can I say? Bizarre, just bizarre. I remember driving down Highway 301 when I was a kid and seeing signs like these every 10 miles (16 km) or so. Pedro says… and Back Up Amigo You Missed Us.

Moving away from humor, my favorite signs were found near Conway where the Rotary Club had “signed up” to keep the stretch of the road clean and tidy. Every few yards/meters there was a sign from their Four Way Test, their non-partisan and non-sectarian ethical guide:

“Of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?”

Imagine how our world would be if we actually considered these questions before we said or did anything? If our politicians did? Okay, I know that’s impossible to imagine, but what about us? Seriously! Think about it! It made me think about my good friend Karl G Waechtler, a Rotarian and fellow pipe smoker whom I admire.

I’m going to write them down. Why don’t you? Come on – Give Peas a Chance! Love and kindness too, while you’re at it.

Omens and Divine Providence: Part Two.

The last time I wrote I was in Blowing Rock, North Carolina getting ready to head back up onto the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. I did so and rode her north for another 50 miles or so until I couldn’t stand it anymore. The poet Keats said that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Keats had never ridden on the Blue Ridge Parkway. After about 200 miles on her she had lost her glow for me. Too many curves, a maximum speed of 45 miles an hour and frankly, you can admire only just so many damn trees. I stopped at an exit, highway 18, where there was a surreal motorcycle campground and country store. I stopped to get a drink and to reconnoiter the place (It had a life sized fake stuffed bear with arrows in its head in a yellow cage out front.) When I pulled over a man told me that the shop was closed and then launched into a discussion on politics. He was a member of the John Birch Society and outlined his views. He said he was voting for Donald Trump. I’m not into political discussions. They polarize people too fast and soon we start reacting to people as if they are some label rather than a person, a human being with dignity. Democrat, Socialist, Republican, Unionist, Nationalist – insert the political view of your choice. Mother Theresa said that if we’re busying judging people we can’t be busy loving them. I don’t do politics. We ended up having a nice friendly conversation about motorcycles.
After consulting my map it appeared to me quite clearly that I was in the middle of nowhere. I double checked with the map system on my phone which informed me that it could suggest no route for me to Fredericksburg, Virginia. Made me think of some dialogue from the movie The Quiet Man. “So it’s Inishfree you’re wanting to get to.” “That’s right.” “Well, I wouldn’t start out from here.”
It’s worrisome when your map system offers you no way out of your location. It’s sort of like a Twilight Zone episode where you drive out of a town only to find that after a few miles you’re reentering the same town. I knew Fredericksburg was east and north so I headed that way. Eventually, I came to Wilkesboro and hopped on 421 to Winston Salem. Then I got on I-40, followed by I-85 and then I-95. By the time I hit Richmond, Virginia it was dusk, the sky a bruised peachy grey. The last 55 miles to Fredericksburg were a lot of fun. It started pouring rain, it was dark, headlights from cars on I-95 south flashed in my eyes. Cars were whipping past me doing about 80 mph on their way to Armageddon. My windshield and my eyeglasses were mottled and smudged with rain drops and I had to lean to the side of my windscreen so I could look around it and spot the tire gators (bits of broken truck tires) and discarded car parts lurking in the shadows of the road. Yeah that was fun. But I finally made it there around 10 pm (I’d left at 11am), 430 miles for the day. Thankfully, my old friend Kevin Grigsby had a cold pilsner waiting for me. Okay, maybe two.

Omens and Divine Providence: A Different Motorcycle GPS

I am writing this in a cafe, down a flower and fern filled alley in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Need to hit the road soon but for now I feel like lingering over coffee, and the overhearing of soft, but succinct, North Carolina accents.The accents always make me think of  “Andy of Mayberry”, and my Aunt Pearl who was from Raleigh.  There’s a horse show in town and so the population is filled with graceful young women wearing riding trousers, with fresh natural complexions and perfect postures. I wander around slightly bent from riding, wearing my bulky riding trousers and my Belfast Northern Ireland Harley Tee shirt. I don’t receive much prolonged eye contact.

I’ve been trying to open myself to omens and Divine Providence on this trip, accepting somehow that things will work out, will happen for a reason. I want to see what it’s like to not have expectations, not get frustrated. Hard to get frustrated when things don’t go your way when you don’t care which way they go. I stop at Hardees in Adairsville and get a breakfast biscuit. They give me the wrong one. I start to take it back then I remember I’m trusting how things go, so I sit back and just enjoy eating it. Back on the bike later and somehow I miss the turnoff to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn around? Nah, I’ll just keep going. I know I’ll cross it again up ahead. Finally, I see another sign and take it and see directions to the Bat Cave. Holy surprise Batman! But I don’t go that way. I head the direction of the parkway. In a short time I’m on the parkway and it’s magnificent. I don’t know if you’ve been on it before but imagine a road that travels along mountain ridges, craggy rock ledges, gaps, valleys, forests and meadows with no traffic lights, gas stations, restaurants, or stop signs for 469 miles, from northern Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina. (You can exit the parkway for gas and lodging and something to eat.) It is amazing. And accompanying you are incredible mixes in colors from the Rhododendrons, Black Eyed Susans, Oxeye Daisies, Wild Hydrangea, Queen’s Anne’s Lace (Lowly named Cow Parsely In Ireland!) and other purple and scarlet wild flowers.

The highest point we rode through was the Richland Balsam Overlook, weighing in at a mere 6,047 feet! Can you just imagine the views from there of the rolling mountains with clouds drifting through them? Or can you remember a time when you were surrounded by the alluring scent of fir, spruce and pine? Well, that was me. Thankful and grateful, even when the rain came a calling. The only drawback to the parkway is that the speed limit is only 45 mph, which on some of the curvy stretches was just fine. Around 5 pm (I had started at 7:45 am) I was tired and needed a place to hunker down and walk around some. I took the next exit which turned out to be Blowing Rock. It’s a beautiful place with a great old country town main street full of shops, restaurants, pubs and a park. I stopped and walked around. I could smell the incredible scent of someone making candy. I could hear the clanging of horseshoes in the park and saw folks sitting on benches eating ice cream. This felt like the right place to stop. Now, where to stay? I walked around some more, glanced down a side road and saw a place called the Hemlock Motel. Hemlock, of course, is what my hero Socrates drank for his punishment for being found guilty of corrupting the youth, encouraging them to think for themselves. Hemlock is also one of my favorite literary poisons! Literary, not literally! They had a room at a fair price, so Big Red and I set up camp there for the night. Great place. Later, I went for a walk around the town and found the Six Pence Pub, coincidentally a sister pub to the one I used to frequent in Savannah, Georgia. A cold pint of Harp beer did the trick rightly. Then I walked back to the Hemlock Motel, making absolutely sure I corrupted no youth on the way home!