AAA – The American Automobile Association saved not only the day, and not just my trip, but quite possibly, a radical shift in the direction of my life. You see, I was traveling with an open mind and a willingness to see where my dream of traveling across the country would take me. If I found a better job and place to live, or if fate would give me a “Grand Strand” in, say South Carolina, well then I was ready to take it with a smile like “a day at the beach.” However, fate did not leave me stranded . . ..
Two weeks earlier, on June 4th, I spoke with Kay at the Bellevue, Washington, AAA branch about this special delivery I was making. Kay graciously listened to me as I boasted about having the opportunity to ride a motorcycle across the United States. After telling her the preliminary route that I was intending to travel, and asking for the appropriate maps, she strongly recommended that I consider their RV Roadside Assistance Insurance Package just in case I might need a flat-bed tow truck along the way. She then provided me with a half-dozen maps for my travels and wished me well.
The insurance that Kay provided paid off in multiple ways along my “S-Miles Across America,” but none as much as the lift I got from the AAA flat-bed after the bike broke down with major electrical issues. The driver picked me up at Myrtle Beach and dropped me off at the nearest Kawasaki shop.
While I waited for Redline Powersports to open, I took the battery two doors down to the Auto Zone for testing. It was dead, alright. So, I bought a new battery, checked the bike into the shop when it opened, and headed for the beach while I waited.
I’d run a dozen marathons in my life and was sure that I could do these 14 miles in time before the shops close. But just in case I couldn’t, I went back into the Golden Villa Motel. Lennie, (same guy who turned me away the night before) was at the desk again. I asked him for a permanent marker, and he kindly provided one from the jar on the counter. I walked over to a solid surface away from the front desk, took off my shirt and drew a large hitchhikes’ thumb on the back of the white tank-top with “CONWAY” written in large block letters above it.
Lennie raised his eyebrow as I thanked him and jogged away from the dusty Golden Villa toward Conway, South Carolina.
Three miles into a good sweat, a nineteen-seventy-something Datsun pulled in front of me. The large black teen in the passenger seat asked out his lowered window, “Need a lift?” I asked him and his friend where they were heading and they weren’t quite sure. “Mom let us take the car, so we’re just cruisin’ around.” “Well, now we all got somethin’ to smile about!,” I said.
Mike, the young driver, couldn’t have been a day over seventeen. His grin revealed yellow, stained teeth that made him look like he’d been drinking thick coffee and smokin’ cigarettes for twenty years. There was a faint smell of a freshly smoked joint, but with the hot and dense breeze pushing through the opened windows, it was hard to tell if it was coming from inside or out. Mike asked where I was headed. I told him the short answer, “The Kawasaki shop up the road” and it turned into the long answer of my Seattle to DC trip via “the south.”
Looking back, I realize that I didn’t ask these two kids what makes them smile or ask for their contact information. I would love to send them a token of my appreciation for the lift, but guess they’ll have to wait for karma.
After the ZRX was buttoned back up and reloaded, I took the quickest route north toward my destination. This was a bit of a let down because I’d hoped to visit a fellow Keller Williams realtor in Wilmington, North Carolina, but I had quite a bit of time to make up.
Lightning began to dance a quick-step around me as I headed north on I-95 near Fayetteville and through Benson, North Carolina. I pulled under a shelter at a gas station and watched the sky like it was the fourth of July. When it was safe to continue, I rode until dusk, hoping to find a safe and dry place to pitch the tent. I made my way into the city of Raleigh. The clouds were clearing but the ground was drenched. No dice for camping.
I found another Quality Inn near what I call, “Tobacco Town.” There were signs everywhere for the JR Tobacco Outlets. Since camping was not an option in the summer storm which was being dealt, I looked forward to the “all-you-can-eat” breakfast bar at the Quality Inn. After breakfast, it was tempting to stop in for some cheap smokes, but I reminded myself, “I’m trying to quit.”
The weather had cleared nicely as I thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of hours on this incredibly powerful and comfortable motorcycle. It’s hard to believe that with two weeks behind me, my behind wasn’t bothering me more. I started to wish my trip could continue on . . ..
I arrived at my destination, Carne and Lindsay’s home, as they had just returned from church. It was Father’s Day and after saying “Hello,” we enjoyed a king’s feast poolside with Lindsay’s side of the family.
When we returned to their house later that evening, we made arrangements for my flight home. I really didn’t want to leave without taking a little time to see some historical sites. It felt odd to ask, but Carne said “yes” to letting me borrow his motorcycle so I could ride over to the National Mall in the morning.
When I woke, I straddled the ZRX without any baggage. I headed out into the Monday morning rush and nimbly weaved in and out of the clogged Washington arteries. When I found my way to the Mall, I parked in a rare “free-zone” that only motorcycles could get away with. For the next couple of hours, I wandered from statue to statue, reading about the civil war, its heroes and other battles. Then I stood in amazement at the Lincoln Memorial.
In the middle of the day at the National Mall, the perimeter of the White House was pushed back as Obama was “on the move.” Being disappointed that I couldn’t get closer to the President’s home, I began to make my way toward the U.S. Capitol. I walked to the corner of Constitution Avenue and 15th Street. All of the traffic, foot and otherwise, was halted as the Obamassiah made his way through.
In just a couple of hours, I saw enough to realize that it should take one a week to visit DC.
Later that night, Carne and Lindsay took me to a delightful dinner at P.F. Chang’s in Annapolis, Maryland. After our meal, I was given an executive tour of the Naval Station and of the beautiful little harbor town of Annapolis. I was in awe of my surroundings and thought for a moment how I would love to stay.
I reached into my pocket, pulled out a little rock that I’d been carrying for two weeks, and baptized it once more, this time in the Chesapeake Bay. I thought of Carrie and smiled, knowing that I would see her in twenty-four hours.
Monday morning, June 21st, at thirty-thousand feet, a smile once again came across my face. Hidden behind it was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment mixed with a deep-seated desire to continue exploring. I longed to continue meeting people from other parts of America to ask them, “What makes you smile?” I don’t intend to stop.
In today’s state of our union, even with trouble, there is something magical about the human spirit and the American soul which lights up when you think about your own passion, especially when you boldly share it with others.
After reading about this one man’s experience of “S-Miles Across America,” please consider this: While smiles are free, they may very well be the richest blessing that you can bestow on another.
To Carrie, Carne, and Mike Livingston; to all the others who made this trip possible; and, to the many people who answered my question, THANK YOU! . . . Thanks for taking a minute to share your smile. It means the world to me.
God bless all the smiles across America!