Picking up from where I left off last week, Sabra and I started the final leg of our bicycle trip about 8:30 a.m. with two cold beers in my pannier.
The day was clear, warming quickly and I soon noticed that I had forgotten to fill my water bottles before leaving. I was nowhere near dying of thirst, but after 15 miles I was getting uncomfortable.
And then we came across Joe near Perryopolis.
He was sitting a few feet from the trail in a chair under a deck attached to his house. To Joe’s right, a hand-lettered sign advertised homemade pizzelles. At his feet, several cardboard flats displayed tomatoes, potatoes and one watermelon. To his left, a table offered a can labeled “donations.” Further to the left, a large refrigerator sported a sign telling what was inside and the suggested donation for each item. Last, but not least, a five-gallon dispenser of drinking water beckoned and admonished donations only. In front of it all was an umbrella-covered table and a few chairs.
A little oasis on the bicycle trail of life.
I grabbed my water bottle and headed to the cooler, striking up a conversation with Joe. He was a laid-off factory worker that decided the little refreshment stand would give him something to do and put a few dollars of spending money in his pocket. He was friendly and inquisitive. Somewhere in the conversation I mentioned that his tomatoes looked good and he asked if I’d like to try them. Before I had a chance to answer, he stood up, grabbed a couple and headed into his house returning a few minutes later with a plate of sliced tomatoes garnished with red pepper and salt and pepper.
The reader will recall that I do all the heavy lifting when it comes to eating in our marital relationship. It was me that had to put down 15,000 calories of breakfast so as to waste not while Sabra noshed on a small plate of scrambled eggs, for example. Back home it’s me that chokes down the leftovers in the refrigerator before (and sometimes after) they spoil.
“You know Pennsylvania grows the best tomatoes in the world,” he said while handing me the plate. As I took it Sabra grabbed one slice and said I could have the rest. I’m loyal to Iowa but I had to admit that the tomatoes were excellent. Then the conversation turned to the melon, and the same scenario repeated. Finally, I said something about the potato and it happened again, only this time we protested when he trotted off. “We really need to be going,” I offered, and Sabra chipped in, “and we’re really not hungry.”
It was to no avail.
Have I mentioned that Pennsylvanians in this area have a strange relationship with potatoes in general and French Fries in particular? They put the latter atop places you wouldn’t suspect like a hamburger and even salads. The salads proved to be a dining dilemma, as I love fries but only if they are slathered with ketchup. But while I love ketchup, I can’t think of anything grosser than putting Heinz 57 on a salad. I thought about removing the fries and eating them separately but in the end ate them in situ with extra, extra blue cheese dressing. It was okay but it’s not a custom I intend to bring home.
In any event, Joe returned 20 minutes later with two piping hot potatoes in aluminum foil and a couple of sporks. He really wanted us to eat them right then and there but he finally heard our protest and let us go. I put the potatoes in the opposite pannier from the beer.
Another dozen miles down the trail in West Newton, Pa., we stopped for a break in front of the old depot, now a trailhead and souvenir store. It was a warm day, but pleasant in the shade. We had 300 miles behind us with only 20 ahead. For a snack I pulled out the Yeunglings, still icy cold, and the potatoes, warm and dripping butter.
The best potato ever.