Saturday, August 9, 2008. 7:00am - I’m sleeping peacefully under a gazebo at St. Mary’s church in Putnam, Connecticut, minding my own business, when I hear voices coming toward me. Subconsciously I knew what was going on. Next thing I know, someone is nudging me in my sleeping bag with his foot and ordering me to get up. I open my eyes to find two police officers and another man standing over me, not looking pleased. The fact that I knew I had permission to be there and that it was 7am made me apathetic to any possible sense of trouble from the situation. As I began to sit up, I addressed the officer standing directly above me, the alarm clock. “How are you doing?” I asked, with no air of disrespect. “Better than you are,” was his reply. Are you serious?! Did this guy really just say that?! Those were my half thoughts as I further gained consciousness and wondered why the hell these guys were really there.
They started asking me questions, telling me I needed to get out, I shouldn’t be there. I told them I had permission to be there and that I had even notified the police the night before about my stay there. “Who did you talk to?” I told them I didn’t know the name of the officer; it was the one sitting behind the glass at the station. I told them the pastor of the church knew I was there, said it was okay. “Did you talk to him last night?” I told them about the people I met, them cooking the sauce for a spaghetti dinner for tonight, that they had called the pastor, and he gave his blessing for me to stay. Well, the pastor wasn’t up yet and couldn’t be reached to verify this yet, and the non-officer, the custodian of the church, was a real piece of work. They asked my name. I told them I go by Otis. “I don’t care what you go by. What’s your real name.” So I told them, gave them my id. They ran it through, found nothing on me. I told them I was just passing through, staying for a night, was completely in the right to be there. The police seemed to realize quickly, especially after running my id, that there was no real problem, nothing more worth their time. They left.
The custodian, Pete, however, was not so bright or cordial. Here’s some exchanges between the two of us:
Otis: ‘Look, I’m just staying here for a night. I have permission to be here.’
Pete: ‘Well, it’s morning now, so you need to put your shoes on and get out of here.’
Otis: ‘I don’t understand why you’re making such a big deal about this. Why are you treating me like this, like a second-class citizen?’
Pete: ‘You just need to leave. There are people walking by here to go into the chapel. They don’t want to see you laying here. Pack up and move on.’
And so on and so forth, with him just repeatedly telling me to leave right now, being a real asshole about things. I didn’t understand what his beef with me really was. Maybe he just doesn’t take kindly to people like me. I found out later that there had been a guy who squatted in one of the church’s buildings for a month before they found him not too long ago. When they found him, they kicked him out. He came back later, however. Now, evidently the custodian at first thought I was this guy, back again. In that case, I could understand why he might be upset. Some stubborn, disrespectful transient not listening to their requests and defiantly returning. I clearly established, however, my story, my approval to be there, my lack of any ill-intentions. It didn’t matter. It seems that this guy saw me as something less than a human, and that wasn’t going to change. That’s too bad. And unfortunately, it really got me upset for a few hours after the incident.
As Pete stood with a forced air of authority, watching me, I packed very slowly. It was early, I was still a bit groggy, and I had no rush to leave, so I took my time. I certainly wasn’t going to make haste for this character. After about five or six minutes, he left. What a piece of work, that guy. I took my time, allowing my shoes and socks to dry in the warm morning sun. By the time they were mostly dry it was about 9am, and I knew the people I met last night were going to be returning to finish preparing for their dinner. So I went over to the main building to use the bathroom and fill my water. Along the way I ran into the pastor of the church. He was very nice and apologized for the custodian and told me about the squatter they had. All I could do was laugh about the situation.
The rest of the day was nice. The weather held up all day, and it was actually very beautiful. The sky was a gorgeous sky-blue with tasty white, puffy clouds. I couldn’t help but take a ton of pictures. With that kind of backdrop, almost any landscape looks perfect. I made my way into Massachusetts, where I found myself in a town called Russell as the sun was beginning to set. I decided to try to find a church to sleep by since I was now in the hills and not sure how far the next town would be. There was a catholic church right on the side of the highway, but no one there to talk to. There was a protestant church just a few houses down the street, so I rolled over there. On the bulletin board outside was the number for the pastor, so I thought I would give a call and ask permission. So I called the number and someone answered. The board only told the last name, so I asked if this was the pastor of such and such church. It was the pastor’s wife; she passed the phone. Here was our conversation:
Otis: “Hi, is this the pastor of such and such church?”
Preacher of the Good Word: “Yes. Are you trying to sell something?”
Otis: (chuckling) “No. I’m not selling anything. My name is Otis and I’m just passing through town on my bicycle, making my way across the country. I am just looking for a place to lay my head for the night, and I was wondering if I might sleep outside your church tonight.”
Preacher of the Good Word: “No, I’m sorry, that’s not going to happen. Good bye.”
Otis: “Wow! Do you…”
He hung up. I can only imagine that his sermons on Sunday are full of love and good cheer.
So on down the road I went. I was told by a girl at a liquor store that the Mennonites would be good people to talk to, but there was no one at their church. The house across the street looked like it was affiliated, but no one there as well. Next door was a VFW center. I checked in there, but no one seemed around, despite a few cars in the parking lot. They did have a tempting covered picnic area, however. I was about to go check it out when a couple in a pickup truck pulled around and asked if I needed something. I reported my situation and inquired about the picnic area. They said it was covered with sensors, and if I moved at all up there that night, the state police would be there in minutes. Not a good idea. They also recommended the Mennonites and told me about a farm stand and furniture store they had down the road.
I rolled down the hill and found the farm stand and furniture store closed (it was 7pm). There were some houses right there, so I inquired. Only a woman home. She informed me I should wait until the men returned from their gospel in the park in an hour or so. I felt good about the possibilities, so I stuck around outside and ate some dinner- summer sausage, cucumber, tomato and crackers. An hour and a half later, as I was beginning to have doubts that this was going to work out, the men returned. A man named Ron Hess, whose house I was sitting outside of and owned the property and furniture store, was very friendly and invited me in for some food. His eight children and wife eventually followed. As I ate a little of their leftover dinner, he told me I could stay with a man named Brian, who lived in one of his apartments behind the house. The whole place, I guess, was an old motel and pizza joint that he converted to his house and some apartments. I was very grateful to have a warm and dry place to sleep for the night. Ron invited me to come to breakfast with him and his family the next morning and suggested I should come to their church service as well. I told him I would sleep on it, as I had a long way to get to Albany the next day.
Brian was very friendly, and we had good conversation. He helped me understand what the Mennonites believed and what sort of set them apart from other Christians. I had never had any experience with them before. Brian had only come into the church recently, so I felt he had a good perspective on the situation.
The next morning I said goodbye to Brian and headed up to Ron’s house for breakfast. It was interesting to be there for that. I’ve never experienced a family that large before. The children were fairly well behaved. None of them talked to me. Two of the little girls seemed to be constantly staring at me, though. One was a bit bashful and would look away if I returned the gaze, but the other had shame and would continue to stare. But everyone was polite, and Ron really wanted me to come to church, but I had to decline to hit the road. Before I left, they were very helpful and told me about other Mennonites along the way I might run into and gave me some contact information. I was very glad to have met these people and had this experience.
The rest of the day was mostly beautiful, winding through the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. There were some long climbs, plenty of trees, and some fast declines. Rain began around 2, I think. It was a chilly rain that stung my eyes at times, but it wasn’t too heavy. I rode on through it. As I entered New York, the rain gradually let up as the road became more downhill than up. I was grateful for that. Pulling into Albany, I was thoroughly exhausted and ready to be done for the day. It was around 7. I had begun at 9:30. I was glad to be couchsurfing and my host Thao and her friend Laura were really friendly.
I got to bed a bit later than I wanted, around 2am. I knew that was going to spell trouble. The next morning I awoke just before 9am, exhausted. I got up, thought, and decided I was going to ride. I wasn’t feeling to great. I packed up and ate some granola and set out to find some maps. I had trouble finding the tourism center, and a cop was a real asshole to me, but I eventually found it. I realized my rear tire was low on pressure, despite having pumped it up the day before. I figured I should probably just change the tube. So I parked in front of the capital building to do that. I made decent haste, not wasting any time, but as I was finishing up, putting the wheel back on the frame, sky opened up with torrential downpour. I scrambled to pack up, as my bags were all open and taking in water. The only shelter right nearby were some trees. They were not terribly efficient cover, but I got everything closed up. Within a minute, however, the spot where my bags were sitting had become a small river. I was soaked. With my tiredness, lack of strength, and the terrible storm rolling through, I decided it was best not to ride that day. I needed some rest.
Luckily Thao was kind enough to let me stay another day. We had some tasty falafel and I hung out with Laura the rest of the day until Thao got off work. Then we went and did some yoga at a free class. It was great to have that, to get some relaxing stretching and breathing. I pulled a muscle in my back somehow, and that had been hurting. The yoga helped with that a bit. It’s still tight, though. As I stretched and practiced the yoga, I began to relax, but I also began to realize just how bad of shape I was in. Not that I’m not strong or flexible, but just that my body and spirit are not doing so well at the moment. I’ve got a lot of bad energy roaming around and hiding out inside. I need to get back on track and turn that around.
I think some of it has been the rain and being so wet and my stuff being all wet. It seems so hard to relax and just be when it’s raining and you have to ride. Maybe I’m a bit anxious about getting to Niagara falls as well. I didn’t realize how big New York state is, and I’m finding that it is going to take a few days longer to get there than I planned. I guess that’s not a big deal. I know these feelings also are coming from anxiety over all the things I want to get done. I want to write more, and I told myself that I would be much more disciplined about that on this leg of the trip, but I haven’t kept up too well. I am also finding that I am not prepared for bad weather, and I know I can expect much more of that before I’m done with this trip. I’ll have to work on that. On top of that, I have computer work I need to do, and it is really hard to find time to get that done while on the road, since it usually requires an internet connection. And I have a long list of people I want or need to call. So much to do, and it seems like so little time if I try to get good rides in every day. Oh what to do.
Anyway, that’s just a little venting. It’s good to write things down and express them. I’ll work on letting go of some of this negative energy and getting some things done. It looks like today is going to be a short-distance day. I got a late start and I’m taking some time now to get on the computer and post. I was planning on making it to Syracuse in two days, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Oh well. No rush. Best to keep healthy.