The kindness of strangers was abundant, amazing and reassuring as an antidote to the toxic daily news.
I RODE my bicycle across America this summer. It took three months to go 5,000 miles, from the Northwest corner of the Lower 48 at Neah Bay to the Northeast corner at Lubec, Maine.
But I don’t want to talk about my bicycle. Instead, I want to let you know about my experience crossing the country through small-town America in these challenging political times: Americans everywhere are kind, helpful, curious and friendly. In every state I pedaled through, people were uniformly nice, interested in learning about me and my ride, and were concerned about my safety. The kindness of strangers was abundant, amazing and reassuring as an antidote to the toxic daily news.
In every small-town cafe or bar, locals would ask where I was headed. When I responded, “Maine,” the conversations took off. No one asked about my political leanings, and no one used the occasion to voice theirs. Instead, we talked about families, farming, weather, what Seattle was like and why someone would be foolish enough to ride all the way across this huge country. In a Pollyannaish way, the people I met from sea to shining sea were like a big family — sure, it was likely we had our differences, but we were civil to each other and caring. In fact that term “civil” kept coming to my mind. People were courteous and polite, worried about my safety (from vehicles on the road as well as from bad people) and genuinely interested in my crazy venture, which was so out of their realm of possibilities.
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A woman in Republic, Wash., saw me on the curb looking at my maps and invited me to sleep in her extra yurt. A local in eastern Montana invited me to sleep in the basement of the tiny Lutheran church and insisted on cooking me breakfast the next morning. A farming couple in Minnesota with whom I struck up a conversation at a local bar picked up my tab unannounced. A logging-truck driver in a tiny bar in northern Wisconsin bought my lunch after helping me navigate the back roads. And on and on went the kindness of strangers across this great land.
This trip reaffirmed my faith in America, especially in these troubling times when all the news seems to be bad or worse. Yes, we have challenges. Yes, we have strongly-held differences of opinion. Yet I’m here to report first hand that everything is not as you see it on the 24/7 news. Americans, regardless of their political stripe, are decent humans, friendly and helpful. Shocking as this might be, it has been my recent experience. It was the gold of my trip.
Despite our differences regarding politics, we Americans are caring people. Despite the rude confrontations that generate TV viewership, Americans are generally polite and civil, curious about strangers and open to learning about different places and different ways of living.
I know it sounds positively Panglossian, but maybe we do have here the best of all possible worlds.