Friday, July 25, 2008


Most cities have an obvious geographical purpose. The lesser inland US cities often confuse the foreigner. Why were they founded in this particular stretch of emptiness? Where is the center? What logic propels developers to clump forty story buildings wall to wall in a country of unlimited space? Why these few city blocks rather than the next? And where do I find a hotel? I enter Harrisonburg on a minor road. For a motel I need the Interstate. Rain mists my spectacles. Dusk settles. I am wet, cold, miserable and lost.
I pull in at a gas station beside a black Buick sedan. The driver is a Black woman dressed (that bit that I can see of her) in artificial furs. She owns four teenagers - surely sufficient Hell in an automobile without instructing a fat old Brit on a bike seeking a bed.
The teenagers compete with her in directions. My younger sons might understand the teen-speak. The mother recognizes my bewilderment and accepts the impossibility of keeping the teens hushed long enough for a sensible conversation – even if the drenched old Brit on the Bike is capable of rational communication (doubtful). “Follow,” she says, “I'll drive slow.”
She makes a U out of the gas station and heads right across town to a Ramada Inn.
Many people have aided me on this journey. Few will read this account – and expressions of gratitude come easy. Yet I know of a future. I will sit on a bench in our Herefordshire garden, enjoy those few days of sun offered by our English summers and be better warmed by remembered evidence of so much kindness in a troubled World.