Oke & James


April 29

Instead of keeping a written journal, I carried a microcassette recorder and talked into it. To help me write this page, I listened to the recordings I made on the road that day. Hearing those tapes for the first time in a long while, I decided that I wasn't going to be able to tell the story any better a second time around -- so here's a straight transcript, edited only lightly:

I'm at the top of some old hill on the border of Pike and Floyd counties, and I'm about to ride down into Melvin -- it's a beautiful day, probably low 70s, just crystal clear. I'm wearing basic biking clothes for the first time on the whole trip, just shorts and shirt. At the top of this hill is a liquor store and I'm real grateful for that since I haven't seen one since I started on the trip, and I picked myself up a little pint of bourbon for, you know, drinking at the hostel, whatever.

I was interrupted while sitting here recording this -- a couple of guys drove up and asked me where I was going and I met Oke and James; James is a bit of an alcoholic and Oke is an interesting character and they were going to buy me another pint of liquor but I talked them into giving me just a beer. We went out back and talked for a little while and both of them had spent time in Michigan [where I'm from originally] -- James had worked for Ford in Flat Rock and Oke had grown up in Novi and gone to school at Northville High. We had a fine conversation, half an hour or so about everything -- and before that I chatted with the woman who owns the liquor store, an interesting woman; she must be mid 40's, still bleaching her hair blond, but attractive in an incipient-middle-age way, telling me about her three daughters and how all three are getting married, and the 18 year old is marrying a 32 year old but he's such a sweetheart and he'll take good care of her, the whole thing -- I'm hearing everybody's life story, and it's great. I got a free beer and could have had more if I'd been willing to carry it and -- lucky I'm working on a full stomach and the one beer doesn't matter very much, or hope not, because I have a mean little downhill in front of me. It's 1:30 on Tuesday and this is a really fun trip. On to Melvin.


I also meant to mention the interesting variation in the values that one encounters. This woman told me in talking about the men that her daughters were going to marry, was saying that it didn't matter how much she liked them, the only thing that she really wanted from any of them was that they didn't beat her daughters or starve them -- that anything else was fine but if they did that she'd come and kill them herself. It's funny, that those would be the things that she worries about.

Oh yeah, Oke -- not once, not twice, but three maybe four times asked me if I had enough cash, offered me cash -- he was showing me the inside of his wallet, he had like $2,000 in hundred dollar bills in there and he kept offering me cash, it was the weirdest thing; I'd say he was drunk except he really wasn't and I don't understand it -- it was too kind just to be kindness; but I told him no.

A couple of times I've come across a man or a man and a woman set up at an intersection with a whole bunch of stuff laid out on plywood boards supported by cinder blocks with just a bunch of junk on it -- it's like these people are selling their basements. And it isn't even useful stuff; you'd have to fix it to make it work and then once you made it work you'd hate it. It's like everything is for sale in Kentucky.

What else. A lot of people are just tooting at me, oncoming too, and they're just polite little beeps -- a lot more than in Virginia. I'm not exactly sure what it means but it sounds encouraging and it seems friendly. I don't know what it is with these Kentuckians, but they're all over me with friendliness -- I'm really enjoying it. Every time I slow down I meet somebody else who just wants to talk and go on forever; it's real nice.

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Page posted November 26, 2000