Paw-Paw to Avalon - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

May 8, 2014

Paw-Paw to Avalon

Heart 0 Comment 0

JUST OVER the top of one of the many hills that Pennsylvania has to offer is a junction, and a little beyond it on the lesser road is an old grocery store that looks shut. The sign says it's open but there's nothing beyond the door but the sort of clutter collected by builders who are stripping a place. I can't say exactly but you know the things I mean: a bag of cement, maybe, or neon tubes in long, opened cardboard boxes, and wriggles of cable and wire. But go beyond that and you see the top of Ruth's head.

Ruth has been here for ever. She emerges grey-haired from a low seat behind the counter like a submarine coming to the surface: slowly but positively.

"Says on the outside it's open, don't it?", she challenged after I'd confessed my doubts. "Cain't get clearer than that."

For the last five years she's run the place by herself. "That's since mah husband dahd. Now ah'm here bah m'self an' trade's dyin' liddle by liddle, always fewer folks, but ah'll see it out, I reckon."

She has God on her side. A glittery, silvery Jesus of considerable size looks down with a pained expression on the coffee bench, reminding America it's a sin to add sugar to coffee. The sugar itself is in sachets, in a bowl beside a box marked "Help yourself to a tract from the Bible." I thought about mentioning it, and above all I wanted to take a picture, but I didn't want to be there the rest of the day. As it was, she had a heap of photos of her son ("in the navy, doin' well, too") and all her grandchildren, ready to show to customers with as much free time as she has.

Ruth: "Says on the outside that it's open, don't it?"
Heart 1 Comment 0

"Fella came in a whahl back," she said. "Mebbe a year? He was a bahcyclist, too. Said he was riding to Cumberland. I give him mah e-mail address an' he said he'd keep in touch, but I never heard any more, that's for sure. You doin' something like that?"

I said I was.

In fact I was having an easy day. My plan at Paw-Paw had been to ride right through and on to the Avalon resort, a naturist venue with two pools, apartments, hotel and more. I planned to stay two nights there, for the rest and to take the sting out of the bottom of my left calf, which developed a bad temper out of the blue. In fact it was raining so hard the day I got to Paw-Paw, and I was so behind time, that I called it a day and reckoned on riding the remaining dozen or so kilometres in the morning to make the most of a day of unalleviated sunshine.

There aren't many people here, in fact. It's midweek, the season hasn't started yet, and leaves are still being fished out of the pool of frighteningly cold water.

I'd exchanged e-mails with Marcie, the happy little receptionist, and she was as cheerful in real life as in print.

Memories of the Mother Country
Heart 0 Comment 0

"Lot of people," she said, "they worry it's something that it's not. It was my husband who introduced me. He'd been somewhere like that and I said, well, if it was exactly and only what he said it was, then I'd give it a go. But I'd leave in three minutes if I was unhappy. And so we went and the moment we got through the door I realised that people really were naked there! But then I saw a family lying on the grass, reading, their children playing beside them, and from then on I had no worries. I was at home. I joined in in moments."

It was the club's second site, she said. The neighbours had got the first place closed. "That's always the risk in America. We're funny people. When we were in Virginia, people found that if they got out their binoculars they could get themselves offended. In the end it worked out well, because they sold that place and bought a lot of land here and sold some of that to set up a still larger venue. And it's working well. See for yourself. It's a lovely place with a lovely atmosphere, isn't it?"

And it is, too.

Today's ride: 20 km (12 miles)
Total: 342 km (212 miles)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 0
Comment on this entry Comment 0