Just a Thought: August 17, 2016
Get lost. (And found.)
"How do we get to downtown Erie?" asks the man straddling a Heritage Softail, the Harley's idle providing percussion for his voice. His sun-darkened skin deepens by the minute in the mid-afternoon, midsummer sun. The woman behind him takes a few futile swipes at her wind-wilded hair, barely contained by a bandanna.
The couple they're riding with settle in at the intersection of Route 98 and Sterrettania Road just behind them. Together, they remind me of the Gemini roller coaster at Cedar Point: a matched set in full Sunday Harley regalia, switching off who leads and who follows. They even have Ohio plates, I notice, smiling to myself.
We match too, I suppose, our two skinny-tired featherlight carbon frames in stark contrast with their decked-out, highway-heavy chrome. And as far as I can tell, none of them are wearing chamois-padded spandex under their Levi's.
My traveling companion walks his bike toward the lost man to explain the two right turns, essentially, this gang will need to hit the city.
Whether on two or four wheels, most motorists are plenty courteous to bicyclists; but there's always that question in the back of our minds: Is there going to be a confrontation here?
But the only conflict on this hot day is among the Ohio riders.
"See, I told you we shoulda turned back there!" the same man exclaims, and for a moment we three are in collusion: the trio who knew where downtown was.
As the group readies themselves for a longer-than-anticipated ride, we say our farewells, tossing back and forth a few cliches about staying cool that our time in this culture have taught us all. Soon, they peel off with the roar we "Shore"-dwellers know well.
We click into our pedals, reawakening our legs. And it occurs to me that we just had an encounter that's become rarefied in the last decade or so: Someone asked us for directions.
"So, not one of them had a smartphone?" I ask, then catch myself. Just a year ago, I didn't have one of those, either. I couldn't call up an unfamiliar intersection or have Google find a map for me, once it (whoever "it" is) identified my global position.
I had to ask someone.
As we made our own way back via two right turns, I wandered – aimlessly – through a mental catalog of times I've had to ask directions. Visions of Native American reservations, storybook small towns, and labyrinthine foreign cities flooded my mind; accompanied, in some cases, by the people whom I'd asked.
I recalled one man in Budapest who saw us looking at a map and eagerly offered us help, as though paid by the Hungarian tourist board to descend upon confused travelers in his complicated city.
Every encounter drew me out of my isolated self. Humbled me. Empowered the one I'd asked. And reminded me how we depend upon each other – we humans – whether we admit it or not.
Though I tend toward melodrama, I know the solution here isn't to throw out my smartphone (though I reserve the right to go that route, any time). But there's no denying that our plastic money and handheld devices have distanced us from one another, limiting those little cordial encounters that keep us connected, even if only for a moment.
I'm not saying anything new here. Just affirming a couple of landmarks on the road back to heartier humanity.
If we want to know where we are on a map, Google can help us.
But if we feel lost, we can only help each other.
Katie Chriest can be contacted at katie@ErieReader.com.