Biff America: Fellowship and processed meat (column)
June 24, 2017
She was brightly colored and moved with surprising speed, "Howdy, would you like some beef jerky?"
Ellen and I were mountain biking in a rather remote area of Nevada. We were heading back to our camper at the end of a three-hour ride and passed by another RV parked on a seldom used dirt road about a quarter mile from ours. In front sat two folks on lawn chairs. We smiled and waved when the lady launched herself out of her chair and ran towards us, and without introduction, offered smoked meat. We later learned her name was Ruth.
I wouldn't call Ruth large (certainly not to her face), but she was substantial. She was built like middle-aged women were in the days before society put unrealistic body type expectations on them. With her bleached blonde hair, green tank top and pink shorts, she reminded me of a hummingbird, but way larger.
Ruth's mate was as drab as she was colorful and as thin as she was robust. He wore gray work clothes, a hearing aid and black, Converse canvas high-tops. She introduced him as Earl.
Earl was content to let his wife do the talking. He sat quietly, chewing his jerky, as his mate favored us with their life story. They were from Indiana, and recently retired; Earl drove trucks, Ruth was a beautician, no kids, ("not due to lack of trying," wink, wink). They had sold their house and all that was in it, bought an RV and decided to see the country. "What the hell, all our friends back home want to do is talk about their hemorrhoids and grandkids. We want to enjoy the time and money we have left." They had no itinerary; instead they would drive when it suited them and stay put when they found an area they liked. "Hell, we can have a good time without leaving the RV" (wink-wink).
To that remark, Earl displayed a pained smile. They preferred the more primitive forest service sites or just camping on public lands, like they, and we, had the night before. "We hate those big RV parks; they are filled with people just like us."
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All this information was contained in the first few minutes of the conversation as we straddled our bikes hoping for a chance to escape. Even though our camper was only a few hundred yards away it seemed unreachable. Ruth was quite a talker, but she was also a good listener and curious to the point of being nosy. She grilled us on our backgrounds, occupations, incomes and whether Ellen wore a bra when she biked.
Ruth asked if we would like to come back for a happy hour of beer and wieners. To my utter shock and horror, Ellen said yes.
We were barely out of sight when I said, "What, are you crazy? Why did you say we would come back?"
"I think she's nice," was Ellie's response.
"We don't have anything in common with those two, and now you have committed us to a beer and beef happy hour."
"You're a snob." She knew that would get me. Call me unreliable, impatient, obsessive or intense, but don't call me a snob. Yet upon reflection, I had to agree with my conjugal conscience. Though I can be very tolerant of the weird and neurotic and peculiar, I am judgmental of the ordinary.
I'm not sure why. I was raised ordinary. But since adulthood my contact with Middle America has been limited. Most can't afford to visit the resorts where I have worked and lived. Yet these are the people who make up the lion's share of our population. They work hard, pay their taxes, fight our wars. They are what this country is made of. I'm loath to admit they probably would be less judgmental of my life choices than I am of theirs.
By the time we made it back to their RV, Ruth had prepared a huge plastic tray with pork product hors d'oeuvres and Ritz crackers. I can honestly say I enjoyed the time we spent with Earl and Ruth. Their fondness for each other was not articulated, but visible, and after a couple beers Earl opened up a little. Just before we left to walk back to our camper Ellie thanked them for the food and hospitality. In my glow of PBR and nitrates I said something to the effect of, "I'm so glad you made the effort to stop us and invite us over. Not everyone would have done that. To that Earl said, "We try not to judge."…….
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff's new book "Mind, Body, Soul." is available at local shops and bookstores or http://shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.
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