Yesterday in a small restaurant in a small town in Iowa I asked for a banana split. When I did, the server smiled ear to ear, overjoyed that I had ordered it.
“Yes! I can definitely make that for you!” she said.
“Oh, and could I have hot fudge instead of the chocolate syrup?”
Her emotive face beamed with happiness again, “Yes, absolutely! You can absolutely do that!”
When the server handed me the banana split she was exuberant, “Here you go! You’re banana split with hot fudge! At least you’re eating something healthy!”
“Something like that!” I said.
I ate my banana split at a table outside the restaurant, enjoying the pleasant day. An older woman, maybe 75 or so, who was wearing an Air Force baseball cap said hello to me. I said hello back.
Then she said, “Have a good day!” And so I replied, “You as well!” And she stopped and said, “That’s all I have left, good days. I’ve used up all my bad days.” And she laughed to herself and stepped up into an old, Ford truck.
As I finished my banana split an old man with a cane and his wife came out from the restaurant. He saw my bicycle leaning against the fence and realized I had biked to their little town. He called out to me, “Enjoy it while you can! You won’t always be able to do that.”
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.” I replied.
He continued the conversation, “Where you coming from?”
“Oh, I biked here from Council Bluffs.”
“How far is that on the trail?”
“A little over 22 miles or so.”
Nodding to himself, he said, “Well, it’s a beautiful day for it.”
I agreed. “It’s a perfect day for it. Figured I better take advantage of it.”
“Yeah, well the bad news is now you have to bike it all the way back.”
“Yeah, that’s ok. I planned for that.”
I love these sorts of interactions with complete strangers in small, friendly rural towns. Not quite small talk, but happy interactions with pleasant people.
Yesterday I realized I didn’t have any appointments to run for any of my kids. And with the temperatures still in the mid-70s, I thought it might be a lovely day for a long, solo bike ride.
And so that’s what I did. I started where my friend Jeff and I always start taco ride but instead of stopping where we usually do, I just kept going for another 12.5 miles.
It was a beautiful day for it. I’ve never biked this far before, I don’t think. 45 miles, it ended up being, in total.
Something I love about life, and something I took for granted before Covid, is how a day can be open to so many possibilities. I woke up, took Micah to speech therapy before school and then had a day open to do whatever I wanted.
Meanwhile, a woman who works at a little restaurant in Malvern, Iowa was going about her morning getting ready to serve people tasty food and ice cream.
I threw my bike into the back of the Prius and drove out Council Bluffs, Iowa – the city right across the Missouri River from Omaha. It’s where the trailhead to the Wabash Trace Nature Trail starts. My friend Jeff and I affectionately call this trail our therapist, and to ride it, our therapy. We’ve ridden it together countless times over the last six years or so.
The day seemed like a good day for me to spend a long session with our therapist. For me, it was the first time I’ve ever ridden on the trail without Jeff. A one on one session, I suppose. The first ten miles were of the extremely familiar path that I’ve taken dozens and dozens of times for taco ride. That’s a comforting feeling, to know the land, the trees, the fields. But then I pushed past where we typically stop and kept going.
It was exciting to be on a part of the trail I had never traveled before. It was all very similar to what I was used to, but new at the same time. There were what seemed to be a million and a half walnuts on the trail, but it was a wonderful ride.
Trees line the trail the entire way. They lean in, almost in a sort of embrace, like they are watching over you, protecting you. Beyond the trees are fields and hills of farmland. The crops have all dried up now, brown and ready for harvest. In the mid-morning sun, they almost glow.
I made it to my destination in under two hours, and eventually ordered my banana split from the very happy server.
This life, it’s a special thing. The shared human experience. That I can wake up one day, bike into a small town in Iowa and there’s a woman there at a small restaurant excited to serve me ice cream. That will never not amaze me.
I hope you can find time to appreciate these sorts of interactions with people – other human beings with lives filled with hard work, with grief, with love, with joy, and with heartbreak. These people are what make this human experience special. Appreciate the strangers you interact with, even if it may be the only time you’ll ever interact with them.
Love your neighbor as yourself.