Friday, May 29, 2009

Glory be to God for dappled things, pt. 3

Where was I? Nature, poetry, religious ecstasy... heatstroke. Yes, heatstroke.

I suffered heatstroke once before, last year on a muggy day in Greenwich, Connecticut. I was also on the bike that day, and should have known something was wrong when I kept mistaking gargantua-homes for clubhouses and lawns for fairways. Except that's an easy enough mistake in Greenwich even when you're not delirious. There is nothing in the DC area that compares, wealth-wise, or power-wise even, to hedge-fund-funded Greenwich. DC is their hired help, the lowly service sector.

Anyway, I got lost in Greenwich, wandered in circles, pulled over and vomited into someone's bushes, and finally collapsed onto a lawn. Over the phone, my girlfriend quickly diagnosed heat stroke and told me to stay put. I felt my way down to the train station instead, but once inside, couldn't figure out how to swipe my credit card. Nor could I form the words to talk to the attendant. Did I want a round-trip ticket or a one-way pass? Where was I going?

How was I supposed to know? How was I supposed to solve these spatial-relations puzzles or answer such enduring paradoxes? Shall I resolve the mystery of consciousness and reconcile free will with determinism while I'm at it?

Eventually, I got on the right train and stared blankly for the sixty-mile return trip to New Haven, skin lobster-hued. The whole evening was spent gazing into space with not a thought in my head. Even the next morning, I didn't feel well, spoke little, and ate almost nothing. Lesson learned: heat stroke sucks. If you see the signs, do not dismiss them, as you will most certainly be tempted to do. (I kept insisting on the phone, in uncharacteristially crude language, that I was "not a pussy" and could continue on to NYC, my intended destination.)

If you feel heat stroke coming on, go to a cool place, take in some liquids, and rest.

So this time I took measures against rising body temperatures, cooling off first under a bridge and then in a general store, where they had a table set up, with old people sitting around it solving crossword puzzles. This was my first encounter with the folks of rural Virginia: hospitable, warm, and mystified as to why anyone would want to ride a bike on a hot day.

I started forming hasty generalizations about the people out here. I know the base of evidence is slim, and people are people, etc., but this is something that cannot be helped. My long weekend of meeting countryfolk yielded the following:

1. Old people out here are *great*. They have a lot of time on their hands. They all want to tell you stories about the past, about how things have changed, about their geneologies, about the formation of the park and how residents were kicked off the mountain by the federal government, how those who refused to leave had their homes burned to the ground. They use words like 'kin' in non-ironic, non-legal contexts. Very cool freakin' old people.

2. The young people here are like young people anywhere, except they reproduce earlier. I talked to a 4-months-advanced 21-year old in Front Royal whose 15-year-old sister was also expecting. According to her, this was not unusual.

While the elderly cling to the past, the youth just want to get out of their small towns and into the modern world.

3. Those between young and old... Hmmmmm. I don't have the kindest generalizations for them.

The women seemed a little too interested in me and looked a solid 15-20 years older than their stated ages. Obesity may have something to do with it, but it could also be the heavy smoking, drinking, and hard life that ensues when you're pregnant at 15.

Yes, I am impressed that you have a good credit rating. But no, that doesn't mean I'm into you. Sorry.

The men? Two anecdotes will have to suffice. On the third day of my journey I walked into a pizza-and-wings place in Front Royal and ordered their hottest wings: "suicidal". Next step down was "homicidal". Not sure why. Two giant flat-screen televisions were mounted on opposite walls. The first was tuned to CNN. The second was ESPN something-or-other (no, not the "ocho"!) featuring 800-horsepower 4x4 trucks circling around a course of mud. Guess where all eyes were turned?

Second anecdote. On one downhill section, which I was bombing in the high 30's, I saw a truck approaching from behind me, but couldn't pull over any further, as there was no shoulder. At the bottom of the hill, things widened briefly and I braked and pulled to the side to let him pass. My reward? The passenger leans out of his window, slaps the side of his gun-rack-outfitted pickup and yells "Asshole!" Why? Because I'm in lycra? Because that inflames his suppressed homoerotic tendencies? I don't know. I have a brief moment in which I contemplate entitling my blog post, "Fat, Retarded, and Packing Heat," but I think better of it.

Final observation. I saw some actual mullets, again, sported non-ironically as far as I could tell.

Back to the journey. Seven miles after the general store I am in a room in the Super 8 Motel in Front Royal, staring blankly at the wall. It takes me two hours to cool off enough to realize that time is passing and that I should probably force myself to eat something.

Two nights later, I would again stay in the Super 8, this time clearheaded enough to realize that the room has a television. Showing? Oh Brother Where Art Thou & Idiocracy.

More to come...


Tim Rugg said...

More mullets in your future.

qualia said...

That gives me an idea. Maybe I could grow one out for my upcoming trip to the UK.

qualia said...

Also, I must confess. After a minute or two of Anderson Cooper (you bored me, AC!), I turned and watched truck racing, the appreciation of which, I learned, requires a discerning eye and far more knowledge than you might at first imagine.