A very rough draft of Jim Harstad’s memoir, ON HE RODE — Chapter Forty-Five

Take it slow and easy, if you wanna get along with me. A get-along is an easy glide that doesn’t put pressure inequitably on any part by not applying much pressure, period. I’m driving slow, gliding along, looking for a place to park, a place with a roof over it, if posse le. Ah well, it’s getting late. Any out-of-the- way place will do for a night made more private by the light, steady rain.

Maybe thanks to my careful driving, the clinking sound does not seem to have gotten louder, so maybe, just maybe, things aren’t as bad under the hood as I feared, and, just maybe, I’m getting the Celestial Aid I hoped would be my reward for being a true and faithful servant. And if “true and faithful” are too much of a stretch, how about my reward for being open-minded and hopeful? But not demanding?

The question: Should I pray for Miss Chevy’s deliverance, or should I assume that her well-being and my own are covered by generic but heartfelt morning and evening prayer? It doesn’t seem the time to ask for any special consideration. Wait until things look really bad. Why waste it before you need it?

In the morning things don’t look half-bad. After a surprisingly good night’s sleep, I say my prayers under breaking overcast and a sun warm enough to turn last night’s rain to a ground-hugging mist. Generic morning prayers for a happy outcome to a good day for me, Miss Chevy, and the world at large. No special requests required, one hopes.

She starts right up and I listen to her idle, allowing myself to be optimistic about the clinking sound that might just be a loose valve tappet, not a worn rod bearing. Mightn’t it? I’ll just keep driving her easy and keeping my ears open for sounds forecasting doom. Moving north slowly, never faster than 45, I find myself wishing I’d at least checked her oil before starting out but not wanting to stop now that I’m underway. Have to get gas before long. I’ll check it then. Wait! What did I just hear? A different, somehow heavier clink? A clank? But just keep her moving for now, slow and steady as she goes.

Gradually there’s more traffic, the houses are closer together, and I’m heading into a small wide-spot-in-the-road town that’s got to have a gas station or two. That’s a good thing because the clinking has definitely turned to clanking on a worrisome scale. I’ve got two credit cards, a SHELL and a Union 76, and end up pulling into a clean-looking SHELL station.

Last summer on my way to Copenhagen, I had an especially fortunate experience at a SHELL station. Maybe I’ll be equally fortunate at this SHELL station on my way to Cincinnati. As happened in California, I seem to have lost my way cartographically speaking, so the thing to do is to fuss and futz in place for a sentence or two, pretending I know what’s up until just sweeping it in the corner under the rough draft sign and vowing to fix it the next time around. Stay tuned. Or not.

Of course I can’t even get tuned since I haven’t got a working radio, and it occurs to me that it might be something I could do to prove my good intentions regarding Miss Chevy’s fortune should she be allowed to complete her circumnavigation of the whole United States by a Deity willing to disclose Its divine existence.

So if I get the radio working in addition to keeping gas in the tank, air in the tires, and water in the radiator and battery, then all God will have to do is make sure the crankshaft keeps rotating despite serious oil contamination. Of course I will continue to add oil as needed to maintain volume, but under ordinary driving circumstances, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to climb, climb up Sunshine Mountain, so to speak . . . or to sing, Lord, Lord, Vacation Bible School at its musical best. Jesus loves me, this I know. Really? We’ll see.

Last summer’s rescue at the Danish SHELL station was definitely fortunate and timely, but I don’t know what I learned from experiencing the kindness of strangers other other than that strangers can be kind and that Danes speak good English and seem to like Americans. Did God set it up for me? Who knows? Will time tell?

Bicycling from Hamburg to Copenhagen, carrying so much luggage the rear wheel bearings failed, leaving me stranded at evening dusk, a light rain falling. Without my weight, the wheel bumps along well enough for me to push the bike to the SHELL station in the small community up ahead. The owners, a young couple just closing for the night, all intrigued by the sight of an American riding a bike — an American riding a bike! — and breaking down in their small village. Like the mom’n pop stores I grew up with, their living quarters were attached to the gas station but quite separate from it.

Behind the family living quarters was a pond, beside which was a cottage, within which I was allowed to spend two nights without charge. Meals with the family came free, as did the dismantling and evaluation of my rear wheel hub: New ball bearings needed.

Before Hans went to the parts shop, he set me up at the dining room table with somebody’s grandfather and four cold bottles of Tuborg beer. We toasted each other, smiled and drank the beer straight from the bottle. No talking. He apparently did not speak English but liked people who do, especially if they rode bikes.Several times he made cranking motions with his fasts, as though they were feet on pedals. Then he laughed, shook his head, raised his bottle, and drank. I raised mine and drank a return toast. We had a good time together, and by the time we’d finished our beer, my bike had already been repaired and it was time for lunch and another Tuborg.

That evening my host’s younger brother took me downtown for beer and billiards, which I’d never played but managed not to embarrass myself. Of course the brother and his buddies spoke English and let me know that Danes are grateful for what they regarded as the American rescue in WWII. And they liked that I was touring their country on an old Dutch bicycle.

The next morning after breakfast I mounted my now perfectly functional bike, still carrying too much luggage plus a box lunch of tuna sandwiches, an apple, and two bottles of Carlsberg  beer carefully packed and freely given. They would take no money and were at pains to make me feel that I’d done them a favor by dropping in for a visit on my way to Copenhagen.

Question: Was it luck, chance, or good fortune? Kismet or Spiritual Blessedness? God? Where do good things come from?

Mahalo for reading!

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