My day started at the Cahill Cafe in Clyde. While enjoying a pancake breakfast, a local gentleman asked me where I was off to. I told him about my journey. Noticing that my bike was posted up against a bench, he inquired if I had noticed the bike rack out front. I felt silly for not noticing it. The gentleman went on to tell me about all the crafty things that the locals were doing to preserve the town's charm. Their efforts seemed to be working, as I got a really nice feeling from this place.
After he left I got to speaking with a woman who I believe was the owner. She was thrilled for my journey and wished me luck. After our brief conversation she tapped this guy on the shoulder and told him what I was doing. He was Mark from the local newspaper. In no time Mark had me seated at his table and was conducting an interview. People in Clyde sure were friendly! As if that wasn't enough, he introduced me to some young guys on the wrestling team. I went into the Cahill Cafe expecting breakfast, I ended up getting an introduction to the entire town of Clyde. Not a bad place at all.
I had a short ride planned for the day, just 40 miles to Bowling Green. A storm was expected in the evening, so I wanted to ensure that I had shelter before nightfall. The ride was less gratifying than the previous day's. Sometimes the wind is on your side, sometimes it isn't. Today I faced a decent headwind for most of the ride.
I arrived midday at Bowling Green. What can I say, it was a college town. I looked for a place to eat online and came across this barbecue spot. I checked it out. The moment I walked in the door I realized that it was the kind of place that sells food as a front. Its sole purpose was to peddle booze to college students. Whatever, I was already there. I sat down and ate a subpar lunch.
My host, Matt, came to meet me at the "restaurant" as soon as he got off work. He rolled up on a longboard. Nice, I liked this guy already. We were in no rush, so we chatted over a beer. Matt was a young engineer working at an oil refinery in Toledo. He invited me to join him and his friends for trivia in Toledo that evening. That sounded great to me. I looked forward to the company.
Around 6:00 or so we headed to Toledo. The only thing I knew about Toledo was that it had this drag-on hospital merger a decade ago which ultimately got shut down by the federal government. I only knew that because of my first job. On some level I was excited to see the city, but really had no idea what to expect.
As we approached the city, it's few tall buildings peeked over the horizon. Huge oil refineries and industrial buildings speckled the flat Ohio scenery surrounding the city. Murky rivers intertwined with the highways as we entered.
Downtown seemed to be centered around the minor league baseball team's stadium. Toledo was the proud home of the Mud Hens. Yes, their team was called the Mud Hens. For the love of God does anyone know what a mud hen is? If you thought for a second that WNBA teams had silly names, then you should go through the roster of minor league baseball teams. It's like the owner gave his seven year old nephew a bunch of Mountain Dew and Pop Rocks then asked what his favorite animals was. MUD HEN!
Sorry. I diverge. We went to some Irish restaurant for dinner and trivia. There I met three of Matt's buddies. All were good guys who worked with him at the refinery. We had a beer, got destroyed in trivia and talked about chicks (not mud hens). This part of the Toledo experience felt really familiar.
During trivia, one of Matt's friends asked me, "So you're riding your bike across the country?" I confirmed that I was. He continued, "Why would you want to do that?" Hmm. That was actually a really good question. I was aware that I was sacrificing a lot to make the trip happen. I also knew that I would be gaining a lot from it. That gain, however, was difficult to articulate and even more difficult to quantify. At this point I'm not even sure what that gain is. Luckily, I'll have some time to figure it out.
After trivia we headed back to Bowling Green. Before departing the city, Matt wanted to give me a quick tour. Like other rust belt cities there was outdated architecture and noticeable vacancy. Sprinkled amongst it you would find little pockets of modernity, like the Toledo Art Museum Glass Pavilion, a one-of-a-kind all-glass structure. The city had some neat contrasts.
We approached an intersection. The building on the corner had a sign that read "Cherry Street Mission". Matt explained to me that it was a well-established homeless shelter in the city. I had certainly seen shelters like this one before. What called my attention, however, was the all white group of twenty or thirty men that waited for its doors to open. That was new to me. Never before had I seen an all white gathering of homeless people in a city. Poverty in the cities I was most familiar with, Baltimore and DC, was usually multiracial or black. Never before had I seen all white urban poverty. This quick drive around Toledo expanded my understanding of urban poverty in America.
We drove home beneath a beautiful sunset. The nice thing about the sunset in a flat place like Ohio is that there was nothing to conceal it. The entire sky was painted. Vibrant colors provided the backdrop to droll strip malls, grey highways and the occasional grain silo.
The ride was an opportunity to get to know Matt better. It was great to relate to someone who had wanderlust like I did. During our conversation I realized that Matt was a very smart guy. His general demeanor was affable and unassuming. I would carry on a normal conversation with him, then he would casually mention how he developed a technology to enable quadriplegic people to ride bicycles. Woah! That's pretty serious. I'm excited to follow the interesting stuff this guy does, cause, you know, he's one of those types.
That night I retired at my host's home. As I passed out I felt a bit silly. I had made such a big deal of this supposed storm and not a single raindrop had fallen. Oh well. I dozed off.
My eyes jolted open. I had no idea what time it was. One of the most violent electrical storms I had witnesed in years was talking place outside of my window. Consecutive lightning bursts illuminated my room. My eyes were fixed on the sole window. I was simultaneously horrified and amazed. I thought to myself, "It's a good thing I slept indoors tonight."