Small town friendliness? I didn’t find any in Mt. Gilead yesterday.

It took me two hours to get out of Mansfield yesterday. I was headed into the wind and the hills south of Mansfield were as brutal as anything else I’d encountered on the trip. 15 miles took two hours. On flat ground I can knock out 20 in 90 minutes without breaking a sweat.

Mt. Gilead was the next town that would have any phone signal. My bike route software was either doing something goofy and not reporting my location or it was a lack of signal that was making the software keep all of its information to itself. Had a couple of “Are you OK?” texts when I arrived at Mt. G. (Thanks for thinking about me!)

When I rode into town there were two gas stations / convenience stores on the north side of town. Together. Right next to one another. In fact, as I was riding up onto them, from my perspective, I thought it was a single location, with a store in the middle and gas pumps on either side of it. I was parched at this point, but, the places were on the LEFT side of the road. I didn’t feel like crossing the all-of-a-sudden busy highway. I figured there’d be more chances as I went through town.

What a stupid stupid thought.

Made it all the way through town . . . and not a thing. No other gas stations. No other convenience stores. No grocery stores. And not a single restaurant that I could see.

I was at the “end” of town. I’m looking at a long grade hill down out of town. There’s something that might be a gas station at the bottom of the hill, but there’s no sign and if I’m wrong, I’m going to have to come back up this hill and ride back to the other side of town again.

I pondered for a bit and said, “The hell with it, just ride back to the stores, get hydrated, and let’s get going.” I turned the bike around and moseyed down the sidewalk. (First time on the trip I’d not ridden on the road.) A lady and her teen age daughter came out of a store front. I stopped them and asked, “Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find a restaurant?”

Now, as I’ve pointed out on a couple of occasions (and maybe my self-photos have shown this), I must be one scary / evil looking man when I’m straddled across a bicycle, Big Aaarnge Hat atop my head, sweat soaked t-shirt, and really tight gay-dancer pants.

This woman looked at me as if I had two heads, or I was going to ask for a hand-out, or maybe I looked like her ex husband. She looked at me as if I had no brains and was flat out dumb as dried out horse turd.

To her credit, she was probably right.

Because we were literally standing in front of a restaurant. She pointed it out as if I were some short-busser who’d escaped to terrorize Small Town America. “There’s one right here,” she condescendingly said, pointing at the sign in the window: “Restaurant.” No small town friendliness in her voice at all.

I thanked her, parked the bike, got off, got my money out of the pouch, locked up the bike, walked inside. It was a combination antique store and restaurant. (“Did they have antique food?” I was asked later.) I stood at the front of the store, made sure there were no “Seat Yourself” signs, and waited for someone to show me to a seat.

There were customers already in the back with plates and glasses in front of them. There wasn’t any wait staff that I could see, but there were people in the back. After a few minutes, a lady who looked like she could be the hostess, came out from the back, eyed the existing customers, walked to a mid-point counter, then looked at me. She picked up a menu . . . and set it down on the other side of her counter because it was sitting on some of the checks she was sorting. She never looked at me again.

Ooooooooo-kay.

For long-ago Joke A Day readers, y’all will remember an encounter I had at a furniture store where the woman working there never acknowledged my presence — though I was standing at her desk. That woman then had looked at me, too, but never spoke a word to me. She did, however, pick up the phone and make a personal phone call while I was standing there. Since I hadn’t made a sound to the woman, I finally realized, why, this store only hired BLIND people.

I can only assume the blind have taken over all the Mt. Gilead restaurant hostess jobs, too.

I walked out, unlocked the bike, put my money back away, tottered no more than 50 feet when I spotted a drug store that had a drink cooler. Ah ha! Park, lock, fetch money, go inside.

I buy a bottle of fruit punch (yeah, I know) sports drink and a bottle of water. Go back out and down both of them. Just like in the Mean Joe Green commercial for the 70s when he downs an entire Coke, then tosses his jersey to the little kid who brought the drink to him. I whipped off my jersey, threw it on a little kid, and a SWAT team arrived . . . all right, all right, it’s Mt. Gilead. The SWAT team was Barney Fife and Otis The Drunk, and they were armed with fly swatters . . .

No trash cans on the street. What to do with the empties? Those two drinks I just polished off, plus one more I had in the drink rack of the bike. I simply strapped them in with the bungee cords holding my tent.

Figuring I’ve got enough water in me to make it to the next down, Cardington, 7 miles away, I assume it’s safe enough to make my way out of town. (And I get to go DOWN the big hill! Woo hoo!)

At the bottom of the hill there sat another gas station. I stop to unload the empties and buy more drinks “just in case.” I walk into the store where I’m toting three empty bottles. The woman who’s working there sees me, actually recoils a little bit (honey, I’m not here to rob the place, jeez!), and asks, “Yes?”

“Do you have a trashcan?” I ask politely.

I’m not making this up. I’m not exaggerating a bit. She wrinkled up her nose like I’d asked her if she’d like to take a bite of a shit-sandwich (with sauerkraut, mustard and hot peppers!) “There’s a dumpster on the other side of the gas pumps,” she said. “Outside. Over there,” she pointed, disdain dripping from each word like the mustard from that shit-sandwich.

Ooooooooooo-kay. FINE. I’ve had enough of Mt. Gilead’s small-town friendliness at this point. Glad the economy is doing well enough that merchants can afford to lose business by not being anything less than absolutely royal-family polite to a stranger. Heaven knows who that stranger might tell about his adventures.