Faites comme chez vous…

Posted: 12 February 2010 in Riding

A decent man and a decent woman–10 bucks for a campsite (if you come in by bike), with a hot shower and internet thrown in. Oh, and a place to pump up your tires and wash the grime of the trail off your bike. In a place where the mountains make a difference in the weather and (still) in the people you know and call your community.

One of those towns that you hope will lie across your path at the end of the day because… well, any town that stations a nonagenarian in a “welcoming center” by the trail simply to say “hey there” to all-comers and answers (in carefully rehearsed prose) all your not-too-difficult questions about the environs–any town like that… Any town with a big one-room hostel and Yuengling on tap and in bottles–any town town that will give you one on the house if your meal doesn’t arrive on time… Any town that has a working rail line running through it AND a river and a hill rising up behind it–any town with 4 seasons… Any town with the wherewithal to at least try to re-imagine itself after steel says goodbye–any town you can get to from, not one but two major cities merely by riding a bike… Well, any town like that deserves a stop, a pause, a “looksee”.

And that decent couple they don’t need to make too much money. I suppose he wants his pickup and a place to “putter” and she wants her clip-on phone and a place to fuss over. They both want to welcome you with a simple, unpretentious nod when you ride in stinking and mud-freckled after a long day out. They want to share simple stories of life in that town. They want you to go away with that contented smile that comes when you are treated like a human being–and with the knowledge that you slept in a safe place last night. And, besides the 10 bucks, they really don’t want or need much in return.

“Why can’t people just keep in mind how THEY want people to act in THEIR town?” he asks. “Other night, driving home, why a whole bunch of them strung out across the street laughing and talking loud. Seemed they thought they owned the place.”

It made me think about how things get when everything is a “transaction”–when everything is a commodity. Then the “buyer” only thinks of the “rights” s/he has once s/he has paid, and more likely than not assumes s/he has rights that were never fathomed by the seller. And when s/he sets about claiming those rights and pushing the boundaries of what those rights might be (and the pushing gets harder after a certain number of drinks–also purchased–which act like “rights multipliers”), then the seller starts to wonder if s/he should have made the transaction at all. And maybe after a while that town closes the “welcoming center” and the hostel and the campground. And something good and simple is lost.

What that little town needs, I think, is a sign at that too-quaint-for-words “welcoming center” that reads something like this:

You are welcome here! Come eat with us and sleep in safety. Get to know us and who we are. Have fun and let us take care of the stuff you usually have to worry about–cooking, making beds and cleaning up. We have a little motto here–from the French: “Faites comme chez vous, mais n’oubliez pas que vous êtes chez nous.” We’re pretty sure your town has the same motto so we should all get along just fine. Oh… in case your French is a bit rusty, just ask any of us and we will be glad to share the true meaning of our motto. Thanks! And have a great stay!

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