This is the second installment recounting my series of heart encounters on September 10 and 11, 2017 in connection with a pilgrimage I made to the site of the original Woodstock festival. This post covers the evening of September 10, after my encounter with Sion at Big Pink in West Saugerties. Read Part 1 here.
Unexpected Wilderness Interlude
Sion had mentioned it was an hour and a half drive to Liberty. It hadn’t looked that far on Google Maps and even with the time it would take to find my way back down the mountain roads to the highway it seemed like an overestimation.
But even after I’d found something like a main road it seemed to be taking a long time to reach the highway. The GPS was showing dozens of miles to go on the 2-lane rural road I was on. It was lovely and peaceful, and for the time being I was driving in daylight, albeit with the setting sun hitting my eyes at various turns so I kept driving blithely on.
I skirted the north side of the Ashokan Reservoir then took a sharp left onto another 2-lane road through… wilderness. There was a house here and there but otherwise the unassuming road passed through an untouched valley. Meadows. Ponds. Outcrops. Everything looked pristine. Lovely. Enchanting. Wild. And still dozens more miles to go before the next crossroads. It made the rural roads leading to Big Pink seem practically metropolitan.
My enchantment with the scenery slowly started to mingle with fear. I’m terrified of hitting deer on the busy George Washington Parkway near home and now I was on undisputed deer turf. I saw many of them browsing in meadows close to the road, and it would soon be pitch black out. The only other cars I saw along the way were parked at trail heads, their occupants nowhere to be seen. If some accident or mechanical breakdown befell me it could be hours before help arrived. I pressed on with a mixture of anxiety and awe, both caused by the remoteness and wild natural beauty of my surroundings. I took comfort in the fact that my Big Pink detour had included a stop to top off the gas tank.
I narrowly missed hitting a wild turkey that was crossing the road, thus narrowly avoiding becoming the punchline to a joke I’d rather not think about. l saw a live woodchuck, a first for me. I’ve only ever seen them dead by the side of the road. Further on, a doe was poised to tiptoe across the road in front of me. I slowed down for her but she hesitated until I’d passed by, watching me warily all the while. Then she crossed. Good girl. Thank you.
I lost the light at Neversink, but the GPS, seemingly having regained its senses, promised that Liberty was under 15 minutes away. I was treated to a gorgeous view of the Neversink Reservoir lit by the final available rays of natural light and moments later I turned onto the road that would take me into Liberty.
A few minutes after that there was a traffic light, the first I’d seen in what felt like days. Then more signs of civilization in the form of gas stations and fast-food joints. I was relieved to have emerged unscathed from the crepuscular wilderness but also sorry to bid farewell to the area I later learned was appropriately named the Sundown Wild Forest.
Nobody Puts Ashley in the Corner
I checked into the Liberty Days Inn at 8pm. Sion had been right about the travel time after all. Never doubt a native.
I put my bag in my room then left in search of dinner. The desk clerk had recommended the Liberty Diner, which was a short walk up Sullivan Avenue. Sounded fine to me, better than the Taco Bell and Pizza Hut that were also within walking distance, although I was curious about the Golden Dragon Mexican and Chinese Restaurant whose menu was among the local information brochures in my room. But diner food felt right, so diner it was.
The diner had a familiar vibe. Its atmosphere and menu reminded me of Atlantis, a family-owned-and-operated restaurant in Alexandria that’s a favorite of my gentleman friend and me. The place was doing a brisk business for a small-town Sunday night. I took a small table at the edge of the “formal” dining area (i.e. it was carpeted instead of tiled).
My server, Ashley, seemed familiar too. I felt like whoever she reminded me of was someone I had only recently met. Maybe one of the weekend participants? She appeared to be barely out of her teens and could have been the poster child for skittishness. I got the sense from her hesitant answers to my questions about the menu that she was a new employee. But even on top of that she seemed ever unsure of her next move, as if she were terrified it would end in disaster. It wasn’t until I saw her exit the kitchen carrying a loaded tray, moving tentatively and darting her eyes back and forth warily that I realized who she reminded me of: the timid doe I’d seen back in the wilderness. “This woman needs a weekend,” I thought, “she doesn’t deserve to live her life in fear of her own shadow.”
The food was nothing to write home about, so I didn’t mention it while I checked in via text with a few friends and loved ones as I ate. It was my first contact with my usual world since Thursday night.
The Days Inn clerk had told me to make sure to mention to my server that I was a hotel guest so I’d get a 10% discount on my bill. Ashley received this news with a look of alarm and skittered off to check with management about it before I could tell her to not bother. It would only be a few dollars anyway and not worth adding to her anxiety.
When she came back she looked as calm as I’d seen her, that is to say only mildly terrified. “You’re all set. They have your bill at the cash register.”
“Thank you. Here. This is for you.” I handed her a heart.
“What? This is so pretty. Are you sure you don’t want it for yourself? You keep it.” She reached her hand out to me and took a step backward at the same time, timid doe style.
I kept my hands on the table. “No, it’s yours. I carry a bunch of them with me to give to people I meet when I travel. I want you to have this one.”
Ashley relaxed ever so slightly but tears sprang up in her eyes. “Thank you SO much. You have no idea how much I need this, with everything I’m going through right now!”
“What do you need from me?” I asked gently.
She looked startled. “Oh nothing! I’m ok. Thanks again.”
I knew better than to push. Talking too long with a customer would get her in trouble probably. That was a shame because she so clearly needed someone to just listen to her speak her troubles out loud. I thanked her for serving me and wished her well. Then I went to the cash register to settle my bill.
The owner was on duty. He was about my age but had a timeless diner-owner look to him. He wouldn’t have seemed out of place if I’d time-travelled to this diner 50 years earlier. He asked for my check and was puzzled when I said Ashley had told me it was waiting for me at the register, something to do with the Days Inn discount.
“ASHLEY! GET OVER HERE NOW!”
She approached with terror in her eyes. Her boss berated her for not printing out a check. “How am I supposed to know how much to charge this lady without a check? What kind of way is that to do business, huh? Ashley. You. Have. To. Print. A. Check. Every. Time. DO IT NOW!” While she scurried over to the order entry terminal to comply he rolled his eyes at me and shrugged comically as if to say “it’s hard to find good help, amirite?”
I was disgusted by his making such a show of belittling his employee in front of a customer and by his expecting me to be amused. “Ashley did a great job. She deserves to be treated with respect.”
He ignored that. “You’re at the hotel? Welcome to Sullivan County. The original Woodstock was held just down the road from here, you know.” He handed me the credit slip to sign.
“I do know. I’ll be visiting the site tomorrow.” I signed, adding a hefty tip for Ashley.
“Enjoy your visit then. Have a good night!”
“Thank you.” I grabbed a few wrapped chocolate mints from a dish on the counter. Same brand as they have by the register at Atlantis.
I walked back to the hotel and went to bed.
What a long strange day it’d been.
Coming next: 17B or Not to Be
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