The Joy Of Growing Up Italian

The Joy of Growing Up Italian
Elvira Sperduto Oliver

Editors note: this is a essay that was popular in print form on the walls of Italian American homes as I was growing up.

 

“I was well into adulthood before I realized that I was an American. Of course I had been born in America, and lived here all of my life, but it somehow never occurred to me that just being a citizen of the United States meant that I was an American. Americans were people who ate peanut butter and jelly on mushy white bread that came out of plastic packages. ME? I WAS ITALIAN.

 

To me, as I am sure for most second-generation Italian/Americans children who had grown up in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s there was a definite distinction between US and THEM. We were Italians. Everybody else, the Irish, English, German, Polish, Jewish, they were “MEDI-GAN”. There was no animosity involved in that distinction, no prejudice, no hard feelings. It was just well – we were sure ours was the better way. For instance, we had a bread man, a coal and ice man, a fruit and vegetable man (which we call the “Huckster”), a watermelon man, a javela-water man and fish man; we even had a man who sharpened knives and scissors and a man who fixed umbrellas, who came right to our house, or at least just outside our homes. They were the many peddlers who plied their trades in the Italian Neighborhoods. We would wait for their call, their yell, their individual distinctive sound. We knew them by their names, and they knew us. Americans went to the store for most of their foods. What a waist. Truly, I pitied their loss. They never knew the pleasure of waking up every morning to find a hot, crisp loaf of Italian bread waiting behind the screen door. And instead of being able to climb up on back of the peddler’s wagon or truck a couple times a week, just to hitch a ride, most of my “MEDI-GAN” friends had to be satisfied going to the A&P or Shop Rite.
Alas, when it came to food, it always amazed me that my American friends and classmates only ate turkey on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or rather they only ate turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Now we ITALIANS, we also had turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, but only after we had finished the Antipasto, Chicken Soup with Escarole, Cheese Squares and Little Meatballs, Lasagna, Meatballs, Braciola, Salad and whatever else mama thought might be appropriate for that particular holiday. Also, our turkey was usually accompanied by a roast of some kind, just in case someone walked in who didn’t like turkey, and was followed by an assortment of fruits, nuts, pastries, and of course, homemade cakes. None of that store bought stuff for us. This is where you learned to eat a seven-course meal between noon and 4 P.M., how to handle hot chestnuts and put tangerine wedges in red wine. Sunday was truly the big day of the week! That was the day you would wake up to the smell of garlic and onions frying in olive oil, as it dropped into the pan. Sunday we always had Gravy and Macaroni. (The MEDI-GAN call it sauce and pasta.) Sunday would not be Sunday without going to Mass. Of course you couldn’t eat before Mass, you had to fast before going to Holy Communion. But, the good part was, we knew when we got home we would find hot meatballs frying, and nothing tastes better than newly fried meatballs and fresh, crisp Italian bread dipped into a pot of gravy. I truly believe Italians live a romance with food.
There was another difference between US and THEM. We had gardens, not just flower gardens, but gardens where we grew tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes. We ate them, cooked them and jarred them. Of course we also grew pepper, basil, lettuce and squash. Everybody had a grape vine and a fig tree and in the Fall everybody made homemade wine, lots of it. Of course, those gardens thrived so because we also had something else it seemed our “MEDI-GAN” friends didn’t have. We had GRANDPARENTS! It’s not that they didn’t have grandparents also, it’s just they didn’t live in the same house, or on the same block. They visited their grandparents. We ate with ours, and God forbid we didn’t see them at least once a day. I can still remember my grandfather telling us how he came to American as a young man, “on the boat”. How the family lived in a rented tenement and took boarders in order to help make ends meet; how he decided he didn’t want his children to grow up in that environment. All of this, of course, in his own version of Italian/English which I soon learned to understand quite well. So, when they saved enough, and I never could figure out how, they bought a house. That house served as the family headquarters for the next 40 years. I remember how they hated to leave, would rather sit in the back yard and watch their garden grow. And when they did leave, for some special occasion, had to return as quickly as possible. After all, “nobody’s watching the house”.
I also remember the holidays when all the relatives would gather at my grandparents’ house or my aunts’ house, and there would always be tables full of food and homemade wine and music. Women in the kitchen, men in the living room, and kids, kids everywhere. I must have a half million cousins, first, second and some who aren’t even related, but what did it matter. And my grandfather, his stogie in his mouth and his fine mustache trimmed, would sit in the middle of it all grinning his mischievous smile, his dark eyes twinkling, surveying his family and how well his children had done. All were married and had fine wives and husbands, and healthy children. And everyone knew RESPECT. They had achieved their goal in coming to America, and now their children and their children were achieving the same goals that were available to them, in this Great Country, because they were Americans.
When my grandparents died years ago, things began to change. Family gatherings were fewer and something seemed to be missing, although when we did get together, usually at my mother’s house now, I always had the feeling they were there somehow. It was understandable of course. Everyone now has families of their own and grandchildren of their own. Today they just visit once or twice a year. Today we meet at weddings and wakes. Lots of other things have changed too. The last of the homemade wine has long since been drunk, and nobody covers the Fig tree in the Fall anymore. For a while we would make the rounds on the holidays, visiting family. Now we occasionally visit the cemetery. A lot of them are there, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and even our parents. The holidays have changed too. The once great quantity of food we consumed without any ill effects is no good for us anymore. Too much starch, too much cholesterol, too many calories. And nobody bothers to bake anymore – too busy. And it’s easier to buy it now, and too much is no good for you.
We meet at my mother’s house now, at least my family does, but it’s not the same, anymore. The difference between US and THEM isn’t so easily defined anymore, and I guess that’s good. My grandparents were ITALIAN/ITALIANS, my parents were ITALIAN/AMERICANS, I’m AMERICAN/ITALIAN and my children are AMERICAN/AMERICANS. Oh, I’m an American all right and proud of it, just as my grandparents would have wanted me to be. We are all Americans now, the Irish, English, Germans, Polish and Jewish. United States citizens all, but somehow I still feel a little bit Italian. Call it culture, call it tradition, call it roots, I’m really not sure what it is. All I do know is that my children have been cheated out of a wonderful piece of their heritage.
They never knew my GRANDPARENTS.”♦

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10 Must See Places To Visit In Italy (That Aren’t Rome, Florence or Cinque Terre)

The Roman Colosseum, The Sistine Chapel, Mt Vesuvius, Cinque Terre and Florence were places I always thought of when I dreamed of visiting Italy. Looking back at the 5,000 km I walked through Italy in 2017, I found that visiting these sites will leave you somewhat unfulfilled. A visitor doesn’t really learn very much about Italy or its people by visiting them. They are not quintessential “Italian” experiences in my mind. They tend to be crowded and filled with American tourists.  Your senses are assaulted by street vendors, cheap trinkets and occasionally, scams.  As great as these places were, I left thirsty for a truly Italian experience.

With this in mind, I have made a list the “Best of Italy”. These are the places that I enjoyed in my time in Italia, that others might consider when planning a vacation.

1. Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso:  Gran Sasso, not the Alps, is where the finest hiking in Italy is found. Far less crowded than the Dolomites, Gran Sasso in Abruzzo, features hiking trails with beautiful ridge walking, clear trails, and stunning sunsets. It’s a very rural area, so finding authentic and cost effective food isn’t too difficult. Italy is home to the largest wolf population in Western Europe and if you are going to see one, this might be the place.

2. The Dolomites: In northeastern Italy are the most visually striking mountains in Europe. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it features phenomenal trails, cheap accommodation, and lots of tourists. The food culture is not as satisfying to my palate than what you might find in the south, but still somewhat interesting.  German language can be heard as often as Italian among the inhabitants of this region.

3. Amalfi (Sorrentine Peninsula): Definitely a tourist destination, it spares you of the tackiness and unseemly commercialism of Cinque Terre. We hiked into the Sorrentine Peninsula from the north and arrived in Sorrento, on the Gulf of Naples. Sorrento was surprisingly “local” and affordable. We hiked over the mountains to the Gulf of Salerno and connected to the Path of the Gods which dropped us into the charming Nocelle and the swanky Positano.

4. Siena: In the heart of Tuscany, Siena is a charming city with plenty to see, especially the Cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo. Similar to Florence, but more easily consumed in a short period of time.

5. Passo Stelvio: In Northern Italy, along the border to Switzerland and Austria, Passo Stelvio climbs to above 9,000 feet (2,700m) and is a scenic playground for hikers, bikers and cyclists.

6. Appennino Tosco Emiliano National Park: Beautiful mountain ridges, cheap accommodations in various mountain huts, and locally sourced food. This park features above the tree line hiking and deep forest rambles.

7. Tuscany, Along The Via Francigena: The little villages and small cities along the S2 highway on the Italian Camino are clips from travel brochures; San Gimignano, San Miniato, Monteriggione, Radicofani, Buonconvento and Lucca are mostly walled cities upon a hill, surrounded by rolling vineyards and farms. Great food and wine, and welcoming hosts used to seeing tourists.

8. Umbria: Mountains and hills similar to Tuscany, but much quieter and more remote. Some beautiful cities in the region such as Assisi and Perugia.

9. Selvaggio Blu (Sardinia): Sardinia is very rural but you will find people along the east coast in the mountains that hug the Tyrrhenian Sea. The most remarkable blue ocean is found here and the best hiking in southern Italy.

10. Venice: Beautiful architecture, Rialto Market, The Grand Canal, and reasonably consumable in a couple of days. Visually eye popping, but it’s filled with tourist traps, and it’s harder to find great food than you might find in the south.

 

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I’m Still Just A Little Girl (Thoughts on Walking 1,500 Miles With My 10 Year Old Daughter)

 

I hadn’t thought much about Rosie’s motivation to walking 1,500 miles through Italy. It was still early in the summer and we had blasted halfway through the country already. We began on the Swiss border, and swept through each region in just a few days. I was in hiker mode. Keeping a schedule and establishing rules. I demanded we start early, get a minimum of 35 kilometers (20 miles) in, and then usually pushed for more.

Rosie was compliant. She happily and easily knocked off this distance, and further distances came with negotiation, mostly in the form of gelato, or proper accommodation.

In Rome we got our Certificate of Completion at the Vatican, for completion of The Via Francigena (the way of St. Francis from Northern Italy to Rome). Rosie felt good about what she had done. I felt comfortable with her and saw her not just as my little girl but as a hiking partner.

We stayed in Rome only a few hours before pushing onward. Rome was crowded with tourists, mostly Americans, and it was a shock to our system. Italy is a beautiful country with lovely and welcoming people. It’s all the Nonna’s that invited us in for pranzo as we walked by and the piazza’s filled with families after Church on Sunday. In the little villages we discovered the soul and beauty of Italy. In Rome, little of this is on display. It is shrouded by the traffic, stands selling trinkets, tour buses with gaudy ads, sweaty overweight Americans, and blistering heat.

We pushed through the rest of Lazio, and into Molise and eventually Campania, where my family is from. Rosie began to give me more push back on the miles. She needed a gelato just to get through the morning. If I wanted to get her through the afternoon possibly another.

Finally on another 100 degree day after 40 kilometers, Rosie told me something I hadn’t given enough consideration to.

“Daddy, I’m still just a little girl you know.”

It hit me like a punch in the gut. I knew I had maybe pushed too much. I felt terrible. I questioned the entire endeavor. I took her on this trip for so many reasons. It will be an education, she will stay fit, and it also solves the child care problem for the summer.

I apologized to Rosie, for forgetting that my 10 year old daughter is still just a little girl. What was this trip about? I still don’t have the answers. Was it good for her or was it my will and her need to impress her dad that motivated this trip? I believe the trip was good for Rosie, although truth be told I would have shortened it to 4-6 weeks if I could do it again.

The remainder of the hike we did it as she wished. We did the remaining sections of Italy in the order she wanted to do them. We jumped up and hiked some of Switzerland and Grand Paradiso before we were attacked by a feral horse and she chose to return to Campania. We polished off that section, a quick sweep through Basilicata before tackling the disappointing Calabria. We reached the tip of mainland Italy with time to spare. We hiked a few days through Abruzzo and the spectacular Gran Sasso before Rosie was ready for the Dolomites. It was her favorite, and she blasted through the 150 kilometers from Belluno to Bolzano in less than a week.

This ended our glorious summer. I had just completed the hardest task of my life. I spent 24/7 alone with my 10 year old daughter one on one for three straight months. This is something mothers do regularly, and I never imagined how difficult this is. Sure I spent lots of time with my kids before but I always had work, or my stuff that provided plenty of mental respite. I never considered that 24 hours of not a minute to just sit in my own thoughts or tune out the world would be so hard. It’s something mothers do without the acclaim that I get when I do something basic like do the laundry once in a great while. My few achievements are met with great fanfare and my wife and most mothers do everything and it’s often met without a second glance.

Each night I would call my wife from Italy and ask her questions/vented: “Does Rose ever stop talking?” “I can’t even listen to music or podcasts because I have got to watch and listen to Rosie intently!”

For a mom this is just life. For a dad, at least most dads and certainly me, it’s an occasional chore. Twenty four hours a day focus on my own child seems like it wouldn’t be such a task, but ashamedly I felt it was! How have I missed how tough it was on my children’s mother?

Her mother came out to Italy and after a few days of family vacation, they returned to the US. Early indications are that the trip had a profound impact on her. She has seen things, learned about history and culture. Where we come from is real to both of us now. She has developed a sense of how our food should be and tasted the difference between pervasive real organic food and the processed and genetically modified poison we eat in the USA. She saw refugees. Hundreds of them. Not just characters on a tv screen but real, breathing people. Highly intelligent folks caught in a game they can’t get out of. She saw that when her dad was in some sort of trouble he usually when to a refugee because they usually spoke great English.

Her confidence is palpable. I can hear it in her voice over the phone. The trip might have been a mistake, but it wasn’t without rewards that’s for sure.

I’m still here in Europe. I will stay till I complete all the miles between the Dolomites in Veneto through Austria, Switzerland and Italy, including Sicily and Sardinia. Perhaps Greece as well. I miss my baby girl. I suspect that the girl I see in two months will appear far different than the one that left for Italy after Memorial Day.

At least that’s my prayer.

 

 

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Via Francigena: The Italian Camino

We are still on our 3,700 mile hike through Italy and here is the first part of our journey. Rosie and I have hiked about 1,700 miles as of this post. This video represents the first 600 miles from Switzerland to Rome.

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First Days in Italy

 

June 6, 2017 Boston, MA

I woke at 3am this morning. All nervous about missing my alarm. The last bit of cell phone data for a few months was the first temptation, and I checked on the usual things; the Red Sox score from last night, the latest news on the terrorist strike in London and check in with Facebook etc. Tammy drove us to the Airport through Winthrop and East Boston. We stayed in the area last night and it was delightful. My family is from East Boston, which was primarily an Italian neighborhood. In some respects, it remains so. Quite appropriate considering we are about to spend the next few months in Italy. We ate a good dinner at a Italian Restaurant nearby the boutique hotel we reserved. Growing up Italian, I love the food, but I rarely enjoy Italian restaurants. I’m very picky about my Italian food and I suppose I like things just as my mother prepared it. In my home, Lasagna is sloppy, eggplant is peeled and sliced thin, and marinara is light, fresh and bright. Fire engine red, not brown. This restaurant was surprisingly good and I think Rosie and Tammy enjoyed it as well.

It was very hard to say goodbye to Tammy today. Oh, the pain to leave behind your partner in life. Every thought I have is with her in mind. We are spiritually tied at the hip. I have got to watch her baby these next few months. Rosie sits beside me on the plane, non plussed. I’m nervous as can be. Always am on planes. I gotta pee, but I don’t like to be that guy who gets up and interrupts people. I hate the attention, as Tupac said “All eyes on me”.

It’s a waiting game to start our hike. Everything we have for the next several months is lying in our backpacks in the compartment above. I’m wearing the only shirt I have. The pack contains a two person tent, one extra pair of socks, a sleeping bag, a battery, a headlamp, a foam pad to sleep on, and two jackets. One is a down puffy one with a hood, and the other a rain jacket. I pack very little and comfortably so. In my long treks I have found this works for me. I will smell, there is no avoiding that. No amount of spare clothes is gonna change that.

Italians are famously fashion conscious. I hope they don’t evict me for crimes against their senses. Rosie has packed even lighter. She has more backup clothes, but they are so small the whole clothes bag weighs less than a pound.

We arrived in Milan safely, and despite Rosie losing her passport for a spell, we are doing ok. Long day. Start the hike early tommorrow.

 

Day 2

We got almost no sleep before we had to get moving today. Quick train ride out to Aosta and we began our hike. After a significant drop in elevation at the outset of the hike we were shocked at a couple of quick, steep climbs. I was gassed and Rosie lost energy quick. We struggled through that and made our way through a few villages. We never saw suitable camping so we ended up stopping very late at a family hotel. (really just a big house, with rented, sparse bunks).

The terrain was a mix of road and path, one indiscernible from another. The roads when they aren’t cobblestone or brick were of early 20th century vintage, with loose stones and potholes with room for one car and barely a pedestrian. When cars are going both directions, your life is in danger. The path was rocks and grass and steep. Grape vineyards and family planted gardens lined the trail and scaled up the side of the mountains. As we dropped deeper into the valley it got hotter and hotter.

Rose was tough to get focused. Basically, she drove me crazy. Non stop talking and touching things. I’m going to have find a way to keep her brain active and productive. This is my real test.

Food today:
Coletzione- crossiant
Pranzo- montadara (fried dough/ fritter style small pizza item)
Merenda-fresh currants
Cena-meat ravioli cooked in olive oil, basil and tomatoes. Tasty.

got to go to bed.

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The Trail Haters Blog: Trail Days Is A Pageant of Failure

I love it when hikers quit the Appalachian Trail. Not every hiker, of course. I love seeing people succeed in this endeavor and watching possibilities and dreams unfold is delightful. I should take greater satisfaction in this but I don’t. I follow the progress of the drunkards, the party animals, the guitar picking, yellow blazing, undisciplined donkeys that litter the southern AT, glorifying their hedonistic and cheating ways and culling unsuspecting but potentially successful thruhikers into their cult of failure.

Victory is sweet, but it feels a whole lot better standing on the back of a vanquished competitor. This week we have Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia. It’s a hiker convention of sorts, where a couple hundred thruhikers and several thousand yellow blazers convene to tell a host of lies and brag about imagined exploits. There will be vendors there to sell gear that very few people need, produced by a 13 year old Bangladeshian girl and her mother for combined $825 a month.
Beer vendors do very well. Hiker trash, (once a term of endearment for those seeking a minimalist lifestyle) descend upon Damascus to find other like minded hedonists who share their affinity for age inappropriate behavior.

Nobody has it better than me on Trail Days week. Yup, I’m sitting pretty watching all these morally and financially bankrupt souls find rides off the trail to go Woofing in Portland or whatever other nonsense that sounds intriguing to their recalcitrant souls. It’s an absolute pageant of failure.

In all seriousness, my hope and prayer is that people learn from this experience and get their asses to Katahdin. I find those predators, disguised as friends or occasionally “trail angels”, as obstacles. They impede the progress of those who have a chance to get to Maine, by introducing distractions.
The Appalachian Trail is like life. You get what you give. It can predict your life and reflect your life. If you have the discipline, the mental toughness and the good fortune there’s a excellent chance you will walk 2,000 miles to Maine. If you are a weak person in life, who regularly makes excuses for failure, accepts half measures, then those traits are likely to reveal themselves on trail. You’ll have plenty of company. The trail is ripe with yellowblazers. Take this golden opportunity to see what you are made of and to chart a different course for your life. The road to success and fulfillment is littered with “easy” detours. Avoid those and choose the hard and solitary path. It’s a narrow path you walk on trail and in life. Best of luck class of 2017.

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5 Bucket List European Hikes For The Summer

This summer I will be traversing Italy and Switzerland. Along the 4,000 km hike, my 10 year old daughter and I will be tackling some of the worlds most iconic routes in our proposed path across the countries. We will connect these hikes on our trek:

Via Francigena (Italy)
Tour du Mont Blanc (France)
Alpine Pass Route (Switzerland)
Grand Italian Trail
Grand Escursione Appeninica
(Italy)
GR5 (France)
Alta Via 2 (Italy)
St. Francis Way (Italy)

Beyond these long distance trails, there is a handful of shorter trails that are on my bucket list of European hikes. I’m hoping to cross these 5 hikes, ranging from a single day to a whole week off my to do list in Europe:

1. Hardergrat (Switzerland)

A long ridge hike connecting Interlaken to Brienz in Switzerland, this has been dubbed by many, the best hike in the world. It’s a hair raising one foot wide path, with 5,000′ of elevation gain along the 30km+ distance.

2. Alta Via 1 Dolomiti (Italy)

120 km hike from Belluno to Dobiacco in the Dolomites. There are some of the most breathtaking views in Europe along this route. The Alta Via 1 typically takes a week to finish.

 


3. Cinque Terre (Italy)

Along the Ligurian Coast of Italy, Cinque Terre (5 Lands), connects a handful of scenic villages together with a rigorous coastal path that is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Italy. The hike can be done in one exhausting day by a fit hiker.

 


4. Cliff Walk of Grindlewald (Switzerland)

I’m not much for heights, but this very short day hike looks spectacular!

5. Run From Sparta to Athens (Greece)

I guess some elite runners traverse the 153 miles in one day. That’s not me. I’m thinking running a marathon six days in a row seems doable.

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Hiker Box Diaries: Hikertown (mile 518)

 

 

When I strolled up to Hikertown I thought it was a joke. It was caged behind a ratty chain link fence and it was absolutely deserted. I passed through the gate and eyeballed the spigot a few from the entrance. I hadn’t had any water in 24 hours. That is my fault. I had water in my backpack, I just didn’t feel compelled to drink it. The water was collected from a “guzzler” on one the mountains I had just crossed and it wasn’t very appetizing. Guzzlers are a roof built two feet from the ground in the desert mountains, with a gutter that can capture rainwater into basin under the crawl space. The water was yellow with large brown chunks of mystery floating on the warm, stagnant surface. I had it in case of emergency.

I dropped to my knees at the foot of the spigot and filled my cloudy Smartwater bottle. I chugged three liters at the altar of the Hikertown faucet and rose to scan the environment. This looked like a roadside attraction that America ignored. It was adorned with everything a town in the old west might have. Upon entering, the hotel is on the right and the front desk was decorated so that it appeared that a mannequin with a woman’s body and Donald Trumps’ head was the desk clerk. There was a City Hall, a feed store/cathouse, a doctor’s office, a saloon, and a spa amongst many other other buildings. Each building was no more than 10′ x 6′. I stood there thinking it was all a joke, about to leave when I saw a hiker emerge from City Hall.
“Welcome to Hikertown!”
“Ummm, is this for real?” I asked.
“Yea. Pretty crazy.”
I was introduced to Bob, the kind gentleman running the place. The prices were $5 for a tent site, $10 for a room. I initially balked at committing to stay, but given the freezing temperatures in the desert and the 40mph winds, I allowed myself to rent a room. Not exactly a room, actually. It would best described as a prostitution trailer. I was a 4’x8′ box with a large sliding glass door in the front without shades. Whatever happened in this box was a cinema to the rest of Hikertown. I half expected Liam Neeson’s daughter to be chained to a bed in there, with heroin needles dangling from her arm. I threw my gear in there and walked over to City Hall where a gaggle of thruhikers were gathered.
“Did you see my room?” I asked The Grand Poobah.
“Absolutely crazy,” he replied comparing it to another place we had stayed on the Appalachian Trail.
“If the Doyle Hotel is the bottom of the barrel, then this is the grime under the barrel,” he assessed.
The decor was dotted with creepy looking dolls of yesteryear, that seemed to always be staring right at you. A “Doctors Office” was set up with a fold out bed that was the size of an ironing board. There were comfortable chairs strewn around the property and eventually many hikers filed in and we had a huge crew of three dozen by day’s end.

Bob is nice enough to let hikers use his minivan for free to make the four mile commute to the local store to ressupply and eat some hot food. The minivan isn’t exactly “street legal”. The sliding door is kept closed with a rope, and will test the knot making ability of any hiker. The driver door is equally disabled and the transmission needs some work. The P R N D 1 2 on the steering column gear shift is merely a guideline. “Drive” is somewhere between N and D, and “Reverse” is just slightly past P. The keys live in the ignition, nobody is stealing this baby.
I piled myself, Smiles, The Grand Poobah, Action Jackson and Corndoggie into the death trap and off to the market we went. The hood rattled and shook as if it were ready to succumb to the force of the headwind, and spring in front of the windshield like Richard’s car in Tommy Boy when Farley failed to secure the hood latch. Anything over 35mph and the van shook violently.


The store had reasonable supply and we loaded up and made orders for hot food from the grill in the back of the register. The woman who was in charge was very helpful. She wrote everything down meticulously on a pad of paper before calling out the order to the cook in the back.
I ordered a cheeseburger, and it was surprisingly good. I mean this is the middle of nowhere. There isn’t 100 people for 100 miles, yet they had brioche rolls. Decadent for Hikertown.

I was chatting with The Grand Poobah, when Wesley (Corndoggie) placed his order with the kind, old, lady at the register.
“I’d like a corndog, please,” he asked.
“Ok, corndoggie for you,” she said as she rang up his order.
Then inexplicably, shockingly she yelled out the order to the cook in the back.
“ONE NIGGER COMING UP!”

I gasped. I looked at the others as if to confirm what I heard was real. The looks on the faces certainly cemented it. We shuffled out of there stone faced. By sundown, the winds howled and the temperature dropped. Hikers bundled up in winter gear and sleeping bags. Bob had allowed us to set up a TV in the feed store to watch an NBA playoff game. The room was decorated with trinkets. Some interesting and perhaps valuable, others worthless. A vintage Ronald Reagan bobble head doll stared at us from a desk. It depicted Ronald Reagan the actor, and appeared to be of that era. Hikers passed around a mannequin head all night.

The moon rose on the horizon, nearly full, an enormous presence to our west. I had never seen such a magnificent moon. It was the largest and most bright orange my eyes have laid upon. We rushed to get photos, but a cellphone could never capture such grandeur. Three dozen hikers gathered together in a dilapidated theme park, to observe the universe’s grand encore.

It finally got too cold to stand so I retreated to my heroin den for the evening. I awoke at 5:00am to see The Grand Poobah in the throes of obvious “shit struck” panic. He was frantically pacing up and down the park, trying to open doors to bathrooms. They were all locked. I felt bad for him as he toted his roll of toilet paper in his hand running from door to door. I quickly wandered back to sleep before being awoken by the neighbors banging on the wall to my room.

“Wait”,I thought, “there are no neighbors.”

The closest people are Demi and Smiles who are sharing a 1974 Fleetwood RV that door is kept closed only by a rope. But that is 40′ away.
I got up and checked around perimeter. Sure enough, Poobah had pinned himself against my room and defecated on the side of my heroin trailer.

I packed up my stuff and got out of Hikertown. I left behind my backpacking umbrella. Five hundred and eighteen miles walking, and I used it for twenty minutes total. Absolute waste of eight ounces and two feet. The dreaded Mojave Aqueduct walk would be chilly today. Perfect day to bid adieu to Hikertown.

I actually loved my stay.

I am now at Tehachapi, CA (mile 566).

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