“It's really friggin' cold,” I said to myself.
I had been standing outside at Moll's Gap for some time, hoping for a response to my outward-stuck thumb. Just then, a car with a couple in it pulled up. They slowed down. Hope rose within me. Then came the apologetic look on the young, bearded man's face. It said, “Sorry, we're just pulling into the parking area.”
I remained standing as the couple walked past me and into the shop and cafe. We exchanged smiles. My backpack got heavier.
I stood for a few minutes more, with no takers. The cafe stood there, too. All nice, with its inside having no howling Irish wind whatsoever. The debate for a hitcher in this situation is always this: Do I go inside and warm up? It's so nice in there. But what if while I'm in there, the car of my dreams comes along, and I miss the all-important ride?
It wasn't much of a debate. I was very cold. Besides, what if I met my ride inside?
I walked up the steps and in through the glass doors. Oh my. It was so very inside in there. No wind. No cold. Only dresses and sweaters and trinkets to buy, and toilets to go pee in, and a cafe upstairs. I lugged my backpack and book bag upstairs, and stood at the counter.
Pies. Scones. Chocolate. Tasty things. All under glass, looking lovely. But what I really wanted was a nice, warm drink.
The cashier and I small-talked, while the couple that had apologetically passed me by sat with their goodies.
“I'm trying to get to Kenmare,” I said as I looked over the pies, “but no luck yet.”
“Well take some time to warm up here.”
“Yeah. You know, I think a hot chocolate sounds pretty good right now.”
While the Cafe Lady prepared my drink, I set my bags down at a table a short distance from the apologetic couple. Oh, the simple pleasure of setting down a heavy load.
I paid for my hot chocolate, and delicately carried her back to my table. I call this hot chocolate “her” because, in that moment, this was no ordinary hot chocolate. Tastefully poised with hunk of solid chocolate resting gracefully upon a bed of pure, white, whipped cream, she was a classy, tasty lady. Even the overflowing goodness running down her sides only made her more appealing.
I sat with a beautiful view of the mountains and valleys below. Thankfulness for my life and the fullness thereof rose to the surface. I reached into my book bag, and pulled out my Bible to read and re-read a psalm that took on more meaning for me with each passing day.
The 23rd Psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures you let me graze;
to safe waters you lead me;
you restore my strength.
You guide me along the right path
for the sake of your name.
Even though I walk through a dark valley,
I fear no harm for you are at my side;
your rod and staff give me courage.
You set a table before me
as my enemies watch;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overfl...
I look up over my shoulder and up at the apologetic lady. She spoke with an English accent and said, “Excuse me, did I hear you say you're trying to get to Kenmare?”
“Uhm... Yes. Yes I am.”
“Would you like a ride?”
“Sure! Are you going that way?”
“No, but we can take you there. It's only 10 K.”
My cup overflows.
I walked with them to their little car, and climbed in the back seat. As we drove along, we began to get to know each other.
Mark and Carol-Ann were from London, and they were here in Ireland on vacation. They had fallen in love here 10 years ago, and were revisiting some of the places they had been. They were so warm and friendly. I was suspicious of something...
I told them about my journey so far, how I was getting around, the hostels I was staying at, and the conversation came around to what I did back home.
“I work with a group called Youth With A Mission...”
“Oh! YWAM!” came the response from the front seats.
I knew it. My suspicions were correct. These people were admitted Christians. They went on to tell me they had many friends who had been involved with YWAM.
We were now nearing Kenmare, and Carol-Ann seemed to be asking Mark something with her eyes. She seemed to get an answer.
“We're staying in a rented house just over in Dingle Bay,” she said somewhat tentatively, “It has four bedrooms and we're only using one. Would you like to stay with us tonight?”
“Does Johnny hate Jazz??? Of course I would you beautiful, crazy Brit!!!”
Well, I didn't quite say that. I said something like, “Um, well, I would not refuse a kindness. I'd love to!”
And so we drove through downtown Kenmare, the town I had thought was my destination, passing the hostels, where I might have stayed that night. We eventually came to the very small town, well, more like an ocean-side settlement of nice houses called Cromane.
We pulled into the driveway of the house. Palm trees swayed in the evening breeze. Yes, palm trees.
The car stopped, and the cool evening air greeted me as I climbed out from the back seat. Mark unlocked the side door, and we walked into the house. Oh my, it was nice. A great big, kitchen with a wood stove. A family room with a fireplace. A sitting room. And then, upstairs.
Bedrooms. A sitting room with a view of the bay. There was my bedroom. A great big Queen sized bed covered in an inviting white comforter sat across from a lovely, oh-so-private bathroom. I almost cried.
I showered and shaved while Mark and Carol-Ann prepared dinner. I put on some fresh clothes and came downstairs for dinner. I put my dirty clothes in the washing machine, and quietly rejoiced at the fact that though I was wearing my last clean pair of undies, there would be fresh ones waiting for me in the morning.
Supper smelled delicious, and tasted just as good. We laughed and told stories. Later we sat in the living room and got a little fire going. They told me about how they met in church, and then how they began to fall in love a few years later on a motorcycle trip through Ireland.
It was past midnight when we called it a night.
I slipped into my soft, warm bed. It was so soft, so warm, so... bed. I couldn't believe that all of what had happened today had in fact happened in a single day. From Cashel, to Killarney, to Kenmare and to Cromane, the Lord was my shepherd.
There was nothing I lacked.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
“It's really friggin' cold,” I said to myself.
I woke up in Cashel on a bright, Wednesday morning. I stayed in what was definitely the nicest hostel I'd been in. I said good-bye to Roger, a lonely Canadian man I'd met the night before. Of course, his story is another story. I attempted to give him a little Good News Gospel of Luke, but he bolted. "I'm not religious!" PING! (that was a bullet-like sound effect of him running.) I don't often attempt such blatant things, but I figured there's a time for it. Oh well. We're called not to succeed but to try.
I walked for perhaps thirty minutes through the small town of Cashel to the other side, where I was hoping I'd get a westbound lift in the direction of Killarney, perhaps through Tipperary. Whether it was a long way there would depend on my fortunes in thumbing. My goal was to reach the Ring of Kerry, a beautiful coastal range that everyone told me I had to see.
The last time I hitched, I had purchased a red marker that didn't really work, and made a little maple leaf on a piece of cardboard. It's good to let people know you're a visitor, and not just a local axe murderer.
I walked to a roundabout, and put out my thumb, with my maple leaf proudly displayed. Hmm.... Not... much... traffic... here. Maple leaves won't help the traffic pick up, will they. Well, I trust in the Lord, not traffic patterns, right? I thought I just felt like walking anyway, so I stuck out my thumb and walked.
Eventually I came to another roundabout, with a sign pointing in the direction of Tipperary. Aha. More traffic here. Very good.
Soon a little red car pulled over. As I approached the door, I noticed the driver grab a small, wooden stick from the back seat and put it next to him. It looked like a coffee table leg. Now, I would have been more concerned if not for remembering my friend Jimmy. This is exactly what he would have done. Safety first. This guy doesn't know if I'm a psycho.
Stephen turned out to be a good man. Serious, but friendly. I even noticed him cross himself quickly as we passed a church. We chatted, and he mentioned what almost every person who picked me up mentioned. "I used to hitch a lot." He got me as far Tipperary without beating me to death. It was not such a long way, after all.
After just a few minutes, a great, big lorry rolled up. "Sweet!" I was hoping I'd get a ride in a big rig some time. I climbed in and was greeted by a young man with a strong brogue named Eddy. We talked, and he took me to Limerick. Ah, Limerick. If only I'd known what would happen in Limerick just a few days later.
I climbed out of Eddy's truck, and walked to the other side of the roundabout, and under an overpass. I waited for about 20 minutes, holding my little cardboard maple leaf, standing by a big road sign, my finger pointed at "Killarney: 120 km".
A little van pulled over, and I hopped in. He was going all the way to Killarney. Thank-you, Lord.
David was a working man. His business was glass and glass installation. His company provided the windows for one of Ireland's major airports, and he received a few phone calls while we drove.
David's wife and daughter lived in Germany. Though the split was amicable, a split is still a split. We talked about hitching, and how few people do it anymore.
"Just ten years ago, you used to see people thumbing all the time, but now everybody's got their own car. No one does it anymore. The country's changed. People are more materialistic now. You gotta have the house and the car and all the nice things. All that gets you is a separation and a daughter in another country."
I had a really good time with David. We stopped at a petrol station, where he bought me a coffee and a chocolate bar. Later on we stopped at a lookout point to take a couple pictures.
We eventually pulled into Killarney, a place where Bing Crosby claims it is good to spend Christmas, and David asked a cabby where the tourist office was. He figured that would be the best place for me to find my way around from. I half wanted to invite him to hang out for a while, but he had a client he had to see. I stepped out of the van and grabbed my bags. A solid handshake later, David was pulling away.
I approached the tourist office to figure out where the heck I should go. I knew I needed to see the Ring of Kerry, but it's big and I didn't know where to begin. The girl at the desk pointed me in the direction of Kenmare, a small town at the edge of the Ring. There would be hostels there.
And so I was walking out of town again, thumb poised for a hitch. I stood next to a field where a lone horse casually ate his grass, and only gave me a passing glance. It took a while, but I was quite surprised when the person that decided to pick me up was a girl with a toddler in the back.
Sasha had done a lot of hitching, so she wasn't afraid of picking me up. We drove one of the windiest roads I'd been on, which is saying a lot. It was a breathtaking drive through thick trees, beside mountains, and next to rivers. Sasha and her son got me as far as Moll's Gap, a place on a mountain where the road divides.
It was very, very windy and cold.
I put the flaps down on my old newsies cap, stood by road, and hoped for the best.
Little did I know, that the best was yet to come.
So I've been in lovely Glendolough for a couple days. I did some work for them, and they gave me a free bed. It's an amazing place. But that's another blog.
Yesterday, I went to a small mass in a small church, and a lovely young Irish woman sang the 23rd Psalm, and I nearly cried. But again, that's another story.
After mass, I walked back to the hostel, gathered up my things and said good-bye to Trish, Tara and Pam. I walked up to the crossroads, stuck my thumb out and then the second car picked me up. And really, it was the first viable car, as the first one was a single lady. Pretty cool. Mick, a white-haired Irishman with a smallish black dog in the back, drove me for 45 minutes or so, and we had good conversation and enjoyed the scenery.
Next, I waited near a gas station for 20 minutes before Eddie picked me up. Divorced father of 7, his oldest son was 22 when he died. Drowned, and had been missing for 10 days. Murder is suspected. He's in court to try to see his other children. Nice guy.
Eddie dropped me off, and then I had the longest wait in my hitching career. It was probably at least an hour or more. It started off very nice and sunny and I was standing by a green field with lambs scampering about. Then the rain came, and they sky darkened. I don't expect cars with women or children to stop, but single guys? Come on! Help a brother out! I was not despairing, but I was starting to figure out what I needed to do if it got too dark and I was stranded. There was a farmhouse whose door I could knock on. "Just tell me what to do, Lord." "Stick your thumb out."
A young guy in a working-mans sporty car drove by. Then I heard a beep. There he was. God's Servant in a blue sports car. I hopped in and Djyann gave me a ride. I actually have little idea what his name was. His accent was so thick, I couldn't quite get it when I tried to repeat it back. It could be Dan, or Dean, or Dirty Diana for all I know. Anyway, he was a nice guy. He let me off in the next town, where I found a washroom in a gas station and bought a cup of coffee. The sun was out again.
I looked out from a hillside view of the beautiful small town and its big, old, stone church just across the way. I sipped my coffee and smiled. After 15 minutes or so, a nice little grey car pulled up, and I jumped in. David, as I later learned his name, was a well-kept man. Actually, he looked a bit like Le Chiffre from Casino Royale, but pleasant and without the weird bleeding-tears thing. We talked, and I told him all about my work back home, my friends, and my life. He took me all the way to Kilkenny.
As we're pulling into town, he asks, "Would you like something to eat? My treat?"
So we went to a nice old hotel in Kilkenny, and I had fish and chips. Steady conversation for a long time, and then desert and before I could say a word, an Irish coffee. Mmm. We walked out of the hotel and into the street, and found a pub. I was starting to think of what I might need to say if this got weird. He was being really nice to me. That being said, I wasn't overly concerned. I really wasn't getting any kind of off-setting vibe from him. I know when someone's a big weirdo or starting to get creepy. I think he was truly just nice, and probably a little fascinated by my story.
Anyway, he took me to Kyteler's pub and bought me a pint, while a lively Irish, middle-aged trio sang folk songs loudly. One of the musicians said about me, "And over here is Colin Farrel!"
I finished my pint, we walked back to his car, and he drove me to a hostel just down the street. I checked in, and when I came back out to get my bags, he and all my luggage was gone. Just kidding. I got my bags, and he handed me a folded-up Euro and said "This is just a little something." I only had time to say thank-you, and he was waving good-bye. I checked the Euro's he gave me. Two fifties. No kiddin'.
I checked in to the hostel, and brought my bags upstairs. While I was very thankful for the Irish coffee, I knew it would be some time before I'd be able to sleep. So, I headed out the door and walked for a minute back down to Kyteler's. The band was playing, and I had a Smithwicks ("Smithicks").
Did you ever have a dream come true that you didn't even know you had?
They sang some American tunes, and when they began Ring of Fire, the singer called me up to sing. So I sang Johnny Cash in a pub, with a folk band, in Kilkenny, Ireland.
Folks, it just doesn't get any better than that.
Afterwards, I stood outside the pub smoking my pipe. The fellow from the band that called me up paid me the highest compliment as he walked away. "You should be an Irishman!"
I came back to the hostel, and as I lay in bed (for what turned out to be hours. thanks, Irish coffee.), I literally could not stop smiling. I started the day not knowing where I would be or how I would get there, and ended it singing Ring of Fire in a pub in Kilkenny.
Truly, He restoreth my soul.