Ramble On Editorial – The Kindness of Strangers
You may read in an upcoming issue about a road trip I recently took with two of TT’s freelancers, Lyn Woodward and Julia LaPalme. I’ll save some of the surprise for then, but let me just say this: You meet the nicest people out on the road. Anyone who’s experienced rush-hour road rage might think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not. For proof, look no further than Parkfield, California.
Parkfield, located almost exactly between San Francisco and Los Angeles, only has a population of about 20. Lyn, Julia, and I set our sights on the small town thanks to its rich geological history—it’s located right on the edge of the San Andreas Fault, resting entirely on the North American Plate but only a few yards from the Pacific Plate. We arrived in town in flashy, $100,000-plus German SUVs and immediately prepared for the kind of negative feedback such ostentation usually garners in Los Angeles.
But our reception couldn’t have been kinder. After stopping at the town’s U.S. Geological Survey office for a few quick photos, we met Andy Snyder, a geologist stationed in Parkfield. He shared maps, photos, and information on some of the San Andreas–related sights and happenings nearby. He was a wealth of information, and his pristine first-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata made for good conversation as well.
After meeting with Andy, we made our way further into the tiny hamlet. We’d made arrangements to stay at the V6 Ranch’s Parkfield Lodge, but we’d arrived after the office closed for the night. While the lodge’s owners had made arrangements for us to settle into the cozy rooms we’d booked for the night, we weren’t sure if we needed to pay in advance. Inquiring a friendly passerby, I was directed up the hill to the lodge’s main house. I jumped into the Mercedes and drove up the long driveway, passing through some of the ranch’s pasture as I went. I approached the front door with some trepidation: Would they be angry that this city slicker in a matte-green G-Wagen was disturbing them during dinner?
After a few knocks, the door swung open, and I introduced myself. In but a moment, John pulled me inside, offered me a beer, and invited me to join the family gathering that was going on. For about 20 minutes, I sat with John and Barb, the lodge’s gracious owners, making great conversation about the town, the ranch, and what I was doing in the area. They assured me we could settle the bill in the morning and even sent me on my way with a big pizza to share with Lyn and Julia, since the Parkfield Cafe had already closed.
After a great night’s sleep, I awoke to pay the bill for the room, and John was already in the office, offering us a big plate of monkey bread and some fresh fruit for breakfast. We paid up, took a few slices each of the cinnamon-sweet pastry, and made our way out of town, refreshed and grateful for everyone’s kindness and hospitality.
The whole experience reminded me there’s a whole big world out there, well beyond what we’re familiar with. It’s so easy to get trapped in our own spheres, associate only with those with whom we agree and with whom we share common ground, and ostracize (even if subconsciously) those who act or look different from us. But Andy, John, and Barb welcomed our motley crew with great conversation, solid intel, and a warm meal, pleasant surprises after a long and dusty day on the open road. They paid no mind to our perceived differences, teaching me (and all of us) a good lesson on common courtesy and a willingness to reach out a hand to a hungry neighbor.
I’m already penciling another trip to Parkfield into my calendar, but till then, I’ll try to make my bustling city just a bit more like that friendly town.