Sanford, NC. I had every reason to believe that this was going to be a great day, a marvelous day! I would put in sixty or seventy miles and stop somewhere near Uwharrie National Forest. Perhaps the following day even spend some hours exploring it. Oh!, but Life and its many vicissitudes…
Not long after clambering from my tent and departing Sanford I began feeling some groin discomfort, like the muscle or other tissue in the area was bunching up on every upstroke. That’s the most lucid explanation of the sensation I had that I can articulate. Like a paper blinds was folding and creasing in the wrong spots. It only got worse as they day wore on. As well, headwinds strengthened and hills increased in frequency and grade. Not by much, but with my steadily increasing groin discomfort even the slightest increase in difficulty required much more effort to overcome.
The day was cool and sunny—quite pleasant in fact—but as the sun fell and darkness neared, cold began to seep in. My right foot was relatively chilly all day because it was in constant shadow as a result of riding south and west, thus maintaining the sun always either directly ahead of me or on my left. It was impossible to keep any of my toes comfortable once the sun dipped below the tree line. Also, my groin was very much nearing a condition of off-the-bike-walking-only. Doubt, the great negator of all things positive, progressive, optimistic and good was making his voice heard. The thought that I might have to end the trip early was tolling in my mind, like silence at a funeral, yet also the determination to at least, come what may, make it to Charlotte…
I stopped for a few minutes at a convenience store in the town of Robbins to fill my water bottles, have a snack, and warm my toes. Talked to a couple of heavyset men in their 40’s and 50’s and a younger guy putting on some weight himself—all dressed in camouflage overalls, all barely able to make themselves understood what with their strong accent, especially the oldest guy—about the area, my trip, and the distance to Star, which, given that I had wanted to cycle farther than that, was the nearest town I thought to allow myself to stop in.
I creeped into Star just as night was beginning to drape itself over the world, unable to determine any kind of sensible place to camp aside from perhaps the lawn of the Star Inn Bed & Breakfast: a large, estate-sized building, painted Robin’s egg blue, on the corner of Spies Road (the road I entered town on) and Main Street; the eaves strung brilliant with Christmas lights; and an historic, albeit filthy Rolls Royce parked in the gravel lot. Still, I thought to investigate the town a bit more thoroughly before knocking on the door of the establishment.
The town of Star, the center of North Carolina (there’s a plaque), is essentially one street bordered by numerous empty, shuttered buildings, the most prominent among them a long, brick piece nearly a city block in length (a good portion of the town); two restaurants and a gas station. I made my way to this lone gas station in order to thaw out my frozen toes and contemplate what I was to do next. I didn’t feel like pedaling much further, most particularly because of the chill outside and being rather sweat-soaked—a bad combination to be sure—but also because of the aforementioned painful groin. Really, what was I to do but go back to the B&B and ask to camp? The property was the largest and greenest by a long shot in the entirety of the town. I would actually go so far as to say it was the only green property in town, and the only inviting one as well.
I entered through what I assumed was the front door into the main foyer. Hanging from the second floor ceiling was a large, brass chandelier. To my right stood an enormous green and white, lacquered Chinese vase, four feet tall or so, and to my left, up a few stairs on a landing in the corner was a black and gold replica of an Egyptian king’s burial casket. From the landing a set of stairs ran up the wall to the second floor. Beneath these stairs was a console piano acting as a shelf for a variety of knick-knacks and photographs. Beside the previously mentioned vase was a large gilt-framed painting, and against the far wall a cabinet, like the piano, acting as a shelf for a number of framed photographs and other paraphernalia related to the history of the building.
I still hadn’t discovered the proprietor or manager of the place, despite my announcements of “hello?”, so proceeded to enter still further into the bizarre, other-land of an inn. Down the hall hung with still more ornately framed paintings, I entered into the dining room which was, if possible, even more ornately decorated than the foyer. Two huge glass chandeliers hung over a long, hardwood dining table capable of seating sixteen or so guests. More paintings; more cabinets; large floor-to-ceiling mirror against one wall; heavy drapes over the windows, tied back with tassled gold rope; a large silver mirror that could have been mistaken for a platter in the not-so-vague shape of a sea turtle hanging on the opposite wall; and two Romanesque columns topped with potted plants—vines hanging down like green ropes, vibrant, life-giving, and natural—something real and living amongst the antiquated embellishment of the room’s decor. It all felt a bit like I had stumbled into someone’s personal art and antiquities collection, but displayed in such a way that didn’t feel as though I was invading his privacy, but that I was welcome here to wander and observe. It was in a way a museum. I imagine if I had wandered into Gertrude and Leo Stein’s Paris apartment during the first two decades of the twentieth century this same sense of curiosity and amazement would have come over me.
It wasn’t until I wandered into, then back out of the kitchen, that the manager, Richard at last materialized from some back room. His was a face I will be unlikely to forget: that of a bulldog, heavy-jowled; sparkling grey eyes, slightly uneven, peering out from beneath a deep brow, upon which were perched white eyebrows, like little hummocks of snow; his hair, also white, and razor sharp was closely cropped to his scalp and meticulously combed, every hair in its right place. He was short in stature, but he had a large heart, a colossal heart, a heart that was bursting, bursting to give, bursting with kindness, generosity, sympathy, love… A heart that could never be confined to the constraints of a physical body, but which existed in every wall; in every window that let in the sun’s noble light; in every bit of decor, great or small; and in the lightbulbs inside that illuminated the ancient floors and every nail that held them down; the carpets; the drapes; the cables and wires visible; and so too every person that walked into and out of the inn. But that magnanimous heart of his was yet confined within himself, and thus he would take it with him wherever he went. He was a beacon on the move, a lighthouse which floated with the currents and tides. He waded through the darkness shining his lantern, illuminating a way for others to follow if they would only open their eyes and their hearts. His first words to me were “Well, could I offer to you a room to stay inside here?”. CAN I. As though he were asking me a favor. Would I please do him the pleasure of staying at the Star B & B? FOR FREE! I knew immediately that I was dealing with no mere mortal here, no standard human being, but an angel or deva. Any chill that I may still have been experiencing from having been outside immediately melted away.
Humbled by this man’s generous spirit I agreed and, after talking a short tour of one wing of the inn I brought in my bags and got myself somewhat situated in a room of my choosing (walls painted burgundy; white baseboards, crown molding and trim; mahogany four poster bed; burgundy comforter with gold embroidery; television set in one corner; old, high-backed chair in another; large, skull-size gemstone on a shelf in another corner near to the bed’s headboard). Shortly thereafter he would drop me off at the one restaurant that was then open—a lugubrious looking, greasy dive where, “everything is good,” according to the uninterested waiter. There was one older gentleman at a table when I walked in and he quickly departed after my arrival. Maybe I smelled; I hadn’t had a shower or changed out of my cycling wear yet. No one there seemed to know what to make of me, best as I could tell. Frankly, they all looked like they wanted to kill themselves, though the woman (owner maybe?) standing at the register brightened up considerably when Richard arrived to pick me up (and pay for my meal!).
Upon returning to the estate Richard bid me bonne nuit and vanished into he and his wife’s living quarters. I crept up the stairs into the shower, and afterwards lay on my bed feeling sorry for myself, but grateful for my savior.
The following morning I was to have breakfast in the dining room with the few other guests who were there. It was a pleasant enough group of people, all, I believe, from the town or, if not, from the surrounding region. One well-traveled gentleman was currently living in Colorado. Richard, being the marvelous host that he is introduced me to the table since I was last to arrive, explained briefly why it was that I was there, and then sidled off into the kitchen to allow us to enjoy our breakfast and conversation.
Eventually breakfast came to an end and all the guests but myself departed. Richard gave me a proper tour of the building, including all the various rooms that I didn’t see the previous night, along with a bit of its history; shared an explanation of the long brick building which lie across the street from the inn; and shared various stories and vignettes of experiences he’d had and people he’d met while running the B & B.
That old brick building, where Richard in fact worked for 37 years before taking management of the B & B, was once a hosiery mill until the children of the previous owner, who had died, decided they didn’t feel like running it anymore, so simply shut it down. Who knows how many people were left jobless. Now the building lies there a bit like a mausoleum. I imagine all the old machines are still in there, cold and lifeless, coated in dust, without the guiding touch of a human hand, like so many other old factories and mills around the country.