I rolled up to the light behind a dozen other cars, and there he stood.
The city was already bustling, like any other American city. I’ve noticed that already in seven days of travel, in three thousand miles of movement over the landscape that is America the beautiful. Cities have their own personalities, their own skylines, but they wake up and go to sleep pretty much the same from one coast to the other. Oh, there are outliers, of course, like New York City. When I was there in May, going to the middle of Times Square in the middle of the night felt just as right as going there and waving to the cameras during the early morning shows. NYC never sleeps.
There he stood. He was tall, with long, matted dirty blond hair that fell about his shoulders and waved in the morning breeze. He had a beard and mustache, of course, a long beard that had not seen a trim in weeks, months. There was no gray in it. His face was streaked with the grime of street life. It was cool on its way to warmer, but cool, still and all. He was shirtless, which was odd in that it was cool, but also because he was standing beside this line of cars with drivers dressed and warm and coiffured and shaven. His dirty brown pants were color-matched to his tanned, streaked face, and the belt that held them up had seen better days.
He walked aimlessly back and forth, back and forth, covering a five or six foot path beside the line of cars parked there, drivers looking straight ahead, lost in thought or trying to find one that would distract them from the man to the left, pacing and long-haired and shirtless. He looked not at the drivers, for I’m sure he knew that he would find little solace there, but at the sky. Not at the sky, really, but toward the sky, out at it but not at it. His stare was vacant in every sense of the word. He was not focused. He was not hopeful.
He held a sign to his chest, as many often do as they stand silently at the corners of American cities. It was plain cardboard, torn at the edges, not neatly cut with scissors, tanned and smudged, and so it was fitting to hold it and have it match the rest of him. It summed things up for this man, I’m afraid. It described him without saying anything. It asked for what he needed to survive and it foretold what he was likely to get that day for his efforts. It told me, in a single glance, what he was thinking, what he was feeling, and what his dreams held.
It was blank.
She came up to my table, no, bounced up, skipped up to it, with an energy that belied the hour.
“Good morning!” she offered, chipper and pert and full of the energy of youth.
She poured the coffee without even asking as I quickly saw was the custom in this wonderful little place. She had the local accent of course, different from what I was used to. Nice, short and clipped and neat and compact like she was. Her bright brown eyes sparkled. Her smile was quick and disarming.
She took my order efficiently, brought the food when it was time, kept the coffee cup filled and checked on me regularly. She knew her job and was very good at it.
She handed me the check, gave me time to look at it, then came back and finished the transaction at the table, fingers flying through the bills and change in her money belt.
Sweet. Nice. Efficient. Helpful.
Always tip breakfast waitresses generously.
I’m not sure where I first heard that, but I practice it wherever I go.
I was getting close.
I had entered Washington state and was in sight of the Cascades, driving along through the largest hay baling and distributing section of the country that I’ve seen to date. I have never seen more hay bales in one place in my entire life.
Cruise control is a good thing in this part of the country. To paraphrase General Robert E. Lee, “It is good that speeding is so terrible, else we would grow too fond of it.” I was running smoothly over the flats and the hills, and then I topped a large one, cresting it and looking out over the valley below me, on to the range of greenish-brown mountains, some with gray rocky tops in the distance, that rose like a mirage several miles distant.
Then I saw it. Goosebumps rose on my arms and I felt a swelling in my chest that was totally unexpected.
I let out an audible gasp, followed by an “Ohhhhh…”
The snowcapped mountain rose like a beautiful behemoth over and above the range of peaks that I had already seen. It was nothing short of massive. It was clear as day, beautiful and huge and eternal. I thought at first that it must be an optical illusion of some sort, a trick of the light, a reflection of a lesser peak. I was still one hundred twenty five miles from Seattle, after all.
As I descended, it also retreated back behind the lesser peaks in front of it, finally disappearing from view. I knew it was still there, and that I would see it again when I made it through the mountains and arrived at my destination on the other side, nearer the coast. From what others had already told me, if the weather cooperated during my trip, and if the conditions were just right, “the mountain would be out” and I would be treated to that magnificent sight again before Rosie and I headed south for Portland.
And that, my friends, is how I saw God today.