Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 12 - Into The Cult

There seems to be at least one thing that doesn't change as I get on in these years: I try my best to figure out what's going to happen in the future and I get it totally wrong at least some of the time, and this was one of them.

We found ourselves in a country setting. It was full dark and there wasn't much artificial light except what seeped out of the curtains in the various buildings of the compound. First thing, we were shown to the cabin that we would share with two other hikers that were staying the night. For somebody like me, that only a short time ago was looking at my feet in front of a gas station, wondering how I was going to make it through the cold October night in northern Virginia, it was plenty. For regular folk, it was more like one of those sheds you buy from a big dirt lot and they deliver it on a flatbed truck. The only electricity was from an extension cord that was coming through a window that had a blanket filling in the rest of the gap. That one extension cord already had two cellphones charging on it, and what appeared to be a small space heater. Still, even if I was sleeping in my sleeping bag all night, it was better than anything else I could think of. We were told to stow our gear, find the common bathrooms and then meet up at the main house.
The walk to the bathrooms was across a decent-sized cow pasture and I was real careful where I put my feet, as I could hear the cows mooing nearby. The bathroom building was the best thing I'd come across since the convenience store. It had a big common area and was toasty warm. There was a pot of coffee going as well. There was a group of hikers in there, including a guy in his 40's that was telling some stories that were giving Paul a run for his money. The others were younger, and the one that really got the most attention was the girl from Australia. For some strange reason, the young guys were way more interested in her stories about the outback, than the 40 year-old guy's stories about motorcycling around the United States. Paul was looking for an opening, but there wasn't going to be one this night. In the meantime, I was eagerly checking out the showers, including clean towels. Wow, these 12 Tribes guys really knew how to make you feel welcome. We were told by the other hikers that the members abstain from all outside news and only one guy has a cellphone, and it's a fliphone. It's purpose is to let hikers call in to get picked up. They said the members are nice, kind of strict with the kids, and don't believe in things like smoking, drinking, and sugar. I'm sure there were more restrictions, but I had just found one that was a deal-breaker for me: they didn't believe in hot water. I settled for washing my face and checking my armpits for ticks real quick. 

Truthfully, as long as I didn't smell worse than Australian girl, I figured I was okay.
We finally came to the part I was dreading and Paul was anticipating. We were led into the main house and sure enough there was an old man sitting, facing us, at an austere dining room table, with two plates of steaming food waiting our arrival. We were guided to our chairs and told to eat up. For once, I was not thinking much about food. I was looking around and seeing the other room that had 4 young children seated while a young woman in what looked like an old farm dress ran around trying to keep them happy, and just like anybody trying to feed 4 kids, she was busy. My first thought was, even in that frumpy dress, no makeup, and obviously un-dyed hair, she looked pretty good. There was a tall guy in his 30's behind me with a bushy red beard, and he looked capable of keeping me from bolting for the door. The old guy in front of us had those little round John Lennon glasses on, and if anyone was casting for a shopkeeper out west in the 1800's, this guy could get the part without reading a line. He was watching Paul closely and soon I discovered the same thing Paul did. Organic food sounds like heaven compared to what we had been getting, but compared to the hamburger and fries that we had eaten an hour ago, this tasted like gruel. It was beans and rice, but I do not want you to confuse that with some wonderful Mexican dish. This was white beans and white rice, and apparently another thing the 12 Tribes have on there list of things to avoid, is seasoning. I don't usually go for the hot sauce that much, but this plate could have used a whole bottle.
We stirred our forks around our plates, while I vowed to keep my mouth shut and kick Paul if he started any Trump stuff and it turned out these guys wished Obama was still in charge.

Instead, the world slid slightly sideways...the old guy, was apparently wise as he was old and figured out quick that we were not good candidates for donating all of our possessions and going to work on the farm. He found that we were from Florida and began telling us about how the collective works. The farm we were on didn't really make money. They started with a little produce stand, tried a few variations, and suddenly pivoted into "THE" place to stop and get coffee, a pastry, and a sandwich for lunch on the way to the train station. It sounded crazy, but after all of the traffic I had seen lately, I could see how the wealthy could go for some homemade food to eat on the way to work. I just hoped those sandwiches had more taste than what I had in front of me.
He went on to tell us about various businesses that the collective owned, including a power company! I feigned interest, while Paul tried to figure out if he should try to get some of their sandwiches in his machines down in Florida....then, the twist.
The old guy started telling me about some juicing operation they had in Cape Coral, Florida and how they had to figure out how to move these giant machines up north. I told him I spent many years in that area and then we came to the fact that his group had just purchased a Mango farm on Pine Island and he might get transferred there. Suddenly, we were best buddies, as I told him all of the places to check out if he moved there. I told him about the great fishing and the red tide issue. I told him where to eat in Bokeelia, without remembering that he probably didn't eat out often.
Paul sat quietly while I talked too much. Finally, it was bedtime and I left thinking what great people these 12 Tribes folks were, and Paul was grumbling that we should have stayed back at the shelter....


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