Zen and the art of conversation

A coal train exits a mountain tunnel between Mahanoy City and Hometown.The kid and his dad left Norfolk on the Harley touring bike, day after school was out, with a two-man tent and a couple sleeping bags bound to the luggage rack, and headed north.

First night out, Locust Lake State Park, just outside Mahanoy City. The night was dark as the inside of a pile of anthracite coal that once created towns like Mahanoy City and the nearby Hometown, and the late start and six hour ride made magnets of their sleeping bags.

The next morning, the park ranger told them of Angela’s, a restaurant in Mahanoy City populated by men who once worked the coal fields, and who would love having a 12-year-old to tell their stories to. And breakfast, said the ranger, would be plentiful and not expensive.

Always up for good stories, the father and son found the hole-in-the-wall diner on the south side of Main Street, took their seats at the counter, and ordered breakfast. Almost immediately, four “older gentlemen” in the booth behind them struck into conversation.

“Where are you from?”

“Where are you going?”

The youngster answered while Dad sat listening, smiling. He took endless joy meeting and visiting with strangers, and it appeared his son had been infected with the same gene.

Finally, one of the men said, “If you go down the road a short distance out of town, you’ll find a huge steam shovel. It hasn’t run in years, but in its day it would scoop up an awful lot of coal.”

One of the men also described the nearby Blaschak Coal, a coal processing plant long out of service, but a watchman at the mill would enjoy the company.

The duo found the steam shovel, large enough to gather up a house without scratching it, and the watchman gave the travelers of the coal mill. a tour, and when LJ climbed back on the motorcycle, he was heavier by the weight of a sample bag of the various sizes of coal produced by the mill – egg, stove, nut, pea and one or two others. The bag of coal would play in the young future storyteller’s growing repertoire of tales he had been collecting since he was a tyke watching Mom and Dad boil and freeze crabs and halibut harvested from the Bering Sea while on a tour with the Navy.

Back on the road, the two riders eventually crossing into Vermont at a small town somewhere north of New York City, where they stopped to listen to a town band in a pavilion in the town square. Later, they entered Interstate 89 where they chatted for a time with the caretaker at a rest stop, who directed them to the camping facilities at Allis State Park campground.

They were the only campers that night. The campground was not officially open. Schools in New England were still in session, winter there often resulted in “snow days” that had to be added to the June end of the year, but the park caretakers allowed the motorcyclists to bed down for the night.

The biking duo showered in water that ran on a timer powered by quarters. On the way back to their assigned lean-to, the youngster was startled by a rustle in the bushes next to the nearly invisible darkened path, and continued walking to the sleeping bags – too old to take Dad’s hand, but young enough to walk a little closer. Somewhere an owl cast a morning call into the coming rain.

Dad no longer rides a motorcycle, but the 12-year-old has become an avid outdoorsman and motorcyclist.

And he has become even better at gathering stories from anyone, anywhere, who will converse.

Thanks for coming along. I hope you enjoyed the ride. Comments are welcome, and please feel free to share. Click the “Share” button to share it on social media, or copy the URL and send it to friends and acquaintances you think might appreciate it.

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