A train sounds its horn. It's desperately close and appropriately loud. I'm at a cafe named "The Depot" alongside a multi-purpose trail within leaping distance and somehow failed to put two-and-two together that the train would soon be passing right in front of me in it's majestic march through downtown Fayetteville, AR.
A little girl is at the railing separating us from the passing conductor counting each car one-by-one. She made it to sixty-five before it disappeared around a bend and a peaceful silence followed while the patrons of "The Depot" around me seemed to all just take a second to enjoy the moment.
It's just temperate enough outside that I can't decide whether to keep my sweatshirt on or show off a t-shirt I bought at a coffee shop in Redlands, CA a few weeks ago. It has a man riding a utility bicycle carrying large bags labeled COFFEE. I also want to give my tattoo an opportunity to be asked for an interpretation. The waitress has already asked if I was here for a mustache convention. I have her attention, and now I'm hoping a few more talking points will get her to smile and flirt with me. Those silly things make being away for long periods of time bearable when you are feeling lonely. Not that I am. But she reminds me of home.
Another horn sounds. Just a solo engine this time with the number 35 on it. Maybe sixty-five cars was too much for the last train and it needed a little more power. I grew up loving trains. The history of trains, the power of trains, the logistics and opportunity provided by trains. The fact that trains are all over the world. You can take trains from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa. Paul Theroux made this journey overland and wrote about it in "Dark Star Safari" and planted seeds of adventure for myself and the millions that have read it since. It's actually a story that sparked an idea shortly after purchasing my first road bike at 22 years old. Having visited Uganda and Kenya I felt totally qualified to plan a bike ride from Cairo to Cape Town.
I worked at a coffee shop back then because working a full-time job a block away wasn't enough. Actually it was more than enough, but the coffee addiction I had formed visiting Murky Coffee three times a day to break up the monotony of my IT job, wasn't financially sustainable without picking up some hours. Murky Coffee became a place where I'd dream and share dreams with like-minded dreamers.
Anywhere I travel I search for coffee shops because I feel like I can relax there. Coffee shops for my generation are a "Third Space". Basically a social place other than your home or workplace. For me it's become my preference of the three. Even when I'm at home I can't help but spend countless hours at the coffee shop downtown. I can probably count on my hands the number of times I've made coffee for myself at home. That sounds gratuitous but it's about much more than the coffee.
My waitress reminds me of an old friend from DC. She has the same smile that seems to almost always stay put as a smirk with her cheeks strained tight enough that you couldn't confuse it as straight-faced. It has a flare of sarcasm with a hint of preparedness. It's an almost frustrating expression because I feel like she's putting on a show to display how content she is, always. But I can tell by our little conversations of why I'm in town and her clever retorts and small talk that she has the same sense of adventure my friend had just before she went and travelled the world. Her smirk is a placeholder for the dreams she has outside of this cafe that she surely smiles about in secrecy. Like she has an idea that she thinks no one else has figured out and she's nervous to tell anymore.
Even right now despite knowing the proximity to my hotel and the exact location I'm at in downtown Fayetteville, I feel like I could be anywhere. Anywhere in the world. I can imagine being along the Silk Road in China sipping tea wondering about the connection of so many cultures made along that trade route that were exposed because of the train. Or drinking from a dalla along the Nile River wondering what rare earth materials that train has carried and whose wars the railway was purposed for and when. And how I never knew about the kind of atrocities that have plagued Africa as a result of Imperialism and Westernization. I could be there. Maybe one day I will be. Timing is everything though, and realistically I'm just in a college town in Northwest Arkansas trying to unwind before a 4-day bike race.
That's the funny part of dreaming. Or rather the confusing convoluted idea of what a dream is based on the beholder. I was a new-to-cycling kid, six years ago, who had just purchased a South Africa Flag cycling jersey to motivate myself to save up and train to ride my bike across Africa. With my background I was hoping it would be a way to spread awareness and make the world a little smaller for everyone I have known. So that maybe they could understand why I am the way I am. And maybe they would dream as big as I couldn't help but dream.
Of course I was hoping I would find myself too. A reoccurring nightmare that is often used to dream more. Fear of not knowing what's out there can really keep you from dreaming big. And to believe that one adventure would be the end of your searching would certainly ruin the beauty of the search, which now I truly believe is never-ending and far more exciting than scary.
That idea of traveling across Africa was a dream. And it's totally fine if it never happens. Dreams are a vehicle for making sure I am never content with who I am or how the world is. And I will always seek adventure first and comfort last. I could never have dreamed that I'd be racing my bike all over the US rubbing elbows with some of the best cyclists in the world at times. It was never a dream but is definitely a pathway to dreams I'm still imagining along the way. Becoming the cyclist I am is something I have worked really hard at hoping it would one day take me all over the world. Or at least to my next coffee shop.
Another train sounds a horn. A cyclist is fixing a flat on the side of the multi-purpose trail. I think that's a sign that it's about time I paid my tab and got back to laying around. My waitress is beautiful and I hope her dreams come true, for the world's sake. She even flirted with me, I think.
I ate a crepe stuffed with capers and tilapia with coffee and a chocolate chip cookie. I get to finish my work-day remotely tonight as the lead engineer of a major data-center transformation project. I get to race a bike this weekend in one of the premier stage races in the country. I get to make a lot of choices. I could be anywhere in the world, but I am very happy with where I am today. Some might even say I'm living the dream.