Day 38, your thanks has already been included

Let me tell you about bad sleep. I finished at the rollerpizza and went down about 500 ft closer to Capitol Reef. I opened a cattleguard, pushed the bike up to the top of a small cliff, took my tent, went down to what was on the other side of said cliff and set it on the only flat spot -- three dead cacti and hard rock. I set my leftover pizza on a rock and went to bed.

At about 12:50 I hear James Brown telling me to Stand Right Up from directly behind me. The stereo at the restaurant has turned itself on and it's loud. Loud like let's spook the guy in the tent down there and then kill him to start Tuesday off right. Then, much closer, the sound of fast running or galloping coming down the cliff. They've killed my bike, pushed it off, and I'm next.

"Who's there?"

I run out of my tent in my underwear, cycling shoes, and the acrylic shirt that guy gave me at the free box.

"Huh? Who's there?"

Nothing. Just Hot Fun in the Summertime from up the canyon. I run up to my bike. I haven't got any contacts, so I what I actually did was run up to my blur. It was still there. So was my lovely pizza, which I had only given a 50 percent chance of finishing the night anyways. They must be starting out slow.

I put my contacts in and sit and wait in my tent. I can't run to safety. I'll sit here and play it by ear. Grab something hard. Think rationally. What's their motive? I asked for Fanta and then got water when they didn't have it? No. They just don't like me? It's possible. No. It must have been a deer and some late night rollerskating. Then it began to rain, I put on my rainfly, and my night vigil went on until...

I ate anchovy pizza for breakfast. I lived through it -- both the night and the pizza -- although the only evidence I have of sleep was that I remember waking up. They weren't murderous centaurs. Here's my final guess: last night's lovely hostess loved a boy she met at her grandmother's roller-rink in Salt Lake. At night, sometimes, she skates to remember him.

I stopped at a Ranger station 10 miles out of Torrey and was met by a nice older couple who volunteer for the Park. One perk: they have a wood-burning stove. They gave me a fresh bran muffin and it was so good it tasted store bought. Outside, two families from Montpelier (France) sat fascinated with the hummingbirds at the hummingbird feeder; as, indeed, they should have been, because the things move around like Tinkerbells and they have never hurt a fly.

I wish to make a small sartorial digression on the dress of the European tourist in the canyonlands. The families from Montpelier were exceptionally well dressed; here are the rest.

I took my morning coffee at the Best Western up the valley from Capitol Reef. It's very popular with the French, Belge, and German tourist. Coming in and out I saw: a man in hi-cut 80s sports shorts, no lining (ew), tight red shirt and the kind of sandals Jesus would have worn if he were more athletic; his wife had shock red hair and a ludicrous pair of spectacles. Heading inside were two stern looking men with long necks and stubble for hair; they had two different, ludicrous pairs of glasses, both neon. A visibly-German man had a fanny pack (honest), khaki shorts, and matching pink socks (pulled high) and shirt (tucked in). A Belgian man made it easy: he wore a shirt with the word 'Belgium' on it. In almost all cases, teeth point in all sorts of directions.

I have lost my quiet canyon voice as I have left the canyons. You notice things like this in absence. The voice in my head was whispering all throughout the canyonlands. When the winds were up I could barely hear myself talk to myself. Now I'm back to normal (shouting in my odd accent) and I miss that stillness. Thankfully, I'm so exhausted that my mind's voice is a bit out of breath. Am I alone in finding fatigue -- earned fatigue versus, say, jetlag -- a pleasure of sorts? Like nice quiet?

So I went up to the mountain, rolled back down the other side, and ended up back with canyons of Escalante State Park.

A bit of a bad thing happened at lunch today. I pulled into Boulder and wanted the hippie-cooked meal somebody promised me down the line. Locally sourced beef? Sounds promising, only the second I sat down and the beef planted its cruel worm in my brain I am told that they're all out of the local stuff but that, never fear, Sysco has a solution. Fine. Sign me up for the ruben-on-top-of-my-burger burger. A glass of homemade ice-T sir? Yes, I'll reward local industry, sure. Very well, we pour the hot water over these here Lipton's bags ourselves. Then we add ice. We don't add sugar because that would be like cooking. One tea, coming right up.

Everything is satisfactory. I have a piece of pie only to remind myself how special Cooky's was. Cooky's was. Then the bill comes. Wow, but it's ok because I've heard her telling other people that tip already in there. Is tip in there? No. I only do that to the Europeans.

This is the last straw! I hate this! This really bothers me! And you call yourself a hippie. These people have crossed an ocean to see your bit of dirt, fueled only by their curiosity and a weak dollar, and we reward them with this? Am I wrong in being of the opinion that we should roll out our finest china for the guests, especially the French, to whom we owe a great debt, who don't think too highly of us, and who are, let's face it, unfairly caricatured as skinny bohemians in ludicrous glasses.

Let's discuss two things: is tipping culturally American and, if so, so what? And, is short distance transportation of food worth 20 percent of said food?

Tipping 15 and now 20 percent for service might have began as a sincere gesture of gratitude, but it has become status quo probably out of every American's fear of social failure and penury, worked its way into the pay structure of the restaurant industry, and taken some nice myths along with it (struggling actor, artist, mother, etc). Now, if we want to pay everyone fairly (and we should), we simply have to see it as a hidden tax in a largely cash business with curious accounting. For if we're really truly being generous, then surely 40 is the number -- 20 for cost, 20 for thanks. That seems American and extortionate.

For argument's sake, let's say it's a particularly American peccadillo that we do out of our wonderful magnitude. If that were the case then we can't demand it of others. It should be its own reward, and when we go to Belgium and leave two dollars by a plate of fries, the loud cries of 'merci merci' should further convince us of our big generosity.

Of course that is not the case. More often than not we are held prisoner in Europe, because the service is so much slower (as a meal should be), that when you're finally confronted with the bill you want to say I was not impressed and end up leaving 18 percent. This means nothing to the waiter. This is just extra money.

Now to the question of whether or not the lifting of food is worth 20 percent of it. I've laid up a bit of a straw man here. It's not just the carrying; it's the smile. My waitress is putting a human face on beef. She is the last thing I see before I shove it down my throat. My mind thinks, 'She made this out of thin air in 5 minutes.' This is what I value and I value it 20.

She didn't do it though. This beef passed through a lot of hands, some of which I've shook on this trip. The feed, the cow, the fattening, the Mack truck, the slaughter, the Mack truck, the Mexican who unboxes things for the restaurant, the mind of the chef, the cook, the waitress, me. Of all these people and machines is it hardest to say no to a smiling woman? Versus the tough truck driver squeezed by rising fuel costs? The trucker should be so lucky as to be thought of before their work is eaten. This seems American and naive.

I want to reward thought and talent. If chefs were capable of smiling (they're not, cf. Bourdain, Ramsey, D. Chang, et al) they'd get in on the action --

"You're eating that wrong. You want to grind the veal down into the plate with your forehead and then -- ONLY THEN -- pick it up with your wallet and chew it twice."

-- That's where the skill lies. Instead, we've got a system where when people are genuinely nice to you (hey, free bran muffin) you're left reaching for your pocket and mental tip calculator.

I don't think we're rewarding talent here. We're rewarding friendliness. We're talking about quantifying and commodifying the simplest and greatest gift we have got going as humans -- that which holds us together -- and we're capping it at 20 percent?

Question: Is there not a difference in interaction between someone who smiles at you, gives you great advice, makes you feel happy and interested, and the same experience with a small tip jar in your peripheral vision? I've begun noticing these everywhere. They're US Parks standard issue. When the Ranger came and offered me that muffin my initial response was of complete thanks; but then I slowly felt ill at ease and wondered whether I should walk back into the shop and 'donate' something small.

I've been very fortunate to have people offer me their homes, churches, and food with no expectation of compensation other than in the giving; when I give back to them out of a desire to feel that same feeling of giving, that is a rich experience. Perhaps that is why I have fallen into this digression (kudos on making it this far). I also wish to tie this together with more thoughts on food in my final trip summary as, often, the dinner plate is where America can come to you.

I rode out of there and along the backbone of Escalante's most spectacular canyon-dunes at 35 miles an hour. I forgot the silly business from above and made it to Escalante (town), to pizza, to the tremendously nice Britons (who'd had service added to their bills!), to my first shower in 4 days, to running water, to 2 hours on the Blackberry and work. Now, here in my last sentence, I must appologize for the length.

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