The waitress at the pizzeria didn't seem very enthusiastic about serving me. Maybe it was my disheveled, undignified appearance. Or my rancorous, fetid, chthonic1 smell. That might've had something to do with it.
It had been a hot, dry, extremely hot day. And dry. I had seen flowing water just once, at the very end of my hike, just before I reached the road. And even then, it had been the turgid overflow from a stagnant pond, pouring over an old, algae-encrusted concrete dam. In a rabid fit of choleric desperation, I had thrown myself at the dam and sucked down the black, vaguely sinister water straight from the out-tube on my Katadyn filter.
And then I had hitchhiked into Great Barrington, Massachusetts, getting a ride with a loopy Vietnam vet on his way to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. His ex-wife was driving him, due to the fact that his license was suspended, and he couldn't legally own the truck without installing an ignition lock and breathalyzer. Charming people. Despite my aforementioned appearance and general lack of hygiene, he genuinely seemed to like me, and continuously urged his ex-wife to buy me dinner. After dropping him at his meeting, she unceremoniously dumped me in the parking lot of the Four Brothers Pizza Inn and drove off. I suspect she wanted less to do with me than I with her. Again, could've been the smell.
And so I went in, alone, and ordered a mushroom and pepper calzone and a fountain root beer. By the time the bill came, I'd had three root beers, and two glasses of water. For some reason, I had assumed there were free refills on the soda. Probably because there should have been. Imagine my shock when the bill came, and I'd been charged six dollars for beverages. I could've bought six liters of soda for that much! I was furious. Both with myself, for not asking, and with the waitress, for... just because. I suspected she treated me poorly because I was a smelly thru-hiker, and she didn't think I'd give her a tip. Well, she didn't get a tip.
Which will probably only reinforce her already negative presumptions about thru-hikers, and the next poor fellow who follows in my footsteps will get even worse service. And then the cycle will continue, ad nauseum. Oh, and the calzone was terrible. Hot tip: avoid Four Brothers.
Pissed, I started walking out of town, towards the East Mountain Retreat Center, where I was tentatively planning to stay for the night.
En route, I called my friend Giovanni.
"Want to pick me up to go to Jon's birthday party?" I asked.
"Where are you?"
"Great Barrington, Massachusetts."
He hung up on me.2 I called him back.
"It's only an hour away!" I cried.
"Where is it, again?"
"I don't know, man. I'd love to, but I gotta pick up Jeanne3 first, and that'll take two hours, so by the time I came to get you the party might be over."
"Oh well, don't worry about it. I'm going to stay at the East Mountain Retreat Center tonight."
"Some hippy-dippy place. No, sorry, 'an interfaith retreat facility,'" I said, reading from my guidebook. "Probably run by godless Pagans."
"You know, Pagan means they have more than one God."
"You're an idiot."
"I know," I sighed. "Fine. I guess I deserved that.4"
And then a woman driving a minivan pulled over in front of me, offering me a ride. Shocked, I said a hasty goodbye to Giovanni and slithered into the passenger seat. Had I been wrong about Great Barrington, and its people? Was this not the worst town in the world5? Were these not the worst people, besides day hikers and south-bounders?
To be continued...
1. chthonic |ˈθänik| (also chthonian |ˈθōnēən|) adj. concerning, belonging to, or inhabiting the underworld : a chthonic deity. I'm implying that I smelled like a corpse, dead and buried. Which is probably more true than I'd like to admit.
2. Okay, that didn't really happen, but you can't deny it makes for a better story this way.
3. This is also wrong. Jeanne is Giovanni's ex-girlfriend, and they broke up months before this conversation took place.
Jeanne did attend Jon's birthday party, however. Apparently it's cool for Jon to remain friends with his friends' exes, even if it's not cool for us to remain friends with his. Do I sound bitter? I don't mean to be. It's all water under the bridge by now, anyway. Jon is, as of this writing, engaged to a lovely woman, working a high paying job, and, in all other respects, living his dream. He couldn't be happier. And I couldn't be happier for him. So all of our previous disagreements, fist-fights, and drunken cock-blocking attempts have been forgotten. Right, Jon?
4. This exchange didn't happen either. I just wanted to include it to show I have humility. Or a sense of humor about myself. Or I am an idiot.
5. No, actually. It's the fourth worst. The absolute worst town in the world is Venice, Italy. The second is Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and the third is Niagara Falls, Ontario. The fifth worst, in case any one was wondering, is Mogadishu, Somalia. Sorry, Cleveland. You are—as with everything else—merely an honorable mention here.