By WES CHENEY
It’s been 90 miles and eighteen hours since I last had a hot meal. Breakfast this morning was scarfed down while driving to the check-in: a couple of fruit bars washed down with yesterday’s coffee, conveniently refrigerated in the car cup holder as the temperature dipped below freezing.
But now I’ve perked up as I read some beautiful words on the cue sheet: “Sheetz 0.5 miles on the right.”
“Oh dude, we gotta stop at Sheetz!”
My riding companion of the present morning betrays his lack of local ways as he asks in an odd New Zealand-via-Newark accent, “What is a ‘Sheets?’”
“Sheetz! It’s this great chain of convenience stores.”
“Thanks, but I don’t need anything.”
“Nah, you don’t understand, they’ve got food!!”
The quizzical quirk of his eyebrows above his rimless, rounded glasses betrayed a stereotypical dismissal as visions of Twinkies and potato chips danced o’er his head.
“Look, do you like Subway sandwiches? Then you’ll love Sheetz. See, it’s all made to order in this, sort of ‘convenience restaurant.’ They’ve got these great touchscreen computers where you can place your order. Then you get a number printed out on a receipt, and by the time you pay the clerk, your sandwich is ready.”
I glanced over again as we crested a small hill and looked down to where the road joined the river under a canopy of still-barren trees. I was starting to see that glazed look on my ancien companion that my father always showed when I tried to explain menu function options on the new VCR.
“See, it’s more than sandwiches. They’ve got bagels too, and bagel sandwiches, or ‘Schmagels,’ as they call them. But then, oh man, you’ve gotta try their macaroni and cheese. Oh diggity dang, it’s good and creamy! And they’ve got chili mac and cheese and even triple cheese macaroni and cheese! And see, you can customize everything on the menu! ‘Bing!’ goes the touchscreen and asks you, ‘would you like a sauce on that?’ And then there’s like seven sauces you can choose from. And their Schmagels? You can put tons on them. I love the everything bagel with sausage, egg and double swiss cheese and lettuce and tomato and the fire-roasted tomato sauce.”
I got a noncommittal grunt as we resumed pedaling at the bottom of the hill.
“But that’s not all: they’ve got great coffee! And they keep it in thermoses so it doesn’t get that nasty, bitter burnt taste. And then there are these great ‘no-bake’ cookies. ‘Sheetz Dotz’ I think they call them. And then they’ve got these new custom milkshake machines. Do it yourself! And it’s a modest size too, no supersized shake! Of course, sometimes they have fries, but I stay away from them when I’m on the bike, you know. Or maybe you don’t want to know...Still, they’re great fries. Boardwalk style.”
As we rode along a glowing red and yellow fuel island awning emerged from the early spring drizzle emblazoned with a single word.
Beside the gas canister cage were propped almost half a dozen bikes, and inside we could spy bedraggled fluorescent cyclists, who clopped and clicked and skidded around the common folk, dripping gray puddles behind them. A few more sat at a booth table at the window and waved as our headlights caught their eyes.
“Well,” my companion said as he signaled a right and we rolled past the gas pumps, “I guess it’s worth a try.”