By the time I get to Roanoke, it’s almost dark. I arrive at the motel at the same time as three other bikers from Kentucky, and we strike up a conversation about the Blue Ridge Parkway. When they check in, I observe the reception guy speaking with them. He goes out of his way to help the guys, talking with them about their trip, trying to understand if there is anything extra they need. Then, when my turn comes to check in, he gives me directions and recommendations, and asks where I came from and where I am headed. For this receptionist, work is not a job, it is a calling, an opportunity to help the travelers who stop at his doorstep.
After unpacking, I go to the front desk and ask him if they have any coffee. At first, he suggests that I use the coffee maker in my room. Then, pauses for a second, looks at me, and says “ahhmmm… screw it – I just brewed a fresh pot, hold on.” He goes into the kitchen and comes back with a fresh cup, and we start talking. A self-described “super nerd” and “news junky,” Steve is only 22 but has the knowledge and personality of a university professor. We talk about TV, the media, and politics, and then go out for a cigarette. After lighting up, the conversation turns more personal and he tells me about his demons and his dreams. He is an alcoholic and has been sober for two years. He attributes his addiction to a fear of adulthood — a fear of being stuck in a meaningless career and meaningless grown-up life, like his father was. As a child, Steve watched his dad forgo his dreams for a job he disliked and for a life to which he was indifferent. Steve vows to live differently and spend his own life in pursuit of his dreams.
Appropriately for a super nerd, he is working on a new kind of Dungeons and Dragons game, a version that would be ten times more complicated than any of the games that are out on the market today. He describes his game idea to me in detail, then pauses, and for the first time since we met, the smile leaves his face: “the thing is,” he says “I don’t know if game companies would be interested in a game that is so complicated. Perhaps, I should dumb it down a little. You know, just to make it a little friendlier.” He waits for my response. I am living my dream and riding across the country, so in this conversation, I am the dream expert. I hesitate for a second. “Tell you what,” I finally respond,” I find it hard to believe that you are the only super nerd in this world. If you find this new game exciting, then it must be that every single super nerd out there will be excited about it too. So, I think you should make it crazy-sick complicated, and when you pitch it to game companies, say explicitly that you are focusing on this new super-nerd audience. What do you think?” A cloud is lifted from his face. “Yes,” he says, “I will do just that!” and the conversation continues until one of the guests appears at the door, and Steve joyfully goes back to serving his guests.