Stutzman: The welcome mat is always out

Last Thursday my husband and I took our two kids (4 years and 11 months) out for a bike ride around town. We stopped at the Starlite Beach park to play for a while and then headed home so my husband could get ready to go out hunting. We had a short time schedule in which to get back to the house but we were also out of coffee beans at the house. I love a good cup of coffee in the morning so I convinced my husband to make a quick detour to grab some coffee downtown before we pedaled back to the house.

As we pulled up to the coffee shop I noticed a bike parked out front that was loaded up with bags and had a flag featuring a map of Michigan clamped to the back of the bike. I ran in and purchased the coffee and noticed that a man wearing a T-shirt with a similar map of Michigan was sitting sipping some tea. Even though we were in a hurry to get home I stopped for a moment to start a conversation with the man to see where he was biking to and from.

Technically, I was off the work clock. Technically, I could have just minded my own business. Technically, I could have minded our short time schedule. However, what I noticed amongst the bags on the bike and the smile in the man who was obviously from out of town was an opportunity to hear an interesting story.

The man was Ryan Davy and he is biking the entire coast of lower Michigan to make a documentary about how great Michigan is as a place film movies and a place to visit. He is originally from South Africa but is here to make three movies in Michigan. The first will be a supernatural thriller call The Parricidal Effect. Ryan has 20 years of movie making under his belt and has edited programming for the Discovery Channel and spent time as a nature videographer for National Geographic. His supporting documentary is an effort to bring awareness to his upcoming movie and to encourage other filmmakers to consider Michigan as a filming location. He was 20-some days into his travel, often sleeping in a tent and riding many lonely miles through trails in the woods.

I had no idea he was going to be stopping in Alpena and had never even heard of his efforts until I chanced upon him sitting at the local coffee shop. Had I not taken five minutes out of the busy schedule to ask him a few questions, Alpena would have missed out on an incredible opportunity.

He spent Thursday night at Middle Island thanks to Capt. Mike Theut. I met Ryan for breakfast the next morning before he was planning to leave for his next location. Over breakfast I convinced him to stay for another 24 hours and I am so glad he did. I canceled all my appointments for Friday and we journeyed to the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, the forgotten village of Bell and throughout the community of Alpena.

He was our guest for a home-cooked meal and spent the second night at Fireside Inn. On Saturday morning my husband, kids and I hopped on our bikes and escorted Ryan to the edge of the city where we said goodbye and he traveled on south along the coast. It was clear our paths were meant to cross and I plan to keep in touch.

He gathered great footage for his documentary and I had the privilege of getting to know him and share with him this beautiful region we call home. It never would have happened if I had minded my own business. It never would have happened if I had said, “too bad, I’m off the work clock and on my own time right now.” If I hadn’t seen his bike and wanted to know his story he would have just made his brief stop in Alpena and travelled on the next day according to schedule.

The lessons from this experience are simple but profound. First, everyone has a story, don’t be afraid to ask and take a moment to listen. And last, always be ready to roll out the welcome mat because you never know when your hospitality is desperately needed to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.