Yesterday was one of those glorious Autumn days. Cool air mixed with brilliant sunshine prompted me to take the twins out for a bike ride. I told them we don’t have too many days like this left in the year so we need to get out and enjoy it. Our ride destination was Rita’s Water Ice as they close for the season today. Always a good end to a ride, especially when you are 8 years old.
Not far from my house is a huge cemetary. There are paved roads totaling a couple of miles that are perfect for riders, runners and dog walking. It’s like a giant park filled with ghosts of people lost. The kids and I ride there often. We watched the squirrels scurry about and read names and dates on stones. Jack was interested in the veterans with the flags marking their graves. He checked them to see what war they had been in. Kelly joined in as I gave an impromptu history lesson. Our bikes lay in the grass as people drove by after visiting loved ones and a couple of dogs gave them the cursory sniff as they were walked by. The sun shone through the golden leaves. It was a great day to be alive even though the population around us wasn’t.
As I was walking toward Kelly to help her pronounce a Russian surname, an old man pulled his car over next to our bikes. Our eyes locked and he said “Excuse me”. Replying “Yes, sir?” as I walked toward him, he said nothing. He just stared at me. I approached his car yet he remained silent until I reached the door. Figuring he couldn’t hear so well, I repeated myself, “Yes, sir?” as I stood next to his car. He started to speak but nothing came out. His pause lasted and lingered between us. His eyes darted beyond me and then back to my face. He inhaled deeply and said “I wish I had memories like the ones you are going to have” and seemed to choke back the rest of his thought. His hand gestured toward my kids as his voice drifted off with a sense of sadness. I looked at his worn face and assured him “I think of that every day”.
He wanted to say more but couldn’t. He just looked up at my face, nodded and almost gave a smile. He took his foot off the brake and started to roll away. One final look to the kids and then his gaze peered forward through the windshield and he was gone.
We continued our ride as I wondered what was left unspoken. What had this man lived through to make him not only realize but say that to me? We looked at some more stones and fun things when I noticed a large tree that had been hollowed out by rot. I stopped the kids and told them to come see something with me. We approached the solid side of the tree and as the kids walked around, they smiled with the surprise of the find. Fishing for my phone, I told them I wanted to get a picture. The tree wasn’t big enough for them both to get in so they took turns posing inside the trunk of this giant.
We continued on to Rita’s and Kelly spilled as much as she ate, as usual. Jack had his vanilla/chocolate twist cone and we laughed about how we were cold after eating the frozen treats. When we were finished we hopped back on our bikes and headed home. Again, I thought of the old man. He was envious of the memories I was going to have of days like this with my children. Little did he know the memory of our brief encounter will stay with me as well.
One thing we all have in common in life are what I call “want to’s” and “have to’s”. As the father of three kids this rarely leaves my mind. I want to give my kids a good home, clean clothes, proper food. In order to do this, I have to have a job to pay my bills. Not an uncommon situation. Most of the time we get bogged down with the constant battle of these opposing forces but every once in a while, they join in a beautiful symbiosis.
Recently, I had to take a business trip to New York. Now anyone who has ever driven in a large city knows the anguish of gridlock, the hassle of finding parking and the expense of the inevitable parking ticket. Well, I sure didn’t want to deal with that so I came up with a better plan. I loaded about 40 pounds of work materials, minimal clothing and toiletries into my saddle bags and hopped a train into the city. Approaching Penn Station I felt a foreboding gloom as I realized I was throwing myself into an unpredictable situation with few personal supplies and a whole lot of responsibility to my job. I emerged from the station about to not only get my job done but to do it my way. Just like the cassette as I glided down 6th Avenue, everything clicked once I got on my bike,. The sky was bright but an October wind funneled between the buildings and I decided to pull out the nylon jacket I had tightly bundled in my pannier. Zipping up to my chin, I went off to my first stop. As I finished my day in Manhattan I headed off to Brooklyn. I paused over the East River to snap a couple of pictures and it occurred to me that this work trip was a “have to” but with my bike I was making it a “want to”. This potentially annoying work trip became an adventure I’ll always remember.
About to go under the first arch of the Brooklyn Bridge.
When my friend called me and asked if I wanted to do a flatland show, I immediately said yes. It surprised me actually. Over a year ago I decided to retire my “show pro” status. I felt kind of silly out there riding when I was older than 90% of my audience. I figured after over 25 years of doing shows I’d let some other rider fill the spot and have a chance to earn some money from riding his bike. I had no intention of ever performing again. Why the change of heart? Honestly, I figured I could get a week and a half of groceries out of the paycheck.
I got the the show location and did the meet and greet thing, set up and started riding. Now it was a beautiful day. About 70 degrees and the sun felt brilliant. As I rolled around I noticed the surface was absolutely perfect for me. It was huge, clean and had a slight down hill that was conducive for rolling tricks and a flat area for spinning tricks. No matter how the show turned out, I knew it was good day to be out on my bike. As the kids came out and sat around the perimeter their excitement built. We did some warms ups and the kids all cheered and reached out for high fives. Once the show started, the announcer got the 700 kids screaming and the air was bursting with adrenaline. I felt their energy flow into me. My runs were longer than I expected. The feeling of riding well and making the crowd happy made me realize that this was more than just getting a paycheck. By the time we finished the show my smile was as big as any random 8 year old in the crowd.
Both of these stories were based on my “have to’s” but I somehow managed to combine them with my “want to’s”. I’m a lucky man that I get to do this sometimes. Actually, I bet we all do. We just need to pause and pay attention to these rare occurrences and appreciate them when we have the chance.