Everybody has a story. Everybody is a story. Everybody tells stories. And this is what I love about humanity. Sure. Sometimes the stories are sad, happy, boring, nasty or simply mediocre. But they're stories nonetheless.
One of my passions is traveling. But more than the destination and perhaps sometimes more than the journey, I find it's the people I meet, encounter, watch or befriend that truly add color to my travels. And these travels needn't be far away in exotic lands. Sometimes they can be local, simple and in your back yard.
I dropped my motorcycle off at the BMW dealer today. As I chatted with the service manager a leather clad motorcyclists riding a BMW GS1150 pulled up. Upon pulling his helmet off and straining to throw his leg over the saddle as he dismounted the bike his flock of silver hair, weathered face and gold tooth caught my eye. He seemed about 70 years old or more. His jacket a few years older, perhaps. I continued with the service manager. He patiently waited his turn.
Later sitting in the front of the dealership I found a comfortable seat in the patio chairs where the older motorcyclists had draped his leather jacket, saddlebags and helmet. Waiting for my ride to arrive, I impatiently dialed Jim's number to find out the nature of the delay. The older motorcyclist shuffled across the parking lot and sat not far from me. He grunted, breathed heavy, and made a number of other respiratory and vocal noises.
Finally, I spoke up. “How's it going?” Leaning close to me he asked, “What was that?” Motorcycles are noisy. And they do take their toll on one's hearing.
“How's it going?” I repeated.
“That ride used to be a bit easier. Whew.”
Immediately I was drawn to him. I felt a spirit, a history; and his face, gleaming gold tooth and acute hearing loss hinted to a great story. We were two strangers. Years apart. Yet we shared something simple, basic and raw: we both ride motorcycles.
He explained how he used to be able to make the ride in no more than three and a half hours. Today it took him a bit more than four. He continued you tell of his plight. And the toll of his journey. He kept talking and whenever I interjected with a quick question or comical conversational jab, he's simply lean toward me and ask “What?”
I learned he drove his excitingly new motorcycle from Arizona to Orange, California that morning. It was about 11am. I figured he was a wandering motorcycling nomad making a stop at a local BMW dealer for a quick service before continuing his travels to Mexico, Alaska, Peru or wherever. But I was wrong.
His name? Flint. And I couldn't have found a name more appropriate. The years have scraped, scratched and rubbed him in every way. Good. Bad. Sometimes lighting a fire in his soul. Others false starts. Sometimes wet. Other times just not the right angle. But in the end, Flint always delivered.
When he left Arizona that morning his bike had only 320 miles. Still new. Not even broken in.
As I pressed for Flint's story he more than volunteered. Pulling a Marlboro light from the crushed box he pulled from his jeans, he looked at me through his dark shades while taking a least two or three pulls on the flint of his Bic lighter.
“I had pretty much gone blind,” he explained. “And what does a man do when he finds out he's blind?
I shrugged and waited for him to deliver the punch line.
“He buys a motorcycle.”
The smile on my face grew as laughter erupted from my gut to my mouth. Flint joined me in the laughter.
Apparently Flint had read about this model of the BMW motorcycle, but never had seen one. Every other motorcycle he ever bought he purchased from this BMW dealer in Orange. Except for this new GS1150. A long story, he assured me. But he explained that he bought the bike sight unseen. As he explained this I thought well that's very appropriate for a blind man. Did he expect to see it?
Flint owned 7 motorcycles in his life. And everyone he bought in California. This new 1150 was trucked in from Chandler, Arizona. He convinced a few buddies to make the 4 hour run from his home in Western Arizona and bring it to him.
Flint took another quick drag from his Marlboro and told me the story of his first ride on the new BMW. He pulled out of his driveway in the remote country of Western Arizona and headed down the winding road.
“I was wondering what was with the guy in the yellow raincoat standing in the middle of the road. As I approached him I realized that there was no man in a raincoat. I was seeing the double yellow lines in the road.”
I couldn't help but grimace and chuckle.
Flint continued. “At that point I turned around and parked the bike in my garage. I knew I had to do something about my eyesight.” He explained to me at that time that he only had one good eye. He called virtually every eye doctor in Western Arizona. No one would treat him.
“Allan, they all told me we don't work on one-eyed old men.”
I felt a bit sorry at this point. But I reigned in my compassion. I knew it would get better.
“I finally found this doctor,” Flint explained. “A young guy. Kinda like you. He warned me. Had me sign these papers. Told me that I could end up blind.”
I interjected and asked, “Well, weren't you already blind and seeing yellow raincoats?” He laughed and continued.
“But it worked out. And I can see. Probably better than you Allan. And I only got one good eye. But it's a real good one.”
I quickly learned that he drove from Arizona to Orange California that morning for his 600 miles service on the new BMW. Funny thing is he only had 320 miles on it when he left. That's when I really knew what was going on. His ride had nothing to do with his service. It had everything to do with 600 miles and more. It was about the ride.
Flint explained that he just bought his wife a new Cadillac. He talked about his place in Arizona. And how there's no way he could live in Southern California. He had two motorcycles, 5 cars and 4 dogs. “Can you imagine all that in Southern California?”
We talked about cars, motorcycles, women and dreams. The time flew. My friend Jim called and apologized that he got caught up and was running late. I was glad.
Flint? He was waiting for the service guy to give him a ride to the hotel. Killing time chatting with me, he asked what I was doing that evening. This guy had so much life, an incredible spark and energy to be envied by anyone over 70 years old. Oh hell. Anyone over 50 years old. I explained that I had a commitment. And my evening while certainly would be fun, it wouldn't be as enriching as it could spending more time with Flint.
“I'd rather have a beer with you,” I explained. He asked, “What?” So I repeated myself and then we exchanged numbers. Knowing that I had a trip planned for Arizona in the next 60 days we agreed that I'd visit his house and we'd grill steaks.
My friend Jim pulled up, we made the introductions and I said goodbye to Flint. He'd be waking up tomorrow, picking up his motorcycle and taking a 4 or more hour drive back to Arizona. A drive that used to take him less than 3 1/2 hours. But he'll be smiling all the way.
What else would you expect for a one-eyed old man on a BMW motorcycle?