April 23, 2014

Off to Germany at 68 with Great Hopes

He’s garaging his beloved bike. But I’ll bet he has his heart set on getting a second one when he returns

He’s garaging his beloved bike. But I’ll bet he has his heart set on getting a second one when he returns

Morro Bay, CA—My new friend Don is rushing to meet his new love.

I’m visiting my daughter Monique here. We say New Year’s Day is the golden opportunity to turn a new page and start a bright new life. Well,  Don is really resolved!

I met him because of the bike he was riding. I love bikes. Rode actively for decades.

But his wasn’t a bicycle. It was a tricycle. A recumbent—he sat low on a seat, not a saddle, leaned way back, and worked pedals not under him, but straight ahead. He seemed as comfortable as in a TV chair. He was towing  a neat little trailer.

Don was an unlikely rider– 65 or so. Six-four. Rumpled. Twenty pounds overweight. A mustache a bit out of control. Very sharp  eyes.

He was sitting with two friends outside Spencer’s, the local supermarket. It offers free coffee. They were sipping coffee out front in the sunshine. So, it attracts a lot of seniors. It attracts me. I like to take a walk and run into people. And I like a free coffee.

I paused. All strangers. I broke into their talk. Focused on him. “Quite a bike!|” I said. He nodded. But he was  busy talking with his buddies. I went on for my coffee and a bit of shopping. When I came out, they were gone. I was disappointed. This was two days before New Year’s.

I ran into him again three day after New Year’s. Downtown, a mile away. I was on a walk.  He was parked on the sidewalk, lounging on his trike in front of a store. He recognized me. But no smile. I began talking bikes again. Now he began talking. But in clipped sentences. Offered nothing more.

Said he had owned the trike five years. No longer had a car—didn’t need one—especially with the trailer. He could carry groceries, books, lots of stuff. He had a balance problem and the trike was much more stable than a bike.  And it had 27 gear possibilities—“I could climb a wall if I had to!”

I tried to guess his occupation. Not easy. He was big and muscular. But his hands didn’t show hard work. He was smart, but he spoke too few words to tip me off about his education. He had a friendly face but seemed determined not to smile.

“Got to go!” he said finally and pedaled away. Down a slope. Coasting, not pedaling.So nice and easy. I wished I could see him come UP the hill. How easy would that be?

My third encounter was again at Spencer’s. This time he hailed me! “Ah, the newspaperman!” What a change! And we had coffee together out front. He smiled a bit. I talked bikes again. And now he opened up.

“This is my all-around vehicle. Haven’t had a car in 20 years. I just don’t like cars. I like bikes. Good exercise. Cheap to own and use. Especially in this nice weather year-round here.”

I tried broadening my questions. “Don’t interrupt me!” he said. “I’ll fill you in. But let me tell it my way! I grew up in Kansas. Graduated from the University of Kansas. Moved out here. Went to grad school at Berkeley.”
Graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley–that impressed me. “For a master’s?”

He shook his head. “No, a doctorate.”

I pressed him.

“Yes, I have a Ph.D. In classical languages.”

“Oh? Latin and Greek?” He nodded.

I couldn’t resist. I began conjugating the Latin word for “love” in the present tense: “Amo…amas…amat…amamus….”  And I added, “I studied Greek, too.”

He put up his hand to stop me. “Yeah! Yeah! I became a teacher of Latin and Greek. Taught in quite a few places. Was fired at half of them…but I won’t go into that. I loved Latin and Greek. I was hooked as a kid! Am still fascinated.”

I jumped in. “Don, you’re smiling! You said you don’t smile. You’re smiling!!!”

He stopped me again. ”I don’t smile!”

But he was wrong. He had been smiling. He went on. “I’ve done other things. Picked olives in Greece for more than a year. Knocked around. I’m retired now. But!” Suddenly he was excited. “In four days I’m going to Germany!”

“Germany?”

“Yes, Leipzig. Yes, my first time to Germany. All because of a website. It’s called Libri Vox—www.librivox.com.  It offers free audio books. You know, books you listen to. Volunteers read them and record them. Many languages. Including Greek and Latin. I’ve been listening to readings of old Latin writers on Libri Vox. Virgil. And Lucretius. And others.”

He told me that through Libri Vox, he had met a woman reader of Latin texts.  She lives in Leipzig, They have talked and talked.  Not only about the ancient authors. About all kinds of things.

“How old is she?” I asked.

“Half my age. Not a problem! We’ve discussed all that. And I am going to Germany to meet her!.”

He didn’t have to say any more. He had a dream. And his dream was to bring her back to California. And he was  determined. At 68!

“God bless you, Don!  And God bless her! I hope, hope it works out!”

He smiled. Broadly! Wow!

We shook hands.  I couldn’t stay longer. My daughter was waiting for me.

Now Don is over there. What a great New Year’s story. The rare opportunity for a fresh start. And he grabbed it. It’s inspiring, really. Don’t you agree?

Don said he’d e-mail me. I can’t wait. I’m praying for a happy ending. I’ll let you know. I hope she’ll take to a trike like his, too.