THIS WEEKEND found us ready to blast down to New York at any minute, as we eagerly await that Hurry-up-and-get-here text. Daughter #1 of Daughter #1’s journey into the world is progressing nicely, given all reports to date on anatomical developments that aren’t all that familiar to me. Steve Lyon in Los Angeles asked the other day about any D1D1 news, so I wrote, “I’m told that dilation and effacement have started, yikes, cervix blab, will let the women discuss that, I’d just like to see the baby girl at the center of all this hubbub. Center of the cervix, too, scientifically speaking I imagine, but what do I know.”
That’s D1 on the right, D2 in the middle. Stay tuned, will say more below about this circa-1989 photo and the journey of the man on the left. Indeed, he’s the reason I sat down to write today.
It was good to hear from Steve Lyon because I was thinking he must have wrecked just after getting home from a motorcycle journey through ten western states and up into Canada. The first leg of it was a 1,000-mile day from Los Angeles to Portland, which qualifies him for recognition by the Iron Butt Association. An actual club, if you want to check it out. My longest day is 812 miles, from the Kentucky/West Virginia line to Little Rhody. I wasn’t pushing it to chase Iron Butt cred, just ready to be home and scooting along on my own timetable.
When you can’t raise a biker pal for six weeks you assume he wrecked. Turns out it was about a woman, which is the other thing you assume. So when I finally did hear from Steve, and still breathing, I told him, “Fantastico! Great news. I wrote to Duane Collie a few days ago asking if he’d heard any grapevine blab about you going ass over tin cup. So I’ve probably started a rumor that you’re dead, like Paul McCartney, Elvis, etc.”
Here’s not Steve crossing the Divide. Notice how we take pictures of our bikes on journeys & not ourselves. First things first.
Steve covered 6,000 miles in two weeks. Rode through a lot of rain, rode cold at 33 degrees, hot at 84, saw 9 national parks, many buffalo, elk, moose, skillfully evaded a deer-strike hazard at speed, meanwhile here I am in Little Rhody with a broken-down iron piggy, new parts gathering dust in a bucket, no time to even begin to think about effecting the fix. Killing me, Steve Lyon, you… are… killing me.
About motorcycling, well, dunno what’s next but Jan Daub in Texas has quizzed me about any interest I may have in a journey down to Patagonia of all places.
That’s somewhere down here, part of both Argentina and Chile. If I ever want to see this part of the world on two wheels my usual English-only solo thing may be ill advised; better to go with a road-tested long-distance rider who’s lived in the region and is fluent in Spanish, knows how to get by security, across the border, through the pass, around the horn, on the guest list, off the hit list, in the out door, up the down escalator, all that.
Jan recommends starting out from Columbia, his wife’s native land, ship the bikes there and fly in, as opposed to trying to slip by the ever-present criminal-type misfortune between Texas and Panama. And there’d be no getting the bikes back, he said, we’d have to sell them. Dunno what that’s all about but it rules out the piggy. I might be willing to walk away from a second-hand KLR650, but this is sounding like an unlikely ride to me. At least in 2015.
Anyway, Jan’s got something else on the front burner. He’s getting set to cover 48 states in 10 days for some other class of Iron Butt thing. They have the 1,000-mile day that Steve Lyon did, the 48 states in 10 days, the coast-to-coast in, I think, 50 hours. Me, I find destinations overrated and stopwatches vexing to the road zen.
I think what’ll actually happen this year is I’ll ride out to Utah in August to see Brad Barber and Jeff Bailey run Brad’s project bike at Bonneville, or do the Labrador/Newfoundland thing I wanted to do last year. Last week Duane Collie hinted he might want to try Labrador, but Duano also likes to call on the concierge. He’s not much on sleeping on the ground, whereas I like almost nothing better.
Duano writes, “Show me the route (Labrador) Are there **** star hotels or better along the way?”
Wasn’t sure if he was typing stars or ticks, so I assured him: “I’ll be bedding down at all the best 4-tick establishments, as per usual. Guaranteed at least 4 ticks on yer nuts when you pick yourself up off the ground in the a.m. Where you leave the blacktop and head out across the taiga, the Canadian government gives you a satellite phone and tweezers, which you have to turn in when you get to the ferry over to Newfoundland.”
Oh boy, I really do need to get somewhere: across prairies and up through the passes, across the bogs and through the grasslands, snooze to the sound of a river and the wind in the weeds, to coyote song and the hum of gas dryers on grain elevators, find the ground where the good vibes come up through the rock and soil, like those twin towers of light at Ground Zero, and deal with the forsaken patches where you toss and turn as if there are eyes on you, get up in the middle of night and split in the dark, get down the road, Crash-Tested Dummy, don’t you know that Satan lives here, on grain and earth, rain and air?
Now back to that photo up above, for that’s the truly notable journey, on a par with D1D1’s. Life in, life out. This is the 89-year journey our friend and next-door neighbor just completed.
The bride and I sat with Frank LaFleur a week ago yesterday, in a Providence hospice center. I intended to see him again Thursday, woke up to an email from Guy, his son, informing us that Frank was gone.
Frank was a teenager when he served as a U.S. Navy aircraft mechanic in the Pacific, in WWII. He stayed in the Navy after the war, did his 20 years and, after that, became a firefighter and the husband of Rose Marie Parisi.
Everyone called her “Rusty.” What a firecracker! So full of life. This is Rusty in her teen years, the fiery Federal Hill italiana. She’s the reason we’ve been privileged to enjoy the humble manse these 27 years. Our lot was originally part of her’s and Frank’s. One day in 1986 she decided to sell half of their double lot. Frank agreed only because he thought it would never happen. And then Rusty got her price from a spec builder in a matter of days, and here we are.
I was down here from Maine, working a new job in Providence, the bride & our gals were still up north for the first six months of that. I was working nights and hunting for a house during the day, came driving around the corner the day the sheathing went up, found the realtor, put in a bid and we got it. It was a seller’s market, you started bidding at asking price.
I thought we’d be here a few years, then another move to a bigger city, bigger paper. But Little Rhody was quickly becoming home, especially our humble little .4 acres of it. I was beginning to get disillusioned with newspapers anyway, which is a good thing, to be cured of one’s illusions; to see that this is this, and that is that. Fairweather Avenue became the ideal place for us to be. It still is.
We travel, we travel, many journeys all at once, some while moving across a landscape, many more while standing still. When our gals were little, they used to go next door and say to Rusty, “Can Frank come out and play?” One day one of the gals drew a “Good Neighbor” card for Frank, in Sunday school. Frank cried without embarrassment when they presented him with it, and Rusty snapped this picture of him and them on the lawn. You can see him holding the card. Guy and his bride, Sharon, took this off a shelf in Frank’s kitchen this morning and handed it to me. Now it lives here at the humble manse.
Rusty completed her journey a dozen years ago, and now Frank his. I think about Rusty every day, and will Frank. Every Thursday I’ll remember him bringing in our trash barrels from the curb. I had to be quick to get to the empty barrels before he did. He took care of all the houses around here. He was always up early, read his paper and then walked over and tossed it on our front porch. That’s how we knew he was up and around. And one day two weeks ago it was how we knew he wasn’t. When I went over and knocked on the door I found him in terrible shape. I’m surprised he could get to the door to answer it. I called Guy and Sharon and Sharon was over here fast and Frank went into the hospital. I think he had ten days there and four in hospice.
When I rode the brand new journey machine home from the dealership a decade ago I was planning to keep her in the front yard, under a cover; Frank insisted that I have the spare bay in his garage instead. So here’s the iron piggy in pieces, sleeping the winter away. And up there on the wall, if you notice…?
Frank’s turnout coat.
He would never take money for the garage space, by the way. He could hardly care less about money. He gave money to every charity you ever heard of. His house is full of calendars, notepads, pens, all kinds of trinkets that various causes send out to their donors. Instead of throwing his change in a jar he always left it on the ground at the foot of his driveway, for kids to find while walking home from the neighborhood school down the street. Frank used to get a kick out of kids being so excited to discover free loot.
Now you know a little something about a happy man, a fully realized human being who enjoyed life and was pleasant to be around. And, dig it, he never let his advanced years deter him from flirting with all the single women we can see from here, Laurie, Sara, etc, you know who you are. Laurie tells me Frank’s banter with her was always charming and even innocent. He was a gentlemanly flirt, not a masher.
In 27 years I never once heard Frank say anything unkind, dismissive of others, never negative or cynical about anyone or anything. What a pleasure that is in a world where so many have adopted Sputtering Mad as their everyday frame of mind; so often the old, and always the old of heart, all jacked up on their daily fix of claptrap and gassing off at lucky you. I saw it riding through glorious Alaska, of all places, in a guy who journeyed all the way up from Texas to walk around a campground bitching about public school teachers. Talk about stuck in a loop. Frank’s compass pointed at the opposite pole. When we met he was as old as I am now but I imagine it always did. Steady and positive. Maybe he was born that way, but I like to think it was the compass heading he had decided to follow. We all decide to be what we are, whether we know it or not, that’s what I think.
Well, the years roll by and our friend decides he’s ready. “I’ve had a full life,” he told me, many times. It hurt to walk, his breath was short, his balance poor, his hearing gone. He couldn’t do the things he had always enjoyed so much, fixing up his house, working in the yard, playing a round of golf. He needed new knees and, very critically, a new heart valve. Wouldn’t have any of it. He didn’t want anybody sawing, cutting and sewing on a worn-out body while he was watching the sun go down. For what? Another half a year of poor health? I don’t blame him. He said he wanted to go see his wife. That would be lovely if that’s the way it happens. I hope some other door really does open. If not, you don’t exist to be disappointed, so I like that Frank held a hopeful thought in mind at the end of his road. And who’s to say? Even science has a Many Worlds theory now, with a very cool quantum spin on it, so to speak.
Here’s what I know for certain: If there really is an After after the Here, there’s a splendid man on fire watch tonight.
Tony DePaul, December 14, 2014, Cranston, Rhode Island