A Visit from Old Father Time
Some words but no pictures.
Last night as Laura was cooking on the paella pan over the campfire, I was just about to remark how it has been sort of sad that we haven’t met anyone interesting in the campsite. When, as if on cue, this old man comes shuffling up with hands in his pockets. He’s about 6 feet tall, with a long white beard that must have sunk below his waist. He looked like Old Father Time or a Merlin in blue denim overalls.
“I have a proposition to make,” he says. Conversations that start like this usually do not end well. “We’re just about to have dinner soon,” Laura says to divert the conversation. Old Father Time proceeds with a most unlikely proposition, “ever heard of a BOB trailer?”
Being touring cyclists, we say, “yes, of course.” “I want to give you one for free,” he says. This comes as a shock since the man does not look like a cyclist at all. However, as if to contradict our doubt, he produces the skewer for a BOB trailer from is pocket and starts eyeing our bikes to see if it would fit.
We tell him, thank you, but we can’t take it. We’re optimized for panniers. We go back and forth and he shrugs his shoulders, “I’ll never use it again.”
It turns out that OFT was once quite the cyclist who would go on 180 mile day rides when he was younger. “I could have been better than Lance Armstrong,” he tells me. His sister was a champion weightlifter. He use to be able to jump over the hood of a Cadillac without touching it. Back in Chicago he’d tease “roadies” on his recumbent, drafting behind them giving them hell and then passing them up.
“I’ve given away two of my recumbents for free. They were $3000 each.” His riding days were over he tells us. The smoking caught up to him. These days he can only go a few steps at a time before getting winded. I asked him when his last great ride was. He looks up wistfully and tries hard to remember. His memory hasn’t been so good since Vietnam, he says apologetically. “It was in 1992, I rode 700 miles into Canada.” He looks happy at having grabbed on to the wisp of the memory.
He’s off the bike and now he has taken up looking for gold in rivers. It fits him perfectly. He could past for a gold prospector or the even the ghost of a prospector. From his other pocket, he produces a small plastic vile with water and at the very bottom are little nuggets of gold that glint from the light of his flashlight.
He use to be a cabbie after Vietnam but lost his job after leaving some passengers on the side of the road. They were yelling at him to hurry up to the airport. The screaming got to him and he put their bags on the side of the road in a seedy part of town and with red ears and a vein popping from his forehead, he told them very quietly to get out. He was fired two days later.
After that, he worked as a truck driver and any other job “that didn’t have to deal with a lot of people.”
Now, Old Father Time, spends his days searching for gold. “I never made a job that paid more than $9 an hour,” he says. Now he is collecting disability and clears about 4k a month. “It’s the most I’ve ever made,” he says with a bit of a laugh. I think he sees the irony of it – how in a time of his life when he is the most physically broken he is making the most money.
I can’t tell if it’s a cruel joke or the Universe’s strange way of looking after him. He starts to shuffle off, hands in his pockets, just like he came. “Well, thanks for talking to me,” he says, “one day I’ll get rid of this trailer.”
Just like that Old Father Time with a BOB trailer skewer in one pocket and a vial of gold in the other was gone, flowing white beard and all…
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