I told my five-year-old daughter I was writing this book, just for her. "Good," she said. —DM
Our conversations on this trip were happily punctuated by long stretches inside the privacy of our own helmets. Actually, the conversations served as punctuation for those hours. At lunch, at the mid-afternoon tavern-stop, at the end of the day, we’d get off the bikes, take off our helmets and, if we remembered, turn off the gas valves. ("I'm reading at a third-grade level," I remarked as I stared dumbly at a dinner menu one night.) Then we'd groan a little and stretch, and swagger into the bar like dusty cowboys and order a beer rub our faces and try to re-acclimate to an eerie new windless, motionless, soundless world.
It wasn’t usually until the second beer that we started talking at all. But once we started talking, the talking was often very good.
In a magazine story about a long sailing race, I wrote, “there’s really something marvelous about sitting on a sailboat all night, trying for once in your hectic modern life not to make long stories short, but rather to draw short stories out, adding context and depth and detail and color in order to pass the time. Which is the principal reason human beings started telling stories in the first place.”
Over lunch at a bar in Halifax we were all too pleased to let the beautiful young bartender ease out the madcap stemwinder about how she moved here nine months ago from her native St. John, New Brunswick. One morning she didn't feel like being at work. "Wasn't the first time I ever felt that way," she said with a shrug. But in the course of this day, she quit the job, canceled her lease, dumped her boyfriend and told her parents she was leaving. She gathered a bag of clothes and a bag of booze, and hitched a ride to Halifax, where she took up a life of Riley that she was already beginning to tire of, as she contemplated moving on.
The story was pure cock and bull, of course—each crafted and carefully honed detail surely a cover-up for some unspeakable agony and teenage humiliation—but we pretended to believe it (pretended for a while, even to ourselves) and we sincerely wished her luck on her next plan, to blow out of Halifax and take up temporary residence in … Hawaii. So beautiful and tragic and evocative of our college Girl Days was she that we had to drag one another out of there by reciting cold, hard statistics: We are 40 years old (not 26); we’ve had four beers and we’re riding two motorcycles; we have to be in Yarmouth in 24 hours, to catch a ferry back to the States, where our wives are meeting us in three days. Somehow, we brought ourselves to bid the lass farewell and got back on the road.
Man smiles through tears as he prepares to leave his heart in Halifax.
Loaded with people and cars and motorcycles, the famous Cat ferry from Yarmouth to Portland main screams across the North Atlantic in four and a half hours. We sat in the cabin, slowly drinking cans of Budweiser, and talking even slower. After two weeks together, we were fresh out of news, beyond bravado, and just trying to pass the time. We quizzed each other about our daily lives—portraying the rhythms of our weekly routines—and we re-examined stories about each other's childhoods that we’d heard years before but, not having been parents before, not known what to make of. In newly demanded detail, our dog-eared childhood stories became richly interesting again—in the hearing and in the telling.
The time got away from us, and we were startled to see that ship was pulling into the harbor at Portland.
The United States staged a sneak attack on us, at Portland Harbor.
Frantically I dashed up to the concession counter to get us a couple of hot dogs and tall coffees to get ourselves in proper shape to unstrap the bikes and ride off the boat through Customs.
“What, no more beer?” said one last charismatic Canadian woman with one last sardonic wink.
A careful clearing of Customs.
But certainly the most productive conversation the trip afforded us came the next morning when, after a long, hot search, we found the rock under which hid the owner of “Once Upon a Triumph.” It was one of several Triumph shops I’d found on the Internet, that we visited along the way for minor repairs and major harangues about pistons and cylinders and carburetors and valves, low-end and top-end and jets and floats, seats and fenders and cables and tanks.
When we found this gear guru—in a tiny house in a cramped little human-warren across the tracks from the frolicking July sunbathers in Old Orchard Beach, Maine—we had to rock him like a motorcycle stuck in the mud. Or the human equivalent: what appeared to be a depressive, defensive Demerol haze.
“Is this Once Upon a Triumph?” Tom asked eagerly.
“Used to be,” he grumbled, blinking in the shade.
The motorcycle mechanic didn't start on the first kick.
Once we got him started, though—he reluctantly offered to show us his personal bike, in the shed in the back—he went right through the gears. Soon, he invited us into the house to see pictures of bikes he’d worked on over the years. Introduced us to his 10-year-old daughter, who he used to deliver to kindergarten in a sidecar. Told us at great length his method for lacing the spokes to make a motorcycle wheel. And finally pushed his 1969 Triumph Trophy out of the garage so we could take photos of it, "if you guys want to."
"I can pull it out if you guys want to take a picture."
An hour and a half later, he was Rick!, posing for snapshots, giving us each his phone number and shaking our hands and seeming pretty sorry we had to go.
We never figured out what had happened to Rick, where his daughter’s mother had gone, or why he had lost enthusiasm for his business. The few explanations he offered didn't add up. And, not on a journalism assignment, I didn’t have to get to the bottom of it.
But as Tom and I walked around town looking for a place to eat before heading west toward New Hampshire and the White Mountains, I suggested hopefully that maybe our visit had reawakened the giants within Rick, and we agreed that if Once Upon a Triumph makes a big comeback in the vintage Triumph restoration business in the Northeast, this day might have had something to do with it.
Just then we heard the familiar sound of an old Triumph and there came Rick, all cleaned up, shoes on, hair tied up neatly, roaring up the hill on his ’69 Trophy with a big grin on his face and a happy wave for us.