People Will Surprise You – John – Utah
Fuel stations are the best place to meet people. I pull in the tiny town of Monticello, Utah. Population: 1975. It’s hot. It’s really hot. Where am I anyway? What is Monticello???
I read that this area was settled in 1887 by pioneers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that it became the county seat in 1895. There was a noticeable increase in population because of a uranium boom in the late 1940s, which – not surprisingly — was followed by a massive cleanup project in the 90s. Okay. None of that is obvious to the eye at the moment. The only thing I’m focused on is finding gas and surviving the heat.
Once I’m all loaded up on gas, I pull into a tiny patch of shade, right under the “Do not park here” sign. I figure with that heat, this sign can’t possibly apply to me. A quick jaunt into the air-conditioned mini mart and I find myself enjoying Gatorade and shelled peanuts at the picnic table near my bike.
Just then, a big dude covered with tattoos walks by, and as he checks out my bike from the corner of his eye, our eyes meet and we smile. He looks like your typical Harley dude, and I immediately assume that to him, I’m one of those insufferable BMW type – clean, straight, and boring. I’m easy to spot because, instead of riding in tank top, shorts and flip flops, I am wearing full protective gear on a 105ºF day.
As Mike and I discuss our route, the Dude is nearby, shelling and popping sunflower seeds into his mouth. A little joke is all it takes to start a conversation. He is waiting for his 16 year old son who is coming back from his first long drive, and Dad is a little nervous. The boys have an extended discussion about his purple 1966 Dodge Charger, one of Detroit’s classic 60’s muscle cars, of which he is obviously very proud.
Then John starts on our bikes, and how cool they are, and how it’s nice to be older so that he doesn’t have to take crap from people who think he should ride a Harley. Been there done that. What he wants is a bike just like ours, and go adventure-riding! He is waiting for his kids to be out of the house, and whoopee, it will be time to get the bike, take the wife and off they will ride into the sunset. Ah haaaa – there is a wife!
“What does your wife think of this plan?”
“Yeah I think she likes it. I don’t know — you see, I hope she still wants to be with me once the kids are all gone”.
“How long have you been married?” I ask, and here – surprise of surprises, this big tough guy looks at me with eyes that reminds me of a seven year old on Christmas morning.
“Twenty two years. Oh, my wife, you know, she is amazing, she is the best. I can’t believe my luck”.
I jump. “Twenty two yeeeeears, and you still feel that way? Maaaan here is a high five, that is too cool, I am so impressed. Believe me, I know how hard it can be to keep a marriage alive!”
“Yes,” he says, “I come from a long line of divorces,” and suddenly we lose eye contact. He is fixating on some invisible thing on the ground, his speech becomes slower, hesitant, it’s almost like he forgot that I’m there, listening. “Yeah, divorces, a long line of divorces. And. And. And.”
And whaaat?? Silence. Now he is all choked up. And a long line of. Of. Of. Of whaaat??? Silence.
“A long line of not-so-very-nice men. But you see,” he adds all animated again, looking at me straight in the eyes, “I’m working to break that cycle!”
I am so deeply moved that I need a moment to collect myself before I can share with him how impressed I am with his self awareness and willingness to do the hardest work there is: change.
Here I am, having a deep personal connection with a man who at first glance, appeared to perfectly fit the profile for a Hell’s Angels membership recruitment ad and all he wants to do in life is get a bike, travel with the person he loves, and meet people.
As I was suspecting all along – if we just focus on the way in which we are similar, our differences become something that only makes life more interesting. That’s how I see my contribution to world peace, one friend at a time along the way …