A few months ago our mail included a little padded package from up north.
Home of (other than my little bro) moose, the only Forest Ranger person I know (and who is in the hardware store biz too), and one Mister Landry.
The package contained a particular shop apron, one with a Picasso-esque rendition of Tom Ritchey wielding a brazing torch. I say "particular" because that was my shop apron, one that I wore, on and off, for some of the interminable time I spent wrenching bikes at the shop.
Mister Landry became probably one of my most ardent supporters when it came to me and the bike business. After I closed shop and went into non-bike work, he unsuccessfully tried to coax me back into that two wheeled world, with all sorts of different ideas and such.
Normally this took some form of "I'll handle the finances, you work the shop. No? Okay, how about you run the shop and I'll handle the finances. Or, if you want, you can not do the finances and I'll stay out of the shop. Hey, I have an idea! How about I run the back office and you run the storefront? Well? Whadaya say?"
After having just ended just about 15 years in the biz, I felt properly burnt out and politely declined every single offer headed my way. Normally I'd say something like, "Look, I don't know where you've been, but the last thing I want to do right now is wrench a bike. Or talk bikes. Or look at another el cheapo canti brake that just won't stop squeaking. Leave me alone."
"Politely" means me saying the same thing without saying "Leave me alone" at the end. Because Mister Landry was a good friend, I left the last three words out when I turned down his offer.
I think part of this ardent support evolved through the cognitive dissonance he experienced when he first tried to defeat my team (he was on a rival team), then tried to help me (he joined my team and tried to bring everyone on his team to my team).
He rallied my cause, acting as an unpaid road rep, encouraging his friends to patronize the shop. This ended up with his (and mine, to be honest) friends rolling in to buy stuff ("and charge me enough so you make money"), good stuff, not just a tube or two. Campy kits, Zipp wheels, usually hung on a local framebuilder's frame. I have to admit that the first day I had the shop, he came in and, because he didn't need anything, he bought a bunch of tubes.
He had an infectious enthusiasm which affected all those around him. I'd never, for example, dreamed of driving up to Maine to get my butt kicked by Frank McCormack in a big P123 race, but somehow he convinced me it'd be a good idea.
Part of his convincing took form of a lobster named Larry (Mister L used to catch various seafood creatures). He brought one in, left it for the now Forest Ranger, with a note taped on it "I'm Larry the Lobster and I'm lost. Please bring me back to Maine." Or something like that.
Forest Ranger found Larry walking around the store and took him home. And cooked him. And we all clambered into Mister L's minivan and make a team trip up north where we all got our butts kicked by Frank McCormack.
He stayed on for a few extra days and let me drive his minivan back, loaded with a few bike racers, his wife, and all the associated gear. Just as we were about to leave, he looked at me and smiled.
"You know, my record for getting back home is 4 hours and 30 minutes."
Four hours fifteen minutes later, along with a few scares (when the wife jolts upright from sleeping I'd slow down a bit), we arrived back at home.
The minivan never recovered and he had to get rid of it shortly afterwards.
The minivan did have a prior "experience". As you can imagine, Mister L could convince anyone of anything (except to get me back into bikes).
Somehow one of the things Mister L did was convince his just-under-teen daughter that it would be a great birthday party if she and all her birthday party friends piled into the family minivan (roof rack bristling with bike racing weaponry, his custom frame sporting a beautiful Campy kit, his pride and joy Zipp racing wheels alongside his more austere FiR training wheels) and made a couple hour drive into some foresaken place in NJ or PA or something and go watch a bike race.
Which, conveniently, had a race for Mister L's category. And, you know, while they're all there, he might as well race.
What coincidence, eh?
Anyway, getting a whole bunch of 12 year old girls a couple hundred miles down the highway takes a lot of patience. Lots of giggling. Shrieking. And the inevitable.
"Mister Landry, are we there yet?"
And, of course, the other inevitable.
"Mister Landry, I need to go to the rest room."
Now, since 12 year old girls are on the cusp of womanhood, the latter statements simply cannot be taken lightly. Mister Landry has daughters so he understands. Therefore he'd duly pull into the next rest stop, or take the next exit, and release the flock to the Ladies Room.
Of course two or three would stay behind, taking the opportunity to gossip about one or the other, and, when queried by Mister Landry, they'd tell him that "They didn't need to go."
After an interminable stop, the girls would get back into the poor minivan, Mister Landry would start down the highway, and the girls that didn't go would, of course, suddenly need to go.
Like Right Now.
So Mister Landry would take the next exit, or hit the next rest stop, and the whole procedure would repeat itself.
Combining this with the stress of trying to get to the race on time, trying to find said race, and all the while trying to be a good host to all his daughters friends, and you get one very frazzled Mister Landry.
So after the umpteenth stop, the banishment of all liquid refreshments, hand raising before talking to Mister Landry, and a new rule called "You can't ask how far until we're there", the girls settled in a bit. Mostly because Mister Landry was about to break down, and even a 12 year old girl could see that. Or a bit of steam coming from his ears, one of the two.
Of course, at some point, one girl finally gathered the courage necessary to raise her hand.
"Mister Landry, is it possible for something to fall off the roof, like a bike wheel?"
A big sigh from the front. Then a syllable by syllable explanation by a frazzled Mister Landry.
"No. They're all very secure on the roof using something called a skewer. The bikes are locked, and the wheels are all tight. I double checked them."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure!"
The quick reply subdued the girl. She sighed in a resigned way. Adults have no clue.
A few minutes later, she raised her hand again.
"Yes, what do you want now?"
"Are you sure a wheel can't fall off?"
"I'm positive. Why do you ask?"
"Because I think one fell off back there."
EERRRRRRrrrrrrr. <--- brakes screeching
The minivan pulled over. Mister Landry did a quick survey of the forest of roof rack things. Bike, wheel, wheel, wheel, wh.... no wheel.
His heart sank. It was a Zipp.
He dropped back down to the ground and got back in the driver's seat.
"Okay girls", he smiled a brave smile, "We're going to go treasure hunting!"
"We are?" Lots of suspicious eyes.
"Yes, we are. This is what we're looking for. See this wheel? We want to find one just like it, except it doesn't have the gears in the middle. We have to look on the side of the highway, so keep your eyes peeled."
"Do we get anything if we find it?"
"Um, I'll buy everyone ice cream."
"Um, second helpings?"
"How about money?"
Oh. A reaction.
After some very touchy negotiations, the girls were on board (honestly I don't recall if money entered the equation, but it was something important to a twelve year old girl). Mister Landry got on the other-bound side of the highway, back tracked for about 10 minutes (because that's when the girl noticed the wheel bouncing down the highway behind the minivan), and got back on the right-bound side of the highway.
Then he searched and searched and searched and searched.
And, because of all the rest stops, the treasure hunt, and everything else that could go wrong, no bike race. Mister Landry announced that they would go home and do something there for the birthday party.
Like have cake. And open presents. And stuff.
The girls cheered.
I have yet to see him in person - I think the last time I did was over ten years ago. But one of these days I'll be visiting my brother up in Maine. And on the way there, or on the way back, I'll have to make a detour. See Mister Landry.
And thank him for the apron. In person.