Side Stories

Monday Morning Social Club

In countless restaurants, Starbucks, or independent coffee shops, there are thousands of men, meeting on the first day of the week. They often bring their own cups, or the shop keeps them on a special shelf. They save seats for the regulars, but guests are always welcome. They come at the same time, early, for those still working, not too early for those who have retired. 
I stopped in to have coffee, they greeted me and asked questions about my ride and we had some good natured banter. Although I didn’t join them at their table, I sat close enough to hear their discourse. Each in turn gave a summary of their weekend, and a preview of the week coming. Everyone is up to speed, with thoughtful suggestions and genuine interest. This was real community in action, all over a scone and maybe a muffin. 
I recall dropping my daughter at BART at exactly the same time each morning. I would then stop and a morning coffee at Peet’s, and I observed the same type of group forming. I was on the outside, but my consistency generated an invitation. It’s been months since I’ve been there, but I believe I would be invited to sit should I stop by some future morning. 
I’m thinking of the hundreds or thousands of these “communities” that exist. They are not registered or poked, yet they probably have some of the most honest opinions in the country. 
This morning I having my coffee and toast, and by overhearing I am completely up to speed on the topical events of the day, without opening a paper or checking my smart phone. 
Biker Poetry
I am waiting in line at a one lane traffic closure of a very busy road going to Eureka. I’m told it is six miles of construction with heavy equipment crossing both lanes. Vehicles have to be escorted through this mess, so the standard time is thirty minutes of wait for each direction. This morning it was already forty-five minutes and I still haven’t seen oncoming traffic that would signal my turn was next. 
People are so hot that they have turned off their engines and exited their vehicles to stand in small groups in the little shade on the opposite side of the road. All up and down the line you can see these little clusters, the size determined by the shade from an overhanging tree. 
I’m sitting on the back seat of my trike with my jacket off but my helmet still on, with the visor up. Perhaps this is why I was surprised to find someone standing directed beside me. The helmet acted as blinders. 
I turned quickly to see someone of my own age, with a long white beard and a completely shaved head. It could also be that there wasn’t much to shave, but it wasn’t the typical “bald”. His head was completely cover with fine intricate tattoos. And colorful.
He was staring forward, looking for any signs of oncoming traffic, then he looked at my jacket and the few patches that I had sewed on. 
Months earlier I had a spasm of military reflection and I decided to research and order on-line a collection of shoulder patches from all the places that I was assigned. I could only find four and I sewed three of them on my jacket.
I had 4th Missile Command on my left shoulder representing my DMZ Korea post, STRATCOM on my right shoulder representing my time under the mountain at Site R, and finally an Eighth Army patch, representing my assignment at Presidio Headquarters just before I left the service. 
I supposed that I had hoped that someone would recognize the patches and then would stop to talk. No one had stopped so far. 
But now I was entering a different world, where worn symbols, like patches, had meaning, particularly on motorcycle jackets. Patches need to be earned, or you are just a poser. 
This gentleman standing on my left was looking at my patches, he made the comment, “I like your patches”, I think he saw the brass I was wearing so he knew they were from the Army. I told him briefly that they were from places where I was posted. He responded by presenting me with a fist bump. I complied in a brotherly manner. 
Then, quite randomly he said, “I think you’ll like this…” What followed was a three or four minute poem recited from memory. It was all about being on a motorcycle, experiencing the open road, wind in your face, adventure on every curve. It was very Walt Whitman like. I wish I had a better memory, or that I had the foresight to record it, because it was beautiful.
Instead I just sat back and enjoyed it as the gift it was meant to be… at the end he said, “enjoy the ride!”, and disappeared back to his truck. At least I think it was a truck. 
A few minutes later some oncoming traffic finally appeared, and after another twenty minutes and hundreds of vehicles had passed, we were finally allowed to move forward. But I kept thinking about my biker poet and his gift of words. The specific words were even now fading, but the meaning, and the feeling, remained. Even now my spirit is buoyed by his gift.