A work of fiction



Learning the Ropes
Jul 23, 2015
Concord, NC
This is a work of whimsical fiction interspersed with nonfiction I submitted in an English Comp. class. Hope you like as much as my Instructor.


It was another life in another lifetime. I was a young Marine stationed at Pendleton and just back from my first tour in Nam.
I was and still am a motorcyclist. A lifetime of riding that began before I was in high school. That night in 1969, I was on an extended weekend ride and camping to ease my mind of the sights, sounds and deeds of a year “in country”. My ride at the time was a recently purchased ’66 Norton 750 Atlas. I was riding up California State road 483 headed for Lake Isabella and the campgrounds. The Atlas’ power and nimbleness was well suited for the twisting road. The concentration and freedom of the ride is always mind cleansing.
The little town of Bodfish was dark and sleepy looking but a lighted coffee shop beckoned me for a cup-a-joe. I settled on a stool at the counter where I could look out at my shiny Norton and admire it as much as just keep an eye on it. The coffee shop was worm and cozy and offset by the large gruff white t-shirted cook/waiter behind the counter. He gave me the questioning look and I asked for coffee, hot, strong, and black and a fat apple fritter under a glass dome was just too tempting.
I first saw him from the corner of my eye as he was moving across the small parking lot toward the coffee shop door. The cook’s reaction of seeing the tall thin older man with graying beard, unkempt thinning hair coming out from under a tattered fedora did not look inviting. The old guy was dressed in a long coat, worn through the elbows and shoulders. The coat and slacks had that slick, gray look of age and not so clean.
As he opened the door, the cook/waiter said in a low threatening voice, “I told you not to come bumming around here, don’t need you here.” The old man turned to go. I felt I needed to do something so I told the cook the old guy was my guest and I beckoned the old guy in and join me at the counter. I was surprised that the old guy did not smell unclean as he sat on the stool next to me without looking at anything in particular.
The cook gave a huff of indifference and sat cup before the old man and poured him coffee. I nudged the fritter a little toward the old guy and he gave me a slight nod and pulled the fritter and saucer to him. He pinched off small bites with his fingers while keeping his free hand wrapped around the cup as to absorb the heat. He sipped the coffee without saying a word. I had another fritter and after three or so cups, the old guy nodded his thanks and left the stool to go out the door to walk from the lighted lot and into the shadows lost to sight.
At the far end of the counter, the cook leaned on the counter with one elbow on the counter top and his chin cupped in his hand still looking out the widow where the old guy had went.
The cook said, “It is odd but that old derelict seems to show up whenever someone stops by on a scoot.”
I paid mine and the old guy’s tab and laid down a sawbuck tip which put a more pleased expression on the cook.
In the lot, I zipped up my leather jacket, strapped on my helmet and through my leg over the Norton. I flipped out the kick starter and a single smooth swing of the lever had the twin cylinder engine vibrated in anticipation of the ride ahead. I motored out of town and chased the headlight beam up the beckoning road.
After a few miles of pleasant riding, there it was. It is one of those curves that riders think of when the thought of fun comes to mind. The one with the even radius and perfect positively cambered. I had ridden this road before and looked forward to this moment. The urge to open the throttle even more and go sweeping around at the lowest angle possible was what I was anticipating when I moved to the right side of the road to set up for the fast sweeper when l saw the old guy standing on the side of the road. He made a move as to step out in front of me. I went hard on the brakes and moved to the middle of the road as I flashed past the old guy. As I went into the curve at a much slower speed than I had planed, I did a quick mirror check but the old guy was not there. Just at that moment, a doe and her fawn bounded out of the left roadside brush, down the embankment and on to the paved road. As the doe landed, her feet slid out from under her and she fell hard in my path. Because I had slowed before the curve I was able to come to a controlled stop as the doe scrambled to get to her feet and dash on across the road in chase of her fawn. If I had gone into the curve at the speed I had planed. I would have not been able to avoid a serious crash with the doe.
There was no traffic on the dark road so I cranked the handle bars hard left and made a tight “U” turn to ride back around the curve to stop where I had seen the old guy. Nobody was there. I turned the Norton crossways on the road and turned the bars left and right swinging the headlight like a spotlight in the brush and again nothing. I eased the bike around in a loose circle allowing the headlight shine both sides and down each side of the road. The old guy just was not there. I then resumed my ride on to the campground. Silently, I thanked the old guy for what I felt was returning a simple act of kindness that had saved me but I could not understand how he made it that far up the road in the short amount of time.
In 1972, while stationed at Camp La June, North Carolina, I had my second tour of “In Country” done and had my new wife waiting for my weekend visits in Tennessee. Now I had my trusty Honda 750. I was well familiar with the roads through the mountains. I no longer remember the mountain town I had passed through on that winding road. I was making good time as I was topping a hill cooking along at much more than the posted limit when I saw him, the same old man in the same worn clothes and hat standing on the side of the road, looking not at me but strait across the road as if I was not there. I slowed rapidly checking my rear views and when I looked back up to where he was, he was gone just as he did on that lonely dark road in California three years before. I did a quick search form my bike but nothing. I continued over the hill to find a pick-up on its side across the road. Saved again by my friend.
After I assisted the truck driver and helped to get the truck off the road, I continued on, reflecting on what had happened. I decided to name my friend Justin. First I thought about Justin Time or Justin My Head. I settled for Justin Case. When I told my wife of my second encounter, she said, “Thank you, Justin Case.”
My son was six and I was doing Recruiting Duty in south central Texas and living in Beeville, Texas. The nearest Honda dealer was sixty miles away in Victoria, Texas. Saturday morning, my son and I were riding my GL1000 to get tune-up parts for “Big Blackie” as my son named our Honda. On our ride east, a thunder storm had boiled up to the North with tall heavy, dark clouds dumping rain. I could tell that it was moving west and would not be a bother to us.
We came to the section of the road my son called the “Weeee Road” as the road made a number of quick dips that would tickle our tummies. We came out of a dip to run on a flat spot for a quarter mile before the next dip when I saw Justin on the side of the road. I slowed, waved and said, “Hi Justin!” as we passed him. When we reached the dip, at the bottom, muddy water from a flash flood had washed out the road into a four foot gully. We stopped to look across the gully where traffic had stopped on the other side. I got my son off to the side of the road and told him to stay away from the road. I put the Honda on the side stand and ran back up the dip to flag the traffic behind us.
When all was in order my son asked if I knew the old man back there. I told him about Justin Case and our friendship. “Dad, when we went past him, I looked back and he wasn’t there.”
In 1993, I retired form the Marines and my son, riding his own motorcycle, was off to the university. My wife and I were empty nesters.
One day, I got a call from my son. “Dad, I saw him.” I knew without asking who “he” was.
“What happened?”
“I was riding to class when I saw Justin. I slowed to wave and say hi when a car from the other direction crossed the center and crashed into a stone fence on my side of the road. If I had not slowed, the car would have had me.”

Thank you Justin Case.
Likes: Larry Fine