While standing in the Bridgeport ferry line next to our motorcycles, Kenny and I had the good fortune of meeting an incredibly interesting soul. He quietly stepped off of a casino bus that was parked next to us, also waiting to board the ferry which was due to arrive in 20 minutes time.
‘Those are beautiful, but not for me!’ he said pointing to our parked motorcycles with a twinkle in his eye. Sometimes people just emit a vibe that draws you in. He was like that. I chuckled and said something tragically inane like ‘Oh no, why’s that?’ This man in a summer tan sport coat and slacks and a dark blue cap began to casually weave what I came to decide was just a mere thread in the tale of his life into a fine spun fabric.
He went on to tell us about being in battle in Germany during World War II. After the conclusion of one particular skirmish he and his fellow soldiers found a German motorcycle. As the dust settled each of the men took a turn trying to ride on the motorbike. Tony smirked as he told us that he ended up riding himself into a row of hedges, knocked himself off the bike and got a face full of scratches. His riding career started and ended within a 5 minute span.
As the conversation began to flow naturally, Tony who is now 88 years old was more than happy to tell us about being a young man in the war. He stood no taller than me, at 5’7” but carried himself like he was 6’1“. It was clear that he had a quiet confidence in himself that he came to a good understanding of during his nearly 9 decades. He wore a single diamond stud earring and a long gray pony tail bound by rubber bands down its length below a navy baseball style hat. The front of the hat proudly bore the words Silver Star Conspicuous Gallantry.
When his number was called, he was given a nickel to head in to New York City’s Grand Central Station to go and get his Army physical. He chuckled out loud when he told us about the hearing part of the test which consisted of one question.
This gentle man who stood in front of us with an inviting smile, was in Normandy. He was called in 2 days early from his leave to head to Bastogne. He left home a young man who did not swear or drink and he came home ‘rough,’ he said. He went on to say that it took a long time to acclimate to being home, away from the things that he saw, away from the memories of things like waiting in a foxhole after laying mines in a field.
Because I cannot pretend to understand the many changes that a war will put a person through I can only assume then that his warm and open demeanor must have been the result of the last 60 years of practice. He was a delightful walking time capsule full of stories to be treasured.
I cannot help but feel like if it were not for me riding a motorcycle, I would never have shared 20 minutes with such a person. Sometimes in this life you cross paths with people whom you feel blessed to meet. Tony was such a man.
How about you? Have you ever met someone who affected you deeply while out on the road?