A few years ago I was camping in Glen Canyon, not far from where the Grand Canyon starts. I was on a long slow loop that eventually took me down to Santa Fe before swinging back through Colorado and up to Calgary. I was in no particular rush – I had the site booked for two nights.
On the first morning there I was walking around the campsite, looking at the river and the modest stripped cliffs that served as its banks. A fellow in his forties was working on his motorcycle. He was a good sized man, travelling with a pretty blonde – both of them with long hair and tattoos, him more than her. This was long enough ago that tattoos on a woman were slightly unusual.
When I finished my walk, he was still struggling with his bike. I asked if there was anything I could do. The clutch is shot, he said, I’ll need to go into town (about 25 miles away) and get a new one. He seemed a trifle taken aback when I offered to drive him. But he quickly agreed and we piled into my rental car and set off.
Along the way he told me how he had been a biker for years. Never did any of the seriously criminal stuff, he said, but he did run shipments of drugs from the border up into the northeastern states. Seemed serious enough to me but I chose not to say so. He had been driving a ton of hashish north when he was pulled over by the Vermont state police right after making the delivery. He said that was the lucky part. If he had been caught in Arizona or crossing state borders, he might have gotten 8 to 10 years. In Vermont he got two years, the last to be served on weekends if he could find a sponsor. He even got to serve it close to home.
As the time came he began searching through his telephone book for a friend to sponsor him. Beside every name was marked – dead, in prison, paralyzed, dead, dead and so on. As it happened an elderly couple made it their mission to visit prisoners and when he told them of the situation , they offered to take him in on one condition. The husband had Parkinson’s disease and needed help to get out of bed, into his wheelchair, with bathing. If he would provide those services they would take him in.
In the end he became nursemaid, handyman, gardener and security for them. He went back to school and got a diploma in nursing. He gave up alcohol and drugs (where he met his girlfriend of six years). He stayed with them for 8 years until the husband died and now he worked as nurse in an old folk’s home. He kept the bike but only took it on camping trips.
When we parted, he offered to pay me but I asked him to pass the favour on instead. He seemed quite pleased with that.
And that’s ten minutes.