My eyes go directly to the Cenotaph as I look out my window today. You see, my office faces Memorial Park – a great green area in the heart of this little Municipality; so it is hard for me not to get off into “day dream world” every now and then, especially on days like today when the sun is in its full glory and the temperature just begs me to leave this office and jump on my trusty stead and head off to wherever the front tire points. But as I look at the Cenotaph, I can’t but think of all those that served our country so proudly and lost their lives for the freedoms that we have today.
A very dear friend of mine – Hairy (yes, spelled correctly), was a bike messenger in WW2. His job was to move messages between commands on his WLC – a 45 cubic inch Harley that was designed for the military. He did this for three years, catching chunks of lead in his shoulder, his back, his leg and his arm and not to mention breaking his leg not once but twice. The life expectancy of the biker messenger was only 6 months, a year if you were lucky. Old Hairy did his time, going through eight WLC’s, several Royal Enfields and a handful of captured BMWs. When he returned home, he opened Harry’s Bar and Grill on Mission Bay in San Diego.
Over the years, the bar took its toll, but the clientele remained true to Hairy. If you’d bring in your stein and he would proudly display it on the back of the bar. If you were a biker, it would go to the right, military would go to the left and if you were both – it would be proudly displayed front and center. Each stein had its story and old Hairy knew them all as well as the people that would drink from them.
It would be about 20 years since I saw the old geezer, but when I eventually made it back to San Diego, I made sure that I stopped in. The place was still as dingy as ever. Peanut shells all over the floor and duct tape holding the bar stools together and as I made my way to my old spot at the end of the bar, Hairy so nonchalantly grabbed my stein, blew off the dust, filled it up and slung it down the bar like he had done so many times before.
With a raspy grunt, he just said “It is about f’ing time you show your f’ing mug! I was getting ready to sell that F’ing stein of yours. Thought you was either f’ing dead or in the pen.” and the conversation carried on like I had never left. Every other word was that old f bomb and his voice got raspier as he spoke and chewed that old fatty (which I am sure it was the same one he put in his mouth 35 years ago!). His stories were the same, a little more colour and took a bit longer to tell, but it was Hairy that was telling it. When I returned a couple of years ago, I learned that old Hairy passed and the bar was sold and torn down. My heart was ripped from my chest.
Why do I tell you all of this? Well, because as I look out the window at that Cenotaph, I realize that none of us are getting any younger and we do not tell the people around us just how much they mean to us. Hairy meant a lot to this ex-military biker. His stories, his wit and just him being there with his long grey hair and ZZ-Top beard. He was a character, a friend, a confidant, a biker and a brother.
He would always yell as we departed “Vita initum iam”. “Your adventure starts now (actually translated - life starts now, but he always meant it to be adventure and who was going to argue with him?)”. Because for him, there was never a good bye and life was always an adventure. He took the time to know you, something we don’t do enough today. So as we jump on our rides and head out – Vita initum iam!