Now’s as good a time as any to talk about Jim a little bit.
I first met him when I was sitting on the deck of the M/V Columbia, watching the coastline go by. He sat down next to me and said, “oh, so you’re a rider, too?” I couldn’t parse his New Zealand accent at first, so I wasn’t sure if he’d said “rider” or “writer” — and either would make sense, as I was wearing my Kilimanjaro jacket and carrying around my writing binder — but the answer was the same either way.
We small-talked for a few minutes: where are you from? Where are you going? What do you ride? Oh, how do you like that bike? It was immediately apparant that Jim was a great storyteller. Whereas my answers were things like “oh, I’m a software programmer in Silicon Valley”, his involved people and places and little vignettes. I learned that he was taking the ferry down to Bellingham, WA to begin an open-ended motorcycle trip around the Lower 48. “My wife and I used to travel a lot; we’d have amazing adventures,” Jim told me multiple times. “We were fantasically, romantically, in love.” He talked about Mary often; eventually I learned that she’d passed away from cancer a few years ago.
“My friends think I’m crazy, to do this motorcycle ride,” Jim continued. “But I miss the adventure. I miss Mary. So I learned to ride a motorcycle — there aren’t many ways for a single 60-year-old man to find adventure. Does that make sense?” He often ended his thoughts with questions.
Normally, I’m not a very socially extroverted person, but I found myself talking to Jim quite a bit over the four-day ferry trip. He was very easy to talk to, and I thoroughly enjoyed the little stories. We had breakfast together one morning, just the two of us, and he told me about oil drilling in Alaska and his role in it. We both got edgy when the waitress was late in bringing our coffee, and tended to ask for refills at the same time. I only use one cream in my coffee, though; Jim was a cream fiend. Little cup of half-and-half after little cup went into that coffee, until it was overflowing into his saucer. No wonder he drank three or four cups; I don’t think there was really any coffee left in the drink anymore.
Tony, Stephanie, and I had dinner with Jim a couple of other times, and often met for after-dinner drinks and conversation with another couple, Nom and Cindy. Our group played cards in the ferry cocktail lounge, told stories, and listened to more talented shipmates play the acoustic guitar . Jim kept a journal during his trip, and his niece Rachel sent me a copy after his death. This last night on the ferry, Jim had written:
“I met my motorcycle compatriots Carolyn, Stephanie and Tony for a final evening buffet dinner — I even indulged in a little desert. We talked a lot from everything about computer history through life in San Francisco to spirituality. We laughed a lot and some of the talk was meaningful. I then went up on deck, took a few pictures and enjoyed the scenery before Cindy and Nom met the four of us later round a table. During the time round the table, the Bridge called out on the PA that Fireworks could be seen; it was â€œCanada Day.â€ We watched while a little town in the distance fired its shells â€“ quite a reasonable display and then we went back to our conversations round the table. We took mutual pictures, exchanged addresses and promised we would see each other for our final farewell in the morning. Before bed I watched alone until we had past Texicana Island where Mary and I had our octopus diving trip. Wonderful memories! I then had a shower and went to bed.”
Two weeks after we arrived back in the Bay Area, Jim called me. He was visiting Rachel in Berkeley, and would be passing through our area the next day. Could he drop in and say hello? Coincidentally, Peter and I were hosting a BBQ that next day, for a friend’s birthday, so I told Jim to come by and crash the party. I called Tony and Stephanie to invite them as well.
The BBQ was fun: a small group of people, some motorcyclists, some not. Jim fit in well; he mingled with all of us twenty- and thirty-something Silicon Valley tech nerds, telling more stories and meeting new friends. He drank Diet Coke and let us all sit on his K1200LT. He was very proud of its speaker system, and made all of us take turns sitting on the bike as he turned up whatever CD was in the changer at the time. My friend Alan, the birthday boy, is a musician, and he gave Jim a copy of his latest CD; Jim happily put it in his bag with his other music. I hope he got a chance to listen to it.
At one point, Jim and I were alone out by his bike, and he told me that he’d overpacked. He had, too — he had an entire bag full of “extra” clothes that, by his own admission, he wasn’t wearing. I offered to hang on to them for him and mail them back to his Anchorage address.
The little pile of clothes still sits in my garage — I hadn’t yet found a big enough box to mail them in. I’ll probably bring it to Rachel when I meet her; she’s a motorcyclist too, and can hopefully use some of the gear. It’s that pile of clothes that makes me saddest: a Campmor fleece vest, a blue plaid shirt. Things Jim bought to be comfortable. Things to wear, to be warm or cool; human things. I can picture him shopping for the trip and picking out that fleece vest; deciding between it and one of a different color.
I only knew Jim for a month, but our time on the ferry was so packed, so time-intensive, that it seems longer. I have friends that I’ve known for years that might use cream in their coffee, or they might not — I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea. Jim really came into our lives for a reason. He was kind, enthusiastic, and sincere. He was a wonderful storyteller and enjoyed hearing others’ stories. He was a good friend, and a true inspiration.
Godspeed, Jim. May heaven bring you Mary, twisty roads, and an endless supply of coffee and cream.