Friday, September 13, 2019

"Not Just Any Friday" by James Bryan Simpson

I knew I should have turned left, but at the time taking the right fork had seemed a more reasonable choice. Twenty minutes later the pavement stopped, the road became narrower and the potholes got bigger and deeper. I pulled over and checked the map. The road I was on didn’t exist. Maybe I should have bought a new map instead of trusting the one I found in the glove box when I bought this second-hand truck. I refolded the map and left it on the seat next to my backpack, binoculars, binocular harness, bird identification book and phone. My phone wasn’t helpful; I’d forgotten to charge it for a few days.
     Carefully, I continued, praying that the road wouldn’t get worse. It did. A sign—partially hidden by tall grasses growing next to the dense forest beside the road—advertised a gas station and restaurant just a few kilometers ahead. Shortly, it appeared. I had to stop and find out how to get to Long Point in time to catch the migrating raptors. And use the washroom.
     The building was one step above derelict, but the washroom was cleaner than I’d expected. I walked into the dining room and approached the sole occupant who was sitting at one of the tables. He was a big man, dressed in denim, nursing a mug of coffee and reading the Toronto Sun. Reddish beard, no mustache, and—when he smiled—a gold tooth. I immediately thought of Dr. Teeth, one of my favourite characters on The Muppet Show that I used to watch on TV with my kids.
     “Which way to Long Point?” I asked.
He laughed and pointed in the direction I’d just come from. He must have heard my truck when I arrived. “Why don’t you have a cup of coffee,” he said. “Sit anywhere you want.”
     “Is there an outlet where I can charge my phone?”
He pointed at the back wall, behind a table facing the entrance. I sat down, put my phone and charger on the table and plugged them in.
     I was checking my bird book when he arrived a minute later with a mug of coffee, a plate of creamers and a bowl filled with packets of sugar and a variety of artificial sweeteners. “That may take a while,” he said, glancing at my phone. “How about a sandwich? I can cook you up a tasty western if you’d like.”
     My nose was in my book and what he said didn’t register with me right away. He stood there and waited until I put the book down, reached for the coffee and looked up.
     “Hi,” he said. “I’m Andy and I’ll be your server today. Sandwich?”
     I had to laugh. Here I was, the only customer in this tired dining room in the middle of…I don’t know where, and Andy was being polite and funny at the same time. “Sure.” Maybe I was taking a chance, but he’d put on a crisp white apron and his hands were clean, so I figured maybe the food was okay. I ordered a western sandwich, toasted, on whole-wheat bread.
     I didn’t have to wait very long. It was the best western I’d ever had. Between bites I scanned my book and glanced at my phone, watching as the battery bar indicated it was charging. Then the building began to vibrate. There was a low rumble outside, it got louder, and two minutes later it stopped.
     The front door swung open. I counted the bikers as they came in. Six of them. Each in turn embraced Andy, big bear hugs all around. That seemed natural because most of them were built like big bears.
     I was far enough away that I couldn’t hear what they were talking about as they disappeared into the kitchen. A few minutes later they reappeared, each carrying a bottle of beer. Andy followed, carrying a platter of sandwiches and a carafe of coffee. He refilled my cup, then went and refilled his mug and joined his friends.
     The golden eagle can be mistaken for the turkey vulture, but the eagle is larger and does not have the unsteady flight pattern of the vulture. I’d seen vultures soaring near Kelso Lake where Highway 401 climbs the Niagara Escarpment west of Milton. I was really hoping to see some golden eagles, and I was reading on how to differentiate the immature birds from the adults. I’d heard the migration was reaching its peak, and I thought that by arriving on Thursday I’d miss the weekend crowds. Long Point was a raptor staging area before they few across Lake Erie. About then I realized someone was standing in front of my table, blocking the light from the recessed ceiling lights. I looked up.

     “Your truck outside?” he asked.
     “Yes.” I knew Andy was big, but this man was huge. Dressed all in black leather and with a big black beard and shoulder-length hair, this was one scary dude. And I had no idea why he was talking to me.
     “You drove down that road?” he asked, and hooked a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the road I’d negotiated to find this place. I nodded. “Nasty potholes, aren’t they.”
     “You got a bent rim and your tire’s a bit flat.”
     Oh crap. Just what I didn’t need. “Oh, I didn’t know. Thanks for telling me.”
     “You got a spare on a new rim in the back. I could change it for you.”
     “You could? That would be great. Thanks. How much?”
     “You a regular customer of Andy’s?”
     “This is the first time I’ve been here. I was going to Long Point, but I got a bit lost.”
     “I heard. Like I said, you’re a regular customer, so no charge.” He smiled when he said that.
     “Thank you.”
     I didn’t realize how tense I’d been talking with him, but when he walked back to his table and tapped another biker on the shoulder and the two of them left, I felt my whole body relax. I slumped back into my chair. I could stop holding my breath. I guess being approached by a biker who outweighs you by almost two hundred pounds will do that to anybody. I was about to pick up my book again when Andy came over and refilled my coffee.
     “Does he do that often?” I asked.
     “Bill’s a good guy. He owns a tire shop. He does that for a living.”
     “That’s very kind of him.”
     “Yeah, that’s Bill.”
     Andy rejoined his friends and I started to wonder if I had a jack in the back of my truck, along with the spare tire. I couldn’t remember. Maybe Bill would borrow a jack from the gas station next door. Or maybe he’d just lift the corner of the truck and his buddy would change the tire. I guess it didn’t need to worry about it because a few minutes later Bill and his friend came back in. Bill gave me a thumbs up before he pulled out his chair and rejoined his friends. 
     About five minutes later they all stood up, gave Andy another hug, and left. I heard their bikes start up, and they all went down the road that I’d navigated to get to this place. Andy cleaned off the table, refilled his mug and resumed his reading.
     I turned on my phone and checked my email. Nothing new. I had another look at the weather for Woodstock, where I’d exited the 401. The winds were from the north, which was what I wanted. One more app to check. When I was satisfied that Google Maps was my friend, I raised my hand and Andy came over with my bill.
     “Great sandwich,” I told him as retrieved my wallet and pulled out a twenty. He just smiled. “Friends of yours?” I asked.
     “They seem to know this place. Do they come by regularly?”
     “A couple of times a year.”
     “Oh. So where are they going?”
     “Port Dover.”
     It all made sense now. I looked at my phone. Today was Thursday, the twelfth. Tomorrow would be Friday, the thirteenth – the day when thousands of bikers always descended on Port Dover. But if Bill was anything to go by, the bikers would be bringing good luck, not bad at all.

James Bryan Simpson is retired from a career in pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry and now writes fiction and creative nonfiction. He enjoys country living, recreational reading, and participating in writing groups. He lives in an old stone farmhouse somewhere between Milton and Guelph.

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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