5/29/2007

Characters...

You'll often hear people described as characters. Usually it implies a certain eccentricity, quirkiness, and/or uniqueness. I've known many characters. One of them was Verner Johnson.

When I first moved to Michigan I applied to work as a tour guide for a bike tour company in Northern Michigan (aptly named Michigan Bicycle Touring). I was new to the area and loved to bike, so I was excited about the chance to meet people and enjoy a lot of the beauty of our state from the seat of my bike. Vern was one of the first people I met and probably the one I ended up doing the most tours with. He was in his early eighties at the time.

The guy was a machine. He could ride 60 miles through hilly terrain without blinking. He was an inspiration to the people on our tours. They figured if Vern could do it in his eighties, so could they. He always had a smile or a joke at the ready. He was a total goofball and was extremely sharp. I never saw him get pissed off or frustrated - often a challenge when dealing with finicky tourists. I had to pick him up on my way to a two-week tour in the U.P. and got to see where he lived. He lived out in the country and generated all his heat from a mountain of firewood that he chopped himself. He didn't shower, but would take saunas like many Finnish people do.

He was married three times and I think each divorce had a story. I know one turned out to be a lesbian. Another wanted him to quit the bike touring and gave him an ultimatum - her or the tours. He stuck with the tours. He had been in World War II as a pilot and still flew an airplane into his eighties.

I lost touch with Vern after the tour company stopped operating a few years ago. I just got word that he died recently after a short stay in an assisted living facility. He was a neat guy and a pleasure to know. I hope one day I'll be considered as much of a "character" as he was.

5 comments:

Johnny Yen said...

I've long made it a point to talk to older folks-- they are so much more interesting, and have done so much more than the young 'uns. Very cool that you remember him and mark his passing.

'Bubbles' said...

Wow. Doing that kind of riding into his 80's! That is something!

I like characters!

Emmanuel said...

On one of the tours I was on, we were roommates for 5 days. Me 24, Vern 85. We acted like high school kids talking about women and life late into the night.

He also gave me one of his Viagra pills which I gave my father as a joke on his 50th b-day. I'll always remember Vern fondly. RIP.

Chris said...

Emmanuel- I wasn't sure if you two ever did any tours together. I'm glad you got to spend some time with him.

Writeprocrastinator said...

I used to know more cool old people a couple of decades ago, as opposed to now. People that were self-made and didn't have any doubts. Now, most of the elderly that I know are just older, flakyier versions of myself.

Here's to Vern, he's giving bicycle tours in Heaven and even with wings, people can't keep up with him.