On the first birthday Joe Strommer didn’t have, his dad walked into the shop with one of the dogs and a dozen doughnuts. It had been four months since Joe’s suicide, and what had been a brutal winter was just beginning to thaw.
The dog, immediately familiar with the worn wood of the shop floor, curled up in the corner as Erv passed around our surprise breakfast and sat heavily on a stool. He wasn’t a big man, but he was an old man with a hunched back and poor vision, and a terrible driver; Joe used to joke with us about how his pops was going to kill him one of these days. We continued to work on morning repairs, steady but unhurried, while Erv began to talk.
Joe was a year-round regular at the shop, which is saying something in Minnesota. While he towered over most of us at well over six feet tall, more often than not he could materialize quietly in front of you, as if out of nowhere. He’d ride through each winter on a massive 29er and sail through the less bitter seasons on a singlespeed. Although he bought a Domane from us in 2011 or ’12, I don’t remember him ever joining us on a shop ride—he preferred instead to ride alone.
But his style of riding didn’t matter to us so much as his love of turning the pedals. His was the sort of company you appreciate in the long off-season and wish you could slow down enough to enjoy in the summer. On season and off, he’d often bring us doughnuts in the morning or beer in the afternoon, and in the latter case he’d wait until we closed for the day so we could all sit down and talk about nothing in particular. His smile was easy, if crooked, and we happily matched it.
While Joe could be quiet when he came to keep us company, his was the sort of silence you didn’t mind. And maybe it ran in the family; on those occasions his dad accompanied him to the shop, Erv was more often than not content to sit back for the duration of their visit, saying nothing, only bending over now and then to untangle dog leashes. But this April morning, Erv had something to say. It started with a single story, one yarn piling on top of the other, until it became a sort of eulogy meant just for us. It was what we had been waiting for while dealing with the shellshock that is the unreasonable loss of a close friend, and the overdue realization that a customer is more than just that. If only for a moment, Erv brought Joe back to us.
I never had the chance to ride with Joe Strommer, but I have no doubt what he looked like in the saddle. On the Easter Sunday before he died, we passed each other mid-ride, neither of us stopping long enough to trade pleasantries. We only saluted each other with a crooked grin and one hand reaching into the expanse of asphalt between us, open palms raised. It was one of the first calm days of spring, and we both knew without saying that there’s no good reason to stop when it’s warm enough to keep going. I’d never seen Joe look happier.
For awhile after his death, I regretted not stopping to talk to Joe that day. But when Erv stopped by that April morning to give us breakfast and leave us with a piece of Joe that we could hold onto, I remembered the importance of an early spring bike ride in Minnesota. I understood that Joe and I had passed each other knowing that, even more than the world, we ourselves are best seen from the seat of a bicycle. And I understood that that was enough.
Grace Heimsness is a first-year guide for Trek Travel. Join her in Utah this Spring»