Note:  This post is an excerpt from a forthcoming novel by Dave Bone.

“Toward The Unknown”

Chapter 1:   Crash

Sitting on the curb in a daze, Lemmy noticed something shimmering on the other side of Willow Street and realized it was his dollar store sunglasses, or at least one of the lenses that used to be press fit into the black plastic frame.  Leaning against the curb off to the side was the helmet that had been hanging from the rear rack.  “Shit,” he thought, “the one time I don’t wear the damn thing…”

He raised the back of his hand to wipe the sweat from his brow and the knuckles came down streaked red with blood.  He could also feel a drip from his bottom lip, but neither added up to much, so Lemmy wasn’t alarmed, but the driver of the SUV had a worried look in his eyes.  Lemmy chuckled to himself and wondered if maybe the guy had no insurance.  Nah, it was a late model Subaru, and he was dressed pretty well.  He leaned his head back and tried to remember whether the whole thing had been his fault, anyway, or if the driver had done something wrong.

Lemmy was easily distracted, often absorbed in his thoughts and looking around at the scenery.  That was kind of the point, actually – being in that Zen state.  Runners say it comes once you get used to your legs burning from lactic acid build up and your lungs gasping for as much oxygen as they can hold.  It’s easier on a bicycle.  The physics of the gears and bearings let you go the same distance with 1/10th the effort, so you can drift into a semi-aware state without so much suffering.

A high-pitched wail down Third Avenue jarred Lemmy’s head back forward and into the present tense.  The ambulance blocked the east-bound lanes and Lemmy suddenly felt responsible for the mothers who would be late to pick up their kids and city bus that had already been behind schedule.  That all disappeared as the crew descended.

A bearded guy with “Jordan” embroidered in white on a blue name patch above his breast pocket seemed like the leader of the show.  He had a blood pressure cuff in one hand and a little flashlight in the other.  The other two, a man and a woman who looked barely 40 if you added their ages together, stood back a few yards and watched.  When the boss began barking commands and shining the light in his eyes, Lemmy pushed him away.  “Back off, Jordan.  I’ve been through this before.  I’ve got no health insurance.  As soon as you shine that thing in my eyes, I’m liable for an $800 ambulance bill.  And God forbid I let you take me to the Emergency Room.  They’ll bill me five grand just for using a chair in the waiting room.  An aspirin is twenty bucks.  Forget it. I’m fine.”  Lemmy stood up and braced himself against the SUV that had knocked him off the bike.  “I can stand.  Nothing hurts.  The only blood is on my knee and forehead, and that’s all mostly dried up already.”  He actually felt nauseous and his head was pounding, but letting on would just lead to more trouble than he was already in.

He motioned to the sidewalk.  “My bike, on the other hand, may not survive this escapade.”  He limped over, bent down and pivoted the seat and bars back upright.  His reliable travel tool and companion mostly looked OK, but the front wheel was too warped to make a complete rotation without grinding to a halt on the brake pad.  “It’s gonna be a long push back to the tent,” he said out load.

“Can I give you a lift?”

Lemmy had almost forgotten about the driver of the SUV, who hadn’t said much and was just standing on the sidewalk looking stunned after the accident.  The thought of a lawsuit had briefly passed through Lemmy’s mind while sitting on the curb, but it wasn’t his style.  The guy clearly didn’t mean any harm.  Shit happens.  But a ride back to his tent would be nice, and maybe a little help getting the wheel straightened out.

“I’m Clint.  Sorry about all this.” After the bike was in the back of the Subaru, Lemmy introduced himself and started out across the road to retrieve his helmet, but Clint waved him back.  “No. Get in.  I’ll grab that stuff.”

“So where are we headed?”, Clint asked, looking curious after hearing about a tent.  There were no state parks or commercial campgrounds nearby. This might be a long drive.

Lemmy raised his arm and rotated the shoulder joint to stretch the muscles that had hit the pavement, then rubbed the road grime off his knee.  “I’m guerilla camping, out in the cemetery behind the elementary school.  There’s a nice patch down by the river that’s surrounded by some big pines.  It’s quiet and secluded.”

Clint looked surprised, so Lemmy felt compelled to explain.  “Guerilla camping is what hikers and bikers call it when you pitch your tent for the night in a spot that’s not really intended for it.  When I first started riding distances, I always stayed at the official places, like state and county parks with designated sites, or at commercial spots, like KOA’s.  If I couldn’t find one nearby, I’d get a motel room.  But then I’d meet other travelers who talked about just finding a quiet, inconspicuous spot so I started trying it myself.  There are certain places that are easy, like big parks, state forests, and really rural areas with no houses around.  But sometimes you end up in a town when the sun is getting ready to set.  That’s when I look for cemeteries, churches on big lots, places like that.  Schools can be good in the summer when there are no kids.  I try to ask if it’s OK, if there’s anyone around.  But a lot of times there’s not.  It’s usually the evening, so everyone’s gone home for the day.”

“Aren’t you worried about getting hassled by property owners, or dogs, or rowdy teenagers, or the cops?”

“Well, dogs are a whole other story, but people are almost always OK with it.  I try to be respectful – don’t make any noise, no fires or lights, pick up all my trash.  Now to be fair, it definitely helps to be an aging white guy.  You know, we actually get that ‘presumption of innocence’ from most people.  But I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s just second nature now.”

“Usually, I carry enough food that I can just sit down and pull something together after pitching my tent, but my supplies are down today.  There isn’t much civilization between here and Franklin.  If I wanted to eat, I had to pedal into town.  I figured there would be a deli or grocery store to pick up a sandwich.  Of course, I never did find one.  I met up with you first.”  He smiled at Clint, who nodded back in acknowledgement.

By this point, the Subaru was winding through the crisscrossing roads in St. Aloysius Cemetery, with Lemmy pointing towards a drop off at the back.  It was nice, with the sound of the water flowing down the river and Laurel Mountain in the background.  When they pulled over, Clint looked out at the tiny backpacking tent, then at the bike in the back, with the front wheel that used to be flat and round.  “Listen, why don’t you spend the night at my place.  We can put the tent and bags in the back.  Since my two boys graduated and moved out, the two bedrooms and bathroom on the second floor never get used.  You can take a shower, get the dried blood off your forehead.  My wife was cooking up some pasta when I called earlier.  It’s the least I can do, given…”.  He motioned back to the twisted metal behind them.  “My buddy Zeke lives nearby.  He’s a retired engineer and has been cycling for decades.  I’m sure he could help get things back together.  And he’d certainly be interested in hearing some stories.”

Lemmy didn’t hesitate.  He’d been camping for close to a week straight, and the bike needed a good tune-up even before the accident.  He’d met a lot of good folks on the road over the past couple of years.  Clint was obviously one of them.  “That would be great.  Thanks.”

It was nice to take down the tent and not have to carefully pack everything into its designated stuff sack.  They tossed it all in the back, agreeing that it would be easiest to get it all cleaned up, aired out, and repacked in the garage.

Clint got his wife on the speaker phone on the way back to town and introduced her to Lemmy.  She had been wondering why he wasn’t home yet and asked repeatedly if everyone was OK.  By the time they got off the phone, the garage door was rising and Carol was coming out the front door to greet them.

Clint backed up the driveway and they both got out to unload the gear.  As Clint lifted the hatch, Lemmy noticed a bumper sticker that read “Come and Take It” with an image of an assault rifle.  “Hmm,” he wondered, “Maybe it was there when they bought the car.”

Once the gear was laid out across the floor, Carol led Lemmy upstairs and showed him around.  He struggled to get the jersey and shorts off over his sore and battered joints.  He couldn’t remember hot water ever feeling so soothing and stood there for what seemed like a half hour when the temperature finally started to drop.  He wondered what his hosts would think of him draining the tank.

Out of the shower, he wrapped himself in one of the big fluffy towels Carol had set on the commode, went to the mirror, and leaned over to check out the damage to his head.  It was depressingly easy to find the gash through what was left of his thinning hair.  The bleeding had stopped, but it would be sore for a while and probably leave a little scar that would be visible after another year or two had progressed in the fading of his hair line.  After that, he cleaned the remaining dried blood from his lower lip then pulled a razor out of his bag and cleaned up the stubble on his chin and neck.

Downstairs, Carol had put out some dishes and asked Lemmy if he’d like some water or a cold beer.  “Yes.  Both would be great, actually.”  She motioned to the refrigerator, where he found a variety pack from a local microbrewery.  “Nice, they actually make some old-school beers.  I get tired of all the fruit infused stuff and everything being an IPA.  ‘Hazy session’ beers and over-hopped doubles seem to be all you find nowadays.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re OK, but it’s nice to have a pilsner or malty brown ale to pick from, too.”  He poured a pilsner in a pint glass and sat down at the table.

“Yeah, it’s brewed here in Millville,” Clint jumped in.  “The brewer actually studied over in Germany, at Weihenstephan.  His wheat beer is a standout, wins all kinds of awards.  We’re lucky to have him.”

While dishing out the penne, Carol asked what had happened on the road.  “This should be interesting.  Maybe we should call the lawyers first,” Clint chuckled.

“It’s a bit of a blur to me,” Lemmy started.  “I was heading into town on Broad Street and turned left onto Willow, thinking there might be a store in the commercial area.  There wasn’t much traffic and I was looking around at the business signs.  I didn’t even see the car pull out in front of me.  I might not have even hit the brakes, it happened so fast.  Next thing I knew, I was on the ground and somebody was dragging my bike up onto the sidewalk.”

Clint jumped in, “That sounds about right.  I had just picked my prescription at the pharmacy and was parked in front of the old appliance store across the street.  I started inching out and would swear I checked the mirror and looked over my shoulder, but that car has a pretty big blind spot and, to be honest, we don’t have a lot of bicycles on the streets here.  I was really looking for cars and trucks, and there weren’t any, so I pulled out and bang, there was Lemmy on the ground.”

“Sounds like one of those “no-fault” accidents,” Lemmy joked.

“Maybe ‘equal-fault’ is a better description,” Carol corrected.

An hour later, the dishes were clean, the lights were out, and Lemmy was back upstairs.  Looking up at the ceiling, he thought about how much worse this could have been.  What was he doing wandering around the mid-Atlantic on a bike with no real destination and no insurance?

Then the day caught up with him and he faded off.  After what seemed like about 10 minutes, he opened his eyes and the morning sun was shining across the room to light up the sports awards and family photos of the boys filling the wall by door.

He dug through his bags to find a clean set of street clothes and headed down to the kitchen where Carol had some eggs and pancakes ready for the griddle.  She motioned for him to have a seat at the island and filled a mug with some fresh, strong coffee. “This is heaven”, Lemmy thought.

“Any chance I could throw a load in the washing machine?” he asked as she put a plate in front of him.  “I hate to be a bother, but it’s been over a week and things are getting a little ripe.”

“Of course.  It’s in the garage.  The detergent is in the cabinet.  You know how to use these new-fangled front loaders?”

Lemmy nodded, “I’ll figure it out.”

Clint walked in.  “While you were sleeping, I sent Zeke some photos of your bike.  He has a spare wheel that might work.  I can give him a ring now if that’s alright.”  He reached for his phone, dialed, and set it on the island.

“Hey, Clint.  Is he feeling OK?”, Zeke asked.

Lemmy chuckled and replied, “I’m fine.  Just a little sore.  A comfortable bed definitely helped.  Thanks for asking.”  He wasn’t lying.  The headache was gone, and his lip was already starting to heal.  Thankfully, the injuries weren’t anything serious.  He sure was glad to have sent the ambulance away.

“So I checked out the pics of your wheel.  No offense, but it doesn’t look worth repairing.”

“None taken.  It’s original to the bike and the bearings have been starting to get crunchy.  Obviously, the rim can’t be saved.  At this point, it’s just a bundle of spokes.”

“I’ve got a wheel off an old mountain bike that’s been hanging in the garage for a long time.  It’s a niner, so it will fit your 700’s.  It’s an early disc model, with a six-bolt hub, but it has the flat surface for rim brakes, too.  It’s only got 32 spokes but that should be fine for a front wheel on your touring rig.  The bearings are still in good shape and the rim width is about right for your tires.  It’s a pretty sturdy old piece.”

Clint shook his head.  “I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about.  I hope you do.”

Lemmy grabbed another piece of toast.  “Yeah.  That’s sounds great.  Whaddaya want for it?”

“Nothing.  It’s just hanging there.  It would be nice to see it get used.  But I want to hear about your travels.”

“Fair enough.”

“Bring the whole bike over.  First, we can swap over your tube and tire,” Zeke continued.  “They look OK.”

“Yeah.  That’s a nice Marathon with less than a thousand miles on it.  It should be good for a few thousand more.”

“After that, we can put it up on the stand, look for any other damage, adjust the cables and lube everything.  I’ll be around all day.  Any time is fine.  There’s a good shop downtown if we need any parts.”

Lemmy looked relieved.  “Great.  I really appreciate it.  See you later.”

After breakfast, Clint drove off to check on things at the office.  He owned a small local accounting firm that was mostly on auto-pilot.  He’d been referring to himself as semi-retired since hiring a local woman to manage things.  Sarah had been friends with Carol in high school.  Mid-way through senior year, she had gotten pregnant and decided to try and make things work with her boyfriend.  College, which had seemed inevitable beforehand, was then off the table for decades. She and Jim kept things together for a long time, despite a lot of ups and downs over the years.  Once their kids were all out of school, though, they decided that they wanted different lives and went their separate ways.  He moved down to Florida and she decided to finally go back for her degree.  At 45, she passed the CPA exam and dropped off a resume for Clint.  Now he told everyone he couldn’t imagine running the place without her.

Cleaning up the dishes, Lemmy and Carol chatted about her boys.  Both had finished up at Penn State, though it wasn’t always certain they would make it to the graduation stage.  Now one was in Pittsburgh and the other in Philly, both building careers and starting their adult lives.  Carol had been a real estate agent before dropping out of the workforce to steer them through those challenging adolescent and teenage years back in her late 30’s.  These days, Clint was thinking about retirement, but she was interested in going back to work in her 50’s.  Sarah seemed really fulfilled running Clint’s office.  Why shouldn’t Carol take advantage her new opportunity to grow.  Lemmy thought about what a commitment a good marriage really takes and wished his had been more like the one his two new friends seemed to have.

Clint got back around 11:00 and Lemmy had everything in order.  The laundry was done, the tent was rolled up, and the sleeping bag was airing out on the sagging clothesline in the back yard.  It would take some time in the sun and breeze to freshen it up, but Lemmy figured it was well worth the effort.  The bike was leaning against the work bench, ready for Zeke.

On the ride over, Clint explained that he had met Zeke in the Lion’s Club.  Clint grew up in Millville, but Zeke had moved into a small nearby development after retiring from a state job in Harrisburg.  His wife Melissa’s family-owned Troyer’s Foodland, the old local supermarket.  They were struggling from the competition from the Walmart on the edge of town and two dollar stores, especially after her father died a few years ago.  Her mother was hoping their “kids” could help them survive and compete.  Zeke was doing his best to build relationships in the community and Melissa was working long days at the store.

They pulled into the driveway and Zeke was in the garage with the door open.  He was adjusting the valves on his R90S.  Lemmy got out and shook his head in disbelief.  “I’ve always loved these bikes.  Back in ’88, I almost bought one.  It was pristine, with the Daytona Orange paint.  I just didn’t have the place to store it properly.  It’s probably better that someone else bought it.”

“I found this one in the late 90’s,” Zeke replied.  “I don’t think there’s a prettier BMW motorcycle that’s ever been built.  It’s a ’74 and the smoke silver paint has been redone.  But I’ve gone through every nut and bolt.  It runs like new.  Just figured I’d gap the valves before you got here.  I’m planning to ride it to a rally in the Shenandoah Valley this weekend.”

Any remaining doubts Lemmy had about the fate of his bicycle melted away.  They pulled it out of the Subaru and set it upside down in front of the window on the long bench that ran along the exterior wall of the garage.  Lemmy popped the quick release, removed the front wheel from the fork, and pried the tire off the rim.  They all shook their heads at the damage.  Zeke pulled out the niner wheel and showed Lemmy how smoothly the bearings spun.  They remounted the tire and tube and pumped it up.

Zeke inspected the fork, looking for bends, lifting paint, and any hairline cracks.  Fortunately, the speed of the crash couldn’t have been more than 5 mph and everything looked straight and solid.  “This is why people still love steel.  It flexes and springs back, lasts forever.  If this fork had been made of carbon fiber, we’d be taking it off and sending it to the landfill, running around trying to find a new on that would fit.”  In 10 minutes, everything was back together, but now Zeke wanted to give the whole bike a good run through.

He grabbed the sturdy fold-up stand that had been hanging from pegboard hooks over the bench and clamped the bike up by the seat post a foot off the floor of the garage.  Lemmy was a bit embarrassed at the condition.  He knew the bearings hadn’t been serviced in well over 3000 miles and the cables were all stretched to the limits of the barrel adjusters.  Zeke cocked his head in disapproval, unmounted the bike and rolled it out to the back yard, where he hosed off the mud, sprayed everything down with degreaser, and scrubbed the chain and cassette.

“This is much better, Lemmy.  You can actually see the pearly shimmer around the decals on that funky purple paint now.  It really looks great on this classic steel frame.  I love the look of the brazed lugs.”  They let it drip dry for a few minutes, then moved the whole apparatus back inside.

Lemmy wandered around the garage, admiring the neatly organized tools, as well as the two bikes hanging on the wall.  The standout was an Italian carbon road bike fitted out with top-of-the-line gear.  Next to that was an older mountain bike, one of those with that strange one-sided “fork”.  Neither would work for the kind of riding Lemmy did, but they sure were pretty and probably served Zeke’s needs more than adequately.

An hour later, they were downtown at Bikes ’n Boards picking up a cone and some bearings for the back wheel.  Everything else was adjusted and ready to go.  Lemmy insisted on buying lunch, so they pulled into the Silver Star Diner.  It was one of those classic narrow places that was pulled into the lot as a prefab car in the 1930’s and never moved again.  It had a Formica counter with round stools sandwiched between a row of booths in front and the dairy and pie cases on the back wall.  There was an empty booth at the end where they sat down and motioned to the waitress/owner Meg for three cups of coffee.

“So how long you been on this two-wheeled journey, Lemmy?”

“I don’t know, what year is it now?”, Lemmy joked.  “No, I guess it’s been about two years, off and on.  I had some life changes and decided to just get out and see some stuff.”

“What’s the furthest you’ve gone?”, Zeke was curious.

“Last winter I decided that some warm weather would be nice, so I rode down the coast through the Carolinas into Florida.”

“How’s the riding down there?”

“Well, the weather is good, but the people aren’t the nicest.  I like to joke that they should change their motto to ‘Florida: It’s the New France’.  But that wouldn’t really be fair to the French.  They’ve got a reputation for being cold and rude, but my experience is that French are really welcoming, as long as you understand a bit of their culture and a few words of the language.  You walk into a place in a Florida beach town and the staff just looks the other way.  Even people in New Jersey are friendlier.  The ocean front is mostly private, so all you see is roads and mansions.  And then there are the ‘Florida Bike Lanes’.  They’ll take any road shoulder, even it’s only 18” wide and covered with gravel, paint some bike symbols on it, and call it an official route.”

“That’s not surprising,” Zeke replied.

“After that, I headed across the panhandle and paralleled I-10 on the back roads from Alabama to Texas.  It was mostly smaller towns.  The pace was slower, and the locals were pretty nice.  I found lots of good places to camp and spend a day or two.  Even picked up a little work here and there.”

“Yeah, Clint was telling me about this ‘guerilla camping” you do.  There’s no way I’d get away with that, especially down in the Deep South.  I mean, it’s not the fifties anymore, but trespassing in an unfamiliar town would feel like suicide for a black man, even a relatively well-off middle aged one pedaling a fancy bike.”

“You’re probably right.  Some of the people who smiled at me and asked if I needed water might greet you in a really different way.  It’s a shitty world that way.”

“You don’t know the half of it.  I get hassled sometimes just riding the backroads here the Amish country.  People rolling down the window, yelling or throwing shit at me.  And clerks following me around a convenience store.  For Christ’s sake, I’m clicking around on SPD cleats and worried about my $5000 carbon bike out front.  I’m not gonna steal a Gatorade.”

“Sorry, man.” Lemmy shook his head knowing that he couldn’t really understand what it must be like.

“Where’d you go after that?”, Clint jumped in.

“Across the southwest, then along the Mexican border to San Diego.  There are some long dry stretches out there.  It’s a challenging ride.  Sometimes it’s hard to even find a road that not an Interstate, but the landscape is amazing.  I have a cousin who’s a Navy officer – he lives in Chula Vista.  He invited me out to visit a while.  I helped him with some kitchen renovations, and he gave me a place to stay.”

“San Diego in the winter; I could handle that,” Zeke imagined.  “Beats the hell out of the remnants of lake effect snow we get here in Eastern Pennsylvania.”

“I’d like to go back some time.  After that I rode up to Washington, then headed back east across the Rockies when the weather got warmer.”

“Man, those mountains must be tough. I rode with some of the guys who were on the Bucknell team right after it was formed in the early 90’s,” Zeke recalled.  “They would take me up the mountains around Lewisburg.  I was in good shape and those weren’t nearly as high as the Rockies, but those climbs nearly killed me.”

“You know, it’s funny.  The Rockies weren’t that bad.  The roads are newer out there.  The climbs are long, but they’re not as steep.  Plus, I could take a leisurely pace and my legs were in pretty good shape after riding day after day for thousands of miles.  The Midwest was harder.  It’s just damned boring out there.”

By this point, the plates were empty, and Meg was bringing out a fresh pot to refill their mugs.

Zeke asked, “So Lemmy, you mentioned something about a kitchen renovation.  You have a background in construction?”

“I’ve done a little bit of a lot of things, but more construction than anything else.  My Dad was a self-employed handyman, when he was in a mind to work at all.  So, I got started helping him, though that was mostly involuntary.  After high school, I worked for a neighbor doing rehabs to earn money for college.  Everybody called him Bomber.  I heard it evolved from Time Bomb.  He was always so chill, they figured he was bound to explode one day.  Never happened though.  He was great.  I learned a lot from him, doing kitchens and bathrooms on the days I didn’t have classes.”

“Yeah? What did you study.”

“Well, I started in the Electronics program at the community college in Harrisburg.  The eventual plan was an Electrical Engineering degree.  But that never happened.  There was this girl, and one thing led to another.  Man, I often wonder what things would have been like.  That was the beginning of PC’s and cell phones.  The opportunities could have been…”  Lemmy’s voice faded and he looked off into the distance.

“Well, I’ve got this project I’d like to talk to you about”, Zeke said, looking like the gears were spinning in his head.  “I can show you the plans back at the house.  Melissa will be back from her shift at the store around 4:00 and she can explain better than me.”

Clint left Lemmy at Zeke’s house, figuring he’d be able to ride the bike back.  The two spent another hour greasing and adjusting the back wheel, then testing and tweaking all the earlier adjustments.  Just as the work was finishing, Melissa pulled into the driveway.

Zeke made the introduction.  “This is Lemmy.  He’s the cyclist that Clint tried to kill yesterday.”

They shook hands.  “Nice to meet you.  You look OK.  Anything injured in the fall?”

“No,” Lemmy replied.  “I was a bit sore last night but feel surprisingly good today.”

Zeke shifted to the project.  “It turns out Lemmy’s done a lot of construction work.  I wanted to talk to him about the new apartment.  Figured he might be able to help after losing that young kid Anton.  I never liked him much anyway.”

“What are you working on?”, Lemmy asked.

“It’s a place for my mom,” Melissa replied.  “She’s doing OK, but she’s still living over in Livingston in the big Victorian she inherited from my grandparents.  Since my father died, she’s been there all alone.  I’ve been worried about her keeping it up and having to go up and down all those steps all the time.  She’d probably be fine there for a few more years, but it would be nice have her closer and we’d rather be proactive than wait until something happens and it becomes an emergency.”

Lenny nodded, “That makes sense.”

“We didn’t realize it when we bought our place, but it’s actually zoned for a legal 2nd dwelling.  They don’t usually allow that around here, but this developer was more progressive.  He had worked for a couple of decades on the West Coast and saw the benefit of allowing some controlled higher density as the population grew.  So, he managed to get all of these lots set up for legal future in-law suites.”

Zeke explained, “The prior owner put an extension on the back of the garage as a big family room.  We don’t really use it, so we figured it wouldn’t be too hard to convert it into a small one-bedroom apartment for Mom.  It already has doors to the outside, garage access, even a gas line to the fireplace.”

Melissa continued, “Zeke is good with CAD, so he drew some basic plans, and we had an architect in town finish them off.”

“Have you started the work yet?”, Lemmy asked.

“Well, that’s the problem.  Zeke’s niece Tameka has been working over the past few years to build a contracting business.  She’s a smart girl, got a fine arts degree from Penn about 8 years ago.  Afterwards, she wasn’t sure what to do and signed up for a 6-month stint working on houses for Habitat for Humanity in Philly as part of the AmeriCorps program.  Turns out she loved the work.  It required some of the creative skills she liked from the art stuff, but it was physical and practical, and she was good at it.  Afterwards she moved back here and took a job with a local guy, doing additions and renovations.  She learned a lot but couldn’t deal with all the macho bullshit and harassment.  So, she got a contractor’s license and insurance and started taking on small jobs on her own.”

“She was planning to start last month”, Zeke continued.  “She had this helper, Anton, on board, pulled the permits, and was buying materials.  But the kid wouldn’t show up half the time and just didn’t give her much respect.  She let him go, but it’s not easy to find good skilled help, and she’s hesitant about being able to move forward on her own.  We really want her to do it.  We trust her and it would help her build the business, not to mention her confidence.”

“Is this the kind of stuff you’ve done?”, Melissa asked.

“Yeah.  Lots of it – carpentry, electrical, plumbing.”

“How would you feel about taking a road break to work with a twenty-something for a few months?  We could promise the money would be decent.”

“Wow.  You’ve kind of caught me off guard.  Let’s go take a look at the space.”

“I’m going to stay out here and make a phone call,” Zeke said as they walked out into the family room, which was empty now except for some 2×4’s and wire up against the long wall and a folding table in the middle.  The architectural plans were laid out on the table.

Lemmy flipped through the drawings and looked over the space.  “The structure looks fine.  It’s over a crawlspace, so getting plumbing to the new kitchen and bath shouldn’t be too bad.  The drains might be a pain in the ass.  The breaker box is in the garage, and it’s got a half dozen open slots, so running new circuits is possible.  It looks like the attic is accessible from the garage, so venting shouldn’t be too challenging.  I think you have a totally manageable project here, and it’s nice that you’re doing it by the book, with an architect and permits.”

“Is it interesting enough for you to consider?” Melissa asked again.

“Maybe.  I’d have to meet your niece, and I don’t know where I’d live.  The tent gets tiring when you’re stationary.”

“I bet it does,” Zeke jumped in, overhearing them as he walked in from the garage.  “Actually, Clint has an apartment above his accounting office.  The tenant moved out a couple of months ago and it’s been sitting empty.  He and I just chatted a bit and he said you can use it for a few months at a really low rent.  It’s only about a half mile from here, so you could even ride your bike back and forth.”

“Lemme think about it.”

“Nice, pun.  I bet you use that all the time,” Zeke joked.  Seeing the confusion on their faces, he restated “Lemmy think about it…”

Carol groaned and Lemmy shook his head.

Back at Clint and Carol’s place, Lemmy went out to the garage to finish packing up his gear and make sure everything was in its proper place.  He wasn’t sure what do next.  His mind was spinning from the work proposal from Zeke.

Clint came out with a couple of glasses of iced tea.  Then he reached into the closet and pulled out a hand pump that he had forgotten was even there.  “So, you talked to Zeke about the addition?”

“Yeah, it sounds interesting, and it was nice of you to offer the apartment.”

“It’s sitting empty and I’m sure you’d take good care of it for a few months while helping Tameka get the apartment done.  I’ve seen how you take care of your gear, and how respectful you’ve been around here.”

“It’s a lot to process.  I had expected to be pedaling out towards the Catskills and up the Hudson Valley in the coming weeks.”

“Well, why don’t you take some time to think about it.  There are some great trails and roads in the area.  You’re welcome stay here for a few more days.  We hardly notice you upstairs and it might be a nice change to pedal that thing without a campsite hanging from the racks.”

“Yeah.  I’d probably get a speeding ticket!”

“Well, Carol and I are both fine with it.  Actually, we really like having you around.  But, obviously, it’s up to you.”

“You know, that sounds good.  I’ll get up in the morning and take a long spin to check out the new wheel.  The road is always a good place to work through the pros and cons of big decisions.”

“I’ll let Carol know,” and Clint turned back towards the house.

“Oh, by the way,” he added, as he reached into a drawer under the work bench.  “Here’s a key to the side door to the garage, in case you need to come or go while we’re away.”

“How about I buy us some Chinese takeout?”  Lemmy offered.

“Nah, you bought lunch.  Carol stopped off at Foodland earlier.  I was just going to put some chicken and veggies on the grill.”

“Hey,” Lemmy had finally worked up the nerve to ask, “What’s up with the bumper sticker?  You and Carol don’t strike me as militia types.  Plus, I didn’t see any gun stuff around the house.  I mean, everybody’s got their reasons for their stances, and I grew up in a family full of hunters.  I’ve just been curious.”

Clint turned and took a few steps towards the SUV.  “Sometimes I wonder what people think about that.  I actually do have a couple of guns locked in a cabinet in the basement – a rifle and a .38 revolver.  Haven’t fired them in years.  We used to hunt together, me and my old man.  Funny, a few years ago, he asked me to stop off at ‘Trigger Happy’ – that’s what Carol calls Bushmaster Supply, the local shop – for a box of .22 shorts.  I was kind of shocked.  It had been decades and I remembered the long racks of 30-30’s, bolt action rifles, and shotguns.  Maybe there’d be a couple of flint lock muzzle loaders.  The shelves would be full of hunting stuff – insulated boots, hot seat cushions, orange vests, you know?”

Lemmy nodded, “Yeah, that’s how I remember it.”

“There might be a case with some revolvers and a few semi-automatic pistols,” Clint continued.  “Nowadays, they barely have any hunting stuff.  It’s all para-military self-defense gear:  Glocks with big clips, survival supplies, and lots of those AR-style assault rifles.  I had a hard time even finding any rifles you could use to drop a deer from a few hundred yards.  Most of this stuff was built to kill people.  Who knows, maybe they’re right and we’ll all need to do that someday.  I hope not.”

“If you watch the news, it seems that way, but not if you get out amongst regular folks.  You’re right though.  The paranoia seems to get worse and worse.  Plus, I don’t think most people realize how many people use those guns to kill themselves.”

“There are so many dimensions to it.  Anyway, my dad was a big Second Amendment NRA guy.  Long ago, it was just about deer and turkeys and grouse.  But in his later years, he got caught up in all that frenzy about self-defense.  He sent in his checks to Moses and LaPierre and loaded up the case with converted semi-automatics and 9mm’s.   A couple of years ago, he got the diagnosis – stage four lung cancer – 60 years of Pall Mall’s in a town with radon seeping out of every crack in the bedrock.  Eight months later he was gone.  My brother took most of the firearms.  I hung on to the car.  It only had about 35,000 miles on it, and it’s got all wheel drive.  There were a bunch of other stickers, but Carol put her foot down.  I could only keep one.  So that’s the one I picked.  Funny, but it really brings back some memories when I see it there.  Mostly they’re good.”

“Man, I’m sorry.  That sounds like a tough year.”

“Yeah, it’s just part of the deal when you get to our age.  Funny, you figure that once you get your finances in order and the kids start taking care of themselves, you’ll get to relax and start pursuing your interests instead of your obligations.  The reality can be a be quite a crash course.  Your parents still around?”

“Nah,” Lemmy was a bit evasive.  “They’ve been gone for quite a few years now.  Things were complicated.”

Clint figured it was a good time to head out to the patio and fire up the grill.