Saturday, August 26

Meeting Locals in Traverse City...

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’ve not stopped in any one place long enough to met locals. Friday, Traverse City. The day started off rainy and somewhat cold. The skies looked ominous all day; therefore, I spent a lot of time waiting for the rains to come or the sky to clear up. After the early morning rain, it never rained again but the sky never stopped looking scary. So I hung around the city to catch up on rest--or so I thought.

One thing I don’t fancy is being caught in a storm while on one of those lovely remote, tree-lined roads I keep talking about. Imagine being struck by lightening or just having to ride through all that darkness, with no one around to find your toasted remains—spooky for sure.

Bookstores are my favorite places to rest. Decided to head for the downtown. Rode the bike there and found parking on the street. Decked in my gear, I headed for Horizon Books to buy postcards and read. First encounter: While paying for my purchase, the cashier said, “we haven’t had rain here in a long time, then you come to town…you brought all this rain.” She smiled as she said this, and I tried to return it, but frankly didn’t like the comment one bit. I have to believe she was well-intentioned. I said, “Well, if it hasn’t rained in a long time, you probably need it, so I’m glad I could help out.”

Took my cards to the café and had some tea. I’m sitting there and a rather rotund man standing at the opposite end of the counter begin looking at me. Actually, seems like everyone there were looking at me. I’m thinking…is it the helmet, is it the clothes, is it the only black face these folks have seen in a while? I tune them out and write my postcards. It’s not easy being a tourist attraction.

I look up and the man is really staring—bold and determined to make eye contact. The others look away quickly when I catch their eyes on me. Finally the man comes over (oh merciful heaven, don’t let him say something stupid, I’m in no mood). The man says, “I was looking at your kind face, wondering who you were and how I was going to come over and say something to you…then I saw this (he is pointing to my helmet). So, I decided, there…that’s what I can ask her about.” So he does.

Turns out, he’s an avid motorcyclist. I’ll call him Norm. Norm tells me “we” don’t get many people up here like you, especially ones all dressed up like I was. Within minutes, I know that Norm is insane, allowed to roam the streets while on a break from the nearest insane asylum or is a genius—it’s difficult sometime to tell the two apart.

He talks fast and stands bent over my tiny table looking closely at me. Occasionally, he dips his head up and down over his glasses as if to see how I look both ways. Norm has owed many bikes in his 60+ years. All of them described to me in graphic detail. Some rather esoteric, like the British number he bought in the 60s and still owns and occasionally rides around town. There were only about 500 or so made and he order one from a magazine. Norm is handy, he can fix just about anything. He is also ABD (all but dissertation). He had planned to get a PhD in English but decided being an “arrogant activist” was more important. He is fanatical about politics and had some choice words for “your” President. Norm detests religious fundamentalist, conservatives, most Republicans, “rednecks” and people who live in Florida but who actually originated from Massachusetts.

Norm’s skin is pale and obviously doesn’t tolerate the sun. He looked like a man who could down a few and judging from later conversation, he does. Hamm’s beer tastes like “horse piss” but you don’t really want to say that because it “insults the damn horse.” Peeking from his nearly white thinning hair are strands of blond. He could have been handsome in his day. He’s tall, about 6ft. 1. He tells me, “Don’t mind my stomach, I’m in my 28 month of pregnancy.” He is carrying like an expectant woman but I didn’t think of it until he mentioned it. I don’t know whether to laugh at Norm or be very frightened. I decide to laugh. I can tell he pokes at people for sport.

Norm tells me I’ve made his day (All I did was sit, listen to him, smile at the appropriate times, and answer his questions). Norm said many things I disagreed with and when I said so, he seemed delighted that I had responded correctly, in his view. I guess Norm was testing me? Norm has a finger that is half missing and another that is missing only the tip. Yet, nothing gets in the way of Norm’s flirting, which he tells me he’s doing because he wants to get to know me better, he says I’ve done something to him… and he’s sure I’ve do this to all the men I meet. It is then that I remember that I’ve left my switchblade at the hotel—Dang!

To make money, Norm is a builder, electrician, boat maker, screenwriter, and documentary filmmaker. He informs me that he’s had several girlfriends in their “30s.” In between talking about himself and his many experiences, Norm tells me he wants to get to know me. (Invoke spouse and show wedding ring). Norm tells me to give spouse a message: “You are one lucky sonofabitch.”

Norm decides we should be friends. If nothing else, he is charming in a strange way. Occasionally he interrupts a story he’s telling to say, “Damn I wish you lived up here.” He says I’d like his son. We talk about motorcycles. He tells me I’ve made all the right decisions and he is “impressed” with my bike selection and that I’m “smart” to not have purchased a used bike. Norm thinks that ‘cyclists ought not to buy new—only used—he doesn’t mention that every used bike was once new to someone. I hear about all the many bikes he’s bought—most of them used. Norm is clear about one thing and he knows it: he is “arrogant and likes getting on the case of those who should be doing the right things. The world according to Norm. Yet, he is jovial and beginning to look a lot like Santa in the off-season. Hmm?

Norm said he couldn’t go to the South during the 60s or he would have been killed. Norm likes black people. I now know all his black people stories and all the experiences Norm has ever had, including that a black woman worked as a domestic for his mother when he was growing up. Norm just came out and said, “I like black people.” I asked him, “all of them?” He doesn’t answer this…Norm also likes a few mixed couples to which I make no response. Norm needs no encouragement.

Norm’s a history buff, so I heard about the Civil Rights Movement, MLK, Medgar Evers, and other slain civil rights workers, etc. He seemed a little surprised when I didn’t know some of the famous black people in Detroit. Norm’s heart is well-intentioned. As he said a bit too often, “we don’t get many interesting people like you up here.”

We talked about schooling and that’s when Norm learned that I had survived the University of Chicago, a school he’s very impressed with. We started to talk about the things we had in common. Actually, we have a lot, hmmm? Perhaps I should be worried about that... For example, we both have written screenplays. Norm is “close friends” with another Michigan resident, Michael Moore (filmmaker)—I’m a fan. Moore runs a successful film festival in Traverse City each June and let Norm tell it, it is way better than Cannes, Sundance, Venice, Toronto—you name the festival and Toronto is better. Norm knows, because he’s been to all of them. He’s invited me to return next year to see for myself. I can even stay with him on his farm. Attendance has grown each year because of Moore’s fame and determination to make Traverse City “the” film festival to beat all others. Norm rebuilt some of the film festival sites and helped Moore organize things. Now, Moore calls him and he calls Moore about films and Traverse City matters. I wondered if this was true…Norm must have wondered if I wondered if this is true. Norm said, “I’m a lot more important around here than you think I am.” Hmm?

A guy in a dark gray fleece jacket and black pants was leaving and Norm called him over. I’ll call him Jim. I listened to Norm and Jim talk movies and turns out Norm is legit. They talked about their respective documentaries they are making. Norm asked him when he’d last heard from Moore. New guy said he’d talked to him recently and had been spending a lot of time in NY working on his film. They talked about some film competition that the new guy and Norm entered. The new guy won and Norm told him, “I love your work—it’s great—but I don’t think I’ve forgiven you yet for winning that.” New guy blushed and said he’s still new at this whole filmmaking business and is still learning. Come to find out, Jim selected most of the music and arranged the music for Moore’s film on Columbine.

Norm and I are both avid readers. We traded book titles and talked about his latest about how the fundamentalists and religious right have it wrong. He told me it is important to read people you don’t agree with. We agreed on that too.

My conversation with Norm lasted 3 hours. I tried many, many times to leave only to hear Norm say, “let me tell you this one story and I’ll let you go.” Norm has more stories than the Chicago telephone books as numbers! Then Norm wanted to take a photograph of me but didn’t have his camera; I didn’t volunteer that I always carry mine with me. Norm asked if I’d send him one with me on the bike—he wanted to show his son. I think he just wants to add it to his collection of black people pictures! Norm’s son recently bought a Hayabusa motorcycle, which Norm does not approve of but he respects his son, who is an experienced and safe rider. According to Norm, his son also once owned an SV and that’s why he wants his son to meet me and see the bike.

As I’m finally preparing to leave, another man comes up. Norm had given me his card. By this time, I know that Norm is just a very smart whacky man who likes black people and doesn’t get enough talk-time with them. He is harmless, funny and highly articulate, abrasive, and as he says, “an arrogant cuss.” If he would cease with all the flirting, which he did somewhat, I wouldn’t mind having a time-limited cup of tea with if I returned to Traverse City. So, I give him my card too, the one that has minimal contract info on it.

This other guy comes to our table and says…”can I have one of those?” He is pointing to my card. I look at him. He looks about as crazy as Norm did a few hours ago, but he’s an unknown nut.

I say, “what?” He repeats himself. I am looking at this man with the curly brown hair hidden underneath a yellow cap. He is dressed like an LL Bean model—only pudgy--rugged, outdoorsy type. I say, “Why do you want my card.” He looks at me as if I’ve said something horrible about his mother. He pushes his head back, cocks it to the side and gives me a look of disbelief. “Because I like the tone of your voice.” Now I know he’s mental. There is no affect in his voice, very monotone. In a firm, stern voice, Norm says, “who are you and why are you asking for her card?” The guy looks at Norm as if to say, “from what planet have you just fallen?” He tells Norm, “You have it, why can’t I ask for it?”

My heavens, two crazy men fighting over me!? Never in life has this happened or if I’m lucky—ever will again. I let the men verbally duke it out. I'm convinced now that they both are slightly crazy and recognize it in each other. Norm says, “Well, I know her. I think it’s rather forward and odd for you to ask for it.” To which the guy replies, “Well it’s a free country right, why can’t I ask for it”? Norm: “because you look odd, it’s just a strange request to make of a woman when you don’t know her. Sorry, guy…it’s just strange and I wouldn’t give a strange man my card either. Now if this isn’t the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is. Norm has a point, but I can't believe my ears. Just three hours ago, he was this guy to me!

The guy looked pleadingly at me. I say, “I’m sorry, I’m just not comfortable with it, I choose not to give you my card.” The guy said, “okay” as if no big deal and left. I couldn’t help wondering and imagining all sorts of devious things, this person might want my card for. Ugh! (Never leave home without that switchblade again!) Norm had been dissing Chicago about its crime…but here I was about ready to change, single-handedly the crime stats in Traverse City if one of these two men got out of hand,

Norm insisted on walking me to my bike, which he admired and told another series of stories. My bike had been parked in a spot alone. Now it was keeping company with a HD on each side. Norm dissed the HDs and said these particular bikes were for “just riding up and down the street so people could look at them.” Another HD sat across the street. All three bikes had those beanie helmets resting on the mirror. Everything on the bikes shined.

Norm said, “Will you promise to send me a picture of you and the bike.” I promised. “My son would love to see this bike...Wait ‘til I tell him about you.”

Norm was entertaining and looking at it closely, I would say he could be charming. Now I’ve met a few locals and a few locos all at the same time.


Thumper said...

I'm sorry, I'm laughing like crazy here. I know waaaaaaay too many Norms...they're fun and so deeply annoying, all at the same time.

Sojourner's Moto Tales said...


I think I responded but noticed that it bounced back??? Anyway...

I've had a fun time talking to female friends about our "Norms."