Most of my morning riders are West Asheville people headed to work. Some are regulars. Over time we get to know a little about each other, but they’re apt to disappear abruptly. They get new jobs, new places to live, they buy cars — and I never see them again; it's an occupational hazard.
JR has been a regular rider for over a year now. That’s a long time. We didn’t get off to a great start; I had trouble locating him. And I called him Otis — which is his name, but it’s really his father’s name, not a name JR answers to (and that’s not Junior, it’s JR).
Initially JR sat in back. We shared polite conversation. He called me sir. At some point he transitioned to the front seat. And then the stories started. Sometimes they involved work, but mostly they were family stories.
JR calls himself small, says he and his little brother inherited their mother’s recessive gene, and that the rest of his family is big! Indeed Otis Sr. is 6’5” and weighs 300 pounds — but JR has been known to work out with 90 lb. dumb bells. He is not a small man. I may have to start calling him Kluzewski.
Ted Kluzewski came up as a first baseman with Cincinnati in the 50’s. He was the biggest and strongest player of his era, but when a sportswriter made too big a deal of that, Kluzewski set him straight: “Listen,” he said, “I’m actually the baby of my family, the smallest of the lot. Everyone else is bigger and stronger than I am — including my mother, who can lift the kitchen table . . . with her teeth.”
It’s all relative.
JR’s father is a preacher; a man who commands respect; but he wasn’t always a preacher. JR tells me that when his father was a young man he was a drill sergeant in the Marines, stationed in Germany. He’d call home on the weekends, and when he did he had to call through an international operator. One time he called and got this operator who had the most beautiful voice. They got talking and his father told her some stuff he was dealing with; the operator talked him through it, counseled him. Otis told JR that when he got off the phone he swore he was going to find that woman and he was going to marry her! And he did.
“But Dad!” JR exclaimed, “I mean, you’d never even met her!”
“I had not.”
“But Dad! But Dad!”
“Well, I mean, what if she’d been this really fat chick!?”
“Well then, JR . . . you’d have a fat momma.”