Lawyer from Boston helps an Appalachian Breakdown with a little kindness and connection
I had just pulled off of I-79S onto 19W to continue on my way to my destination in Western Kentucky...and the sputtering came back. In the immortal words of Lando Calrissian, “They told me they fixed it” was all I could scream through gritted teeth as my 1981 Suzuki GS puttered to a halt on the side of the road, quickly leaving me wondering what I was going to do next. Without cell coverage and with a broken down motorcycle, I was now at the mercy of the long road in either direction.
With the sun soon to be heading down and my very limited, I would have taken any help -- but, the last thing I thought I needed was a lawyer. As the universe would have it, that’s exactly what it sent motoring up the road next. A Massachusetts J.D. named Marc Grimaldi coasted over the hill and around the bend, and between the time where my eyes recognized his MA plate and before I had the chance to think , “I wonder if he’ll stop”...the blinker flashed on and he coasted to a halt right ahead of me.
The daylight was starting to fade to the west, and I had just spent 8 hours working on the bike’s carburetors (which, come to find out, was not the problem with the fuel system that halted my early morning progress about an hour out of Pittsburgh). If I could reach Bardstown, KY by 8AM the following morning, then I’d be a part of my friend’s wedding. It was as simple as that. But, for now, I was 400 miles away with a choked engine, and the clock was ticking.
“What are the chances he’s going exactly that way and he’d be willing to lift a bike into the back of his truck? Was it was my New Hampshire plates, maybe he’s just curious about engines? Is this guy going to try to sell me insurance?” I fished for the most probable scenario that I would go with and as I stood up to greet him, his first words immediately answered that question.
“Marc Grimaldi, nice to meet you.” He extended his hand. “I had one just like that when I was in school. Let me guess...petcock has fouled on ya?”.
“That’s...that could be it.” I stared at the engine as the thought distracted me from the firm handshake I failed to execute.
We traded a couple stories about our old Japanese bikes, how great they were, and the roads we’ve traveled. I quickly understood why Mr. Grimaldi was so good at what he does. His well worn 1986 F150 separated him from a traditional lawyer’s stereotype, and we contemplated what to do with the failing sunlight and rapidly escaping business hours.
Come to figure out, he knew of a small engine repair shop back in the town where I had just exited. Not the same outfit that I just dropped $240 with to clean and calibrate my carbs, but one of those old timers that just knew engines and always smelled of gasoline. Mr. Grimaldi had not only been in this area before, but apparently had been in a very similar predicament to mine in the past, and this is the exact reason he knew of the old mechanic who pulled him through his familiar scenario.
Marc Grimaldi knew this man, and Marc Grimaldi apparently didn’t even have to call to see if he was available - given that he had just left that very place just prior to meeting me. Apparently, Marc’s experience about a decade earlier resulted in an unexpected week’s stay in sleepy little Morgantown as he waited for parts to arrive. Fast forward a week, and a lifelong friendship had developed to where Marc would take a yearly pilgrimage to visit the old farmer/mechanic who helped him that fateful day.
Here we were now, pushing my bike up into the bed of his truck while he reassured me that he knew “just the guy”. Before I could even begin to figure out how to thank Marc for his time and his efforts to problem solve, we were motoring our way back down 19E towards the outskirts of Morgantown, and to the old farmer’s garage where miracles apparently happen.
I anticipated that Mr. Grimaldi seemed too coy to allow me to reimburse him in any traditional way, so I figured I only had one shot to hatch a plan and to pay him back in some form or another. I’d have to distract Marc while we were enroute if I were actually get some gesture of appreciation that he couldn’t refuse.
“Can you just pull over to this gas station real quick--I just have to call my friends in Kentucky -- tell them that I’ll let them know that I’m throwing a Hail Mary right about now”. We pulled up to the stop and I prayed that my ruse would prove fruitful.
5 minutes later, I came back out with a bag under my arm, and at least a slight sense of accomplishment give my complete inability to make it more than 50 miles that day. Marc drove us right back to a place he had left not 30 minutes prior: Where a perfectly iconic, American barn set in the deep country adorned a hillside farm just on the outskirts of this West Virginia town; we rolled down the dusty driveway and scattered the annoyed chickens along the way. As we rolled up, a sense of warmth crept over me -- as if I was returning home or to a trusted place to weather a storm.
The old man, clad in the perfect hillbilly overalls and straw hat, popped his head up from the porch and smiled. “Back so soon?”
Marc closed the driver side door. “Didn’t want to wait another year, or for the frantic call for a lawyer when your cows trample the neighbor’s garden again. Besides...I have a familiar story to tell you.”
That was the day that Marc Grimaldi passed forward along a favor that he had been holding onto for over 20 years. The old farmer heard my story out and, once again, helped a wayward stranger get back on the road by easily clearing the petcock that fowled my engine 20 years after the same diagnosis was made for himself.
Marc paid his appreciation forward for me to now pass on when my time comes to make a difference to someone stranded on the side of the road somewhere, way far away from home.
In my bag, I had bought the last 2 pies on the shelf at the small gas station and 2 six-packs of a familiar beer for whomever was at the end of this trip back to town. Oddly, a New England brew had found a foothold in the stores of this Appalachian town, so a little bit of my home stayed with the farmer after we left that night. I got on my way, and made it to Bardstown, KY by 4 in the morning...just enough time to watch the sunrise and to make it to the wedding on time. (I have another story that involves the locals of the Daniel Boone National Forest, but that’s for another time).
Marc Grimaldi, the lawyer from Boston, did more than give me a lift that day. He made 2 new friends for me, and that’s something that I hope to pass forward in the same way he did. Thanks, Marc, wherever you are...I hope more people find you when that special set of services is needed. (and hopefully, not the ones involving cows in the garden).