Friday, April 27, 2012

Ciao, Beppe.

Our buddy Giuseppe Maino.
We usually don't start things off on a down note around these parts, but the last few days have been nothing but sad ones. You see, we lost a good friend to a senseless freak bicycle accident this week. There's no easy scapegoat, no one person or group to blame, no place to put our grief; just an empty space where Giuseppe used to be. As the last couple days have passed, reflection on how Beppe died and  who he was became inevitable. Walking down those dark emotional alleys led me to a few places I didn't want to go, but ultimately to these thoughts about Beppe.

I met Giuseppe last year on a bike ride. He rolled up smooth as silk and with an aura of calm and self-assurance. Never saw him before. I immediately did the visual checkover to see who exactly we had among us. I mean, it was Tuesday after all, so we would likely be trading pulls before long.  He was tall and trim; quiet, but seemingly open and happy - unencumbered by the arrogance that so often rides in the pocket of a roadie who is faster than most. No helmet, white cycling cap turned backward, glasses just so. Roman nose in glorious profile and tanned olive skin. And then he opened his mouth. "Ciao!"  Oh holy shit. He's from Italy. The mother country! This took things up another notch entirely. And just like that I turned into the new kid who mistakenly sat down at the cool lunch table. "Is he gonna let me stay here or will it be painfully obvious that I'm a pretender?"  Mercifully, the ride ended up being uneventful. Both Beppe and I suffered a bit (I think he was humoring me) and we ended up rolling in, shaking hands and exchanging numbers. "How cool was that?", I thought as I rolled home. "Hope he can make it to the Peckerhead..."

You want to know what cycling does? Over time, it reveals exactly who you are as a human being - regardless of your talent. Are you a cheat? Do you look out for others? Do you have anger issues? Are you fun to be around? Can you carry on a conversation? Eventually the people you ride with are going to know these things. You will be exposed. You want to know what cycling revealed about Giuseppe?

It showed us that he was humble and kind. It revealed him to be a good and caring man who loved his family very much. His riding buddies learned just how classy he was on the bike - smooth like cream, that Beppe was. We learned that he was willing to change if his friends badgered him enough -- Beppe even started wearing a helmet even though we knew that he knew it made him look like another dorky American cyclist. The more cycling told us about Beppe, the more he became our friend and a special part of our little community.

And so this week we had to let go of our friend. We grieve for him and his family, for each other, and for ourselves. Each day on the bike will be a little more ominous and frightening for a while as we reflect on how suddenly it can all come to a halt. But over time, little by little, cycling will reveal in us the people we truly are. It will help us remember why we love to ride our bikes, and how much Beppe loved to ride his. And  when we reach for a cycling cap and head out for a ride in the beautiful Ohio countryside Beppe had come to like so much, we'll think of him. Ciao, Beppe. Vi vogliamo bene.