Two Old Italians.
By Kevin Weitzel
While working as a pee-on in my local bike shop as a kid, I made the acquaintance
of two Old Italian men. One was from Northern Italy and the other from Southern
Italy. They were both cyclist and enjoyed stopping by the bike shop (their
local hang out) and chatting about who was going to win the big race or enjoying
watching us build the latest and greatest racing machine. All the while making
comments like, In my day, etc. I not only enjoyed their extremely loyal patronage,
but I learned many lessons from them... both in their stories of the past
and observing their relations with others, and each other. I could listen
to them bicker, discuss, laugh, or talk for hours on end. Of course, their
conversations with each other were in Italian. I didnt speak the language,
but they sure did get a kick out of me picking up a word or two.
They rode together all the time. I joined them as often as I could. Actually,
the Northern Italian taught me a lot of racing tactics, as he was quite the
cyclist in his day. I didnt realize his great knowledge until he, not only
drove me to the race, but also drove over the course prior to the race showing
me markers where attempts would be made for breakaways. At one point toward
the end of the course, the old fart told me that the point I chose to jump
was not a good one. In a heavy Italian accent, he said, "Kevin, you are
a great sprinter" adding, "but you can't last that long if you jump
here, you will win if you jump where you have chosen, you will lose by at
least 10 meters." I'll be damned if the old man wasn't right! He was
right on!!! I didn't win, as I knew everything and jumped when I thought the
time was right. I dont think I have to tell you how much I lost the race by.
From that day forward, I listened to his every direction, with respect mind
Anyway, back to my story. One day, while I was off in the Marine Corps, the
two Italians were on a typical ride. Toward the end of the ride, the Northern
Italian pulled ahead as he usually did on the rides and continued on home
not knowing that just a little behind him, his riding partner and friend flatted.
The racing god had told the Southerner on many occasions to carry flat protection.
However, he did not, rather depending on his friend to supply the know how
and fix the problem so that they may continue on their rides. If you know
much about the Italian culture you may already see what is coming next.
I get out of the Marines and return to my trusty shop to manage it. Low and
behold, the Northerner comes in and gives me the usual greeting of a handshake
accompanied with a hug and kiss on each cheek. We get caught up and I ask
how his riding is going. He informs me of the situation that happened the
ill-fated day of their LAST ride together. The Northerner reiterates his anger
that his ex-riding partner should carry flat protection adding that he will
never ride with that S.O.B. ever again. The same day, the Southerner comes
in and tells me his account (an identical account to the T) of what happened
on their LAST ride adding that he will never ride with the Northerner again
stating (in an even heavier Italian accent), That S.O.B. left me to die on
the street I called his name and he didn't stop! He is no friend I will never
ride with him again!!! About five years pass and I rarely get to see the old
Italians, separately of course.
A few career changes, a couple of kids and a wife happen and I find myself
back in a bike shop, managing again. The old Northerner is assisted into the
shop by one of his friends and when he sees me his eyes shine and a smile
grows from a grimacing look and explodes into a toothy glowing grin. He greets
me in the typical Italian way. His look changes and he says his health is
diminishing and he wants me to stop by his house and eat breakfast with him
(before he dies). I agree and he says to be at his house Tuesday morning at
7:45am. I agree.
The same day (!), the Southerner comes by and asks me to come over and ride
with him lunch to follow, of course. I agree and he says Tuesday at 9:00,
adding, dont be late. Before I realize it, I was invited no, obligated and
required to be at both houses. No problem. Coincidence? I think not. 7:45am,
Tuesday morning: I show up on time and eat with the old man. During breakfast,
he just starred at me. I cant describe his voice, but when he started into
conversation, he just wanted to talk about the good old days not the days
of racing back in the thirties, but the days he rode with the gang at the
bike shop. He mentioned many familiar people and kept focusing his memories
toward me and of his fellow Italian ex-cycling buddy. I noticed the time and
excused myself. He understood, but asked me to come back after the ride. I
agreed and I was on my way.
I show up at the Southerners house and we went for a ride. He definitely showed
his age. His pace was much slower than what I thought it would be. He said
that he just isnt fast anymore. He credited his old cycling buddy with bringing
out the best of his cycling abilities, adding that he wishes that they wouldn't
have made such an issue of the LAST ride. He actually said, "Kevin, life
is too short. Value your friends and don't be like a me and Joe" (the
Northerner). After the ride, all he could do was talk about the good old days
of riding with his friend and the gang at the bike shop. As usual, the Southerner
served up a pile of great Southern Italian cuisine. He actually gets offended
if your top pant button doesnt bust off of your pants. In other words EAT!
After we ate, he asked if I had seen his old friend and how he was doing.
I told him that Joe wasnt riding anymore and that his health was slipping.
He became more silent than silence itself speechless. I think he was trying
not to get emotional. After a very uncomfortable silence, he said, Joe is
old about 85. He is a good man. He finished with a very Italian, "Obruddah".
I then departed and he said, Come back next week, we eat again.
I go back to the Northerners house and he had me follow him into the garage
where he keeps his bikes and bike stuff. They weren't in their normal places,
rather the parts were neatly packed into a few medium sized boxes and his
bike was spotless. His eyes welled a little and he said, "Kevin, my friend,
please take these things. I can't ride anymore and all they will do is collect
dust. Sell the stuff and split it with Rita" (his wife). I told him that
I didn't want a cut and that she could have all of the proceeds. He shook
his head and said, "I am ready to go and I don't have anything to give
you." I didn't know what to say, so I asked for one of his trophies proudly
placed on the mantel. At that point, Rita butted in and said, "Kevin,
the trophies are already yours." Both the Northerner and his wife knew
that I admired Joe and his cycling accomplishments. Every visit in the past
allowed at least 5 minutes to admire the trophy collection. I would just stare
at them and imagine Joe racing in the glory days. I agreed to sell Joe's items
and they don't need to know that they are going to receive 100% of the proceeds.
A little lie can't be harmful at this point in the game. I then offered to
help them in any way I could. You know, the usual: Mow the lawn, wash the
car, etc. Joe leaned in and said one more thing, "Kevin when I am gone,
make peace with Fernando for me." I gave him a hug and kissed his cheeks
and nodded my head acknowledging his request.
As I drove away with a plethora of old bike stuff, I had to pull over and
wipe my eyes dry. I have always realized how silly it is to let tiny crap
like the FINAL ride ruin a friendship. This is just another lesson learned
from the two old Italians. I just regret that the lesson learned was at the
cost of their friendship.
Value your friendships, value your family, sometimes we don't realize that
they are one and the same. Ciao.
Kevin Weitzel Jan. 15, 2002
PS: I almost
forgot to tell you... Fernando was personal friends with Ugo DeRosa, Otto
Botteccia, and Ernesto Colnago! The names of the two gentlemen are Joe Marchi
(Brooklyn Champ 1936), Ney York State Champion (Madison 6 day, '36 or '37...
he can't remember). U.S. Veteran Army WWII, age 85... he sacrificed cycling
glory for OUR country shortly after immigrating. Fernando Martucci rode with
Bartoli AND Coppi! In his day, he was called the Count. Very stylish! You
would never know that the old scruffy dude was the slick, GQ lady killer he
was. Received the Italian equivilent of a Medal of Honor durring WWII. Both
are heros to me.
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