Many thanks to Kevin Weitzel for letting me post his story!

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 you.

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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