Book by its Cover

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Sometimes when I’m just going around town, I’m that guy.  The guy that I’d look at and wonder what he’s up to and how he got there.  The guy that seems sort of down and out, barely scraping by.

I’m always that guy when I’m doing a construction project.  I’m wearing some pretty worn out jeans, a stained shirt and toe bare work boots.   And I’m usually covered with some drywall dust, plaster or something else that just adds to the look.

I thought of this as I was riding over to the beer ride, after working yesterday.  I was riding a 20 year old Mongoose rigid bike, that was just at the building.  It hadn’t had air in the tires for a decade, I’d bet.  I have no idea where it came from, probably garbage picked by my brother.

Anyway, I was dressed exactly as above, super dusty and all.  I was riding the couple miles, mainly through alleys.  I like to ride alleys, it gives me a glimpse into peoples real lives, the place they hide what they don’t what others to readily see.

I was that guy, riding a $20 bike in work boots, going to get a beer.  I thought how if I saw myself, I would think that I’d probably “lost” my license and had to ride a bike for transportation.

It isn’t a very good section of town and there is always lots going on in the alleys.  Mainly people working on their cars, which were nearly all at least 15 years old and beat.  They were just like me, dressed in coveralls, arms greasy, and usually smoking.  But, nearly every person I passed said hi to me.

A little more surprising was how many kids were out playing in the alleys.  I saw at least 3 groups of kids playing.  One group was playing basketball, another some game trying to catch leaves as they fell off the tree, before the hit the ground, and the last group was just hanging out, talking.  Over where I live, I hardly ever see kids playing like that.

Anyway, I felt more comfortable in the attire, the look I had, than if I would have been on my road bike, dressed in cycling clothes.  I fit in much better.  And I think that is what makes us comfortable mostly, being able to fit in.

I’ve been thinking about this for a week or so.  It started right after I had mouth surgery and I was filling a prescription at Walmart.  I could have been in one of those Walmart youtube things.  You know, the people hanging at Walmart.  Weird looking, fat people, dressed crazy.  I had a more than a mouthful of gauze  sticking out and looked beat.  Plus, I had the limp going on. I fit in just fine.j

At the building, guys have been stopping by, asking what I’m doing.  Mainly people looking for a place to live, metal scrap collector types and the odd passer-by.  Metal guys come by everyday.  I try to save a little metal for each guy.  They will take anything, no matter how little, as long as it’s metal.

A guy just came walking up the stairs a couple days ago and asked me if he could look around.  I was busy and really didn’t feel like showing him around.  He said he was interested in old buildings.  He had the look, winter coat when it was 70 out, headphones, unkept.  I told him I was sort of busy and maybe he could come back later.

He said that I must own the building.  I was surprised he said that because I had the look too.  He said that there was only one car parked and that a guy driving a Honda hybrid had to be the owner, not just a worker.  I don’t know if it was  just a lucky guess, but it got my attention.

I got to talking to him and he was super smart.  Knew a lot about everything he said.  Old construction, hybrid vehicles, birds migrating.  Really interesting.   I asked him what he was doing and he said that he’d been “donating” plasma.  He said you initially got $100 a week, but then it went to $50 a week.  $20 on Tuesday, then $30 on Thursday.

I asked him where he was going and he said a place 5 miles away.  I told him I’d be done in 15 minutes and could drive him, it was just a little out of my way.  He said that he had a friend coming in from out of town and was going to get picked up, but if they didn’t come, then he’d take me up on it.  And he walked off.

I was thinking about how I’d judged the guy, as he was walking up the stairs, as just one of those down and out guys.  He wasn’t.  For sure he had some issues and was just getting by, but he was getting by alright, good enough for him.

I was embarrassed for myself for judging him by his look.   I have that look too, sometimes, and don’t really thing much about it.  Now I will.

Selfie at Walmart.

Selfie at Walmart.

Plasma donor guy.

Plasma donor guy.

One of "my" metal collector guys.

One of “my” metal collector guys.

The bike of a street guy.

The bike of a street guy.



35 thoughts on “Book by its Cover

  1. Inga Thompson

    Sounds like my life. I am usually in work clothes, since I’m living on a cattle ranch, covered with horse hair, driving my 54 Chevy. Love your posts, Steve!

  2. Andy B

    Heavy post Steve, I really enjoyed it. Gives a great perspective on each and every one of us. It’s hard to say where we all came from, and where we are going, but being present for each other in each situation is crucial for the happiness of all. Cheers!

  3. zack

    Is that drop ceiling frame that guys is taking? It’s steel right? not a ton in it for the work collecting steel. I did like a 100lb drop of that stuff and ended up with like 18$ I guess thats about worth it until you come across a pile of aluminium.

  4. orphan

    I grow a “homeless” beard every winter. The thing I like most about it is how some people will judge you in a bad way from a glance. When they do then I know I don’t have time for them ether. Saves us both a lot of time.

  5. Sal Ruibal

    That’s the great thing about just riding a bike. You get to see a lot of interesting stuff that you just whizz by in a car. Lots of Mexican and Salvadoran workers here ride hoopty bikes for work. I’ve even seen some parked out by our church on Sundays. Riding around in a car, you separate yourself from the world. I think if Jesus was physically on Earth now, he’d ride a bike instead of a donkey.

  6. K

    I also think it’s interesting to wonder about other peoples’ back story. You just never know and that’s a reason why it’s important to not judge others, and especially for the way they look. We all have been guilty of it at some point. It’s in our human nature to be wary of someone who doesn’t match our standards or expectations visually. But, that’s one of the things in our learned nature that we have to work on because our judgements are often very wrong.

    The metal guys? Beware if you are doing a construction project if you want to keep your materials.

  7. DStudley

    One of your best posts. I can certainly relate to the idea that people have a very different response/attitude when a rider is fully decked out in a team kit vs. even just bike commute clothing and a back pack. Too often we write off people based purely on appearance; which is too bad since many of the most interesting valuable friends I have would be easy to write off if purely based on a passing look at appearance.

  8. Jim B.

    Steve, I think you should get on your kit, ride the Ti bike and go thru the same alleys, same time of day and then write another post about how you are treated. Bet it would be different and interesting.

  9. Jeff H.

    Agreed, super post, Steve. I love that on your blog you can shine a light on everything from the human condition, to clever ways to affix race numbers (something that has always aggravated me). And you have Inga! Watching her climb at the Coors Classic, with that thick rope of braided hair swaying in time with the rocking of the bike was mesmerizing. Keep up the interesting content.

  10. Bolas Azules

    Take a look at your local ‘Sex offender directory’ online and I’d guess old ‘Plasma donor guy’ might just show-up. . . him and a couple ‘scrappers’ too. Just sayin’

  11. Jeff Butterfield

    Delicious story, Steve.

    Reminds me of a trip to Yosemite BITD. In line at a cash register at the Village Grocery, I spot another climber I knew, Charlie. Day before he had soloed (read: climbed unroped) a huge wall with the world-class crux about 1k feet above the deck. The mind control a feat like that takes is off the charts.

    I notice the guy behind Charlie at the check-out. Round type. Sweating from the effort to walk the aisles. He’s eying my friend while Charlie counts out his coins. The look on Round guy’s face says what he’s thinking: “Homeless bum. God damn pot shooter. Yup, probably on that pot shit right now. Sending this country to hell in a hand basket.”

    Made me laugh. Round guy had no clue what this kid with rumpled hair–like he’d slept in the woods–and dirty digs had accomplished the previous day. Might make him faint if he could.

  12. BUD

    Happened to me recently, guy came in, dressed and looked out of sorts. Nice person, seemed all there mentally. Ends up pulling out one of those black, titanium amex cards to pay for a gym membership. Googled him after he left….

  13. Rich

    Jeff B… I was in the Moab grocery once and said to my girlfriend “see that homeless guy in isle 4? That’s Warren Harding”

  14. jp

    gave me a little laugh and put a smile on my face, you need to do a post on Inga, since she is one of your readers and some people may have no idea who she is.

  15. jrem

    Perhaps a little off point but quite similar. Years ago, I agreed to host a couple of women from Kenya and Tanzania, who were here on a Rotary exchange trip, for an evening/overnight. I told my high school age son that they would be using his bedroom.

    Suffice it to say that his nose was quite out of joint.

    They arrived and the moment they started talking, it was apparent that they both spoke in clear Queens English. It was quite amazing to me, and also to my son.

    After dinner I asked the women whether they had anything that they wanted to do. They both asked whether we had a Scrabble set. Well, you can guess how that went.

    So much for stereotypes.

  16. James

    Time – Phrase
    00:55:04 I mean, I know you’re a big rock star and all…

    00:55:06 but do you wanna hang with some good people looking to have a good time?

    00:55:11 – We’re just real Topeka people, man. – Smoke some righteous weed.

    00:55:34 – Thanks. – You too.

    00:55:36 Oh, my God! Holy shit!

  17. Trey H.

    It’s posts like this keep me reading your blog daily. These are the best. btw- I waver between having long hair (not Inga long, but most of the way to my butt) and gym teacher buzz-cut short. The contrast in how others judge me based simply on my hair is astonishing. Sad to say, it’s always the same old dorky me.

  18. Jay

    We could use more Mr. S. Tilfords… i.e. rational and down to earth types.
    Riding is good for the soul

  19. Double D

    “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  20. Mark

    Having been the director of a mens homeless shelter for the past 7 years I can say without a doubt that you would fit right in. 🙂

  21. Rogermac3

    I have a feeling most that read this post are that kinda person. Which to me, is a good thing. Keep up the posts! Always enjoy reading.

  22. chuck martel

    If Jesus was on earth right now and driving back and forth to tabernacle every day he’d probably push the button that turns the planet into a cinder.

  23. Andrew

    Sort of reminds me of the stories that came out in 2010 about Alexi Grewal trying to make a comeback- getting all his training in after hours from his carpentry jobs. Obviously his story and your story are quite different, but it’s kind of funny that from the outside you two probably look pretty similar on some days.


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