Long time subscribers to the NBW list know that I periodically misuse it to muse on the passing of cultural icons. Fred Rogers, Syd Barrett and Johnny Cash come to mind. These essays are usually tinged with the regret of not having met great people or not letting them know in some way that they have contributed in someway to the quality of my life.
When I read of the passing of some of the people I looked up to, and as I get further into middle age the list grows quickly, I often feel an odd loss. It is a selfish feeling. A feeling that I will never get the chance to ask them a question to share a minute or two of time and space. It may be an odd feeling but how great would it have been to ask Jim Henson which was his favorite Muppet? I feel genuine loss when the world loses a person I admire and realize that their contributions to our lives are over.
I do not wish to rub shoulders with celebrities or particularly care who the new “It Girl” is but I would have loved to thank Mr. Rogers for his part in making my dark childhood a bit brighter. Does that explain it?
I wrote this for the NBW list:
As I noted yesterday Sheldon Brown has died. I won’t get into detail as to who Sheldon is and what he did. If you are not familiar with him visit http://www.sheldonbrown.com/ and have a browse. I feel a big loss at losing Sheldon. He was a larger than life icon among bike mechanics and bike geeks. While not a media phenomenon Sheldon was world-renowned. He is spoken of with reference by bike geeks near and far. He had a well-considered opinion on all things cycling. We was a singer, dancer, photographer, teacher and student of many subjects. Unlike the other icons I’ve mentioned I have had the pleasure of meeting Sheldon. I’m sure I made no real impression on him but he was neat to be around.
I first met him when he interviewed me for a job at Harris six or so years ago. He was much more cordial than I had been told to expect. Maybe my resume did enough to assure him that I was a bike guy not just a guy looking for a job. I was not offered the job. The Harris family and Sheldon were concerned that I lived too far from the shop. Or so they said. It was a polite let down.
I next met Sheldon at the Larz Anderson Bike Show. Before the show like-minded retro grouches rode our bikes into Boston for coffee and then did some urban off roading back to the park for the antique bike show. Sheldon was surprisingly strong on the bike.
The last time I saw Sheldon was at a retro-grouch ride I hosted a few years ago. Sheldon and about a dozen other steel frame and wool jersey fans collected in Bristol for a modified NBW Barrington Ride. The as yet undiagnosed MS that would effect the last years of his life slowed Sheldon down that day and he couldn’t keep up. Ted Shwartz offered to stay with him and shepherd him back to the start. After the ride we all had lunch at Aidan’s. Sheldon tucked into his steak and beer with gusto all the while entertaining questions from his enthralled (star struck maybe) dining companions.
Reading some of the eulogies rolling in for Sheldon, many by people who never had the pleasure of interacting with him, made realize that I had my chance with Sheldon. I could have thanked him for all his help. I didn’t, I blew it. I figured there is always time. It’s not like he’s all that famous. He’s accessible, not like a real famous person I’ll never get the chance to meet. Now he’s dead. His children have lost their father and Harriett has lost her soul mate and bike nerds are left to read his wisdom on glowing screens.
Special people surround us all. They don’t need to be entertainment, or internet celebrities to be stars. Enjoy their company. Don’t be shy. Thank them for making your life better, more fun, or interesting.
Go with G*d Sheldon.