Serendipity and a Cuppa Joe.

Today’s coffee was of a serendipitous nature, leaving me feeling warmer than my normal “I don’t really drink coffee” mocha usually does.

His name was Jamie. But, people who knew him usually called him Jim. He used to ride a bicycle, but his diabetes now made that impossible. Jim had a tough time walking even a few blocks these days.

A couple of years ago he found the solution to his mobility needs; he bought an electric bike and fabricated a makeshift trailer to tow behind it, allowing him to do odd jobs. Funny, like many who frequent Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, I’d seen him around for months, maybe even years, all the time knowing little about the man.

It was a frigid day by Vancouver standards, -3° C, and today was the day Jim’s bike gave up the ghost. He pushed it three blocks to one of his frequented local coffee shops and sat outside with a hot cuppa joe. I arrived just in time to see him looking down at his not-quite-right rig.

I’m a pretty good bicycle mechanic, but electric motors are a whole different animal. He showed me that his battery was fully charged, and described the banging/popping noise he heard coming from the direction of his hub-enclosed electric motor. I felt pretty useless. He was stuck; the bike wasn’t going anywhere, and he could barely walk. To make matters worse, the helpful e-bike shop where he bought his trusty steed was closed on Mondays.

Fate, karma, or perhaps a bit of both then took over. Jim volunteered that Ed, his apartment manager, had a van, and could probably help out. But, he didn’t know his phone number, and although the apartment where they lived was only three or four blocks away, it was too far for him to walk. Jim didn’t own a cell phone. No big deal. I had a one, and a computer. Unfortunately, a search through the 411 listings on my laptop, and even a quick check of Craigslist apartment rental listings for the area, something Ed used regularly to post vacancies, proved fruitless.

Luckily, Jim remembered that Jackie, a friend who worked at UBC, would have Ed’s number. More importantly, Jim had Jackie’s number memorized. A quick couple of phone calls later and Ed was on his way. It took two trips, but we hoisted Jim’s electric bike and trailer into the back of the mini van, and Jim and Ed were on their way home to look after the repairs.

In the aftermath, I learned from the coffee shop baristas that they considered Jim a regular, and had heard past stories of him being involved with ships, and the sea – even stories of him being lost in the roiling tempest of the open ocean. I thought back to the man’s hands: the leathered paws of a seaman if ever there were, belonging to someone who had perhaps survived the perfect storm. I had barely scratched the surface of learning a little bit about Jim, but it was obvious that he had a support network of sorts: his apartment manager Ed, Jackie at UBC, and the baristas he saw daily. I was glad to have been a very small part of that network on this day. Even more, I was looking forward to running into him again, recognizing the man I knew a little bit more about, saying hello, and now addressing him as Jim.


Update: January 17, 2011 – Ran across Jim today. He was savoring his cuppa joe, and had been recovering from an operation to deal with a long-lingering hernia. He said he felt good, and his electric scooter was performing just fine, thank you very much.

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