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#313 Red, Black, Lucky and Pretty

They may be a rough crew to look at, but don’t be too fast to judge.

I changed jobs at work, sliding from one department to another. Shouldn’t have been a big deal but it was. I crossed the line. I went from the soft side of landscaping to the hard side, trading flowers and shrubs for concrete and fencing. I walked in hoping for adventure but fearing the worst. I’m the only woman on a 20-person crew.
They all knew I was coming. Everyone was nice. In the first hour I’d met so many Toms that I was told not to worry, just call everyone Tom! Something else happened. One man I hadn’t seen in a couple years outed me as a biker. He reminded me of his name and how we first met. He recognized my face from the photo of me that used to accompany this column. Said he enjoys reading my articles, which is always nice to hear.
And then the questions began. I ride a motorcycle. Yes, I do. I ride a rather old one now—a 28-year-old BMW enduro that I’ve had since new. Talk about an introduction! There’s another rider in our group, and one over here, another over there. I never thought that riding a motorcycle would help my entry into a diverse group of men with strong hands and backs, but it did. There was freezing rain that day, with more to come. I would ride to work as soon as the weather allowed. There are work and social environments where riding makes us look like we don’t belong, and a frigid reception confirms it. Clearly, this is not one of them.
By the end of my first day at work I had to ask. Were they all told to be nice to me? The confused look that I got in response gave the answer before they had time to process the question. It was like they didn’t understand I had walked into a potentially hostile environment that precious few women would even consider. Turns out I am the only new person one the crew for a while, and many of them have worked together for years.
The roughest looking character in the group reminds me of my Uncle Cliff, who went from Indian motorcycles to Japanese brands. His 1978 Gold Wing (sold naked back then) had custom paint, custom bags, a beer box, and fairing, and 24-karat gold plated hardware. It once took Best Custom in a show, which irked the Harley boys. But after a lot of posturing with no actual violence to man or machine, the situation was resolved. Shows began adding a new category that kept Japanese bikes out of the Harley class. Cliff was badass for entering that bike in the first place, and might not have lived to see another day—which seems hard to believe today.
A plumber/pipe fitter by trade, Cliff was filthy more often than not, the definition of scruffy. He called himself “a diamond in the rough.” Women were drawn to him because of the way he treated them. They surrounded him. He worked with me, tuning and rebuilding old British motorcycles, all kinds of construction projects on my house then, years later, on his. “I’m not just a pretty face,” he assured me, and taught me what some fathers teach their sons. Those lessons help me to this day.
That’s why the scruffy guy on my new crew who could be quite intimidating, and I mean nasty tough, stood out to me like a ray of sunshine. Says it takes 25 beers to drink himself pretty. I told him he’s Pretty already, and I call him that. He’s witty, has the warmest smile, and really knows his stuff. When it came to posthole digging, the rest of us on the line were making headway when his hole was already dug. I notice these things. And another day when I was struggling with a particularly challenging spot full of tree roots and rocks, I left for lunch and returned to find my hole was dug.
Red is distinguished by his carrot top and gives the impression he’ll blow up at any moment if you cross him. The tough exterior camouflages a brilliant man. He helped train me on a driving rototiller. When I asked about pattern, which to me is the trick on any property, he smiled knowingly. Then he confided in me. It will take time for me to come close to his speed and accuracy. But I’ll do better now that I’m well informed.
Black, (who understands something about discrimination) stood with me on the back of the truck, politely shoveling gravel while I shoveled sand into the mixer, along with water and Portland cement. A shovel slides into sand a whole lot easier than it jams into gravel. Shovel for shovel, I work alongside the buff brother from the hood, while sharing insider information that will help us both manage in the world.
These considerations help me to build up strength (not break me) while I adjust to new tasks. I bring my own experience to the job and feel appreciated for it. It is the honeymoon phase, as a former supervisor said when I told her I switched. The guys on the construction team assured me not to worry; they always have a good time while they work. And for the first time, I have co-workers also doing home renovation projects on the weekend.
Every morning Lucky tells us about his lovely wife, his kids, and says, “I’m a lucky guy.” It makes the rest of us think about why we’re lucky too. Nice way to start the day. These are the people I was afraid of.
Though new, I was left to finish a job I’d been working on all week. All I had to do was cut one last wood post with a chainsaw, install and bolt it down, and then grind all the bolts off the other posts. Oh, drill one hole though thick metal to install that final post. The chainsaw fired. The grinder cut and cleaned rough edges. But I forgot the drill.
When I returned to the shop there was no one around. I found a drill but no bits, and I needed a particularly big one. What to do? I know we’re not supposed to, ah, go visit the electrician with the Japanese dualsport and ask to borrow a drill bit, but I got the job done—thanks to another rider.
We could all just help each other, but we tend to help those with whom we have something in common. I’m not Red, Black or Pretty, but the fact is, I have something in common with them all. Perhaps it’s because I’ve taken the road less travelled. Not sure yet. I will say, the one who reads Canadian Biker warmed my welcome, and it only got better. I’m lucky I ride!

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