Monday, June 24, 2024

A couple of tough guys doing time on Bikers' Island

The scene: The Anchor Inn, Little Current Ontario.

The time? Late Spring, 1983. Probably about 9:30 or 10:00 p.m.

THE PETE GENERATION: Fierce competitors, we were.
Peter Spohn and I were sitting at the bar, looking straight ahead, the way guys used to, as if the array of bottles was something we'd never seen before but dayam they were sure interesting; maybe if we stared long enough we'd uncover the mystery of life or something. Because that, friends, is how guys did it, even when they were deep in conversation with each other. 

We looked straight ahead.

"If I were a betting man..." Pete was saying. 

He  had a sort of older-world way of talking; choosing almost every syllable, like a man born 100 years earlier.  "Yessir, Pete, if I were a betting man..." 

I knew what he was talking about.

But of course neither of us were gamblers. We were editors. 

In fact, we were editors of weekly newspapers. On Manitoulin Island. 

I was editor (and chief reporter) of the Manitoulin Expositor, based in Little Current, and Pete was editor (and reporter-in-chief) at our rival, the Recorder, based in the village of Gore Bay, a full 60 kilometres west of Little Current. He was, I think, a year and a half older than me but you couldn't tell by looking. 

That meet-up at the Anchor Inn was typical Editor Pete&Pete activity. Spohn and I were both single. We lived by ourselves--me in Little Current and him in Gore Bay--and we both had to attend all sorts of municipal government meetings together. (We'd been to the Little Current Town meeting before the Anchor Inn visit under discussion.)

School board meetings. Hockey tournaments. Farm fairs. The Manitoulin Folk Festival. (Full disclosure. Some days when I drove to Gore Bay to cover events, I would sleep over at my opponents's place. That's the sort of hard-nosed competitors Pete and I were.)

Sometimes, we hung out when we weren't working, too. 

For a while, Peter had a tall dark-haired European female companion whose name was something like Alina. My girl friend Helena (yes, in her estimation, there was still an en space between "girl" and "friend," though I believed otherwise) was tall and European, too.
I can't email Pete to verify the young woman's name. 

This past Saturday, John Schofield, a  guy I work with now, forwarded me Pete's obit. Spohn died (without consulting me!) in January 2023, and I only heard about it two days ago. Pete and I hadn't been in touch much over the past 20 years, but I'm telling you, the news of his death has filled me with...I'm not sure what.

I know this much. Pete enriched my life in many ways; on countless occasions involving parties, music, rum, and at one point near his cottage in Southern Ontario, I was riding on the back of a snowmobile that his neighbour Tom was piloting. Tom took a corner fast, I got tossed off into the snow drift, and Tom didn't even notice. Fortunately we were steps from Pete's cottage. Anyway, I sort of want to thank Pete for all the joy. This is my way of doing it, I guess. 

  SUZUKI LESSONS: I suggested Pete name the bike David.
Every time I smell or taste a rum and coke, I think of Pete. Same thing happens, and this brings us to us back to his Anchor Inn announcement about if he'd been a betting man, every time I see somebody riding a Suzuki. 

His phrase: "If I were a betting man" was followed by "I'd wager real foldin' money that I'll be joining the motorcycle riders of the world."

Up to that point, Pete hadn't ridden a bike but I guess I sold him on the idea.

A few weeks hence, Pete and I headed to his hometown of Kitchener, Ontario, where he purchased a sparkling red 400-CC Suzuki that he asked me to ride back to Manitoulin where he would get his licence so that we, as friends so close we were almost family--he on his red ride and me on my black Yamaha--roamed the island like inlaw (the opposite of outlaw*) bikers. 

Now get this: Last year, I learned about some research that changed my life. For the so much better. 

Psychologists have discovered that--I warn you the language gets pretty sciency here--happily anticipating a joyful event, say, a vacation, floods your brain with as much joy juice as the event itself does. I used to avoid "looking forward" to things. I wanted to live in the moment. But science proved me wrong. It's good for you to look forward to stuff, so now I do.

When I think about Pete and me, I've decided that thinking about happy times gone past can be happy making too, because his sudden reappearance in my life has brightened it up far more than I could have possibly imagined. 

Here's a whole new way to look at my departed loved ones.  I can still accept the joy they send my way.

Obviously I send my deepest and most honest condolences to Peter's family and friends. But also, and with just as much power and sincerity, I'd like to thank them for the gift of Pete, too.

(*I did not write this column for the sole purpose of making the inlaw biker joke, but even if I had, Pete would have approved.)



  1. A wonderful read and thoughts for contemplation. Thanks Peter!

  2. Condolences on the loss of a good and important friend.