We stumble across many people in our lives. Some we see regularly for much of our lives, and others we only cross paths with haphazardly. But the amount of time we spend with somebody doesn’t always equate to the impact they have on our lives. Memorial services were held yesterday in Boise, Idaho for Bob Lawrence, a veteran mechanic and car and bike racer. I spent time with Bob only sporadically for a couple of years in the early 1990s, but his stories and advice are vivid treasures I carry with me even now.
Mention a car or bike, and Bob invariably had a great story about one of ’em he’d owned, raced, fixed, modified or sold. He was a wrench’s wrench and a great storyteller. Everything seemed to lead to, “I remember one time when…” He had more experience in the saddle or driver’s seat and at the workbench than anybody else who’s been willing to share their time with me, but he was just a regular guy.
A mutual friend first introduced me to Bob at Lynn and Dorothy Mobley’s European motorcycle show in Minden, Nevada in 1991. We’d both come down from Idaho, and struck up a conversation about the trip. I mentioned that on the way down I’d stopped to wander through an old, abandoned Bultaco dealership outside Twin Falls, and asked if he knew of it. “Do I know that shop?” Bob laughed, “I owned it!” He said he’d since moved up to the town of Hailey, near swanky Sun Valley. Bob’s primary source of income was doing high-grade architectural tile work, and expensive ski condos were where the demand was.
The next time I was headed through, I stopped by Bob’s Auto & Cycle. Bob was there by himself, surrounded with the results of about 30 years of tinkering and horse-trading. There were countless vehicles in Bob’s shop I’ve never seen before or since. Some were in top-notch shape, some were projects he planned to get around to someday, and some had weeds growing up through the frame. Bob claimed that owning a bike shop was a “really lousy way to make a living, but it’s a fun way to stay broke.”
Over the next few years, I stopped by Bob’s shop whenever I was passing through, and if he wasn’t busy he’d gladly spend an hour or two bench-racing and sharing his stories. In the days before cell phone cameras, there wasn’t much occasion to take pictures when I was with Bob, although I did snap these couple of grainy slides with my cheap Kodak.
I seemed to constantly run into Bob purely by accident in the most unlikely ways — at a 1/4-mile stock car track out in the middle of nowhere, at flat-track races at the state fair, at a vintage bike meet across the state in Boise. I’d usually recognize Bob’s laugh first, and turn around to see him trading jokes with somebody. Bob knew everybody and everybody knew Bob.
Bob was 87 when he passed away, and his was a life thoroughly lived. The last time I talked to Bob on the phone was sometime around 2001, after he’d retired and moved in with his daughter. He was displaying the early signs of Alzheimer’s at the time and he didn’t remember me, which was a bit heartbreaking.
I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to celebrate his life yesterday. Godspeed, Bob.