Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Finding Thunderbird

The journey to Thunderbird's lair began for me when Susan dropped me off at the De la Savane Metro station. I still had some fares stored on the smart transit card in my wallet. I plunked my wallet down on the turnstile and waltzed right in.


Montreal's Metro is a special place. From inception, its architects and engineers wanted it to be more than a transportation system. They wanted it to be a welcoming place with more for commuters to stare at than never ending tunnels. The architects and engineers collaborated with legions of artists by creating stations that were unique is special ways: towering open spaces, underground domes, walls rising thirty or forty feet from the platform, and in the process, providing the canvas for the art that was to come. Once construction was close to wrapped up, the artists took over.

In the nearly fifty years I roamed the subway, many of the stations became anchors for my memories. Pearls of my past strung on colourful strands. De la Savane, a station I once used when the kids were little to make my way home when time was a factor, like the Friday afternoon I needed to get to the Ford dealer, a ten minute walk from the station, so that we could pick up our new car and hit the road for our first ever family vacation in Ogunquit Maine. Or Villa Maria, named for the private Catholic girls' school my sisters attended, and mere minutes from my parents' last Montreal home on Marlowe avenue. Then there is McGill, a station I used more than any other, to get to school in high school, later to law school, and then to Chait, Salomon, Gelber, Reis, Bronstein, Litvack, Echenberg and Lipper where I was a law student, where I articled, became a lawyer, and later a partner. McGill was also the very first station I set foot in. My school buddies and I went into the Metro on the day it opened to the public in the spring of 1967. We were in awe of this place we had all heard about for a few years, but that no one could be sure actually existed. We used two of the lines to get from McGill to Ile Ste-Hélène where Expo67 would open its doors to the world in just a few months. During that whole ride, other than the drivers, there wasn't a soul in sight. I still can't believe I had that experience.

This sunny Saturday as I headed downtown, with my helmet cradled in my lap, the stations streamed by the windows in front of me and flooded my mind with vignettes from my past, with emotions slipping along with them like rainbow-coloured filmy hues on a soap bubble.

I emerged from the Metro and the kaleidoscopic mausoleum of past lives into the hustle, bustle, and brilliant sunlight on Mount Royal avenue. If the Main is Montreal's soul, Mount Royal avenue is its beating heart. It rises gently westward to where the mountain, whose name it bears, blocks its path. Today I turned my back on the mountain and headed east.


Along the way I crossed the street to take a photo of the morning lineup at L'Avenue, by some measures the most trendy breakast and brunch spot in the city. This Saturday morning was the best of 2016, with warm weather to bask in, making the wait a pleasant opportunity to chat, rather than to huddle, shiver, and shudder.


I crossed back over and continued my walk. In not much time I got to De la Roche street. It's unremarkable, as far as I know, but for one detail that means the world to me. It's where the Montreal Vespa dealer is, and that is where my excellent life on two wheels began way back in the spring of 2010.

I strolled into the showroom and it felt like home. It was early still and there was no one in sight. I made my way into the service bay with the same casual insouciance as if I was walking into my own garage.



François was looking after a customer and discussing with his mechanic the work being done on the customer's Vespa. He greeted me with his usual genuinely friendly smile "Bonjour David!".

The way way he rolls the 'r' in 'bonjour' and pronounces the 'i' in my name as 'ee' I can't help imagining I'm at the Vespa dealer on Avenue George V in Paris. There are a lot of expats from France in the city. I made the mistake once of asking the charming young lady at the parts counter where she hailed from in France. She instantly set me straight "Ah mais non alors! Je suis Belge!". Close enough, I thought.

François lead me out of the back of the shop into the sunlit alley and the line of bikes and scooters, serviced, and to be serviced.

And there was Thunderbird.


François rattled off the maintenance done; new exhaust header bolts to replace the emergency repair Sonja had to do on the road last summer, new fuel filter, new front tire, new fluids and lubricants, and the rest of the maintenance litany. Along the way he reminded me, in a gently good-humoured chiding way, that the blingy 'live to ride' chrome eagle airbox was, and remains, to put it politely, a piece of crap, and needs to be taken back to stock, like soon, Daveed! Oh geez, I had managed to forget that. He suggested I start checking with scrap yards when I get the bike home to Toronto.

We chatted some more, and I promised to send them a link to the brilliant Steph Jeavons Shaw TV interview, because they need to have that playing on a flat screen above the Honda CRF250L in the showroom, because if that doesn't sell tons of those bikes nothing will.

I said my bittersweet goodbyes and Thunderbird and I rumbled out of the alley and headed to my dear friend Marc's place in my former home town.

Marc agreed to stable my ride while Susan, Lauren, Harris and I attended Gloria's wedding, and the rest of our whirlwind long holiday weekend of epic socializing.

Thunderbird got to share Marc's garage with the Mazda Miata I sold to Marc and Pat when my Vespa began consuming all my summer driving needs and wants and was languishing not getting anywhere near enough exercise.



I miss that car. It was mine for seventeen long happy years, but I wouldn't go back.

Next instalment in this saga, find out what it's like to ride a Honda Shadow 500 kilometers.

7 comments:

  1. Cool photos of the subway station. I have never lived anywhere with a decent train system but have taken advantage of many during business travels.

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    1. It's one of those things, particularly subways, they are wonders of public transportation, but require a certain critical mass of population before you can take the plunge.

      In Montreal's case, there have been many debates whether to maintain the system as an entirely underground system. So far that's the way it has stayed. Toronto has lots of outdoor runs. Vancouver opted for the sky train model.

      I think Montreal gets too much snow to consider letting its subway run wild.

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  2. A Metro station... almost 50 years old and still looking spick-and-span... only in Canada ;-)

    Hello again, mighty Thunderbird. She looks better than ever.

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    1. Sonja I imagine the subways in Germany to be fairly spic and span, nein?

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    2. Some of them are... I guess. Haven't been in one lately. Munich was definitely clean.

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  3. It is nice that the Metro station brings back fond memories.

    We were in Montreal in January 2001 for 2 days, but never had the opportunity to ride the Metro.

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    1. The Metro, whether in Montreal, Paris, or Washington DC, runs on rubber tires on smooth concrete tracks. It's so much nicer than the screetchy squealy steel wheels in Toronto, London, and New York. Certainly worth a visit.

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