Jill, the zookeeper, me and the zookeeper's wife. Buffalo, NY 7/12

Jill, the zookeeper, me and the zookeeper’s wife. Buffalo, NY

Choosing a table in a crowded restaurant can be like spinning a roulette wheel. Sometimes you come up a big winner, as my traveling companion Jill and I did in Niagara Falls when we claimed a table beside a retired zookeeper and his wife.

They were the embodiment of the old maxim that opposites attract: she was thin to this thick and quiet to his effusive.  Here’s a snapshot of us.

He quickly took note of our helmets and riding gear and wanted to talk about his heydays on two wheels. I don’t remember how it came out that he was a retired zookeeper at the Buffalo Zoo, but as soon as it did I kept plying him with questions. I couldn’t get enough of his stories about spitting snakes and reluctant-to-mate primates; one of my childhood fantasies was zookeeping, along with horse trainer, circus bareback rider, and savior of African elephants.

Of course we had places to go and a big line at immigration to wade through, but when  I looked over at, Jill, to see if she was equally content to maneuver our day around this chance encounter, her grin said it all.

When you hustle yourself around too much, you miss out on these chance encounters with lovely people. 

Learning that we were riding our bikes through Ontario (by ourselves!) brought on a reverie about his long-ago days on a motorcycle. Though in frail health and legally blind, he longed to join us for just one last ride–even a mile.

His wife began making noises about going home, so he reluctantly drained his coffee cup, then asked her, “Will you pull the car around, dear? I want to go look at their bikes.”

Standing in the parking lot beside our BMWs, he advised, “Enjoy your youth while you have it, girls,” reminding me anew that despite being middle-aged, I’m as young as I’ll ever be.

Enjoy your youth today. Tomorrow you’ll either wake up older, or you’re not going to wake up at all.