Mad Mark’s Advice

by Bill Roberson

As a child growing up in scenic Portland, Oregon, my most favorite activity was bicycle riding. My friends and I looked with great envy on people with motorcycles, who rode without pedaling! And motorcycles were the ultimate expression of cool.

Mad Mark's AdviceIn our bicycle travels, we passed a small shop on a busy street with no name on the door. It was Mark’s Motorcycle Shop. It wasn’t a squeaky clean dealership with shiny new models carefully parked for sale; Mark was a motorcycle mechanic. His parking area was covered with crusty old bikes in various states of repair. Most had names we recognized like Honda, Suzuki or Yamaha.

When we stopped to ogle the bikes, Mark watched like a hawk. He was big, with a long white beard and leather cap. If we got too close, he’d bellow, “DON’T TOUCH! GIT ON OUTTA HERE!!” We pedaled away furiously — and called him “Mad Mark”.

Eventually I graduated from high school, and slipped a little Honda scooter under my parents’ “safety radar.” When it needed a tune-up, I wheeled it to Mad Mark’s shop. He was in back of the tiny shop, which was crammed floor to ceiling with motorcycles, parts, etc. He silently inspected my humble machine, took the keys, and said only to come back in five days.

On my return, he quietly detailed everything he had fixed. Then for 30 minutes, he made sure I understood the importance of each repair. The scooter was like a new machine; faster, smoother, better handling.

Mark’s advice stayed with me as I progressed from my scooter to larger, faster machines. When I stopped for oil, Mark advised me about new riding techniques. His wisdom made me a safer, more confident rider. He showed me that motorcycles aren’t like cars, that they require special skills to ride and maintain. Those tips and skills saved me from injury — or worse — more times than I can count.

After I moved away, on visits home I noticed Mark’s little shop was always closed. No one had seen Mad Mark in years. Then, one day in 1999, I saw all the bikes out front again. Mark was working inside, selling this and that. “Closing up shop” he said quickly. “Make an offer.” The shop was full of now-vintage parts, all new from the factory. I found a $50 part for $5.

As I passed Mark my five, I wanted to say thanks for all his useful advice. But he popped the bill into his overalls pocket, nodded his thanks, and turned to another bargain hunter. It was the way he was. I left, and over the next few days, the shop emptied out. The curious little shop, and Mark, were gone.

I wouldn’t say that Mad Mark was my friend. He may not have remembered me. But he contributed greatly to my safety at a time when I was young and felt foolishly invincible.

Wherever you are, Mad Mark, thank you.

Originally published as HeroicStories #504 on April 12, 2004

2 thoughts on “Mad Mark’s Advice”

  1. I always hope that the person being written about reads and knows how much what they did helped others. That in turn, the recipient– they lead by example and it spreads. But even if they didn’t find out, it wouldn’t change who they were or what they did or do. I’m just grateful the story was written and available to enjoy.


Leave a Comment