They always tell you that making a good first impression means everything, but if there is one thing I have learned since moving to Boston, it’s that first impressions often mean nothing. I’ll be the first to admit that I have made many wrong assumptions about the majority of people I have met. But of all the people I’ve misjudged through the years, Louie is the one who really taught me this lesson.
The first time I saw Louie was on a cold night down the street from where I live. I was walking home for an extensive percussive practicing session so my mind was still on the drums. As I was moseying down Massachusetts Avenue, I began to hear something that captured my attention. It was a loud yelling, almost like a manmade siren bellowing, “Move!” Upon hearing the sound I looked up to notice a flashing light coming straight towards me down the dark street. I scuttled to the edge of the sidewalk. Even though I didn’t know what was coming towards me, it sounded potentially harmful. I found myself next to another young fellow who had gotten out of the way. Taking out his camera phone he said, giddy with excitement, “Here he comes again!” as the mystery roared closer. I almost didn’t believe my eyes when I was finally able to make out a silhouette of what was coming towards me: a man on a tricycle.
I don’t mean the kind of toy you find children riding for fun in the cul-de-sac around your everyday suburban neighborhood. This man’s modern machine was three large, mountain bike-sized wheels connected to a sleek metal chasse with high beach-cruiser style handle bars and seat. Equipped with a basket sandwiched betwixt the two back wheels, which was bordered with two long-stemmed, vibrantly colored flags. This tricycle may have been impressive and high-tech, but the man piloting it was a different story. I’ve never seen the man standing and not sitting on his tricycle, so I can’t really tell you about his physical stature. At that first sighting, I would have said that I had seen a homeless man who had stolen one of the bike trolleys and was screaming down the street making an escape. First impressions can be so wrong.
Days and weeks went past, and every night I would either see this man on the tricycle, hear him wailing from my dorm room, or hear my room mate speak of seeing him in another part of town. There was no question that this man rode his tricycle every day without fail and that he rode it for a long, long time. My roommate and I became more curious about him and his history, so we decided to do some research. We logged on the Internet hoping to find something, but were stumped trying to figure out a way to categorize him. Eventually we mindlessly typed in “Crazy Homeless Tricycle Guy, Boston.” To our surprise our search gave us exactly what we wanted, a documentary about him. The deeper we went into the documentary, the more our perceptions changed about this man whose name turned was Louie Evans.
Louie has been biking for longer than many can remember, and judging by his gray stubby beard, wrinkled sunken face, and ever-squinting eyes he has seen more days than most. If you ever talked to him, first you would perceive that his mind functions differently than others. However, Louie is not so much disturbed as he is handicapped. He walks with a great limp as if one side of his body weighs twice as much as the other, and he wears a leg brace just to keep himself stable. He is missing many teeth, and he has a certain speech impediment which makes his talking and his siren noise very incoherent, but “He realizes this,” according to the owner of a local bicycle shop, “He has the ability to make good conversation, and he will repeat himself slowly and as clearly as he possibly can in order for you to understand what he means.”
Another interesting thing about Louie is that he always goes to a locally owned and operated bicycle shop, Back Bay Bicycles. There are plenty of others in the area, but he is an unquestionably loyal customer. The people who run that bicycle shop know and love Louie. The owner’s dog recognizes him by his walk, and it follows him wagging its tail, as if there is something about Louie’s spirit that draws positive energy from the animal.
The most important thing I have learned about Louie is that he rides his bike just to ride his bike. He does it because it is what he loves to do. He is not making a commute, or delivering anything. He just rides for the joy of riding. He rides whenever he has the chance, day and night, rain or shine. When he is riding he rarely stops, unless it is to go to the bike shop, or wherever Louie calls home. He must put in at least thirty miles a day with his schedule.
If you think about it, this is by far the purest form of what people say when they talk about “finding your bliss.” Louie has found his, and it comes in the form of three wheels and handlebars. He has little more than the clothes on his back, a place to sleep, and his tricycle, but that is all he wants. It really shows you that money cannot buy happiness. You see so many people who have all the possessions they could ever need and are still always wanting more. You see people who abuse their power. Then you see Louie, a man with the simplest existence, who has found his bliss and wants nothing more. It is truly inspiring.
Louie has become more to me than just “that guy on the tricycle.” He is a symbol of continuity in Boston. I’ll be having a rough time some days, but I know that Louie is still out there doing his thing. That’s why it always feels good to see Louie. Sometimes I’ll go for a week without seeing him, but then he’ll just pop around the corner down the street hollering away, and it makes me smile. It’s as if seeing Louie lets us all know that everything is going to be all right. He was here long before me and hopefully he will be here long after I leave. I believe everyone could use a little more Louie in their lives.
Greg Vogt currently studies at Berklee.