Following our score of column visits to a bygone downtown Reno, one denizen was destined to accept his place in posterity. This column was inspired by a voicemail from Realtor John Utter: “John Gascue and I were talking over lunch about a weirdo newspaper delivery guy who used to work in downtown Reno – call me and I’ll tell you more.” My initial thought was that this topic defines the luncheon fare of two aging Sigma Alpha Epsilon alums that have sold one too many buildings or spent one too many years as principal of Reno High School. I called Utter: “I know who you mean without hearing any more. His name was Peanut Butter Joe, the old guy on the Simplex.” (We later agreed he was probably younger then than we are now.) Peanut Butter Joe, he was, owing to PBJ’s daily nutrition regimen in the form of 13 beers (Acme) and a jar of Skippy’s peanut butter (crunchy) at Harolds Club’s second floor bar as the guest of no less than Pappy Smith himself.
“Oh, no,” John spoke. “His name was clearly ‘Mumbles.’” That appellation was born out of Mumbles’ tendency to ride his cycle about the village mumbling incoherent epithets – unprintable on this website – at passersby who would get in his bike’s path, and, uh, expectorate at all of the town’s six taxicabs. “And he rode a Vespa, not a Simplex.”
I concede Utter’s Vespa as to being accurate over my Simplex, having grown up with John and knowing that were Morganna the Kissing Bandit riding a Vespa, Simplex, Ariel Square Four or anything else downtown clad in naught but Santa’s boots and two squirts of Gucci fragrance, John would notice her bike first. John’s wife Anne Marie’s brother then entered the fray: Tony Lesperance, whose journalistic background came primarily as the head goat-roper for the University of Nevada – (OK, an aggie professor and great guy who ran the University Farm until he retired) – volunteered, “No way. He was ‘the Bombardier’. Everyone knew him as that because he always wore a World War II flight suit with a bicycle clip on his pantleg.” Well, Gascue, Utter and Breckenridge sensed that Lesperance might be a bit shaky, so we brought in a higher authority, this time a big-gun real-deal newspaperman.
We call in the heavy artillery:
A call was placed to Warren Lerude, who before becoming a Pulitzer Prizewinner, if that’s capitalized, was a circulation director for the Nevada State Journal, the freight that Mumbles or Peanut Butter Joe or the Bombardier delivered on his Vespa. Or his Simplex. And, to add further credence, almost overkill, to Warren’s immense credentials, he’s a fellow Sigma Nu alum. “You’re all wrong. You are obviously speaking of ‘Bicycle Eddie,’ a central cog in the wheel of the 1950s journalistic community, who none of the papers’ staffers in the old building on North Center Street would tangle with for fear of being, uh, you know, on.”
So there you have it, BPS readers [Blue Plate Special, my website where I guess I published this melarkey]. Were you to be downtown Christmas shopping 60 years ago, holiday cheer abounding, Bing Crosby’s pipes crooning White Christmas from the speakers on the roof of the Byington Building, the little animated shoemaker in the window of the Nevada Shoe Factory on Sierra Street bedecked in his annual Santa Claus outfit, the kids skating on the Truckee being chased off by Reno’s Finest, an S.P. cab-forward mallet locomotive laying a haze of smoke along Commercial Row, Vic Charles swinging the Salvation Army bell at his yearly post in the warmth of the Arcade Building, a Marine deuce – OK, big green truck – parked at Second and Virginia to put presents for the needy in, you’d probably run afoul of this legend, in his flight suit and hollering at you, banging on the side of your Nash Metro, cutting off an old lady as he turned his Simplex/Vespa into Douglas Alley. It’s high time that Bicycle Eddie, the Bombardier, Peanut Butter Joe, Mumbles, or the dozen other names that we remember him as, now be enshrined in the great pantheon of the rich heritage of our town that I struggle so diligently in monastic solitude to painstakingly research, a gift for those who will follow us. And yes, once a year at Christmastime [when I first wrote this column], I am permitted by the Gazoo editor to use run-on sentences that would make my favorite and dear RHS English teacher Roberta Kirchner cringe [Bert passed away – now she revolves in her grave].
• • •
Have a good week, and God bless America.
July 11, 2007