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Where am I? Winner: Shadow man

By Susan Swan

John wasn’t being cantankerous when he told me he didn’t want the press. It came down to the fact he never really thought through what would happen if he was the game winner, the fifth correct answer on the eighth of February. His email included a phone number but when I called he seemed oddly reluctant. Before divulging anything he’d let me use, John made it clear his participation would rest on a condition. The bargain would be that I’d not reveal more than he’d wish, and that hold-back would include his real name, which isn’t John.

The bargain struck, as he relaxed, I did as well, resulting in a bit of teasing as we navigated the interview. “We’re not Hustler,” I quipped. “May as well be,” he fired back. He’d explain more by the time we were done.

Having ridden dirt bikes since his teens, nowadays he’s more a hobbyist, at least until he retires. A bike isn’t practical in the day-to-day because it wouldn’t hold all the tools he needs Monday–Friday. For work his ride is a rusty late ’90s diesel pickup pushing 300K. “It’s had some work done” he chuckled, “but it’s long-ago paid for and insurance amounts to peanuts.”

He has a stock ’93 FXR for the highway and newer KLR for off-road. He said of the FXR, “I’ve never spent money on dolling her up,” unlike a good buddy who’s parted with a fair penny customizing. John has a thoroughly-scratched luggage rack, employing bungees and a cargo net around gear for his two “sometimes just one” annual getaways. It’s not that he wouldn’t enjoy having a bike with hard bags, but he explained, “Every dresser I’ve tried didn’t fit my frame like that FXR.” The seated position made him sit too rigid/erect.

His former wife “quit him for just cause” after six years, he said, explaining that his hearing left well before she did, and that “I probably ignored her.” There was humility in his voice when he admitted, “Yeah, that cost me.” Somehow the two have remained friends since the 2011 split, and living close by they’ve agreed if one of them takes ill they’ll each have the other’s back. “We get along good on the phone,” he said, but “neither of us tests the other asking many favors.”

John was raised in Central Texas, just outside Round Rock, his father working for the local utility and his mother “mostly volunteering” in the community. The family moved to Provo, Utah, in 1980 a few years after John graduated from Round Rock High School back home. John struck out on his own not long after that move, seeking his fortune, spending 20-some years in Northern California then on to Nevada. He explained it as “learning my trade, getting kicked around for youthful foolishness some, and figuring out what matters.” It was from his time in Nevada that he recognized the February riddle clues, guessing it must be Lake Mead.

As his time away neared a quarter century, his folks’ health began to falter so he came home to help. “We can all use a hand in the last chapter, right?” He met his ex-wife “she’s from here” in 2005 and he credits her with “giving me a hand with my parents.” In turn, he later helped with her father’s decline. “She [his ex] lives with her mother now,” and he then went on to speak of the elder woman’s stamina. “She can run circles around my ex most days; still cuts her lawn with a push mower.”

Because John’s work sometimes means bidding for jobs within jurisdictions near his home just outside Orem, he felt putting his name out there in a motorcycle publication might find him recognized. That’s why the request for anonymity. So for only the second time in almost 20 years, our “Where am I?” winner’s profile will be a tale told, but the subject is choosing to stay in the shadows.

There’s a little extra freedom in anonymity, as if some harsher truths or private regret are able to find a voice versus remain unsaid. I didn’t know if it was entirely fair to other winners, my giving in to the cloak and dagger, and I told John so. He said, “Sorry; it’s gotta be that way.” He went on, “If this call had come in four years, retirement would have freed me up. But you just never know when you don’t get a job because someone took issue. So I play it safe, and don’t imagine it’s a state of affairs unique to Utah; folks pass judgment all over.” They do indeed, John.

“So, no thank you, Ma’am,” he said of the spotlight.

“No problem, sir, and many thanks.” 

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