Every Thanksgiving I can’t help but think of Alex Madonna. Let me tell you why.
About 30 years ago, I was riding my tandem bicycle with a group from San Diego on a three-day tour from San Luis Obispo to Cambria, then to Paso Robles and back to San Luis Obispo. It was a ride we had done for many years, the memories of which have lasted a lifetime.
We left that morning in a light drizzle, and by the time we were 5 miles out on the road to Morro Bay, it had started to pour. I dropped to the back of the pack with my 5-year-old, tandem-riding daughter behind me in a nonwaterproof parka. (What was I thinking? Hey, they hadn’t invented Gore-Tex yet!)
She was getting rather drenched and so was I. Within minutes my back tire went flat. I tried to fix it, but I didn’t have the proper tools to take off my back wheel on this particular bike. I was alone with my wet, almost-crying daughter on this wet highway, and trying to hitchhike with my thumb out. Two motor homes stopped, but we could not fit our tandem bike through their side doors.
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I didn’t know what to do next, when out of the mist a large white brand-new Buick Riviera, or perhaps it was an El Dorado, stopped behind us. An older, white-haired gentleman stepped out and says to us: “Hi, my name is Alex, and I used to be an Eagle Scout. Can I help you?”
When we told him our plight, and the fact that we were on the way to Cambria, he said that we should put our bike in the back of his car.
“I’ll take you to Morro Bay,” he said. “I’m having Thanksgiving dinner there.”
We scrunched the tandem into his trunk, accidentally scratching some paint. “No problem, let’s go!” said our new best friend.
Dripping wet, we both slid onto the front leather seat of his brand new car. By the time we got to Morro Bay, it was still raining. He looked at me and said, “You’re going to Cambria, right?”
“Here, take my credit card — get my car filled up with gas — and I’ll call my sister, and see if she can delay our Thanksgiving dinner.”(This was prior to cell phones!)
My wet daughter and I now drove around looking for an open gas station in this stranger’s new car.
After a few minutes, we picked up our new friend.
He said, “OK, it’s all set. We’ll have our Thanksgiving dinner a little later, and I’ll take you up to Cambria.”
By the time we got to Harmony, the sun was out, we fixed our tire and told our rescuer that we wanted to ride our bike the remaining few miles to Cambria, so we didn’t look like total wimps to the rest of our group. He gave my daughter a bunch of flowers he had in his trunk and wished us a good rest of the trip.
What a guy! I’ve always told that story on Thanksgiving, but I never really knew who Alex was until about 15 years later.
My wife and I were on a college tour with the same daughter and we’re staying at the Madonna Inn — probably in the jungle room. We were having breakfast in the coffee shop at the Madonna Inn, and over in the corner was a large table with a black phone and a white-haired gentleman who looked familiar. I went over to him and asked, “Did you ever own a white Riviera or El Dorado?”
He said that he probably did, why? I recounted the above story, and he said, “Sure, that was me. I’m Alex Madonna, and I own this place. Have breakfast on me!” I thanked him once again for his kindness.
Another 10 years passed, and my wife was on a similar trip with my youngest son, again staying at the Madonna Inn and once again she encountered Alex. She again reminded him of the story, and once again Alex bought breakfast and a box of donuts.
What a guy! I can’t help but think of the kindness this person extended to us some 30 years ago, on a wet Thanksgiving Day in lovely San Luis Obispo. Thank you once again, Alex, for a great lifelong memory.
P. S. Yes, I am aware that Alex has passed, but my memory of this encounter certainly has not.
Dr. Paul B. Dean practices dermatology in San Diego.