Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ode to a Guy

Last time I wrote an ode to somebody, it was a posthumous celebration of the life of the Wife's grandmother, Grandma Millie, on the day she died at the ripe old age of 98-and-half. I thought it was time to write another ode, but this time it's an ode to a very much alive man, Mr. Michael Alwin.

Mike Alwin has had a profound effect on my life over the past 16 years. He probably does not remember that we actually had met several years before that - I was but a small lad starting to learn the ins and outs of the sport of fly fishing, and he held some position in the Trout Unlimited chapter that met in Hudson, WI. My dad took me to a few meetings, and I distinctly remember Mike being there, and talking to me once or twice. I would like to say that whatever he said to me made such an impact that it changed my life forever, but I really have no idea what he said back then. Come on, I was 12. I can't remember what people said to me last week. I do remember that we had some kind of interaction, and that's pretty good for me.
I stole this photo of Mike Alwin from a story in the Star Tribune about his retirement. It's an amazing photo because, somehow, the photographer got him to smile. None of his regular customers can figure out how he did it...
At about that same time my dad and I became regular patrons at the quaint fly fishing store in the quaint burg of Lake Elmo, MN. Lake Elmo is more famous for being the home of the Lake Elmo Inn, one of the best, and most expensive, restaurants in the area, but I was only interested in the fly shop, which happened to be named Bob Mitchell's Fly Shop, owned by Bob and Jean Mitchell. I spent hours at Bob Mitchell's trying to absorb anything and everything I could about fly fishing. My dad had done some fly fishing as a youth back in the 1950s, but his knowledge was limited, so every Thursday night, the only night Bob Mitchell's was open past 5:30, I begged my dad to drive me out to Lake Elmo so I could finagle any pertinent info I could out of both Bob and Jean. I'm not sure exactly what they thought of the buck-toothed, gangly, bespectacled kid that came out and bothered them every week, but they always treated me warmly and always answered all my annoying questions.

As time passed, I got more heavily into other things and away from fly fishing, so I eventually stopped going out to Bob Mitchell's all together. That phase lasted for several years, but at the ripe old age of 23 I decided I needed to get my old Cortland fly rod out of storage and try my hand at catching some trout again. I went back to Bob Mitchell's, but by that time, Bob and Jean had retired to Montana. I found out that they had sold the shop to the guy from the Trout Unlimited meetings, Mike Alwin. I went in to check it out, and ended up buying a new fly tying vise from him. That vise was just the first of approximately a billion purchases I made at Bob Mitchell's over the next few years.

During those next few years, I fished a lot, and I spent a lot of time hanging out at Bob Mitchell's Fly Shop. The Shop became a sort of second home, and Mike became a, well, probably not like a second father. And not really like an older brother either (he's way too old to be my brother). It's kind of hard to describe our relationship, so let's just say I was like one of his best customers to him, and he was like a surly, cantankerous fly shop owner to me. We got along beautifully! We were just what each other needed.

After a few years of that, Mike realized that I spent way too much time on rivers trying to catch fish, and that I had already purchased almost everything in the Shop, so there was no reason for me to remain a customer. He also probably thought that I needed some more human interaction in my life. So, he hired me to be one of his part-time "henchmen", as he calls us. My job was, and still is, to help our customers find what they need to get out on the water and catch some fish, tie a bunch of flies to sell to those customers, and teach whatever classes Mike has needed me to teach. That all started about 11 and a half years ago now, and I can honestly say that working at Bob Mitchell's Fly Shop has been one of the greatest parts of my life. I'm not going to go and say it's on the same level as the birth of my children or anything, but it has been a lot of fun. And Mike has been one of the best bosses I have ever known, despite his cantankerousness.

Mike recently made the announcement that he is selling the Shop and retiring in a couple of weeks. Sounds like he has plans to actually get out and do some fishing, which is something he hasn't had a lot of time to do while he's been running the Shop for the past 19 years. I am both envious and sad. It's going to be a lot different without the old guy around. But now maybe he'll have time to do something we've never had a chance to do: go fishing together. Maybe we'll start hanging out together so much he'll finally become like the really old brother I never had...Or maybe we should just start with fishing buddy and see what happens. Thanks for everything, Mike!

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