Chloe M. O'Connor | Layout, Illustration, and Freelance Design

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Beard On A Bike

When I lived in Colorado, a man rode around eastern Boulder County on his bicycle. His beard grew full and black, and his nose sunburned during the winter. He picked up trash around Louisville and Lafayette, collecting it in plastic grocery bags on the bike’s handlebars. With a colossal smile, he waved to cars passing him as he peddled along in the bike lane. Most people guessed he was homeless, but he lived with his brother.

My family named him Beard on a Bike. Others called him Jesus. I first heard his real name on a bus stuffed with high school marching band kids, brass horns and drums. On our way to a Friday night under the lights, we passed Beard on a Bike.

“Look, there’s Jesus,” someone said.

“His name is John,” said a defensive voice from the back row. I think most of us sitting near the guy, a tenor drum player with a punk rock exterior, were surprised he knew Jesus’ name. Even after the enlightenment, we still used our own nicknames.

One July third, Jesus wandered into the Target-owned Starbucks where I worked. I laughed when I saw him wearing the same hat as me, a black cap stamped with the Starbucks logo.

“Why’re you wearing my hat?” he asked me.

“Why are you wearing mine?” We bantered a bit and he handed me the local paper. He pointed out a front page article about a free Fourth of July pancake breakfast.

“You gotta go,” he said. “Free pancakes from the firefighters. After the bike parade.” I thanked him, purposefully failing to mention my shift scheduled during the shindig. In high school, I marched in the pointless parade, as most parades are. And like most teenagers, I hated cheesy local events, especially ones where little kids decorate their bikes with flags and crepe paper for a quick ride down Rock Creek Parkway. Everyone adheres to the unwritten summer dress code of jean shorts and white T-shirts.

The next morning, as I pushed the start button on the blender for the fiftieth time and turned around to see the line of guests measuring 10 deep, a parade sounded almost enjoyable. Firefighters, pancakes and training wheels trumped crazy co-workers who dyed the whipped cream Independence Day blue.

I learned Beard on a Bike’s last name when a car hit him as he rode his bike along US-287. Because of the Jan. 30, 2009 accident, John Breaux rests in the Louisville Cemetery.

A few years ago, the local paper named him citizen of the week and the city gifted him with a helmet. He used to ride around without one, a strange sight in bike heavy Colorado traffic. His death at 57 started an outpouring of love for the man, from community cleanups to impromptu gatherings at stores where Jesus received free cups of coffee.

Residents financially contributed toward the creation of a life-sized bronze statue of him. Businesses placed collection jars on counters and a local bank created a fund. In two months, offerings totaled $35,000. Hundreds of people gathered for the statue unveiling, exactly one year after Beard’s passing, a short turnaround considering it takes the city five years to fill asphalt canyons in neighborhood roads. Louisville’s Jesus — wearing his helmet, straddling his bike and waving — now watches over the city, gazing past the library up Spruce Street.

Everyone remembers the same man, but our personal encounters tell the story of his public, silent hero life. I remember him as Beard on a Bike, cycling along McCaslin Boulevard, smiling, the Flatirons as his backdrop.

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