My Hometown and the Ballad of Johnny Montes

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New Brunswick

On Thursday, I came from cosmopolitan Toronto—where I have lived restlessly for the past decade—back to my quiet east coast hometown, Rothesay, east of Saint John, New Brunswick, which I fled in the 90s in search of adventure. Now, as we flip the great Mayan calendar to the next 5,000+ years, is this the place I want to live?

I have lived, for brief and extended periods, in Asia, Latin America, and even on a fly-in reserve in Manitoba. And all over the world, when you ask someone, “What makes you like this place so much?” the cliché response is always, “Mostly, it’s the people.” But, as I recall, that was part of why I left New Brunswick. Old-fashioned, conservative attitudes, something about this place always made me feel like I had to hold my oddball self back so as not to agitate everyone around me. But isn’t that what I just said about Toronto?

OK, so maybe it’s me. But, for a change, I don’t want to talk about me. I want to talk about the people of my hometown. Not the ones I know and love; I’m talking about the ones I’ve never met. A strange concept, for a place where it always seems everyone knows everyone, but I’ve been away a long time.

Saturday morning was the first time I’d heard the name Johnny Montes. I was asked to fill in at the last minute to work the door at KV Billiards which was holding a fundraiser that night for Johnny and his family. Last month, Johnny’s car hit some ice and he went off the road. Over recent years, I have been involved in the slow, costly, nerve-wracking process of recuperation of a family member who suffered similar injuries in a similar accident. It is, to say the least, not easy.

#65 Johnny Montes from Bigwave's "Riverglade National" Photo Report http://www.vitalmx.com/forums/Moto-Related,20/Bigwaves-Riverglade-National-Photo-Report,578804

#65 Johnny Montes from
Bigwave’s “Riverglade National” Photo Report http://www.vitalmx.com/forums/Moto-Related,20/Bigwaves-Riverglade-National-Photo-Report,578804

I soon found out Johnny’s a bit of a celebrity in the motocross world, and a very popular guy around here. A few years younger than I am, he grew up in the trailer park near my high school, where he was likely a neighbour to some of my childhood friends. Who knows; I may even have seen him as a toddler when I was visiting friends there three decades ago.

Just before 7:00pm, I met the owner and she sat me down at the door with the donations jar and a stack of pamphlets which explained what the event was about. Some people picked up a pamphlet, but it was obvious that pretty much every one of the hundreds of people who came in that door from 7:00pm to 1:00am knew Johnny. And they don’t just know him; they really care about him. People were stuffing big bills into that jar, more than a few people surely put in more than they earn in a day, a few pausing to confirm, “This is for Johnny?”

It was assumed I knew Johnny and everyone connected with him. “Is Juan here yet?” That’s Johnny’s father. No one made me feel like I was out of the loop. Johnny’s mother introduced herself to me—why? Because she didn’t know me. One stranger after another was quick to fill me in on who everyone was—“That’s his sister”—and it often turned out I did have connections with people. And people with whom I had no connection fell into easy conversation with me. Doesn’t take much to make a connection around here.

Three damn fine local bands donated their time and talents: Bigg Medicine, Chasing Dragons, and Penalty Box, with a DJ in between acts. The song that summed it up for me was a satisfying cover of “I Love Rock’n’Roll”. The place was packed but no one was pushy. Some people came back again and again to drop more money into the donations jar (which had to be emptied frequently to make room for more) or just to see how the doorman was doing. People from ages 19 to 69, a few guys in suits, a lot of guys in baseball caps, several wearing number “Montes” jerseys, and lots of attractive women but none looked like they had gone out of their way to get their outfit and makeup just right. It was, without a doubt, the most human bunch of people I have been around for a long time.

But the most New Brunswick moment I’ve ever had was just before 1:00am when a 30ish guy in a baseball cap came over and offered me a beer. I thanked him but said no. I was still working, after all. “C’mon. You’ve been standin’ at the door here for like five hours. You should have a beer.” He wasn’t on his first, and why would he be. What he said next proved him to be a true New Brunswick gentleman. “Look, I’m not gay or nothin’; I’m not hittin’ on ya. I just figure you could really use a beer.”

You’ll just have to take my word for it; there was not a drop of homophobia in that remark. His tone said, ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’, more sincerely than Seinfeld. This guy was just clarifying the parameters of the offer. They say Canadians are ‘nice’. Well you can’t get much nicer than New Brunswick. And I had to drink to that.

I don’t know Johnny Montes but, the way everyone speaks of him, I want to know him. In the New Year, there is to be an auction in support of Johnny. In the meantime, donations are still being accepted.

Now, someone sing us The Ballad of Johnny Montes. What, nobody’s written it yet? He deserves a song. Someone’s gotta write it. Come on, I’ll race ya!

21 Comments

Filed under family and relationships, geography, Optimism & Inspiration

21 responses to “My Hometown and the Ballad of Johnny Montes

  1. To those of you who know Johnny, or can set me straight on anything else I wrote about here, please help out me and my readers by writing comments below. Tell me what I don’t know; there’s lots. Does anyone have a photo I could add to this?

  2. Stevan Jovanovich

    Great post—really enjoyed it!

    Stevan

  3. Caro.

    I don’t know him either but saw the same photo around the hospital in support of that evening. I really enjoyed this post. too.

  4. I should mention that I name Rothesay because, in my absence, towns and villages have been reorganized. Where I grew up used to be East Riverside-Kingshurst, and Rothesay actually began at my next-door neighbour’s house. But I’ve always told people I come from Saint John.
    In fact, the area I think of as home stretches from Renforth to Quispamsis, and might best be described as the Kennebecasis Valley. http://www.kennebecasis.com/
    There; don’t you all feel better now that I’ve cleared that up?

  5. Patty Lynn

    I am one of Johnny’s 3 sisters. And I remember seeing you and thinking “I dont know him, he must know Johnny, and god love him for taking the time to help out and give my brother a fighting chance”. Johnny is doing well, fighting everyday to get back to the superstar he is. Thank you for helping us at the benefit and thank you for writing such a wonderful article. God Bless You!

    • Patty, thank you so much for your note. I was overwhelmed by the turn out for Johnny. I am so happy to hear he is doing well! I’ve been away so long I don’t know anyone around here these days, but the affection everyone expressed for Johnny really moved me. It really says something about the man, that he inspires me just by hearing people talk about him.

  6. Tiffany Glazier

    You are one of many who is touched by johnny before even knowing him:) I think he is magnetic like that. he is a beautiful person with a amazing family and incredable friends.

  7. Marlene

    Hi, I am Johnnys future step-mom, ( Juans’ girlfriend), Marlene. We all enjoyed your article and,,yes, Johnny is well known and loved! I grew up in Quispamsis and lived either in Quispam or Rothesay all of my life and love the Kennnebecasis Valley. People grew up to take care of one another and care for each other when one needed it,, such as.at Johnnys benefit at K.V. Billiards. Thank you to The Billiards, family, friends, trailer park friends, past aquaintainces, and new aquaintainces, for a great turn out! Johnny was not able to medically make it out that night but is constantly updated about events that have taken place when he was ill. Makes him proud to be who he is and where he comes from. I remember you that night at the door with the jar and yes, you fit right in with the rest of us! I am glad people acknowledged you and treated you well, as this is a reflection of Johnny and the way people are to be treated and not judged. Thank you for the lovely column and thank you for being an important part of that special night!

    • Thank you, Marlene, for making me feel like I was supposed to be there, as everyone did. That fund-raiser for Johnny was an absolutely shining example of what a community can and should be. Johnny and the Kennebecasis Valley have every reason to be proud of one another. It’s good to be back here!

  8. Donna

    Donna MacRae
    I am one of Johnny’s many aunts, I’ve had the pleasure of his company for supper last evening with his mom, two sisters, the girl they call his Guardine Angel who sat with him until help arrived that terrible morning, awesome and loving girlfriend who has stuck by his side, friends and family members….I couldn’t stop looking at him, he has amazingly come so far….so quick. Listening to him talk and joke around with his sister, laughing…….it was just awesome….I could have sat there all night. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting his close and loving friends you speak of and you are right about how great it is to see people so down to earth…. Thank you to all who have helped out with your donations and support of all kinds, it was greatly apprectated. And thank you for being there that night at K.V. Billiards “Life Is What You Make It, Be Strong And Fight Hard For What You Want Out Of It, Johnny Is…..” Love You Johnny!!!

  9. Wow, this makes me even more proud to live on the east coast, in New Brunswick and more importantly the Kennebecasis Valley. Your article reminded me of all the great people I had the chance to meet through out my life both in school and during my day to day life in the valley. Johnny is celebrity……more of a rock star really…..I am glad to know him and proud to be from the great area I call home. Thanks

  10. There is nothing for me to add to these fantastic comments! But please, everyone, keep the comments coming. If you have stories to tell or photos for me to post or links to add, please go right ahead; there’s lots of room here!

  11. Tara

    What a great story! I do not know Johnny very well. I went to high school with Johnny and can remember everyday he passed me In the halls, he would nod his head and say hi to me. Even years after high school I would see him around the city he would remember me and nod his head and say hello! He was amazingly friendly a great guy I would say! Wish I could have gotten to know him better!
    I pray he continues to get better!
    Tara Damon Hutchings

  12. Michelle

    Hello, I’ve had people asking your name. Your article was fantastic. Thank you for helping out that night. I’m another of Johnny’s sisters, I think I took half of the pamphlets lol. Johnny has an amazing group of friends and family. Thank you to all for the love and support shown to him over the last few months. It’s been incredible just like he is. He amazes me every week I see him. So strong and determined. Very proud of him xoxo

  13. susan wissinger

    susan
    my daughter tiffany was the girl who was first on scene that horrible day of the accident and johnny has become very dear to my whole family through this all i know his recovery to date is definitely helped by the wonderful family support he has he is very lucky to have so many people who love him dearly

  14. Tiffany Glazier

    Just wandering if anyone wrote it yet :)

    • I really think someone should write that ballad, Tiffany. If I knew enough about Johnny, I’d try to write it myself, but it should be written by a person or people who know all about him. Ever written a song? All it takes is a good subject and a lot of heart. I think you’ve got both.

      • Tiffany Glazier

        Nope not me :) I don’t have that particular talent haha However if one gets written I would love to hear it. I think everyone should share a great story about their most memorable moment with Johnny and somehow get it incorporated into a song. That would be amazing :)

      • Tiffany Glazier

        Thank you

      • “I think everyone should share a great story about their most memorable moment with Johnny and somehow get it incorporated into a song.”

        How about this, Tiffany: Get everyone to write their Johnny moments here, and I’ll start to shape it into a song. Anyone who wants to help with the lyrics or the music (or take over!), let me know.
        And there’s nothing wrong with more than one song for Johnny if anyone else wants to write one, too.

        It may take some time, but I’ll do it my part if you and everyone else helps.
        “That would be amazing”

  15. Tiffany Glazier

    Yay that’s perfect :)

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