I stepped from my 32′ Holiday Rambler and stood at the top of the steps to greet the dawn. Drips from the night’s smattering of rain fell on my neck. The sky was overcast, ominous. Monsoon thunderheads hung in the atmosphere like sleeping giants.
As I continued to wake, I considered the route I might ride to my coffee appointment. I descended to the patio while pinching into my front pocket a friend’s Harley-Davidson gloves.
I was thinking, “Yep, it’s still there.” I had covered the motorcycle with a tarp the night before. “Yep, there’s still a motorcycle under that tarp.”
“What am I doing?” my brain exclaimed. “I’m sixty-two years old and haven’t ridden a motorcycle in thirty years!” The last one I was on I left at forty-five miles per hour, slammed my helmet into the rocks of a motocross trail in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. “Dodged a bullet that day,” I keenly observed to myself.
My Ford 4 X 4 pickup truck broke down, and a dear friend loaned me a motorcycle. As I looked the machine over in the daylight, I thought, “I’ve never ridden one of these before. Wonder how it handles?“
Funny how new experiences remind us of old ones. Getting ready to ride reminded me of my high school buddy Digger and his Harley Sportster. Extended forks, low seat, the sound of the ratcheting kick starter, the engine roaring to life. Digger’s red beard in the wind. Hog heaven, some would call it. And we all agree, nothing else in the galaxy sounds like a Harley.
I pulled off the tarp, grabbed that baby by the handlebars, and sat down. I lingered in the moment, remembering Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, and Nancy Sinatra in the 1966 movie Wild Angels. I think it was my friend Rolls that had the sound track album back in the sixties, and I mean nineteen-sixties.
As small-town teenagers lusting after motorcycles, looking desperately for something to rebel against, and well, . . more than a passing interest in short skirts and tall boots, we boys used to huddle around the record player and listen to the opening sound track to the movie, feeling the unconscious rumble of something out of reach in our simple lives.
I put on the Harley gloves, and sat with both feet on the ground, straddling the unfamiliar and silent machine. As I turned the key on, I called up the memory of that movie soundtrack. I could hear the garage door opening, then the monster of torque being forced into life, its engine grabbing and gasping for air, ultimately blowing exploded gases out its tailpipes like a medieval fire-farting dragon. Sure the Harley shook, but so did the earth.
Pulling out of my driveway I could see Peter Fonda in his black leather jacket, his tinted teardrop glasses, his unkempt hair. I could hear the chopper on the album ease out of the garage and move to a two-lane blacktop. Then shifting gears and animalistic internal-combustion bellowing. In my personal vision this is where John Kay and Steppenwolf build the testosterone-fueled climax with their primal biker-rock-mantra Born to Be Wild!
With all that coursing through my veins, I was on the empty back street of a small American town, the yards and mailboxes slipping by like last week’s memories. Two horses looked up, and a dog barked. A cat scurried to get out of my way, then paused to stare over its shoulder.
A young woman opposite me at the four-way-stop gave me a long look. My scooter hummed more loudly as I accelerated passed her. I could feel her gaze as I pulled away and quickly pushed it to thirty-miles per hour.
I had to admit it felt weird having my feet and knees right there in front of me like I was a kid sitting at a school desk. I had to resist the urge to use a clutch and shifter. It was smooth, quiet, just turn the twist-grip and go.
From the Genuine Scooter Company, the Buddy model, a 4-stroke, 150cc wonder. A preciously pretty machine. A pleasant shade of green that could be easily hidden in a pea patch. A big shiny headlight on the top of its steering column and fairing. My friend’s green woven grocery bag hung by its handles from a purse-hook above my bored and restless feet.
The rushing wind and sounds of nature were muted by the face shield and helmet, but I could feel the balmy breeze on my sun tanned and naked knees. No traffic. Damp pavement. I could not help smiling. I looked so cute, I was irresistible.
Upon arriving at my destination, I swaggered a bit as I put the scooter up on its stand and I took off my helmet. It was a beautiful ride and a beautiful gift from a beautiful person.
Friends, good friends, bring out the best in us don’t they? Some great thinker once said you can count the number of true friends in a lifetime on one hand. I think it was probably said by somebody in their sixties, and I mean the age group not the decade. It takes that long to be able to look back and see the forks-in-the-road of one’s life.
Reveling in old memories and new ironies, a faint and tickling spiritual chuckle rose up in me. Some comedic corner of my brain was singing in John Kay’s whiskey-soaked gravelly voice,
Born to be
M . i . . i . . l d!”