I couldn't have been more than 6 when I first straddled a motorcycle. It wasn't running, of course, just propped up against the wall of a garage down the street from my father's bike shop. Another of those pop-up memories of mine. And just as real, just as full of emotion. A Fall day, the empty lot with a dead leaf carpet of brown and red and dull gold. Overcast, cold but tolerably so, no wind. And quiet.
It's one of the few pop-up memories that has a known trigger. Though it often haunts me on its own terms. All I have to do is see a motorcycle. Nothing more.
Like most young boys, I was intrigued by anything with wheels. And motors. Which could take me places. I blame it on the railroad. I lived a block from the Long Island Railroad tracks in my early days. Just commuters mostly, a little freight, not much industry on east Long Island at that time. Mostly farming, maybe some commercial fishing. I don't know. But to a young boy, it was the railroad to the Wild West and adventure.
I had seen old movies on our TV with motorcycle cops. Very impressive images. Big men riding big motorcycles, racing after cars, daring. That later morphed into the rebel image. Marlon Brando in "Wild One" epitomized this image for years. Well, until the biker movies of the 60s.
This song didn't help either...
The Terror of Highway 101
My brother bought a motorcycle, a used Triumph Bonneville, when I was 14. I rode on the back a few times. Something I hate to do. It's not the same, it's not actually riding, you're just baggage. Just an additional weight.
I acquired an Allstate scooter from a brother-in-law when I was 15. He claimed it was beefed up. He was probably lying. It was ugly but I didn't care. It wasn't cool but I didn't care. It had two wheels and a motor. It was freedom. It lasted a month until my father insisted I give it back. He was opposed to these dangerous things. Another reason to desire them.
I would not own a motorcycle or scooter until I was in my last two years in the Navy. My first year in, a friend and I rented these little Japanese buzzbomb mopeds and rode them full out down the coastal highway south of L.A. No helmets, no sense of mortality, no thought of anything but the rush. Owning any kind of vehicle while in the Navy is difficult. I was on a Destroyer and I was out to sea often, vehicles need to be tended to, parked somewhere, secure. It took some time but I figured out the logistics eventually.
A Triumph Daytona (500cc twin), then a Bonneville, then a BSA Spitfire Mk II. Oh, I loved that BSA. It has its own story. That story is bittersweet.
I hungered after Harleys, like all good American boys, but could never find the resources to buy one. The British bikes were good substitutes.
Once you ride, once you commit to it, it never leaves you. I used to take rides across Los Angeles, I have no idea just where. I would fill the tank, pick a freeway, or a fairly open road, and just go. Sometimes up into the Hollywood Hills, or out to the east, or up toward Santa Barbara along the coast. The engine's vibration sets a rhythm inside you, you merge with it, and you just go. Destination is unimportant, it's all about the journey.
After I left the Navy, after the BSA was gone, life intruded. There would be a couple more bikes but good sense and responsibility would pressure me to give them up.
I still hunger after Harleys. I still want that feeling of freedom. I still miss the ride.
A Night Unremembered
6 years ago