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Almost Fiction: The Old Man

By Sam Jones

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When Jerry heard that his friend, the older gentleman, was going to ride to the Laughlin River Run he called and invited him to stay at his house in Bullhead City. “We have an extra bed and a room all to yourself, just waiting for you. It’s all yours.” The old man, as he was called behind his back but never to his face, was a motorcyclist. At 90 years old, he had been riding motorcycles since the Herbert Hoover administration and had continued riding right up to yesterday. At least three or four times a week he drug out his Harley-Davidson Electra Glide with sidecar, did his banking, marketing and whatever errands were needed, had lunch with friends, came home for his nap and before dinner added a cocktail at 5 p.m. “I don’t trust any civilization that doesn’t elevate the siesta and the cocktail hour to a religious experience,” he kidded. However, he never joked about riding. The way he figured, at his age, if he stopped, for whatever reason, it would be impossible to get started again. Motorcycles had kept him alive and without them he only saw death.

The old man was a legend. Everyone knew him or knew of him and when he accepted Jerry’s invitation, a barbecue was planned.

It took him all day to pack the bike and sidecar with what he thought he might need. He planned on being gone at least a week, maybe two, maybe longer. It was not as if he had to get back to go to work. The sleeping bag, cot, ice chest, cooking gear, tent all stored in perfect condition, all at least 50 years old, all of which had been used many times, fit nicely into the sidecar. If they were good enough for 1960, they were good enough for today. He thought about everything that way.

Before dawn, he left his place on the edge of the Los Angeles basin heading due east. At San Bernardino, the sun rose, hitting him square in the face. He stopped and put on his dark goggles. Further on, at a rest stop just west of Palm Springs, he fired up his little camp stove and made a cup of coffee. Twenty Nine Palms was an hour further where he topped off the Electra Glide with gas. Left at the old lumberyard turnoff, over the foothills on the windy road, past the dry lake, he made another stop at Roy’s Café in Amboy for a little leg stretch. Continuing his ride down old Route 66, at Cadiz there had been a store with gas pumps that he once speculated had been a set for The Grapes of Wrath. Up to Essex, cross US 40, the sidecar rig followed the railroad tracks to Goffs.

It had been years, decades since he had been to the Laughlin River Run. The first three or four had been fun but then the event kept growing to where the crowds were just too much and the fun was gone. “Stand in line for a beer, stand in line for a hot dog, stand in line to take a piss. Not my kind of biker run, but… what the hell, maybe I’ll give it one more chance before I get too old.”

At Goffs, he made another cup of coffee, some toast, ate a piece of cheese and enjoyed some grapes. Traveling to the first River Run, he recalled catching Mingo at Goffs. Mingo and his group had left four hours in front but this is where he caught them. “Where have you been, what took you so long?” he had asked. “We never passed a bar,” was the answer.

Recollecting, the old man smiled, enjoying the coffee and the view. This year, like the first year, had been a wet winter and the wild flowers were everywhere. “Nothing prettier than the desert in bloom,” he thought. Finishing the grapes, the little stove was re-packed.

At US 95 it was a left turn, a right turn on old 77/163, over the hill and… “Holy Shit!” He knew it had grown but what was this? Not too many years ago, Las Vegas looked like this. Wondering for a moment if he had made a wrong turn at the Twilight Zone, he pulled off, stopped on the shoulder and just looked at the Laughlin in front of him. The last time there had only been the Riverside Hotel/Casino and there was no bridge across the river. If you wanted to go to Bullhead City, you had to go up and over Davis Dam. “Holy Shit!” he said out loud again.

In 1983, he had crossed Davis Dam, come down on the Arizona side and stopped at a little park. Camping was $2. As he pulled in several bikers, knowing that another one of their own had just crossed the desert, handed him a beer. They also helped with his tent. While he was remembering all this, a cop car pulled in behind him. “You can’t park here.” “I am not parked; I am stopped.” “You can’t stop here either.” “Am I hurting your desert?” “Look, old timer, move it.” “Watch that old timer crap, sonny.” With that, it was welcome to the new Laughlin.

Down the hill, a quick tour of several casino parking lots surprised him at the number of vendors. “When had a biker run become an excuse for a shopping spree?” He also wondered why there were so many trailers. Were they hauling show bikes, antiques, race bikes? Those were the only reasons he knew to put a bike on a trailer. Pulling out his Kodak Brownie, he snapped a photo.

Across the river, Bullhead City had grown from six bars and a hardware store to 35,000 people. Good thing Jerry had sent him a map.

There were introductions and handshakes all around when he pulled into Jerry’s driveway. The barbecue was ready. He did not realize that it was all for him, that people came to see the old man who rode his sidecar across the desert. Nevertheless, everyone listened to his stories; he danced with all the pretty women and spent the night. It was one of those times when his age and wisdom were shown respect.

“A nice group of people, but a bit crowded,” he thought as he packed up at dawn. By the time the others were up, he was brewing coffee at a rest stop east of Kingman on his way to the Grand Canyon. “I recall a nice little camping spot just this side of the park entrance,” he said aloud. “Wonder if it is still the same?”

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