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Almost Fiction: Whitewall Summer

By Sam Jones

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This summer has dragged on and on. It has not been the pleasant summer I remembered as a kid, with moderate temperatures, clear skies and inviting breezes that encouraged you to meet your buddies down at the “Plunge” for an afternoon of swimming. It has been just the opposite with many days into the triple digits and record-breaking humidity. Three months of excessive heat had made you wish you worked in a bank where the air conditioning was cranked up to maximum and your desk was under the vent so you could wear a sweater.

This summer in California was hot and sparked wildfires. In places the air was choked with smoke and if you parked your motorcycle out for more than an hour it was covered with ash. It hadn’t rained for 40 years but because of some hurricane off Baja, several weeks ago it decided to invent something called the monsoon effect. That means it only thinks about rain and the humidity goes off the scale. When it finally decided to rain it was a two-day deluge which created mud slides in the hills and puts the fear of Armageddon into inept accident-prone Southern California motorists who promptly pay tithing to their favorite religion knowing that the end of the world is nigh. I hate this kind of summer.

Having lived in places where they have real winters, I remember cabin fever waiting for the snow to melt. It may seem odd to riders in other parts of the country and they won’t understand when I say, “I was waiting for a break in the summer weather,” but there is nothing pleasant about riding across the Mojave Desert with the sun blaring at 110 and your handlebar grips melting into your fingertips.

But, it is almost October. “I think the worst is over,” I said to myself as I replaced two new tires on my old Electra Glide. I am rarely an optimist but I just said a very optimistic thing as I sweated and cursed the weight of the wheels and the heat in my shop.

Time had been taken to clean and polish helmets and put leather conditioner on anything leather. Saddlebags were emptied and everything was gone through. Tool bags were examined and replaceable items were renewed. I like helmets and leathers and tools and grease and dirty hands and the hand soap that is required to wash them clean again. I like getting my bike dirty and I like making everything clean and perfect afterward. I do all my own maintenance; no one touches my machines because I refuse to pay anyone to play with my toys.

Dripping wet, sweat soaking through my overalls I lowered the bike from the lift and admired the new whitewall tires. A cold beer was my reward. For the last week I had done maintenance that had been neglected, fixed oil leaks, repaired switches, replaced brakes pads and spark plugs, changed oil and filters, everything had been taken apart and polished and waxed. Now I could admire a shiny Harley-Davidson Electra Glide with new whitewall tires.

A smile came to my lips as I remembered the questioning ridicule I got from my friends when I said I was putting on whitewalls. “What the hell are you doing that for? Don’t you know how hard they are to keep clean? They will love you in San Francisco and West Hollywood.”

“Why? Because I have never had a set of whitewall tires on a bike, that’s why. And what the hell do you care? It’s not your bike,” was my answer.

No matter how clever the debate, I used to think there were only two subjects on which a person would not change their mind: abortion and gun control. Evidently there are three: abortion, gun control and whitewall tires on a Harley.

In any case the 20-year-old “whitewalled couch” was now ready for any trip I had in mind. Maybe cleaner and shinier than the day she was new, she sat proud. All that was needed was a break in the weather.

Yes, October is my favorite month. I love the fall. But this was not yet October. The last two weeks of September were just as nasty as it had been for most of the summer. So my motorcycle sat, clean, ready, under a cover waiting for me to quit whining, stop feeling sorry for myself and go for a long ride.

Late last night, after watching a movie on Netflix I walked through the kitchen, put the midnight snack dishes in the sink, picked up the garbage and walked it out to the garbage cans at the back of the yard.

Something was odd. Instead of the percolating heat that I had grown used to, the ground was damp and cool, almost cold. The night air was misting and pleasant. My dog and I stood in the middle of the backyard just enjoying the fresh and tranquil serenity that had changed from yesterday’s hot and murky oppression. I wondered if summer’s heat was over. My dog knew the seasons had changed. The Electra Glide felt the change and smiled knowing that it wouldn’t be long until the new whitewalls would be rolling.

All I had to do was make up my mind. It was time for a ride; a long ride. Everything was ready. There were no more excuses. After a short sleep, at 5:00 a.m. I checked the weather channel. Yes, the temperature was down. It would only be in the 80’s for today and the rest of the week. Perfection for me is 72 degrees but perfectionism breeds procrastination breeds paralysis. So the 80’s would have to do. The 80’s would have to do? Ha, what a joke… the 80’s would be heaven… 20 degrees cooler than it had been.

I called Mike in Oregon. “Sure, everything is perfect. Come on up.”

I called Terry in Idaho. “Sure, everything is perfect. Come on up.”

The only thing I had to worry about now was the derision, the dismissive mockery I was going to get for installing whitewall tires.

On my way out of town I practiced my verbal retort, “Because I have never had a set of whitewall tires on a bike, that’s why. And what the hell do you care? It’s not your bike.”

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