It had been a long week and a lot of miles covered on a rental bike during a tour of Texas. The bikes had been returned to the dealership, the other riders had been delivered to their international flights and I was the last of the group to be dropped off at the airport. My plane departed from a smaller, across-town airfield and traffic was thick. The driver and I rode in silence for a long while before he struck up a conversation by asking about my European friends. I explained that we have toured Nevada, Arizona and Utah in the past, and each time it’s been an incredible adventure we look forward to repeating in a new state.
“And you always do this on motorcycles, right?” he asked. I nodded.
“Yes, organizers work with each state’s board of tourism to find good routes with interesting destinations and we shoot films to be distributed in Europe to promote motorcycle tourism to the United States.”
“Well, isn’t that interesting. I’ve always wanted to tour across the country,” he tells me. “Just hop on a bike and head out. I just sold my bike, though. Had to; going through a divorce and it’s just really been a mess. Marital stuff gets like that, I guess.” He waves his hands over his head as if it’s all a mystery to him. “For 30 years I worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. I went all over the place.” I tell him my granddad was an engineer for the Southern Pacific, then I ask how his hearing is. This makes him laugh and he holds up his fingers to indicate about an inch.
“It’s not so good. I only got a little bit left. As a matter for fact, I got paid for that. That’s how I bought my bike. They paid out for taking my hearing, but I loved that job. Then I used to drive long-haul trucks all over. Been to California, Nevada, Washington and the like, but it just got to be too much so I quit. I like sleeping in my own bed nowadays. Or I did before my wife got all crazy.” Again he flails his arms over his head, this time as if trying to swat the bats away from him.
I ask if he’s a native Texan. He breaks into a big smile and in a distinct drawl says, “Born and raised, right here in Dallas. For 59 years I’ve lived right in this spot.” He shakes his head. “We have a lotta transplants around here, folks from all over, but I’m rootbound. I’m gonna get me a new bike just as soon as all this mess gets straightened out, though, and I just might take off for a while. Maybe you can tell me a good place to ride to? I used to ride a Harley for funeral escorts, you know, stopping traffic and all that; lead the processions. I got hit four times doing that and I just decided I had to give it up. People don’t respect funerals anymore; they just don’t pull over or stop. I got pretty banged up. Here, just look at my thumb now.” He reaches out to show the disfigured left hand with the thumb that protrudes in an unnatural bend. “But I’m not gonna stop riding,” he tells me. “No, ma’am; they are not gonna take that away. I just don’t have to be a sitting duck on my own bike. I used to have a V-Rod. I like to go fast and that bike certainly would do that. Our speed limits here are pretty good. You get out on the freeways away from the city and you can find you some 85 mph speed limits where you can just cut loose, but we got a lot of road construction out here. A whole lot. Mostly it’s around the bridges for some reason, and it really makes the traffic jams even worse.
“It will be nice to head out for a change of scenery, I think. I got people scattered out all over the place. Used to go up and see the ones in California once in a while, but haven’t for a few years now. Think that might be where I’ll go when I get my bike, you know? Go visit my family and get caught up. We’re all getting up in years now; might be a good time to make a trip. Have you been to Europe? I bet they don’t have a bunch of torn up roads over there, do they? I’ve heard they have a road called the ‘Auto Vaughn’ with no speed limits at all, or they’re like 120 mph or some crazy thing. Is that right? How much you think it would cost to go over to Germany?”