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Southern Rail: A Texas toast

By Robert Filla

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It was a grand time in my life; a time some men my age might even envy. I’d come through a recent divorce relatively unscathed and, even after paying off my vulture-lawyer and figuring out child support, I had a pretty stable financial base. I was the head designer in the engineering department of a manufacturer specializing in producing flare towers and pressure vessels for the oil industry. I’d even worked with NASA on a few projects. My only daughter was an honor student, didn’t drink or dabble in drugs and would soon graduate and start college. I had a new girlfriend, much younger than me (and we all know about the “vibrancy” of a new relationship). I’d even recently convinced a lending institution into loaning me the bucks for a new Harley; a Road King. Yep, it was a grand time. But something was amiss, a small little void that, if I paid too much attention to, would soon tear a gaping rip into my blissful life.

It was one of those little gnawing things, like a hangnail or insect bite that you can’t leave alone. But it was more along the lines of needing to ride someplace new, a new, unknown road, some path I’d never taken or even had the nerve to consider. I’d been toying with launching into a new career, but damn, I’d already been in the same office for more than a dozen years, well swaddled and insulated with all the corporate niceties of privilege—profit sharing, decent vacation, lenient superiors. That, plus I’d launched into a lot of new careers in my past, not always for the good. Being a romantic with artistic inclinations are not usually desirable qualities for the transformation into a successful businessman. But the nagging was persistent and undeniable. Soon, even if I hadn’t expressed it loud enough to hear in my own head, I knew a major upheaval was on the horizon.

It ended with a line drawn in the sand of my brain, a declaration I shared with no one. Before my next birthday, I would become the new me—photographer, writer, painter, poet—whatever. And when you are a bohemian artist, simply because your goal isn’t fully developed doesn’t mean you’re not ready to get on the field and run. I’d figure it out along the way, whatever direction that might happen to be. Didn’t matter about child support or bike payments, college tuition or next month’s rent money; I would be gone before my next birthday, which happened to be only five months away. Not to worry. What could go wrong?

I’d dabbled in photography and writing for several years, working for various magazines, mostly motorcycle- or outdoors-oriented. So that was a possibility. Maybe. I’d once possessed some damn good artistic skills, even winning some impressive awards. Maybe I could become a sculptor or a cartoonist. Maybe I could illustrate children’s books. But with most of my recent doodling efforts focused mainly on dreamy-eyed blondes with large breasts perched on the pillion of a stretched Panhead chopper, those possibilities seemed dim. I knew Texas well. Maybe I would make myself into a tour guide of the Lone Star State. Maybe.

And then I received the magic phone call. And magic it truly was and remains unto this day. The editor-in-chief of THUNDER PRESS called me two months before that self-imposed birthday cut-off date and made me an offer. It was something he had been working on for months. Would I consider taking on the job of editor of the South edition? Not sure he even finished that sentence before I answered yes. (Actually, it was more like, “Hell yeah yes!”) He asked when I wanted to start. One glance at the calendar and the answer was obvious; April 1. Even he thought it quite appropriate.

So I was offered the cup of magic Kool-Aid and drank it down without hesitation. And what a hell of a ride it’s been.

That was 120 Southern Rail columns ago. Yes, this issue commemorates 10 years as South editor. One hundred twenty, sometimes inane, ramblings about the state of the industry, current events and weird shit that happens on the road. Along with that monthly commitment, I’ve also authored more than 50 cover stories, attended more than 200 rallies and events, ridden and reviewed more than two dozen new models of bikes from a variety of manufacturers, many now defunct. I’ve become friends with some of motorcycling’s most highly regarded personalities and had to endure the presence of some of the biggest a-holes the industry has ever produced. I’ve stayed in luxurious digs and slept in roadside ditches. I’ve enjoyed lazy days of rapture riding the coasts of the Outer Banks and Florida, and have gotten slammed with tornadoes in Kansas and blizzards in South Dakota, riding more than 150,000 miles in the last 10 years in the service of THUNDER PRESS.

Looking back, would I do it again? Would I once again accept that cup of Kool-Aid knowing what I know now? About all I can say is, “Make mine a double.”

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