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Southern Rail: Facing the future

By Robert Filla

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It’s the beginning of a new year, a time to boldly stare into the precipice and see what 2015 may have in store. And it’s a time of reflecting, surveying that sorry-ass list you made last year at this time. You remember that list, the one you fell miserably short of achieving—yeah, that one.

A few days after Thanksgiving, a friend dropped by the house looking for some instruction. He’s a rider and not much of a mechanic but had recently received shoddy service from an indie shop over a simple oil change. So he figured the least he could learn was how to manage the fluids replacement on his Softail. He’d already figured out the procedure for the motor and primary but was having difficulty in locating the drain plug for the transmission. Now I’d never worked on a Softail before but figured it couldn’t be that dang hard so I dropped to the driveway, snaked a few fingers up between the horizontally mounted shocks and… there she was. He was amazed I found it so quickly and asked how I knew where to look.

I answered, “I’ve been riding bikes for 45 years. I guess it’s just second nature by now to look at a situation and, whether it’s a bent valve, electrical short or locating a drain plug, take the most logical action.”

And then it hit me, 45 years, that’s a long time to dedicate to any one endeavor. Especially since I bought my first motorcycle with plans of just using it as a stepping-stone in getting my first car. But after that introductory bike ride I was hooked and now, 45 years later, I’m still a two-wheel junkie. I remember taking an extended summer bike trip to celebrate graduating high school, returning home all scruffy and sporting my first beard. Dad took me outside a few days later, forcing me to pose for a photograph while sitting on my bike.
When I asked why he was so insistent on taking the photo (this is a man who “maybe” picked up a camera three times in his entire life and this was one of those times), he grinned around a fat stogie and replied, “One day you may get tired of motorsickles. And… you may never grow another beard. So Son, this picture’s for you.”

Although Dad loved motorcycles, I never saw him ride anything other than the family minibike. But he always encouraged me to keep riding, never knowing the impact motorcycling would have in charting my life’s direction, and often misdirection (Gus passed away just a few years later at the young age of 56). But since the day of that photo, I’ve never been without a motorcycle and rarely without some manner of facial hair (a few stints in lockdown being the rare exceptions).

Ranging from a neatly trimmed beard or goatee to foliage that would rival Billy Gibbons, it’s become somewhat cyclic in nature. Cropped short in the summer months for comfort in the Southern heat, I release the face fuzz monster usually on November 1, letting it go rampant until Spring. And coming into the New Year, it is now sufficient in its massiveness to successfully ward off what passes for winter riding in Texas. My wife cares little for my Santa Claus guise, preferring instead the shorter, sportier goateed Robert. But she is tolerant of this idiosyncrasy knowing that in just a few months (seldom beyond Daytona Bike Week), with scissors in hand I will attack the bush and, as Spring sweeps out the dead of Winter and ushers in the new year with a rebirth of life, I too will return to my younger, barbered self. Kinda like a weird yin-yang, beard karma thing.

I use to make a grand list of New Year’s resolutions, blemished areas of my life in need of refinement, life goals that were slipping through my fingers and needed prompt attention. And then, like most of us, halfway through the year I’d stumble across that list and chuckle at what I felt was important only a few months earlier, acknowledging that the majority of those aspirations could never be met—at least not in a span of 365 days. So as we enter 2015, I’m keeping it so simple I don’t even need to jot it down: I plan on making it 46 years in the saddle and… sprout one more winter beard. I think Dad would be proud.

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