It’s my birthday. This is a milestone, or a tombstone, depending on how you view such things, and I’ve been wrestling with what aging means to me. Mostly it’s been pretty cool since I was never supposed to live this long and I’ve enjoyed each day of my borrowed time. Seriously. In my 20’s I was given grim news and if one is to believe the pill-pushing sawbones of Western medicine, I was going to be deaf and paralyzed before my ultimate death within five years. There were some pretty rough times for a while back then but, basically, I told the docs to shove off and things got better. Which brings me back to today, when I turn 60.
Most people think I live a fairytale life of tripping along the back roads without a care in the world and that’s a pretty fair assumption. Except for the carefree part. Just because I don’t have a mortgage or HOA headaches, punch a time clock or fight commute crap that doesn’t mean life has no struggles. I do have some serious stuff going on. I mean, I check my horoscope forecast regularly. There’s some dire stuff in there sometimes. Prime example was the one that said I’d have money trouble this year, and that has come true. I’ve found myself sitting still in one place, stuck, as I await funds a lot lately. Basically, that means I have to be more strategic about where I land, so I’ve been avoiding the ghetto areas and places with crummy scenery. Nothing worse than having to sit still in an ugly place but I try to be philosophical about such things and figure we’re all facing economic issues these days. I know I’m not the only one who keeps a close eye on the jingle in their pockets.
I’ve learned a lot in my six decades of living and I think the most important thing is to keep on learning. Last year’s lessons seemed to focus on loyalty, respect and honesty. You know, the painful stuff you learn by being hurt by people you love and trust, so I’m feeling certain that I’m heading into the next chapter of life with a more educated attitude and, hopefully, a better sense of whom to let close. But maybe not. I don’t want to get all jaded and bitter or anything, ‘cause I understand that carrying that crap with you makes for a hardening of the heart. And wrinkles. And gads, I sure don’t want any more damned wrinkles.
But the coolest part of life is connecting with others. And I am surely blessed in that since my life is all about meeting new people. Just yesterday I was sitting in the warm sunshine at an event, waiting for the awards ceremony, when a gentleman and his lady sat next to me and struck up a conversation. He announces that he is 79 years old, which surprises me since he looks younger than I. He’s blessed with beautiful skin and I envy his lack of wrinkles. I share that I am turning 60 and he reaches over to rub my back and chuckles out loud. “Oh, honey, you are a mere babe. You have so much more life to live.” We visit a bit and I notice the “Chosen Few” patch on his vest as my new friend asks if I know who he is. I admit that I have no clue. Clifford Vaughs tells me he’s the guy who built the bikes for the Easy Rider movie, though Peter Fonda gave him no credit for that until two years ago when he went public with the information. He blamed Dennis Hopper for hiding the facts, of course, since it’s so easy to blame the dead guy. Cliff shares that he grew up as a spoiled rich kid in a family that rode Harley-Davidsons, including his mother who bought him a car at 16 because she didn’t want her precious boy on two wheels. He studied under photographer Richard Avedon and worked at a major news network, earning awards and accolades until the network heads wanted to meet him face-to-face and discovered he was black. He was immediately fired. He talks about his civil rights fights in the 60’s, the federal lawsuit for discrimination and his affirmative action efforts that broke ground not just for African Americans but for women as well. And his work with Harley-Davidson to get recognition for the black riding community, since black men have been riding Harleys forever.
Cliff’s lady, Daniela, chimes in about their meeting in grad school and his breaking her heart back then, but they found each other some 53 years later and she invites me to their home for a visit. She says I need to come soon, however, since they plan to buy a boat and set sail. “We might be too old to handle sailing now, in our 70s and 80s, but we won’t know until we try,” she giggles. Suddenly turning 60 doesn’t seem like such a drag after all.