Back in the olden days, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, just after the first caveman invented the wheel, John R and I took a motorcycle ride, he on his Yamaha, me on my Norton. It wasn’t a cross-country tour or an adventure from Alaska to Mexico, just an easy overnight ride where we would be camping, drinking and telling lies to each other about how the ladies would pine for us until we got back in town.
At the end of the day, before we looked for a place to camp we stopped at a roadhouse for the purchase of several beers, which would quench our thirst and save us from dehydration. While sitting on the bikes in the dirt parking lot, discussing which red wine would complement our dinner of salami sandwiches, a tall man pulled up and parked right in front of the doorway, utilizing the tiny patch of asphalt, eschewing the dirt and the dust that might distort the perfect paint job on his Harley-Davidson Electra Glide.
John R and I rode cut-down, fast, well-handling café bikes. We called what this man was riding a “garbage barge” and our faces showed disdain for it as he walked into the store and returned with a bottle of scotch. Being a smartass I walked over and as he stowed the bottle in a specially built leather holder just behind the seat, I said, “Nice bike,” in a condescending tone.
The tall man wearing engineer boots, black jeans, a black vest festooned with ride pins, a long- sleeved white shirt with turquoise cufflinks and a matching bolo tie, all topped off with a Harley yachting cap, turned slowly to me and smiled. “You boys riding those bikes?”
“Yep.” And that was the beginning of our long conversation.
I commented on the decals glued to the fairing’s windscreen, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, The Alamo, Reno Air Races and that started him off with stories about different trips. With each travelogue, without interrupting the flow of his narrative, John R or I would point at the myriad of accessories and gadgets attached to his machine and the tall man would add into his yarn why this or that piece made the ride more comfortable or more unique or more stable or more something.
During his dissertations the bottle of scotch was opened and passed around. Then, the tall man reached into a special compartment and pulled out an 8-track tape. Plugging it into the radio caddy that hung beneath the inside of the fairing, he asked, “Do you boys like Hank Williams?” Before we answered we were listening to Hank Senior.
Starting on the right side he pointed to the fancy air cleaner and the pipes and talked about his high-performance torque cam that lived deep in the bowels of the engine. As we followed him around to the front we pointed to the fender light and a deer whistle which elicited a story about Wolf Creek Pass and how they saved his life when a deer jumped out in front of him.
Showing understandable pride in the batwing fairing and the decals, driving lights, extra amber fog light and chrome air horns, he took out a red neckerchief and polished away non-existent invisible dust as we continued to the left side. The tall man reached over and using an auxiliary cigarette lighter, which had a clever little flashlight built in, lit a Lucky Strike and then changed the 8-track tape to a jazz combo with which I was unfamiliar. A new story about riding 500 miles out of his way to hear that group was started.
By this time the three of us had walked around the entire bike and were now at the back where I stared at the fender bedecked with extra brake lights and bejeweled with a half a dozen bullet running lights. The tall man propped up his foot on something and continued telling stories. It was a while before I realized his foot rested on a trailer hitch and when I commented a new wave of trailer stories flooded out.
As he spoke I stepped back and actually looked at the paint and chrome, the leather and fringe and my misplaced elitism and sarcasm vanished and were replaced with appreciation.
John R and I eventually asked about a camping spot and found that this county allowed overnight camping in County Parks, one of which was just a mile down the highway. We said goodbye and watched the tall man roar off toward home in the dwindling evening light.
After our salami sandwiches and the bottle of wine the sleeping bags felt good.
At daylight I was awakened with the sounds of a Harley Electra Glide moving through the morning mist. It was our tall friend, two-up and pulling a trailer.
Last week, coming out of the gym, my Electra Glide happened to be sharing a parking space next to a Harley Sportster. “Have you got enough room to get out?” The young man asked as he slid forward to move his bike. “Figured we could double up in this space.”
“No problem, I’ve got plenty of room.” And that started our conversation about the differences between his Sportster and my Electra Glide Touring Classic Ultra.
As we stood at the right side of my bike I pointed out my fancy air cleaner, then walked around the front where he noticed the fender light, deer whistle and the travel decals I had attached to the windscreen. Working our way around the left side, I reached in, turned on the radio and loaded a CD. “Do you like Beethoven?”
As we made the full circle around the bike and ended up at the back, the young man wanted to know what it was like riding a real touring machine. “Well, if you were on your Sportster headed east out of Los Angeles, in Las Vegas you’d be done and get a room. On a Dyna you’d make Cedar City, Utah. On this Electra Glide you’d get gas in Salt Lake City and head for Boise, Idaho.”
We shook hands, said goodbye, I mounted up and rode off into the traffic. It wasn’t until later, when I got home, that I noticed I was wearing black boots, a black vest, long-sleeved white shirt with turquoise cuff links and a matching bolo tie.
“Maybe I’ll get a trailer.”