After a tour of duty in Vietnam Bud came back to the world in 1970. He had enlisted right after high school. In junior high he had been Bobby, then Bob in high school, Sergeant Robert in the Army and now he was just Bud.
Mustered out in Oakland, California, his pockets were full of every penny he had saved, plus all his bonuses. Ready for a real life, Bud found the public’s view of him not as he expected. He knew he was not a hero and didn’t plan on a parade, but he also knew he was no war-mongering baby-killer. Because of the continual insults it didn’t take him long to lose his uniform and lose himself in the crowd.
Two things were on his immediate agenda. Across the bay in North Beach, the woman that invented topless dancing, Carol Doda at the Condor Club on the corner of Broadway and Columbus, was first. The closest Harley dealer was second.
Ms. Doda and her twin 44s were worth his effort. The stop at the Harley dealer was not quite as successful. Bud wanted to buy the most outlandish, long and low custom chopper his money could buy. The dealer sold stock bikes. Custom choppers were specialties of small shops and the design he was looking for was more of a Southern California style. Bud took the train to L.A. Air travel had very little appeal.
In Westwood he saw Easy Rider in the theater. He had seen their motorcycles in magazines and that’s what he wanted, a “Captain America” Harley. Tonight was the real deal, the real movie, but it turned out to be a downer. On the way out of the theater he wanted to get even for what happened in the movie, blow up old pick-up trucks and kick the shit out of rednecks with goiters.
The next day he found the motorcycle. With a 20-over front end, ape hangers and six-inch dog bones, tall sissy bar, peanut tank and a new Shovelhead engine that was shoehorned into a ridged frame, it was exactly what he had dreamed about for over a year. “What kind of paint job is that?” he asked.
“That what I call Skull Crusher Red,” was the answer from the owner of the shop and the builder of the chopper.
“Why do you call it that?”
“You’ve seen fish scale and lace paint; you ain’t never seen crushed skull paint. Many layers, man; the first is primer, the second is a special blood red paint, for the third I crushed a skull into powdered dust, made it look like coke, blew it on the wet paint then air brushed skulls all over. The last is thick hand-rubbed clear lacquer. That why it reflects the light like it does; looks like sandpaper but it’s smooth as glass. Touch it. Feel it. See; smooth as glass.”
“Skull my ass.” This guy was talking to someone who had seen his share of skulls.
“No, really, my old lady bought a skull from a medical supply place. It really is crushed skull. That’s why I painted all those skulls on the tank.”
Two days later Bud had outfitted the bike with a sleeping bag and himself with a Mexican leather fringed coat. He was now in Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah. Easy Rider was playing there as well. What the hell; he could see it again. Maybe it would end differently this time. He parked the bike right in front of the theater and went in. At the end of the movie, it was different. People weren’t pissed, they didn’t want to kill rednecks; instead they cheered. They thought it was great to shotgun bikers. Bud couldn’t believe it. He left confused.
Dressed in black jeans, boots and a Mexican serape, a woman with raven hair was sitting on his bike crying. “Are you all right? Can I do something?”
“Take a hike, missionary.”
“Missionary? I don’t get it.”
“Buzz off, jerk.” Bud, with his Army haircut, was in the land of short-haired Mormon missionaries and fit the profile perfectly. She had him pegged.
“I’ll take off just as soon as you get off my bike.”
“This is yours? Bullshit!” She didn’t buy it.
As he put on his coat he said, “It’s mine and unless you want a ride out of town tonight, now, I suggest you move your pretty little self to the sidewalk.” Realizing her mistake she took a better look at him and then slid back to the passenger seat. “OK, you want a ride.” Bud lashed the sleeping bag to the sissy bar, stabbed at the kickstarter and headed east.
They rode into some high country. It was summer but it gets chilly in the Uinta Mountains. He threw out his Army poncho and unrolled the sleeping bag. “What was all that crying back there in Salt Lake?”
“Utah rednecks; I’ve seen that movie five times and every time the audience cheers when they get killed. I don’t get it.”
“If you’d seen the flick in Westwood, you’d get a completely different audience with a completely different reaction. They leave the theater wanting to get even and kill rednecks in beat up pick-ups.” Bud started a little fire. “What’s your story? You a runaway?”
“No, relax; I am not jail bait, I am legal and nobody is after me. I am just traveling.”
“Traveling a bit light, aren’t you? You got boots and a serape.”
“From Seattle, I was traveling with another chick; the bitch was a doper and stole all my stuff. My last money went for the ticket to Easy Rider. Don’t know why. I’ve seen it before. I was just lonely and down and crying seemed like a good idea. What’s your story? You don’t look like no biker I’ve ever seen.”
“I’m not like no biker you’ve ever seen. I am fresh back in the world.”
“Oh, that explains the military haircut. I thought you were a missionary. Funny, getting on the bike and leaving the city with you.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t looking for company.”
“You weren’t looking, but do you want some?”
As the fire died down, the last flicker saw the sleeping bag rolled out flat and two people sleeping under a Mexican serape.
This is for the real Sergeant Robert and his red Harley.