“When I was fifteen-years-old, in the early 50’s, I had a boyfriend who owned a motorcycle. That was before I knew your dad. The Indian Chief was the biggest motorcycle back then. My boyfriend had one and he tried to teach me how to ride it. The first time I sat on the Chief and held the handlebars, I was scared out of my wits. I told him I wanted to get off of it, but he insisted and I accidentally put it in gear. All I remember after that is flying across the street, hitting a lamppost, and flying up in the air. When I woke I was in the hospital, I had a dislocated pelvis, a broken leg, and a broken arm. That was the very last time I ever went near a motorcycle.”
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The Harley Davidson motorcycle rumbled and roared like a fierce lion in a Spartan arena. I had been bouncing a basketball, but I could still hear the Harley from the driveway when it was at least a half-mile away. A few short minutes later, it pulled in the driveway as I stood and shook from its vibrations. I marveled at the sight as a hulking man dismounted the magnificent iron instrument of independence. Watching him was like no other feeling I had ever experienced. It was my Uncle Jerry. Uncle Jerry’s 6 foot 4 inch, V-cut 265 pound massive body stood like the Statue of Liberty next to my ten-year-old short carcass of roly-poly pudgy protoplasm. I stood and marveled over his persona — all clad in biker leather — and his bike, Harley Davidson scribed on the fuel tank, a traditional turquoise over white paint scheme. Leather saddlebags strapped to the seat with leather tassels dangling from the sides and from the handgrips — like a cat-o-nine-tails. “One day I will be like Uncle Jerry,” that’s what this ten-year-old overweight cross-eyed kid envisioned.
Although Uncle Jerry’s 1948 Panhead, which sported the finest in Harley regalia, was definitely a mystique and difficult to duplicate, this was not my first encounter with the biker lifestyle. I was eight-years-old at the time. My dad would frequently drag me off to the neighborhood tavern to “keep an eye on me” while he got hammered. This one particular Friday evening we were visiting my aunt and uncle, not Uncle Jerry, a different aunt and uncle, and when the mood struck the boys headed to the tavern. My dad had me tag along for the ride to the tavern to “keep an eye on me.” We closed the bar down at three o-clock in the morning.
On our way back to my uncle’s house, we stopped at a traffic signal. My dad was driving, my uncle was sitting in the passenger’s seat and I was crouched down in the back seat behind my dad just below his vision in the rear view mirror, so as to be incognito, I think every kid tries this at one time or another. I would have climbed all the way in the back of our Country Squire station wagon, back in them days seat belts were considered a hassle and the law did not require them, but I was smooth, I decided to sit in the back seat so I could escape the vision of my dad’s piercing glares.
As we waited at the intersection for the light to turn to green, a longhaired biker, stereotypical of any biker straight out of a 60’s cult biker film, pulled aside us. My dad, who was now seven sheets to the wind and drunk as a skunk (I don’t know where that saying came from because I have never witnessed a drunken skunk or known anyone who has), rolls down his window and says, “Nice bike!” To which the biker replied, “Thanks.” Then my dad says, “It’s too (expletive) loud, turn it off.” The biker looked over at me in the back seat of the car, smiled and winked at me, and responded calmly to my dad, “Why don’t you make me.” My dad put the car in park, looked around at the desolate street, then he and my uncle began exiting the car as if they were two UFC fighters entering the octagon. The biker – still sporting a smile – gracefully reached inside his leather vest and pulled out the biggest shiniest hand cannon I had ever seen and he pointed it directly at my dad’s forehead, which was now about a foot and a half from the biker’s gun.
I began praying, but not your typical “God save us” prayer. I was rooting for the longhaired biker, “God be on his side”. The only thoughts that ran through my mind were similar to those of the late Martin Luther King, “Free at last, free at last!” Free from the oppression, the violence and physical mistreatment at the hands of my father, and living in fear. As I contemplated deliverance, I noticed my dad slipping on the pavement, or maybe his knees just gave out from fear or the added weight of those dreaded extra heavy booze testicles – he hit his chin on the car doorjamb. I couldn’t help but to chuckle and I was sure glad he didn’t hear me, as it would have earned me a backhand or a fist.
The biker looked over at me and waved the peace sign in my direction, after all, it was the 70’s and he was most definitely a prodigy of the 60’s, then he sped off with a great rumble from his chopped out motorcycle. My dad and uncle sped after him in our family station wagon scouring city streets for the next several hours searching for the mystical biker who nearly ended my dad’s pathetic existence. All the while my dad uttered phrases like, “let me catch that son-of-a-(expletive), I’ll run his (expletive) ass over. He’ll wish he never pulled a (expletive) gun on us and he’ll wish he would have pulled the (expletive) trigger.” Then my dad and uncle told tall tales and shared war stories of street fights they each fought and how they always came out the victors. Some of the stories were pretty elaborate, I believe one of the stories included the Sharks and the Jets, the leader of one gang Bernardo, some guy named Riff, and Baby John, they were all fighting over their “turf” and some girl named Maria — the old man swears this happened!.
I am in my mid-fifties now, I have always dressed the same, and my heart has always pursued one lifestyle. I am adorned in standard biker garb; faded blue jeans and a black Harley T-shirt. I have a chain dangling from my wallet and my keys swing at my side from a leather strap. It is quite hot outdoors. When most people are wearing flip-flops or sandals, I wear military style steel toed combat boots. I have thirteen tattoos and I desire thirteen more. Akin to a pirate, I sport two hoop earrings in one ear and one precious gem in the other ear. I top it all off with a leather head wrap, which is commonly referred to as a skullcap.
When I consider why I became a biker, I would have to say the most significant influences in my life were two men who loved and lived the biker lifestyle. I now own a Harley, but the fifteen-year-old, who swore an oath never to ride on a motorcycle again, my mother, rode on the back of my Harley at her sixtieth birthday party and said it was, “the best and safest ride of my life”.
If I had to come up with another reason I embrace the biker lifestyle… well… the old man hated bikers as much as he hated me!
This has been a… View From My Loft