Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Biker's Code

I've read a number of ideas of what others think the Biker's Code is, or should be.  Some have written long elaborate statements about it.  My personal Biker's Code is quite simple:


Monday, December 10, 2012

Winter doldrums

Except for the lucky ones, far too many of us live in a climate where riding all year round isn't possible.  For the better part of my life I lived in New England where winters were long and cold.  My bike got laid up typically about mid October and stayed there until March.  I kept my bike in a shed, and on many a day during the winter, providing that snow hadn't blocked my access, I found myself opening the shed door to check in on the bike, wistfully yearning for the springtime to arrive, hoping it would be early.

Depending on how much you ride, you might even have welcomed the colder months so you could focus your free time on winter preparation chores or things other than riding, but in my experience it would take but only a few days before I found myself wanting to get back on the road.  Splitting firewood could wait.  So, occasionally, if snow didn't prevent it, I would pull the bike out of the shed, don the snivel gear, and ride for an hour or so.  Riding in 28 degree weather sucks!  No way around it.

Now I live in SE Arizona, a place I consider to have one of the best climates for riding all year round. Winters are not cold compared to what I've known in the Northeast, summers can get warm, but nothing like the unbearable heat of Phoenix or Yuma. I know, I lived in Phoenix for a couple of years and riding in the summer was pretty much limited to early morning or nighttime. Sitting in backed up freeway traffic at noontime with air temps about 115 degrees isn't pleasant. I have a friend who swears he loves to ride in that kind of heat, but I think he fried his brain one too many times.

One way to cure the winter doldrums, though, is to plan a winter trip, a bike vacation to a warmer climate.  Rent a bike for a few days.  Southern California, Florida, southern Arizona, and Hawaii make for good destinations during the winter to ride.  Of course, it's not cheap to rent a bike, but, shoot, what else are you going to spend your money on during the winter.  Buy yourself and your spouse a roadtrip for a Christmas present.

In the meantime, maybe some motorcycle magazines can help pass the time.  Dreaming about riding helps.  Plan trips for the warmer weather in your head.  Look at websites for new parts and accessories for your bike.  Read blogs like this one.  While the bike might be on hiatus, no need for you to stop being a biker.

How do you pass through the winter doldrums?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Lone Wolf Biker

Each and everyday I live by "the rules."  I get up to the alarm, shower & shave, dress, gather my car keys, cell phone, and lunch, then jump in the car and head off to work.  Drive 20 miles to my workplace, walk into the coffee room, fill'r up, head to my desk, and begin by reading emails and checking in with fellow co-workers, and then carry out my duties for the day.  Five days a week, 50 weeks a year, spending more than 2100 hours per year at the beckon call of my boss, yielding my life to someone else's vision.

Riding my motorcycle in my free time is my therapy and antidote to all that.  So why then would I want to spend any of that precious free time following MORE rules of some Motorcycle Club (MC) or Riding Club (RC)?  I wouldn't and I don't.  I'm a Lone Wolf Biker.  I have been one for most of my life.

The genesis for having lived my life as a Lone Wolf, and a cynical one at that, stems from lessons learned very early in life directly or indirectly from my father and mother and their experiences.  My father was a war hero.  He walked his way across Europe fighting in numerous battles, and then he was captured in WWII's infamous Battle of the Bulge.  Having been wounded in combat and been a prisoner of war where he suffered along with his comrades, he paid a heavy price for me and the rest of us.  He mourned his whole life for those of his buddies that never made it home. 

But what struck me most about his life's story was when my mom told me that upon his return from the war he applied to work as a postman, but was rejected because he was too short.  My dad was, indeed, short, 5'1."  I recall seeing a photo of my dad from when he was in basic training in the Army, with him in his khaki uniform projecting a fierce looking face while thrusting his bayonetted M-1 rifle, which appeared as large as he was.  He was an infantryman who carried his rucksack, ammo, and M1 as he trudged through harsh winter weather walking across Europe, lived in foxholes and trenches in heavy combat for weeks, and, wounded, witnessed many of his fellow soldiers die one by one.  Too short to be a fucking postman?!  So, the indelible lesson for me was that one either places his life in the hands of others, who likely have no true vested connection to your life, in other words, "they don't give a fuck!," or you do it on your own, independent and self-reliant. 

Simultaneous to this epiphany about my father, in 1969 the TV series "Then Came Bronson" appeared, and it sparked a yearning which to this day lives within me.   The series featured actor Michael Parks as the protagonist Jim Bronson, a newspaperman who becomes disillusioned after the suicide of his best friend and, after a heated argument with his editor, "working for the Man."  In order to renew his soul, Bronson becomes a vagabond searching for the meaning of life and seeking the experiences life has to offer.  Bronson rides a Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycle and, as such, was viewed by some as a modern version of the solitary cowboy wandering the American West.

The TV series inspired my dream to be that Cowboy on an iron horse.  But, as an East Coast kid, that dream seemed more like some nebulous vision than a possibility.  Of course, today that dream has become a daily reality for me, that I now live in SE Arizona. When I ride alone across the vast landscapes typical of this area I do feel like I'm now living a true adventure.  For those of us who have the opportunity to ride the lands of the West, with their cloud piercing snow-capped mountains and unforgiving hot and dry expansive deserts, the experience can sometimes feel surreal.  And yet, ironically, the impressing sense of isolation experienced in this vastness leaves me feeling more an integral part of the Universe than any other place that I've been.

One of the other salutary effects of being a Lone Wolf biker is that I have no obligation to any specific group, club, or organization.  No need to contend with MC/RC Presidents, V-Ps, Sergeants at Arms, or Road Captains and all the associated politics of such convoluted relationships.  Instead, I solely decide where, when, and how I ride.  Period. 

This leaves me free to unihibitedly explore various opportunities without the burden of projecting or defending some "colors" and its implied prejudice, which can naturally lead others to react defensively to your presence.  I can ride virtually anywhere I want, to any bar, rally, or event where other bikers are at, and I don't have to worry about conflicting with some perceived or illusory boundary of some other club's territory, turf, or kingdom.  No, I'm just an unassuming loner; no agenda, no threat, no message other than I'm an achromatic Lone Wolf biker out on an adventure.  Most other bikers intuitively accept, if not respect, that.

Some members of organized MC's or RC's might retort that a Lone Wolf biker is out there on his own, vulnerable.  But, I've never seen that as a problem.  Weighing the pros and cons of individuality and freedom vs membership and security, I choose for no shackles.  And sometimes I wonder too if not one or more of the serfs of the MC's I've encountered along the way might not wistfully wish that they too had held onto their once independence.

And, lastly, one of the greatest benefits of riding as a Lone Wolf is that the strangers I encounter in my travels seem to be intrigued by my choice to go it alone, so they seem more open to talking to me I believe.  More often than not, when I listen carefully, these new friends will share parts of their life's stories with me, leaving me, ironically, with a greater sense of connectedness than ever thought possible for a Lone Wolf Biker.



Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Perfect Day

Too many people view the biker lifestyle through the lens of much exaggerated news accounts and tantalizing fictional TV shows about Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs.  For the most of us who ride, and even for the Outlaw MC's, the lifestyle is about something quite different than that image portrayed by naive news media, TV producers, and law enforcement departments that suggests that bikers are just about extortion, drug dealing, and a myriad of other illegal activities that supposedly consume our days.  Fact is it's mostly about the ride and meeting special people along the way.

December 1st, about 11 a.m., and it feels like it's about 70 degrees along Broadway Blvd. in Tucson where my buddy Shon and I are pulling up outside Crow Tattoo.  Shon is scheduled to have a touch-up done on a large back piece that Jason, shop owner and tattoo artist, created several months ago.  We anticipate a short stay at the shop before we head out on a day without plan, except for running some miles on the Harleys and hitting some bars for a beer or two and the camaraderie of fellow bikers. 

An hour later we are on the hogs headed to the Bashful Bandit, a "biker bar" whose reputation as described to me a fews years ago by a friend, who is a retired cop, is that of a hangout for fierce evil bikers looking only to commit mayhem.  My cop friend warned me not to bring my wife, who happens to be an attractive sexy woman, to the bar because bikers would tear her away from me and rape her, forcing me to stand by helplessly idle. 

Of course, nothing of the sort happened, and I think my retired cop friend suffers from years of brainwashing of law enforcement's delusional and erroneously reinforced assumption that, ever since the mostly fabricated account of the alleged biker riot in Hollister, California in 1947, bikers' sole purpose in life was and is to commit mayhem and extol fear from innocent bystanders.

As we pull up to the door of the Bandit, only one other motorcycle, a bright yellow Yamaha, is parked there.  But there are a few other cars and trucks in the parking lot so I assume there will be a few patrons inside.  It takes a second for my vision to adjust to coming in from the bright sunshine to the darkness of the interior of the bar.

The backs of three men sitting at the bar show that one of them claims himself to be a biker, as he is wearing a black leather vest with biker patches and a doo rag.  He's a very big fellow, well over 300 lbs I estimate.  The two men to his left look like locals, a couple of older men, maybe in the 60s or 70s, one drinking some sort of draft beer and the other, a rather feeble looking gaunt gentlemen, drinking from a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.   As I sit onto the bar stool I look over at the big biker dude and he's got a green can of soda pop, maybe club soda, in front of him.

To my left a couple of stools away is a guy in his mid 40s, short sleeved plaid shirt, with close cut greying hair, sitting with a small pitcher of beer in front of him.  He looks like just some regular Joe, quiet, unassuming.  The bartender is a woman who I've seen working there on my previous visits, her name I forget, and she is loud and blunt, but very polite when serving.  Apparently, we have walked in amid an ongoing conversation she's having with the guys about some shirt that she recently received as a gift, the shirt labeled in the front with the statement, "Fuck you you fucking fuck," she states loudly.  Everyone laughs as she banters with her regular patrons whom she calls by their name, and informs all of us how she had gone to the mall the day before wearing that shirt, but decided to wear a jacket over the shirt, "because there would be little kids there.

A few minutes later I hear a bike pull up outside the open door of the bar, and the bike, now at idle, is running like it has a high lift cam, with that distinctive "potata potata" loping sound which makes Harley riders like me smile.  It's hard to get a clear view of him because he is silhouetted by the bright sunshine coming through the door.  He doesn't come to the bar, but sits at a table alone.  I continue to study him and as my eyes adjust I can see that he's no spring chicken, probably in his mid to late 60s, tinted metal rimmed sunglasses on his face, brown with leathery wrinkled skin; he appears hispanic to me.  He looks of average height, but very thin and he's wearing a black baseball cap, black tee shirt, black jeans, and black boots. Both arms appear to be full sleeved with fading tattoos.  He's also donning silver studded black fingerless gloves and studded wrist gauntlets. The bartender shouts over to him, "You drinking today?"  "Coffee," he replies. 

A couple of minutes later I see him pull out a cigarette and stand and turn towards the door, and I notice that stuffed into his belt at his lower back is a large black handled sheathed knife, a bowie style, which I figure has to be at least 9" in length.  A few minutes later he re-enters the bar and takes his seat again, and the bartender serves him another cup of coffee.  Ten minutes later his bike starts, the familiar loping sound echoing through the door, and off he rides.  He had spoken to no one other than the bartender.

My buddy and I chat with the other men at the bar for about 30 minutes, and the conversation comes around to the fact that we were considering riding to Picacho, a small town located north of Tucson about a half hour away where there was supposedly an old biker bar named, "Eddies"  My buddy tells me that it was at one time, according to his step-father, a place where hookers provided services to truckers, as it was located aside the interstate.  A pudgy red faced and grey bearded man with stringy deshelved hair hanging down from beneath an old somewhat crushed straw cowboy hat walks up to the bar just after the silver studded coffee drinker departed, catching our conversation about Eddies and says, "It's been years since I was there," and I wonder whether or not the place is even there anymore.  After considering it, my buddy says, "Fuck it!, Let's go!" 

The interstate is very busy even for a Saturday in Tucson, but we weave our way through the traffic, showing little patience for slower drivers, especially those in the high speed lane.  We cut across lanes again and again, several times coming within inches of cars we are overtaking, rolling the throttle, our loud pipes cracking over the din of traffic, and I look down and see the speedometer reading 110 mph as we pass the last of cage drivers before we glide out onto at least a half mile of open lanes ahead of us. 

I look over at my buddy and he is pumping his fist in the air celebrating the victory of surviving the obstacle course we had just come through.  We back off on the speed to 85 mph as the highway opens to 4 lanes heading north towards Picacho, a place famous, well maybe not so famous, for the mountain peak of same name that dominates the landscape of the area, and the location of some historic significance, the place of the only Civil War battle (actually a small skirmish) to take place in Arizona.

We have no clue where to go in Picacho, which is but more than a tourist stop with a gasoline station, some abandoned buildings, a Dairy Queen, and some road-side ostrich petting ranch.  We take the only exit for Picacho and we pull into the gasoline station to fill up our tanks, and ask a worker there whether or not he knows about Eddies.  He claims that it's been closed for some time.  He says, "There's a bar in Red Rock."  About 5 miles back on the interstate we had passed the exit for Red Rock.  He tells us to take the frontage road back towards Red Rock and to go over the highway on the overpass and there would be a bar.

Ten minutes later we are rolling into the gravel parking lot of what appears to be a red painted mobile home trailer apparently converted to a bar, with big white letters painted on the side, "Red Rock Bar,"  "Mixed Drinks."  Aside the bar building is an abandoned gasoline station, pump islands sans pumps and an overhead awning are what's left besides the main boarded up building.   Weeds grow through the cracks in the concrete pads, and the whole place, the bar and the abandoned gas station sit as a lonely island in a vast sea of moistureless tan dirt, with few signs of desert vegetation anywhere within sight.  As if this place had dried up long ago.

There is one car parked in front of the place.  A small porch, fed by a wooden ramp stands as the entry to the place, and two women are sitting outside on the porch.  One woman, dressed in a turtle neck sweater and jeans, with long reddish hair, bangs covering much of her forehead and face, who is neither attractive nor homely, is sitting on a stool pulling a drag on a cigarette as I approach and she stares at me.  She reaches her hand out and says, "Hi, I'm Deborah, who are you?"  I say, "JT, this is my buddy Shon."  She shakes our hands and turns to an older woman sitting aside her and says, "This is Sally, the owner."  I reach over and shake her hand.  Without hesitation Sally asks, "You want a drink?"  I order our typical beers, Bud Light for me and Dos Equis for my buddy, but she says she doesn't have Dos Equis.  Shon accepts her offer of Corona, and Sally recedes into the darkness of the inside bar. 

I walk through the entrance of the bar and the place is sparse, a couple of stools at the bar and a refrigeration cooler with sliding glass doors with a small assortment of beer.  The bar looked like it had long ago seen its better days.  The only relatively new thing in the bar was the juke box.  Above the juke box is a large amateurish painting of a naked woman lying on her side, with exaggeratted eyes and thick eyebrows and a voluptuous figure.  Reminds me of the Elvis-style paintings routinely seen for sale alongside some off-beat roadstops.  A separate room appears to have once been a busy lunch counter, with several old white kitchen appliances sitting atop a dusty counter.  I'm hoping for a Slim Jim or something else to curb my hunger, but Sally says, "We don't have any of that stuff."  I exit back out onto the porch where Deborah is talking to my buddy.

Two hours later I've learned a lot about Sally, who repeatedly claims she's an "old lady," and doesn't need a man, and that she's not Mexican, but her family is from Spain and Ireland, and about Deborah, who tells us that she just turned 50 years old.  From her actions and comments to my buddy, just about since the minute we arrived, she has made it her obvious goal to "hook up" with him.  My buddy has danced inside the dingy bar with Deborah a few times to music from the conspicuously modern digital juke box while Sally and I set outside discussing her life, her dead husband, how she's fought off speculative land developers looking to buy her commercial property, and how lots of bikers visit her place and that she proudly owns a  ".380 pistol."

Sally's son Bobby shows up mid visit and that puts a quash on Deborah's romantic overtures to my buddy, and she explains to my buddy that, "He gets jeoulous."  Bobby wears a cowboy hat, sports a thick black mustache with a noticeable space between the moustache's two halves, walks on crutches, and speaks with a distinct cowboy accent.  "We're from Texas," interesting that he reminds us of that several times though Sally says that she and her husband opened the bar in Red Rock in 1979.  Bobby tells me how he once was one of the best bull riders in rodeo and that he was personal friends with former bull riding champions Ty Murray and Tuff Heddeman.

Deborah whispers something to my buddy and heads to her car.  I'm expecting that my buddy will follow her on his bike and I would head off towards home, but as she opens her car's door she turns back towards us and says, "I'll be back in 10 minutes."  Upon her return she offers to show what she holds in her hand, three pictures, one of which is a picture of her when she was a year old, another of when she was 14 and a "Tom Boy," and a third of her, taken not too long ago, showing her natrually red hair, which is now covered by what she admits is a wig on this day.  All three photos are held together with scotch tape.  She explains that her boyfriend tore them to shreds during a recent fight in which he beat her, and he now sits in jail for that.

We exchage hugs and handshakes with Sally, Deborah, and Bobby before donning our leathers and heading out onto the frontage road.  The sun seems minutes from setting.  We roll onto the interstate heading back towards Tucson where we find some food at a favorite sports bar, after which we head back onto the highway in the dark towards our homes 40 miles to the southeast.  The bikes' headlights pierce the night and we run side by side at 80 mph until I reach my exit and I signal a peace sign to Shon and he throttles away into the darkness of the unlit highway.  I pull my bike into the garage and think what a perfect day this had been.