Youíre 46 years old, 70 pounds overweight, havenít had a vacation in eight years, IRS wants another $ 50,000 and your ex wife another $ 30,000. Your partners want to open an office in Siberia and put you there as the resident representative, because youíre getting to be like a junk yard dog and canít be allowed around civilized people or even clients. You canít start drinking only because youíve already done that. Your children tell people that theyíre adopted. What the hell you gonna do?
Youíre gonna get a motorcycle - thatís right - youíre gonna get a motorcycle. Whadaya mean theyíre dangerous? Hell, Iím dangerous just as I am. Compared to a morning around me, motorcycles are perfectly safe. And think positive - think of the benefits, the cheap thrills; the fact that you can jump on it and leave whenever you want, no planning, nothing; nobody is gonna get on it with you; no telephone; just staying alive on it gets your mind off everything else; no other member of the Episcopal church has one (in those days I thought I was an Episcopalian. Now I know Iím not qualified to be anything but a Methodist); the bragging rights; the lies you can tell which no one can ever dispute; the weekends on country roads. How could you ever turn down a proposition like that? It also helps to be a bit wacko.
For relatively little money you could buy some reliable transportation. Try that with a car. In 1984 Detroit nobody has any money and dealers are choking on inventory. Theyíll almost pay you to take the thing out of the showroom.
Which motorcycle do you buy? A Harley aint a motorcycle - itís a cult. Later it will become a damn yuppie identifier ridden by dentists and accountants to the coffee house on Sunday morning. But in 1984, if you bathe, brush your teeth, wash your hair, occasionally change your clothes, went past the sixth grade, have never been in prison and are not turned on by women who like to expose their tatooed breasts, Harleys aint for you. Doubters should buy copies of Supercycle or Bikerís Life. Harley riders like to stop and grease motorcycle chains every 500 miles and fix the damn thing every time they come to a complete stop. They have no room to carry clothes. Every bag is full of spare parts and tools. If you want to ride a bike instead of work on one, you get a Honda, Yamaha or Kawasaki - rice rockets.
Minimalism is the key. Ride it just as it comes out of the box. Put stuff on it gradually as you need it. Not even a windshield (called a fahring - very Teutonic, what). With a face shield on your helmet you can keep the flying protein out of your face. The wind carries the engine noise away and you become euphoric.
Go take the motorcycle safety course. Jumping on a bike to learn from experience will hasten the day when your wife and her next boyfriend begin enjoying your wine cellar and life insurance proceeds. In motorcycle safety school - just two weekends - you learn survival; whether this is something you really want to do; before you buy a bike. If youíre really lucky, it will be taught by Harley riders who impart specialized street smarts and a wonderfully specialized vocabulary. They start with this sucker is called a motorcycle, and end with one hand slalom rides while standing on the pegs and jumping over logs, bricks, cinderblocks and mufflers that will fall off other vehicles and be lying in the middle of the road. It includes emergency obstacle evasion - countersteering for you physicists - panic stops and paranoia ---everyone out there thinks that it is his civic duty to run over a biker. At the very colorful course finale, the instructors get angry with each other and punch each other out. If the course is taught right, student attrition is high.
One of the best things about being a biker is that people think of you as a hulking, vicious savage, to be feared and avoided. That didnít mean much to me, because I was that way already. But since they think youíre a bad ass, they try not to give offense. Someone who would think nothing of stealing anything out of a car wouldnít touch anything on a bike, believing that the owner will see him and break every bone in his body rather than turn him in to the police who might respect his civil rights. But, on a bike, no one will cash your check; your credit cards are assumed stolen - take cash (this too will change with yuppification). If you really want to terrify somebody, smile at his wife or daughter and say hey, baby.
This is going to be my first Culo de Piedra summer. Culo de Piedra means stone ass (later in the evening it could also mean stoned ass), and it connotes the ability to sit a bike for a 600 mile day. At dayís end you pull in front of a proctologistís office so he can get a crowbar and help pull the bike out of your ass.
Immediately after the course, I bought a 750 cc Yamaha Maxim, a truly marvelous piece of machinery at the lower end of the muscle bike group. It will take you anywhere at very nice velocity (cruises comfortably at about 90 mph). Unlike wives, children, clients, judges, juries and partners, this thing will never let you down. If theyíre not available in heaven, I aint goin there. Hell, I aint goin there anyway.The only person I know there is Jesus.
For a week or so I rode it everywhere, to the office, to court, everywhere. Five days on the John Lodge Expressway raises your survival skills to Combat Infantrymanís Badge levels. Dodge potholes and debris, trying to outrun laid-off auto workers who hate the S O B having so much fun on a Japanese motorcycle. It hones your aggressive tendencies (as if I needed that) and places in sharp focus the difference between humanity in the abstract and humanity in the particular. That Jesus could love us all is one of the worldís great mysteries. But then, Jesus never rode a motorcycle down the John Lodge Expressway.
My best friend, Mike Tulloch (two tours in VietNam-loved it-wanted to go back for a third, but the damn war ended) Green Beret, bought an identical motorcycle, and we rode around Michigan - sun, fresh air, country bars, country girls, thereapeutic.
Late June - first ten days off since 1976 - first road trip solo - everyone says donít do it - a partner increased my life insurance. I told the agent it was in contemplation of my first solo cross country motorcycle trip, but he refused to believe it, was hot for the commission and never passed that along to the insurance company.
I-75 from Detroit to Toledo is bleak. Itís the main truck route south from Detroit. Might as well face terror right at the outset. Arriving at Toledo - 50 miles away - was a great personal victory. South of Toledo I got off the expressway - now called the Interstate - and onto country roads to Columbus. On back roads even Ohio can be beautiful. There aint no damn beauty on the freeway. Back roads through small towns and by farms let you relax and smell the cowshit, visit country taverns, talk with explicit country girls/women, experience scenic interludes, quiet beautiful places to stop and be at peace within yourself. Youíre not in a hurry, just touring, grateful, happy, relaxed.
Until it begins to rain. Columbus through West Virginia - rainy ride through mountains for six hours. Back road south out of Wheeling takes you through beautiful hill country. Next trip Mike and I would do this in sunshine, but today I am cold and wet - hadnít bought a rainsuit yet. In a short rain you pull over and wait it out. In an all day rain you grit your teeth and press on. By noon, lips blue and totally waterlogged, I pulled up in Hundred, West Virginia for lunch, sat on a lunch counter stool and dripped water all over the nice ladyís floor while her lovely daughter, Petra, poured hot coffee down me. Two stools down, there was this grizzled old guy who would eat a cheeseburger without taking his wad of chaw backy out of his mouth. He just pushed it with his tongue between a cheek and a gum and chewed his cheeseburger on the other side. Pausing in mid repast, he looked at me like he was seeing an extraterrestrial. He was at least 80 and had lived in those hills all his life.
OLD MAN: Whar yew from?
ME: Detroit, Michigan
OLD MAN: Whutdíyew do?
ME: Iím a lawyer.
OLD MAN: Yew aint too bringht, are ye?
OLD MAN: Yew know old man Rancifer, the lawyer in this county?
ME: No, sir.
OLD MAN: He was so crooked that when he died they just screwed him into the ground - didnít even need no coffin.
East of Morgantown, West Virginia is the Cumberland Gap where the sun came out and my smile returned. In bright sunshine at 65 mph with no windshield, you blow dry in about 20 minutes. In the right circumstances you can be very grateful for the simplest things. Catoctin Mountain State Park in Maryland was the end of the day reward - leafy glade, lush, green, sweet - then another hour of drenching downpour, all the way to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Next day into Tomís River, New Jersey and the home of my old friend and college room mate, Ed Maiorine - warm welcome, hot shower, clean bed, washer and dryer, extray dry Muldoon martinis - everyone wants to know when I lost my mind and bought a motorcycle.
Sunny summer Sunday at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City -- Ecstacy. Park the bike right across the street at the curb - try that with a car. Only idiots take cars into Manhattan - motorcycles are ideal. And even the punks leave it alone, because they know that nearby lurks the hulking, slavering, carnivorous, 600 pound owner with punk stomping boots and breath that would make a goat wretch. In addition to the art, antiques, old armor, gift shop, the Met is the best girl watching you can buy on Sunday morning. There is a very distinct difference between country ladies and New York City ladies - ah! Ecclecticism! Not that any of em would say hello back to the likes of me. Oh well. Theyíll never know what they missed.
Itís an easy ride from New York City to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, down the Garden State Parkway to the southern end of New Jersey and a sunny boat ride across the Deleware to Maryland, along the eastern shore to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, to Norfolk, Virginia, Virginia Beach and the Carolinas.
By now, motorcycle is free of angst, and I realized I was having the most fun of my whole life. The bike gets 60 miles per gallon, $ 25 to go from Detroit to New York on the scenic route. And if you have the good sense to have friends everywhere, and to stay with them, the trip is more enjoyable and cheaper than staying home.
The Shark, a/k/a Daniel Shellhammer, another college chum, r.i.p., whose favorite food was a stick of butter, and his family had rented a cottage at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. There ensued two days and nights of telling his kids what a fucked up cadet I was at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, while I explained to them how their clever father managed to get through six years of a four year college curriculum with just two pairs of socks and two pairs of jockey shorts.By his fourth year they were unlaunderable, so he stopped sending them to the laundry.
It can take about a day to cross North Carolina east to west on back roads. It aint that interesting until you get into the foothills of the Appalachians, but the bugs are really big and juicy, and when one hits you in the chest at 80 mph, you think youíve been shot. You do have to stop every now and again to get their guts off your face shield so you can see where youíre going. Many of them make love in mid air, and catching a few flagrante in delicto on your face shield is coitus interruptus at its very messiest.
Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, North Carolina, Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive, 200 miles of glorious, winding mountain roads, valley views, cool clean air, wild flowers, deer, upland game, hawks, quaint little towns and personalities, old men in general stores who tell you about beautiful places not on the map, like Germany Valley, south of Seneca Rocks, West Virginia - You wanna just stop and take root.
They make wine in Virginia. This aint your great California drinking wine, but itís better than almost all the wine made in Europe. Most Americans donít know it, but we make the best wines in the world. Sure, there are great growths in Bordeaux and Beaune, but who wants to drink every day at $ 300 - $ 800 a bottle? If you like wine with dinner every night, youíre in wino heaven right here. Just south of Strasburg, Virginia is a delightful vinyard whose wines may be had at the Strasburg Inn. Like I said, it aint great wine, but the ambience of the country inn makes it seem better than it is.
From Strasburg I turned westward, back through Hundred, West Virginia where Petra at the S&S still had a pot of fresh coffee on. On the second trip, Mike and I came back via the Pennsylvania Turnpike - big mistake. That road belongs to the fiercest truckers in the world. One such, driving the biggest rig I ever saw in a rear view mirror, got to within six inches of my rear wheel at 75 mph and then hit his air horn. I did my worldís fastest lane change and looked up to see the name Frenchy flash by on this monster truck whose big chrome stacks laughed diesel fumes at me. Mike said Frenchy had caught me napping and decided to put his truck in my back pocket before hitting the horn just to see how I might recover. A change of underpants and we were back on our way. Mike always said to put my wallet and cash in my tank pack so he wouldnít have to put his hands into all the goo to rob the corpse in case of a bad acident.
Back to Detroit just in time to be retained to trry a case in Florida this winter -- guess I get to ride all year long -- must be living right. Next month Mike and I rode Michigan Highway M-119 from Harbor Springs to Cross Village. Itís even prettier than Catoctin Mountain State Park, because Lake Michigan is just west of the road below high bluffs.
August begins the first Culo de Piedra ride - Detroit to Houston to Orlando and back to Detroit. Client conferences in Houston, depositions in Orlando, perfect excuse to get back on the bike and on the road. If my partners donít like it - fuck em. (See how relaxed it makes you) Day one is dull, 550 miles to Mt. Vernon, Ilinois. Day two is almost fatal. On the narrow scenic road from Sardis, Mississippi to Kyle State Park and Oxford, where Ole Miss University lies, some good old boys thought it would be fun to run the biker off the road and down the steep 15 foot embankment into the ditch. Luck and skill kept me on the bike all the way down the embankment and it took over an hour to get back out. Nobody will stop to help a biker in a ditch except another biker, not even the cops. Out of the ditch, homicidal, I rode to Lake Kyle, washed the mud off the bike and went into Oxford to find a bar.
The next day it rained from Oxford to Vicksburg, but just as I crossed the bridge over the Mississippi River into Louisiana the sun came out. The temperature went up to 115 degrees and stayed there all day. I wanted to get into Texas that day and turned southwest at Shreveport to Carthage, Texas, planning to stop there. But the gas station attendant said the nearest cold beer was still 80 miles away in Nachadoches. That made it a 600 mile day in searing heat. Dinner was a six pack downed while standing in a cold shower. The lady at the motel front desk asked if I was OK because she said I was walking funny like a new bride.
Down South there are road signs with religious messages reminding you that Satan is an equal opportunity employer and that Hell is being enlarged.
Three days in Houston helped the old ass to recover its muscle tone. There I saw the gaudiest piece of bad taste in my life - The Carlysle Restaurant, the place the locals take New Yorkers, especially if theyíre from Long Island. The ambience required five Muldoon maritnis to keep from gagging. The Texas I like is pick up trucks, jeans, boots, saloons, barbeque, cat fish, really nice, considerate folks.
Sunday -- rain to Beaumont then clear to Pascagoula, Mississippi on the Gulf of Mexico, through dramatic swamps of western Louisiana where the Interstate is on stilts over the Atchafalaya River Delta, cattle grazing on small islands below. They must have to swim to the islands, somewhat like the Camargue region of southern France. In Slidell, Louisiana thereís a beer joint with a pool table and a rest room sign that says If your bat is short, step up to the plate.
Mobile Bay is beautiful and Battle Ship Park honoring the USS Alabama has trees, ship, flags, picnic tables and a corrugated tin liquor store.
Beyond Pensacola, Florida you should stay off the Interstate and get on the coast road through Panama City, Mexico Beach and Apalachacola, sugar sand beaches, change clothes behind the dunes. Apalachacola, further east, has no beaches to speak of. Itís a fishing village, old Florida, marshy, aint nobody put no paint on nothing in 40 years. Sunshine all the way, ride without shirt, arrive euphoric in Orlando to have to put on a suit and play lawyer for two days, then north.
Not much to see from Orlando to Savannah, Georgia. Didnít know to stop at Jacksonville Beach yet. Didnít and wouldnít stop at Saint Simonís Island and places like that with Ritz Carletons and stingy, expensive bars.
North of Savannah I took Route 17, the Ocean Highway, route of my childhood. Live oak trees, old country churches, sharecropper and tenant farmer shacks that havenít been modernized since the Emancipation Proclamation, old eastern woodland indian names like Coosawatchie, South Carolina on the Tullifinney River (probably Irish there). Thereís a Harleyville with no motorcycle shop and a Hardeeville with no hamburger stand. There was a gas station with a sign on the window saying that a man was stationed inside with a shotgun in case you got any ideas, and another sign saying that they refused to sell gas to communists, and another sign calling for the impeachment of old, dead Earl Warren.
After a few days in Charleston, among old friends who never left and who couldnít even imagine ever riding a motorcycle, much less crossing the country on one, it was back to Detroit. The east entrance to Great Smokey Mountains National Park is at Maggie Valley and Cherokee, North Carolina, tacky, tourist junk, fast food, blighted. Inside the park is a beautiful ride, then you debouche in Gatlinberg, Tennessee, just as bad. From there to Lexington, Kentucky you had better have some dry county insurance on board if you want a drink - you can get a cup of ice anywhere. At the hotel bar in Lexington they were having a best suntan contest, which ended in a big argument when three blacks and a Pakistani wanted to enter. You were supposed to know instinctively that the contest was for suntanned white people only, I guess.
You havenít seen too many references to food in this story. Itís September and Iím 40 pounds lighter than when summer began. Iím not known for self restraint, discipline, strength of character, good sense or any other trait needed to maintain a weight loss regimen. But this summer was such a natural high that food ceaased to be a dig deal in the scheme of things. I still think the best meal of the summer was a box of fried chicken and a bottle of Mondave Reserve Cabernet at a roadside picnic table.
Second childhood need not be the front door to senility. Many of my friends think this was really stupid -- that finally my mind is showing the effects of whiskey and syphillis. Hey, Iím happy!! At my age itís probably a good idea to keep your clothes on most of the time, but, other than seeing this ridiculous body in the mirror, passing 45 is a real thrill.
By Seamus Muldoon, Himself
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