Howdy! Grab a chair an’ a beer! As ya know, age does great things for booze (unless you leave your beer open overnight), fine art an’ cheese, but for us mortals, not so much. It seems like everyday I get a little older, an’ the effects creep up on me faster. Funny how that happens, innit?
The other day, Reggie an’ I put our bikes in a little show at an assisted livin’ center to help out with a good cause. That’s when the reality hit me that someday I could end up in one of those places if disease, a wayward cager or some other mishap doesn’t kill me first. The residents liked the bikes, came out to look them all over an’, as I always do, I started talkin’ to them as they ambled up on scooters, in wheelchairs or with walkers. I was surprised at some of the stories they had to tell about the past, an’ even though it’s kinda hard to picture them as young people doin’ the things they did, I find myself doin’ the same thing with my stories of “back in the day” an’ the choppers I built an’ rode ’til the wheels fell off—sometimes literally. Most of the time, I still think of myself as a young pup, able to conquer a 2,000-mile road trip on a rigid-frame Shovelhead, but then I take it for a 50-mile ride, an’ it reminds this ol’ dog of why I have a Softail. Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not quite ready for the rockin’ chair yet, but the aches an’ pains are gettin’ more frequent, my vision isn’t what it used to be an’ lately, my favorite answer to any question is, “Huh?” Yeah, I can feel my 64-plus years startin’ to take their toll, but I’m still runnin’ with the big dogs.
As we were hangin’ around outside the assisted livin’ center, one young soul in an old body spent quite a while visitin’ with us, an’ she recognized the older bikes right away. “Isn’t that a Shovelhead?” she asked, lookin’ over my ol’ Shovel. “Sure is,” I answered. “A 1974.” She went on to tell me about how she an’ her husband used to ride, each on their own Harley, back when “proper ladies” didn’t do that sort of thing, an’ I remember thinkin’ how her and my grandma would have been kindred souls. Today a lot of women ride their own bikes, an’ the number is growin’ every day, but this lady, my Gram an’ those like ’em were the ones who pioneered for today’s women riders.
When we go on rides an’ stop for food, gas or whatever, I’m often approached by elderly (yeah, more elderly than me) people who look at my bike and start a conversation with, “I had one of those back in…” an’ sometimes to Reggie’s annoyance, we end up chattin’ about bikes, ridin’ an’ the “good ol’ days” for an hour or more. I’ve found that respectin’ the memories of old folks an’ listenin’ to their stories is as enjoyable for me as the tellin’ of said stories is for them. I’ve found out that the diminutive old fellow with the checked flannel shirt who walked up to me at a Taco Bell in Kettleman City used to hill climb back in the ’40s on a WL. With little safety gear back then, the injuries were frequent an’ severe, but that didn’t stop those ironmen—or even slow them down.
Sittin’ on the pump island of a gas station, I listened as another octogenarian recalled his cross-country trip durin’ World War II on his brand-new Knucklehead in the dead of winter. He was in the Army, an’ they changed his duty station from the East Coast to West. The Knuck was his only transportation an’ he wasn’t goin’ to leave it behind. He told me how he had to stuff newspaper inside his pants an’ leather jacket to help fight the numbin’ cold, an’ how he’d stop at U.S.O. offices for cookies an’ to visit with the young ladies who volunteered to serve the soldiers. He said they were usually near the train stations because the troop trains used to stop, an’ they gave the soldiers a friendly smile and a snack to let them know that someone cared. He gave me a sly grin when he told me the young ladies liked the fact that he showed up in the dead of winter on a motorcycle, an’ chuckled when he told me that sometimes more than cookies were involved.
Lookin’ at that grizzled old man, it was hard to picture the dashin’ young soldier on his Harley, but when I took a closer look, that mischievous spark was still there in his eyes an’ I could tell that he still saw himself as a young pup, just as I do. It’s stories an’ people like these who make you realize that we aren’t the first generation to do what we do, an’ we won’t be the last. Our memories hold the generations together by a common thread. So the next time an old-timer approaches ya an’ wants to chat, remember that he’s not just bendin’ your ear; he’s once again feelin’ the wind in his face, just like you.