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Spare Parts: Orange Blossom Special

By Ernie Copper

Like Martin and Lewis, Jake and Ellwood and Thelma and Louise I have someone who has my back on the road. Before there was “Bert and Ernie” there was Richard and Ernie. Since we were old enough to get motorcycle endorsements on our driver’s licenses—that’s 45 years or more—we’ve been riding together and before that Richard was my neighbor. We jumped bicycles before we had motorcycles and took road trips too. On one such trip we peddled at least 20 miles one way to the next town over because they had a mall and came back the same day. My pedal broke that day and we had to make a roadside repair with a bolt we bought. There must have been seven other kids on that trip besides Rich and me, but I couldn’t tell you where five of them are today. That trip was our Stand By Me before there was one.

About a year ago, Richard started off the spring with an unfortunate camping accident that left him on the mend from a broken hip and it altered the landscape of his summer. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it also impacted my summer.

Over the years Richard and I have had plenty of adventures and motorcycle road trips including at least two certified 1,000-mile days, years of vintage bike shows and racing and lots of trips to buy and sell bikes. We once rescued five bikes from a front porch in Homestead, Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh neighborhood, and hauled them all home in the back of a Ford Ranger at the same time. You’ve probably read about many of the printable stories here over the years.

One of my favorite stories was the year we took only our sleeping bags to a bike rally just in case we decided to stay the night. No tent, no sleeping pads. We did stay and when he unfurled his bag, it turned out to be his kid’s youth-sized sleeping bag! There have been horses on the road, rainstorms, roadside repairs, parking lot tune-ups and U.S. Customs searches. There’s been good food and bad food, a few nice hotels and several really bad hotels, great bands and some not so great, but they’ve all become great memories.

Last year just wasn’t the same without Richard on the road. His V-twin and its stereo which loops Johnny Paycheck’s “Take this Job and Shove It” and Johnny Cash’s “Orange Blossom Special” sat silently in his garage. Richard’s convalescing was filled with more camping, of course. It’s a hair-of-the-dog remedy.

In an effort to get his wheels moving again, I bought Rich an “Aged Adults Riding Proud” T-shirt and had the artist, Tim Heir, autograph it for him at Johnstown’s Thunder in the Valley event. I told Rich he had to actually ride again before he could put it on and I think he’ll make that happen this spring.

It’s been a long year without Rich on the road, but I have had a good time riding with some new friends too; good riders with good heads on their shoulders. It’s just hard to explain the benefits of knowing and riding with someone as long as Rich and I have to anyone who hasn’t benefitted from a similar experience. We know where we want to stop to eat, what might be suspect on each other’s bikes, when we’re ready to roll on the throttle and when we need to cruise at a more leisurely pace. There are times when it feels like we are the motorcycle version of an aerobatics team, effortlessly carving up the roads and the traffic and there are times when we know we don’t have “it” and just take it easy.

Rich has already been back on his bike; he just hasn’t ridden it anywhere yet. He’s walked it around the garage and driveway and has even hit the exercise bike during the winter to keep things in shape so that when his garage door goes up and the spring sunshine breaks through he’ll be ready to roll again. The custom airbrushed eagle on his tank is just as ready to get back in the wind as he is and I’m more than ready to start the next round of adventures.

Today it’s not likely that kids who grow up together are going to live out their adult lives in the same town. I’ve got friends 90 miles away from the old neighborhood and we’re lucky to pull off visits once or twice a year. It seemed normal to have lifelong friends to me until a few years ago when my own kids both moved away, and then I realized how the world has changed. If you’ve got friends you’ve had your whole life and are lucky enough to share the passion of riding with them, give ’em hell when you can, but make sure they know that you know how special that brotherhood is. So, fire up that Johnny Cash, Richard, and let’s ride!

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