This was originally intended to be an amusing column with the working title of “Two Men in a Bed” that would address the universal revulsion riding buddies on the road feel toward that most dire of circumstances, that most dicey of predicaments: that of riding into town late in the evening and road-weary and discovering that the only room available to them has just the one bed. That could only lead to one of two outcomes, the first being that of climbing into bed with a man—which is icky in the extreme, and, frankly, we’re mystified by how the women folk tolerate it—and the remaining possibility being that one man gets the bed and the other nests on the hard, hard floor, which invariably leads to resentment and is usually determined by a kind of savage primate alpha-dispute that can turn ugly.
That subject matter seemed like decent fodder for a column and was suggested by an episode in the Thunder Press office last week wherein Debbie had a reservation for a coveted room at the Legend of the Motorcycles Concours and wouldn’t be using it. Thus she put out the word that it was available and learned there was interest from a Harley dealer down south. The only problem was that the guy was planning on riding up with a buddy, and since the room had just the one bed, it was naturally assumed that this would be a deal killer. The women in the office just as naturally began to hoot and scoff at men’s skittishness at same-sex sacking out—a skittishness that women emphatically don’t share. They’ll bed down together and spoon without a second thought, and actually enjoy it, me thinks (and me likes to visualize).
So with the jibes and jests flying, I joined in the fun by sharing my most scandalous two-men-in- a-bed anecdote which occurred in 2000 when my riding buddy and dear friend Gene Hill and I found ourselves partying later than planned at the Hollister rally, and thus in no shape to make the long ride home. It took some doing, but we managed to locate and secure the absolute last available motel room in town and, naturally, it had just the one bed—and a small one at that. Too tired to engage in a savage primate alpha-dispute, we swore each other to secrecy, dosed ourselves with Lynchburg’s finest sleeping potion and fell into bed and asleep. And that should have been the end of it.
But the story took a wicked turn come morning when the door of the room flew open and in barged none other than esteemed moto-scribe and gadabout Clement Salvadori who, upon observing Gene and I flagrante—shoehorned back-to-back in the small bed, a bottle of Jack on the nightstand—remarked wryly, “My… doesn’t that look cozy.”
So that’s where this column was headed, but the tenor of it changed tragically when I was informed shortly after I’d started writing it that Gene had crashed his bike into a utility pole and perished. He was only 65.
The horror and loss of that tragedy are only beginning to sink into my psyche and my soul, but the most immediate horror of it was that not only would I never again find myself in a hilariously awkward situation with him, but that over the last few years I’d let my infernal schedule get the better of my time and our friendship, as I’d afforded myself fewer and fewer opportunities to just break away and hit the road with Gene. That’s a desolate, helpless feeling now. It’s a feeling I don’t care to repeat, and one that has me reordering my priorities and valuing my remaining friendships in a way I’ve grown remiss in doing.
Gene Hill was a Vietnam combat veteran, a newspaper editor, an engineer, and an entrepreneur among many other things. He was as fearless as he was unassuming. Possessed of an insatiable curiosity and a boundless sense of wonder, he was as erudite a man as I’ve ever known. And most importantly of all—at least for one night in Hollister—he didn’t snore, and he didn’t kick, and he didn’t try to steal the covers. And I can think of no higher praise than that for a true road buddy.
It’s all right here in the diaries.