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Southern Rail: Digging on the past

By Robert Filla


A new year has arrived. A chance to put the past behind, look with hope to a bright future, forget mistakes made and take positive action to insure a stellar 2014. Yeah, whatever…

I was in one of those weird introspective moments, examining my sparse accomplishments during the previous year while denying my many failures. That’s when I happened to stumble across a group on Facebook that was dedicated to the Texas county where I grew up and went to high school. Old yearbook photos, ads from businesses long defunct, snapshots of a distant past; it touched on a little bit of everything and seemed to have quite a following. I even recognized a few of the members’ names. So, since it didn’t cost anything, I joined the group.

After the organizer of the page posted an old black and white of the Port Drive-In Theatre, I just had to make mention of riding my motorcycle there as a kid, watching B-grade biker movies while wearing sunshades (at night), eating popcorn and trying to look tough. I’d sit on the bench in front of the concession stand with the collar of my denim jacket turned up, practicing my best Brando sneer. Several of the members thought my rambling cute and posted replies. But one name jumped out, catching my attention—Black Cloud. No, that’s not his real name, but that’s what we called him back in the early 80’s. He earned that label since no matter how great the day, Black Cloud would find something to bitch about. So it only seemed appropriate for the club to tag him with the moniker. Yes, Black Cloud and I rode motorcycles together more than 30 years ago. And that’s about how long it’s been since I’d heard from him.

The author at the Tee-Pee Motel in Texas

The author at the Tee-Pee Motel in Texas

So I sent him a Friend Request, explaining who I was from those ancient times and we cyber-chatted for a while. Then he mentioned another club member that he’d recently talked with, Toke (don’t need much imagination to figure that one out). So soon I found Toke on Facebook too and began another friendly Internet relationship. It was a grand time reliving all those crazy days, zipping up and down the Gulf Coast, dodging the cops (who vowed to put the club behind bars), scrapes with the local cowboys (who vowed to put the club six feet under), women won, innocence lost, grand times indeed. Even though they’re younger than me, from their Facebook profile photos they both looked old. (Of course, I haven’t changed at all.) Neither had ever heard of THUNDER PRESS, which is not surprising since neither ride anymore—haven’t for many years, although both wished they’d never made that detour. But family and work and all those million little bits of life that get in the way sorta got in the way. And while I felt sad for them, they both seemed happy, although that’s hard to fully believe if there’s no motorcycle in your life.

And then I started thinking about the last time I saw them both. I wasn’t certain but it was most likely at one of the club’s notorious New Year’s Eve parties. I had just returned from New Mexico and my VP had made party arrangements with a nightclub in a nearby town that had reluctantly granted us admission to their end-of-the-year celebration. From there we were to stay at one of the club’s favorite accommodations, the Tee-Pee Motel. Built in 1942 to serve travelers heading across Texas on Highway 60, the Tee-Pee consisted of a line of kitschy one-bedroom units, fabricated from concrete and formed into the shape of a teepee. In a continuing state of introspection, I had to see if the Tee-Pee still existed, so a hasty road trip was devised. And of course the only bike to take on such an expedition was the same one I last rode there 30 years ago.

A new year has arrived. A chance to put the past behind, look with hope to a bright future, forget mistakes made and take positive action to insure a stellar 2014. To hell with that; I relish the past and all of my mistakes. We become who we are. And in the last 30 years, I’ve become a biker, no doubt—a damn good-looking one that apparently never ages. Can’t beat that. Happy New Year.

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