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The last word

By Terry Roorda

First came the Harley hearses and then came the Harley-themed caskets complete with “Live to Ride” ornamentation (which is an odd touch, considering), and you might reasonably conclude from those developments that the whole “highway to Harley heaven” end game has been pretty thoroughly covered, but you’d be wrong. Consider the new Final Ride Urn (www.onefinalride.com), a “mobile cremation urn” that makes it possible to haul your loved one’s ashes around on your bike so they don’t miss out on any of the fun just because they happen to be dead and incinerated.

Seriously. The urn is actually a fancy cylinder that attaches to your bike’s front end, keeping the departed in the wind (especially if you don’t screw the lid down real tight) and it’s a sturdy fixture for sure. The manufacturer claims a crush rate of 30 tons, making the device impervious to “not only the elements, but the possibility of an auto collision as well,” which is a possibility almost too disturbing to contemplate, especially if it was a cage that took out the dearly departed in the first place.

The main advantage offered for a mobile cremation urn over more conventional means of final disposition is, we’re told, that “Sadly, cemeteries aren’t visited.” And to this I say: The hell they’re not. I visit them all the time, and so do a lot of other bikers on the road (It has to do with that whole skull thing, I think). I tend to frequent the really old ones; the mossy, creepy, overgrown graveyards with big spooky trees and ominous unmarked depressions and unsettling upheavals in the ground. Many of these are nearly forgotten, marginally maintained pioneer cemeteries you stumble upon in remote rural places, and they’re cool and quiet and offer an ideal respite from long miles of hot pavement. Some other fine examples are found in biker rally locales—Sturgis has Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, Daytona’s got Pinewood Cemetery (better known as Boot Hill) and Reno’s got the eerie Virginia City Cemetery—and these offer respite from the noisy crush of Harley humanity. Best of all, they all also offer interesting reading and long moments of introspection and perspective on the snapshot temporality of human existence.

These places are precious parts of our culture and heritage and those of you opting for cremation are, frankly, shortsighted. You’re not considering the future generations of youth who would be deprived of the joy of sitting on your grave drinking malt liquor and musing on the meaning of life and death and on what the penalty might be for digging up your corpse, boosting your jewelry and making a bong out of your femur. That’s just plain selfish. And it’s shortsighted in another more personal way as well, inasmuch as if you’re riding around on somebody’s triple tree you don’t have a grave, and if you don’t have that you don’t get a headstone, and without a headstone you can’t have an epitaph, and if you don’t have an epitaph you’ve given up the opportunity to get the last word in. This is an especially tragic oversight for henpecked husbands, if you get my drift.

Spending time in cemeteries gives you a real appreciation of the importance of an epitaph and the insight a few well-chosen words can give into the personality of the interred, and I give a lot of thought to my own epitaph, my current default being, “Is it cold in here or is it just me?” But I’m not completely sold on that one so I continue perusing headstones frequently looking for inspiration, and that’s what I was doing last week—the week before Halloween—when while touring through the Gold Country I came upon a pioneer cemetery outside of the Gold Rush town of Greenwood, California, and stopped to take a break from the road. It didn’t take long before I recognized the place and realized I’d stopped there once before a number of years back. What I remembered of the place was that there’d been a particularly wry and entertaining epitaph on one of the headstones, and I recalled having scribbled it in a notepad at that time, but now I couldn’t recall what it had said so I went exploring. And while I was exploring I realized I needed to take a leak, which is always a dicey proposition in a cemetery. I mean, you don’t want to piss on somebody’s grave—it’s bad manners and rotten karma to boot—and in these pioneer cemeteries that could be just about anywhere whether it’s marked or not.

So I trekked up the gentle slope of the graveyard to the fence along the back perimeter, found myself a big oak tree with no evidence of disturbed earth beneath it and watered the roots. And while watering, it suddenly came back to me where in the cemetery the headstone I sought was located, and I strode out from behind my pee tree and struck off purposefully down the slope towards my target—all imposing 6 feet 4 inches and 200 pounds of me, attired in weathered black leather head to toe, wind-whipped gray hairs splaying from my temples like the Crypt Keeper, and size 15 engineer boots cunningly styled in the Frankenstein mode. It was then that I realized I was no longer alone in this place and that there was a school kid, maybe 9, walking past on the road fronting the cemetery, bookpack and all, and that I was vectoring full-stride towards the poor child.

The kid froze wide-eyed and it was an awkward moment and I knew I had to say something, but all I could think of—it being Halloween time and all—was, “Boo.” You should have seen that kid flee.

And people say bikers aren’t scary anymore.

It’s all right here in the diaries.

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