I’ve ridden motorcycles since 1972: Kawasaki H2-Triples and Z1s, Norton Commandos,Triumph Bonnevilles, Suzuki GS1100Es, Harley Sportsters, Panheads, and Softails.
Twenty-eight separate love affairs, whether it was a $500 beater or a $25,000 show bike. My latest and greatest is my 2000 Harley Softail Heritage Classic, blood-red metal flake, stripped down and looking like a classic ‘50’s Panhead. She’s called “Ruby” from the Stones’ classic, “Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday.”
I have always been a biker. I’ve ridden and owned bikes even when in mental hospitals,homeless on the street and didn’t have a penny to my name. Bikes have given me a whole lore, a personal mythology, a kind of legend. I’ve ridden from Northern Canada, where you couldn’t go any further North without a canoe, all the way to Southern Mexico where the people are so beautiful and kind.
I once was pushing hard, riding all night through Eastern Montana and about 3:30 a.m. ran into a flash downpour.I was totally soaked within 90 seconds. It was a cool night, combined with no windshield, soaking wet clothes, and the windchill at 80 mph. I was recognizing the symptoms of hypothermia and knew I had to get warm fast. There was a little town out in the middle of nowhere. Everything was closed but an all night Laundromat. I was low on cash but thankfully had a couple of quarters in my jean pockets. I threw all my wet clothes into the big dryer, including my skivvies, cranked it up to HOT and stood there naked, jumping up and down rubbing myself ‘till the quarters ran out and clothes and I was warm and dry. My only fear was some cop driving by the Laundromat seeing a naked man jumping up and down, with a beat-up old Harley parked outside.
Owning a bike does something to you inside. Maybe it’s a guy thing. But guys seem to need something special to make them feel different, to put a swagger in their step. It’s like when things go bad at work, he can still say, “I’ve got a ‘68 Ford Mustang waiting at home.” Or “I’ve got my Harley that I built with my own hands, waiting!” They are our own black stallion, rocket ship, P-38 Lightning, metal-fleck and chromed thunderbolt, ready to take us away!
We all mentally carry an imaginary Paladin business card: “Have Bike, Have Love/ Will Travel.”
People ask if I ever got hurt riding and racing motorcycles. This is like asking a professional swimmer if he ever got wet. Yes, bikes are probably the most perilous form of transportation you could ever chose except riding a horse I can count my surgeries, that’s part of the myth, the lore. (And here’s a secret, ladies about men: when a guy gets hurt, if it isn’t going to kill him, he LOVES his wounds. He gets to feel like he’s done something significant, something important.)
When the MS first started to hit me and started taking the strength from my legs so that I walked like Frankenstein’s Monster, when I’d get on Ruby, I was a ballet dancer in the saddle of a bike. That is how I moved with grace through the world. When my eyesight was finally taken three years ago, I’d go out to my garage, fire Ruby up and just sit and rev her up! (My neighbors loved me!) But even just sitting on my girl, hearing and feeling the vibrations in the garage, I wasn’t disabled, “crippled”, broken. Even though I couldn’t ride anymore, I was still PETE, still a biker ready to (deep breath) take on anything.
Now MS has accelerated and it’s tiring to my body and perhaps my brain. My partner was sick and hospitalized much of last year. I was bedridden for months with a colon tumor and lack of insurance, that almost took my life. Even though I will always be a biker, my family has been too devastated by illness and now poverty to afford to keep that racehorse stabled, motionless in my garage. I need the money, and she needs to run, to get back out on the road.
So, she’s soon to be somebody else’s baby, though secretly she’ll always be mine. The day finally came when I knew Ruby needed a new rider, and if I didn’t act soon, I wouldn’t be able to do what I needed to do at all, and it would break my heart even more.
Last week Ruby went on Craigslist. I’m getting calls, but picking and choosing very carefully. Not for the right money, but for the right dashing outlaw who’ll team up with Ruby and have a wonderful romance with her like the one she and I had for the last eight years. It’s not the end. I could go into remission with my MS tomorrow and I could come back physically, mentally and financially, and “The Laundromat Kid” could ride again!
To add irony (and perhaps serendipity) to the whole event, the day that Ruby went up for sale, the MS Society delivered me a wheelchair, a used, jetblack loaner. It too has seen many miles and it too has opened up other’s worlds in ways I’ll never know, until our relationship begins.
Time to take my new baby for her first test ride out on the road, and hopefully it will be as Bogie said in “Casablanca,” “Louie, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
For now it’s Hello, “Black Flash,” “Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday.”