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GOING THE DISTANCE
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
Excerpt from the April 18, 2009 Rome Sentinel newspaper:
"Harley-Davidson isn’t headed for the scrap heap just yet, at least judging from Harley’s spunky ad in The New York Times....
Harley-Davidson’s rejoinder to a Times business section article the week before showed a bit of the feistiness that helped build one of the world’s best-known motorcycle brands....
The ad, heavy on patriotism and attitude, told detractors to 'file our obituary where the sun don’t shine.'....
The Times ran a freelance piece March 22 that laid out Harley’s challenges with an aging customer base amid a severe economic downturn.....
There’s no doubt Harley is hurting. Demand for the company’s signature motorcycles was off 10 percent to 15 percent in January and early February compared with the same period a year ago, according to Robert W. Baird & Co. Dealers expect a 10 percent drop in motorcycle sales this year, although it could be bigger than that, Baird says. Harley-Davidson Inc. reported Thursday that its first-quarter profit fell 37 percent and expects to cut as many as 400 more jobs as the motorcycle market remains sluggish....."
I still have the plastic card that accompanied my purchase of my 1968 Sportster. It has the Harley-Davidson bar and shield design on the top, which is decorated by the orange color associated with The Firm. The card says:
"THIS CERTIFIES THAT PRESCOTT WONG OWNS A HARLEY-DAVIDSON MOTOR NO. 68XLCH10381. WALTER I. DAVIDSON VICE-PRESIDENT SALES"
I've kept this card because it means something to me. I no longer have my XLCH "Sally The Bitch"...but I kept the card. What it means to me is that it represents my first Harley, and the fact that I bought her from The Firm. I remember the day I bought her from Harley-Davidson of Manhattan, which was located on 76th Street between First and Second Avenues. There she was sitting on the showroom floor. Orange tank and fenders, with a Bates solo seat just as I asked the dealership to equip her. On that day, the dealer arranged for a veteran Harley rider to take Sally and me to a deserted lot in Long Island City across the East River, so that this experienced rider could instruct me in Sally's use. Why? Because up until that point, the largest motorized two-wheeler I had ridden, was the Honda 50 that I took my road test on. All went well with the lesson, and we returned to the showroom where my instructor had his Shovelhead dresser. My first ride on my spanking new XLCH was back home to my house in Jackson Heights, Queens, an unventful trip. The most drama took place when I tried to kickstart Sally in front of H-D of Manhattan, because I hadn't finessed my kicking technique yet. That would come later with lessons from Steve Biondo, who was a Panhead rider from my block who I grew up. Stevie was like an older brother to me.
You can tell from my nostalgic tone, what buying my first Harley meant to me. It meant, and means a lot to me. It's a fond memory. The question really is, how much would it mean to me in the near future, if The Firm went belly up because of its financial problems? I put this into context by comparing how I would feel if General Motors failed. Thinking about GM going bankrupt, gives me the same feeling of sadness because I've always been a Chevy fan. I'm a Vette freak as ya know, so my allegiance to Chevrolet goes way back, extending even further back than my affiliation with Harleys. I was a car guy years before I became a dedicated biker. Given this context, I would say that GM or H-D failing would make me sad, but it wouldn't rock my world. Why not?
Because I'v got mine.
My world view regarding these types of matters is pretty much isolated, and that's exacerbated by the fact that I'm a loner by nature. In my world, what happens in my life is insulated by these loner walls, and all that matters occurs within those walls. Every else is extraneous. What exists inside the fortress that these walls represent, are my 1971 Harley-Davidson Super Glide and my 1972 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. As long as I have my two great passions in my fort, my world is intact and functions normally. The parent companies? The Firm and GM matter to the extent that they provide nostalgic context, but nothing beyond that. The world as it exists now, is host to an ample number of aftermarket companies to keep my machines going the distance. After all, isn't that what matters? To keep our Harleys running and gunning?
How much though, would The Firm's failure mean in an historical context? Harley-Davidson as you know, was the brand of bike that has been the very spine of the biker subculture, supporting the peripheral skeleton of its tradition for nearly a century, as well as its musculature, the riders, who comprised the subculture itself. What would an H-D failure mean to the meat of the culture, us bikers? Objectively speaking, probably not much viscerally, because in many ways, The Firm has been at odds with the principles of the biker subculture, even though The Firm's motorcycles have provided the very platform for the culture's thriving. The biker subculture historically has been an outlaw culture, in that bikers have set themelves outside the confines of The Firm and its operating arm in the events field, that was the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association). Riding outside of this Factory/AMA construct, rendered the biker subculture an outlaw society, replete with a love/hate relationship with Harley-Davidson.
I feel that most bikers would agree with me and feel similarly: that it would not rock their worlds if Harley went under. Because, they've got theirs.
Yet, it does hurt from a nostalgic point of view. When I think of that day that I picked up my wonderful, new Sportster, it hurts to think of the possible passing of The Firm. All we can do is stand by as interested spectators on the sideline, and see how the game plays out. I hope for The Firm's sake, that they stage a comeback and hit the end zone a few times for a win. But at least I can say, "I've got mine" and that's what really matters. Later.