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GOING THE DISTANCE
"THANKSGIVING MESSAGE 2011"
Photo by Genghis
RIGHTEOUS MACHINE: Linking a whole subculture.
I had my XLCH Sportster just two months since I bought her new at Harley-Davidson of Manhattan, and here I was using her to make a living. I worked for Quick Trip Messenger Service, which was located on East 25th Street. At this point my bike, whom I named "Sally The Bitch" because she was hard to kickstart, was stock. I still had the stock two-piece, buckhorn bars. The bike had a Bates solos seat, and a pillion pad. I did remove the front fender for a clean look.
Her tin was orange. Her gas tank had a broad black stripe about three inches wide, consisting of flat black paint running from front to back, encircling and engulfing the chromed gas cap. The one modification I made at this early date, was a random thinning of this flat black racing stripe. I accomplished this by rubbing out large swaths of the black paint with rubbing compound. The result was a pleasing mosaic of black and orange, with the underlying orange showing through in the areas I rubbed out. It looked abstract artish. I thought of it as a tiger design, gone wild on acid. The black was faint and delicate, wisps really. It was pleasing to my eye. Eye of the tiger, baby!
One of my regular runs as a motorcycle messenger, was to the IBM center in Yorktown Heights, New York. Yorktown Heights is a bucolic little town in upstate New York, in Westchester County. I would pick up these computer tapes in Manhattan, which in the relatively early days of computers in the '60s, looked like large diameter tape recorder tapes, and deliver them to IBM in Yorktown Heights. My pick-up point was at IBM headquarters at 590 Madison Avenue, which was at 57th Street.
My kickstarting routine was consistently the same, even though the results were quite varied. Anyone who has owned a kickstart-only, magneto-fired XLCH can tell you this. The '68 XLCH came with possibly the worst carburetor that was ever issued with any Harley-Davidson, the Tillotson carb. Man, wotta pig this carb was. The routine was always the same. Ignition off, gas on, full choke, rotate the magneto to the spark-retarded position. Two prime kicks. Then ignition on, and hope for the best. On the XLCH, the ignition on/off was controlled by a key in the magneto. I'd eventually get the beast running, but it was easier when warm, as it was after I picked up computer tapes at IBM.
Head west young man! West to the West Side Highway, that is. The West Side Highway is the highway that runs along Manhattan on the, get this...the west side..duh! It is the west side twin of the FDR Drive, which hugs the east coast of Manhattan. The West Side Highway runs along the Hudson River, and the FDR Drive hears the lapping of waves in the East River. At one time, the FDR Drive was known as the East River Drive. The West Side Highway has the official name of the Joe DiMaggio Highway, but nobody calls it that. New Yawkuhs call the FDR Drive "the FDR," and the West Side Highway "the West Side Highway."
The West Side Highway wasn't like it is now, in 1968. In '68, it was an elevated highway that ran above the bustling streets below, as it wended its way north toward upstate New York. It was eventually rebuilt, and the elevated highway was eliminated. The West Side Highway is now ground-level. It was known one time, as "Death Avenue" because of the copious number of deaths caused in collisions between cars and trains. At 22nd Street and 11th Avenue where the New York Central Railroad West Side Line's trains chugged along dangerous and large, there were many crossings to docks and ferries. It was here that many people met their deaths where locomotives and automotives tangled. It was David versus Goliath, and Goliath always won.
In 1968, I'd blast along the West Side Highway on my Harley, computer tapes snugly packed in my backpack. The West Side Highway turned into the Henry Hudson Parkway as it took me on my bellowing Sportster, out of Manhattan. From there, I'd hit the Taconic Parkway, a straight shot to IBM at Yorktown Heights. You might've heard the name "Taconic Parkway" in the news lately. This was the narrow two lane each way road, where a mother high on liquor and grass, drove the wrong way onto oncoming traffic, killing herself and the children in her car. She drove for miles on the wrong side of the road, before meeting head on with an unlucky car.
I often wondered what was on those IBM tapes I was delivering. Were there deep, dark, covert CIA communiques on there? I eventually would arrive at the IBM building in Yorktown Heights, which I remember being an imposing looking structure, worthy of being a covert ops center. I'd walk into the heavily secured building, with eyes following my every step. No doubt, the young Genghis exists somewhere on IBM's security films archives, immortalized forever. My comings and goings in the parking lot probably are documented as well, with my Harley as The Star. I wonder if audio captured her snarling exhaust?
The place was so clean, you could fry eggs off the floor and eat 'em. Frankly, it was a little creepy. This was my first personal connection with computers . Inside, you could hear the humming of computer reels, as they revealed the contents of the tapes I'd delivered. Call me James. James Bond, that is.
On this Thanksgiving of 2011, I feel we should give thanks to those special machines in our lives. These special machines, allow us to ride highways at incredible speeds. Am I talking about our righteous Harleys? No, I'm talking about our computers. In those halcyon days of delivering computer tapes to IBM in upstate New York, I never dreamed that over 40 years later, that these marvelous machines could enable the personal connection between bikers across the world. And we do travel highways on these machines: Information Highways. These roads can be as picturesque as the Taconic Parkway, and sometimes, just as deadly. But they are always interesting and involving. In some ways, computers have become as indispensable as our motorcycles are to us.
On this Thanksgiving of 2011, we must give special thanks to Al Gore, who invented the internet. Without the internet, which was first developed for military use (okay, so 'ole Al didn't invent the internet), the computer frankly, wouldn't mean much to us. In 2011 though, the internet has expanded our biker subculture. How else could I write for you, since the 1997 demise of David Snow's venerable Iron Horse magazine? The internet is where one can find dozens of biker sites and forums, as real to their adherents as biker bars and rallies. I'll tell ya one thing. These virtual meeting places for members of the biker subculture, are in many ways, more pleasant than biker rallies, where everybody and his brother with twenty pounds of tin badges on 'em, congregate. It's especially more pleasant fer loners like me. I hate crowds.
1997 was the year I created The Seedy-X Bar & Grill, the bikers' board where the Goons rule, Harleys are number one, and where Purple Madness Beer runs from its virtual taps. It seems so real sometimes, that you can almost smell the urinal cakes from the Seedy's mens room. I've known the regulars of The Seedy for so long, they feel like La Famiglia to me. The Goons and I have gone through various injuries, marriages, divorces, new bikes and other incidental occurrences over time. Life happens, man, and life happened at The Seedy in intimate ways.
Computers and the internet too, have allowed bikers to link up through social networking sites, along with places like The Seedy. Facebook for example, has allowed me to keep in touch, and exhange bikerly ideas with others of my own kind: Members of the Biker Subculture. It has allowed me, to hook up with my bud David Snow, one of the few, true friends I count in my life. I haven't seen him since he moved back to Arkansas after Iron Horse folded. It seems that every single character that was ever involved with Iron Horse, and the rest that came in the wake of Snow's Horse, have connected via the internet. George The Painter from THBC for example, is an FB friend. When we connected, GTP told me that I was an inspiration for him to enter biker commentary.
We have much to be thankful for in 2011. It is all to easy to be overly negative, but let's be clear about this (don't you hate this overused Obamaism? I do): We must be grateful for computers and how they've enrichened our lives, just a surely as those enricheners on your S & S carbs enrichen the mixture for cold starting. It is ironic though, that we bikers who revere archaic OHV pushrod machines like our Harleys, utilize and appreciate all that The Computer and advanced technology, give us. The technology is amazing, even if we bikers claim technophobia as a badge of honor. I for example, eschew fuel injection, CPUs, and even fuse boxes on Harleys. Yet, I dig computers and the 'net.
Hey man, be thankful for that machine that you're lookin' at right now. After all, it's lettin' ya see my words, isn't it? Later, and Happy Thanksgiving!