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GOING THE DISTANCE
"THE SEARCH FOR MEANING"
Photo by Genghis
INQUIRING MIND WANTS TO KNOW:
Why am I a biker?
I received my Medicare card this year.
This is not a big achievement. It's only a not so subtle reminder of how long I've been riding Harleys. Forty-four years man, that's how long. A coupla three years back, I spotted Gallagher on his rigid Sporty at a gas station in Queens. He was gassin' up his rigid ironhead.
Gallagher's always had a rigid Sporty, dating back to the '60s before I even started riding. Gallagher's older than me, but we've never been close. He was one of a few older bikers I knew back in the day. So, I didn't bother going over to him to say hello. Just like Gallagher always rode a Sporty, he was always a morose, unpredictable and incendiary kind of guy who would just as soon hate on ya as smile at you. One thing was predictable about Gallagher: He would always ride, and he would always have a Harley.
When I spotted Gallagher, he had to have been 70 or more. The fact that he was still on his Harley with no evidence of leaving his mount anytime soon, was comforting to me, and reaffirmed my faith in bikerkind. Seeing Gallagher still on his Harley, meant more to me than seeing a thousand hacked-up XS650s at a biker rally.
There are bikers like Gallagher and me who are of the loner stripe who ride because it gives them meaning in their lives, who don't ride because they make the social scene with other bikers. Bikers who use their bikes as props to be included in a social scene or because of peer pressure in that scene, are not in it for the meaning. They're in it while using their motorcycles as admission tickets to the scene.
This type of thinking indicates a superficiality to the role of the motorcycle in these peoples' lives. It might make you think that without other people to profile in front of, that their Harleys would lose meaning and would soon be gone from their lives. Ride to be seen man, not ride to live.
For me, the scene consists of my Harley and me on the road. Period. In common with this, photography is for me, me and my Nikon shooting alone. There are no group shoots, just as there aren't group rides. Just as there is no "Corvette club" when I drive my Vette.
There was no doubt about it. Gallagher would be going the distance with his bike, man. Like me. What makes him keep on keeping on, and what makes me the type that goes the distance? This is something I have pondered in the back recesses of my mind. What does my Harley represent to me in my life? This is something I always have the urge to write about, except that the subject is hard to define.
Yet all bikers know instinctively without conscious acknowledgement of it, what I'm rappin' about. It's like an ill-defined concrete abutment in the fog. It's hard to see, but there it is fifty yards from you and your bike on the highway, approaching fast, immovable and indestructible. You can't see it, but if you had the misfortune to run into it, it wouldn't suffer, you would. My being a biker and my Harley-Davidson, represent a search for truth and meaning, and I'm certain that my love for cars and photography are somehow tied into this.
Photo by Genghis
I BOUGHT THIS NIKON IN 1962:
Is photography another search for meaning in life?
I'm convinced that my love for Vettes and photography are a part of this lifelong, bigger picture of a search for truth and meaning in life. Realize that photography has been in my life longer than riding. I bought the Nikon F you see in the picture, 50 years ago. Like I said, this subject is hard to write about, because it's hard to define. It's like that overpass abutment that you're approaching at 60 miles per in the fog. You see a vague outline of it in the background of your life, but you can't put a finger on it.
Ya can't see it, but it's there in all of its concreteness and super-reality. There's a thread here in my life, that runs through my Harley, Corvette and photography.
It is a thread that runs through my life like connective tissue, linking the elements of my Harley, Vette and photography, giving these elements a role greater than the sum of their parts:
A way to realize deep meaning in life.
You might say this to your average biker and he might think yer crazy, but deep down, he knows this essental truth: His Harley-Davidson, and all the years since his youth spent riding and cherishing her, have a hard-to-the-core meaning that is ill defined, yet there it all its concreteness at the very center of his being. There would be no doubt in any biker's mind that this is the truth, even if at first hearing, what I'm saying to that biker makes no sense. It is an innate knowledge that all bikers know, that their motorcycles mean more than just existing as usable transportation, and are greater in their meaning than being mere toys to play with. Citizens would call 'em silly, but to us, they are everything. This is the basis for the biker subculture.
A righteous Harley 74 like my shovelhead Mabel, is a vehicle for meaning, truth and the Amercian way. As is photography and a love for cars. As is writing. The truth is, I love to write, just as I love to ride, drive my Vette and take pictures. I don't just go through the motions to meet a magazine deadline for a column when I write. I write from the heart.
Why else would I write for no compensation? Except for this: The compensation I receive for writing, is an expression of my meaning, my truth--and a search for that truth and meaning in my life. Just as I find the truth, this amorphous "meaning" I'm referring to while blasting down the road at full song on my shovelhead, and yes, in the cockpit of my Vette with her small-block Chevy burbling her song, I'm defining meaning in my life. This is the Great Unsaid in bikers' lives. It is unsaid, but known deep down.
I ride because I am.
I ride because I am. I am, I exist. My existence has meaning because of my Harley. Part of my identity comes from my Harley. I am a biker! Make that "I'm a biker" times forty-four years, and you see where I'm going with this. Gallagher's been a biker for over fifty years. That's the meaning in his life. So you see, motorcycles, Vettes and cameras aren't just toys. They are like that concrete abutment on the highway of your life, immovable and meaningful. You can't always see it in your life, but it's always there, a constant that gives great meaning to your life.
Photo by Genghis
My Vette: Is she "silly?"
There's a gossip on the web who shall go unnamed, who recently went out of his way to characterize my Vette Mary in a specific way, at another website. This guy's fixation with me knows no bounds.
He called my Vette "Mary" a "silly car." Isn't this something that straights would call our Harley-Davidsons? Straights don't get it about why motorcycles matter to bikers. Some don't get why another mechanical conveyance with decades of history, tradition and righteousness like the Chevy Covette, matters. Some bikers are too stupid to get the analogy between straights who can't appreciate Harleys, and others who can't appreciate car culture.
If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand.
This is a magazine editor whose head I've obviously occupied rent-free, if you go by the evidence of his obsession with me, and what I do, and what I think. One of my truths is that I don't care what anybody cares about me, but statements about me regarding my "silly car" say more about the gossip monger, than about whether my Stingray is "silly" or not.
There was a doctor I worked for a few years ago, who in a fit of humorous repartee, called my shovelhead, "your silly motorcycle." The fact that this gossip used the same phraseology as a straight like that doctor I worked for, is interesting. At least, that doctor was kidding around. This biker who called my Vette a "silly car," doesn't truly understand how a motorcycle, car, camera or keyboard could play a role as the key to finding meaning in one's life.True bikers know deep down, what I mean.
It makes one wonder if the motorcycle in the gossip's life, is nothing but a prop to be used in his role as biker magazine editor.
My love for Vettes, and my loyalty to Chevy, is not silly. In fact, it's really the same as my lifelong loyalty and allegiance to Harleys and Nikons. These are profound tools with which to ferret out this elusive deep meaning in my life. I wonder if this magazine editor has ever felt this lifelong loyalty to any brand? I know this: I am deeply loyal to Harley-Davidson, Chevrolet Corvettes and Nikon cameras. Always have been, always will be. In about an hour, I'm going to go to my silly Harley, Mabel, and start up her silly 86 inch stroker Rosabilt shovelhead motor, and take a silly but thoroughly enjoyable ride---which gives me meaning in my silly life. Later.