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SHACKING UP: Where it all began.

Man, were they square lookin'. As straight as can be. They look like the citizens that complained that you were the kinds of long-haired tattooed greasers, that parents warned their daughters about. These guys were the strait-laced, super-moralistic, rigidly-principled dudes that you expected to see in the Victorian Age. Which is the era, by the way, that these men were born into. They wore suits and ties, they polished their ankle-high Brogans religiously. They had super short haircuts like the local banker that recently turned down your application for mortgage refinancing. They were as strait-laced as the strait laces (which is where the term strait-laced came from) of the corsets that their women wore. Yet, these guys are the ones that we have to be thankful for, on this Thanksgiving 2012.

They were the Ultimate Bikers.

Believe it. Some believe that the bikers of the 1940s, like the ones that invaded Hollister in 1947 were our Subcultural Forefathers, but I believe that we have to travel back farther in time to appreciate our true forefathers, who enabled our culture as we know it. As far as I'm concerned, the Booze Fighters and others that followed in the Biker Subculture were adherents of the culture, not the originators of our subculture. The ultimate bikers I'm rappin' about, were the Milwaukee Originals, man.

Yup, these Milwaukee Originals were William Sylvester Harley and Arthur Davidson. Yeah, you got it, those Harleys and Davidsons of Orange & Black fame. Everyone that followed Artie and Bill were prospects. If it weren't for Bill and Artie, there would be no biker subculture as we know it. Would there have been a culture built around another brand of motorcycle? As experienced politicians have been known to slickly answer, Sorry, we don't answer hypothetical questions. All I know is, without what Bill and Artie began in the little shack in the Davidson backyard, outlaw clubs would not have made the Harley motorcycle a prerequisite for membership in their bylaws. It might be arguable that customization of bikes would not have historically occurred to the extent that it did over the decades, without Harleys as the hot fodder that fed it. Ya gotta have the right canvas, for the artiste to complete the masterpiece. That canvas, that beautiful platform, was the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and the painting technique consisted of strippin' her down to the essentials. The masterpiece was the Stripped-Down Hog.

Without Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the biker subculture wouldn't exist. The would've-been bikers might've been recruited into Outlaw Philately instead, replete with colors reading SATAN'S STAMP COLLECTORS on the back, and "7%" on the front (to differentiate 'em from the 93 percent of collectors who wouldn't even think of strippin' down their stamps). Between the rockers, there would proudly sit a picture of an U.S Commermorative Set, chopped so that the perforations didn't show. Without Harley cycles to inspire, this might be the only stripping and bobbing in the culture. Custom stamp shops might also specialize in stamp face dye removal chemical processes, and modified glues for the stamp backs. Outlaw Collectors would gather at Laconia, carrying their stripped-down binders of rare stamps, arriving at the rally by Amtrak instead of motorcycle. Hardcore Seven Percenters would strut the street, full of attitude and First Day Of Issue tattoos. You laugh, but who knows, this could've been our fate without Harleys.

IF NOT FOR H-D: Would've-been bikers would sport tats like this.

When Bill and Artie created Harley motorcycles over a hundred years ago, the demographic target were the fishermen who bicycled to the Wisconsin wildernesses to fish. Bill's and Artie's slogan was, "Take the work out of bicycling." Little did they know as they sweated and labored in their little ten by fifteen foot shed, that their product would inspire a subculture that would alter and shape lives throughout the world, for a century to come. Hundreds of thousands of people would gain identities as Bikers that would collectively bind them, and inspire a battle cry of "FTW!". Little did they also know, that a cry of "FTF!" would be aimed at their descendants in some quarters. What's more, the Green Bay Packers weren't even a gleam in their Victorian eyes. Bill and Artie would have been amazed to see that in spite of invective meant for The Firm, that future generations of bikers would have their surnames tattooed on their skin, as a reverential tradition demonstrating their loyalty to their beloved Harley-Davidson motorcycle. No other brand of bike could've generated the fervent intensity of motor-love, that H-Ds have. I can't conceive of hundreds of thousands of people gettin' "YAMAHA" tattooed on their biceps. In fact, is there even one?

Photo by Genghis

BRANDED ON THEIR FLESH: Orange & Black loyalty.

As much as we bikers have to be thankful for in 2012, let's remember that there are many bikers on the east coast who are still suffering from the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. For those of us who were geographically affected, and who have gotten our electricity, heat and running water back, it's all too easy to forget others who have lost everything, including their homes. For bikers who persist in gettin' on their feet, 16s and 21s, striving mightily just to reclaim the normalcy they had before---it is hard for 'em to be feeling thankful at this time. For these fellow bikers, good luck in getting back on your Avons as soon as possible. May you recover shelter and comfort for yourselves, and your precious Harleys.

The Biker Subculture has a long, and ongoing history. It is like an endless highway baked in sunshine, where Harleys blast along unceasingly toward the unreachable horizon. Misfortune is routinely absorbed, and mitigated by a ride on that highway, hands lazily on the grips, warm air greeting one's expectations. It extends back more than a century, to the time when the Ultimate Bikers Named Artie And Bill prefaced multitudes of lives lived and forever changed, by their creation in that little shack in Wisconsin. Since 1903, The Face Of The Biker Nation materialized. The face of that nation, consisted of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle in all of its iterations. From Flatheads to Sportsters to Knuckleheads, Panheads, Shovelheads, and yes--to the current Aluminumheads---these all comprise part of that face. The men and women who wore that face over the years, made this motorcycle marque the Biker Subculture's very soul.

Photo by Genghis

FACE OF A NATION: The venerable Harley cycle.

On this Thanksgiving 2012, is there anything sweeter than being in Command and Control of a righteous Harley, the highway passing under the pegs at 70 per, the beloved girl's straight pipes blasting out their cacophanous rock and roll? As your face greets the wind, think of and be thankful for Bill Sylvester and his cohort Artie, for having the smarts and drive to have created the motorcycle we love beyond reason. If Cleopatra's face launched a thousand ships, it was your motorcycle Bill and Artie, that launched a million lives. Mine included. On this Thanksgiving of 2012, thanks Artie and Bill. Later.