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GOING THE DISTANCE
"MEMOIR PART 4"
Photo by Genghis
SINGLE WHITE FEMALE SHOVELHEAD:
My "Harley 74" Mabel, parked across the street from the
Loews Village VII Theater where we ran into Snow.
NEW YORK CITY 1993:
In 1993, the 1992 movie "Single White Female" was released into distribution. In this movie, Bridget Fonda played a somewhat naive software designer, who had the misfortune of misjudging the character of the Roommate From Hell, and accepted this roommate into her life and home. The evil-spawned roommate, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, proceeds in the flick to lay waste to Fonda's character's life in a big way. In 1993, "Single White Female" was being shown at the Loews Village VII Theater, located at the corner of 11th street and Third Avenue in Manhattan.
Patty and I went to see this flick at the Loews Village VII Theater, but it would be one of the last movie house pictures that we've gone to. When the ticket prices escalated to the $10 range, avoiding movie houses became a matter of principle for us. Sometimes, ya gotta draw the proverbial line somewhere. It seemed like highway robbery, man, so we've restricted ourselves to DVD viewing at home since the early 1990s. Home viewing is so much more liberating and enjoyable, with amenities such as nearby food and beverages, at non-movie house prices! There were also the the advantages of not having to wear clothes, and being able to pause the DVD for breaks.
It was a no-brainer. Yup, home is where the heart is, and so are our movies. Patty and I are the Queen and King of our home theater castle.
When Patty and I entered the theater, we ran into David Snow (the editor of Iron Horse magazine) and his wife Shawn in the lobby. I'd been submitting articles "on spec" (an idiom meaning submitting articles with the hopes that they get published) to David for awhile, and to my delight, he'd been publishing 'em in Iron Horse. David said of the movie we were about to see, "Yeah, we dig flicks about psychos!" He also said, "Hey listen, you've been in IH almost every month now. Ya might as well have your own column. Whaddya wanna call it?" Recalling the theme of my very first article published in Iron Horse #107 ("The Long Run--Who Can Go the Distance"), I requested the title of "Going the Distance" for my column. I was elated, as Patty and I went to our seats halfway toward the movie screen (David and Shawn seated 'emselves in the back row, near the lobby, for a fast getaway, I guess).
That was a happy moment for me. I was joining the best biker rag in existence, man. My road to this entrance into the magazine began a couple of years before....
I long ago stopped buying biker magazines. The dreck that biker rags had become ever since the classic Easyriders magazine hit the newsstands two decades before, when EZ was still original and freshly irreverant, was just plain unreadable. It seemed like biker rags had devolved into formulaic space-filler for idiots. I knew that thinking bikers felt like I did, that we'd wanted a well-written, interesting and challenging biker publication to read, a magazine which enlightened and informed with more than half-a-brain platitudes, and pictures of bikers at parties playing stupid kids' games.
We didn't want magazines that treated us like we had IQs, only slightly higher than our boot sizes. We wanted writing with substance about the biker subculture. Then in 1990, I started picking up Iron Horse. I was impressed with the content. This guy Snow was a great writer and editor! The subjects were dizzingly captivating, and his writing about his experiences were breezy, coherent and stimulating. Man, I wanted in, with this magazine!
The question was, how to get into IH at the magazine's widest entry point? Where in the fortress walls of this fine publication, was my best chance at ingression? I didn't know where, but I did know that the instrument of choice fer gettin' in, would be my ever-lovin' '71 Super Glide, "Mabel." She would be my battering ram, powered by Shovelhead Power!
I naturally would've loved to see my bike featured in Iron Horse. Who wouldn't? I sat myself down to write an introductory letter to Snow, asking if he would like to feature my Harley 74 in IH, but I needed more of a hook, an additional piece of bait to lure the curious mind of the Chief Editor in. I'd been playing around at the time, with what I admit was an almost totally unserious idea: I told David that I was thinking of starting a motorcycle club made up entirely of martial arts black belts, called the Defenders MC. That I had my own martial arts school at this time, played into how Snow would direct the IH feature on my motorcycle, later.
This resulted in Snow featuring my bike. When we spoke by phone, David asked me to meet him at the corner of 3rd Street and MacDougal Street, in Greenwich Village. I rode there about an hour earlier than our appointed meeting time, and found Snow and Rob Sager working on a bike feature on a BMW. While Rob Sager was taking pictures of the Beemer and her owner, Snow gave me tech sheet to fill out on my Super Glide. We stood in the shadows of a doorway of a building to stay out of Sager's camera sightlines. Sager didn't want us to pop up accidentally in the photos. Nothing ruins a shot more than incidental elements of a picture that are not planned, and draw attention from than the subject.
I found Sager to be interesting guy, and somewhat nervous in demeanor. Even when he was bone-dry, he looked as if he was sweating. He flitted about, camera in hand, arms in fast but controlled motion, full of energy, expressing himself in compositional ("Hey, that would look great in the background. You stand on this side of the bike..no, don't put your hands in your pockets, doesn't look macho...") terms while lining up shots of the bike. We talked a bit about our common roots in photography, professionally. He disclosed that he had cancer, which coincided with my having had thyroid cancer at the young age of 24. I joked with Sager, "Yeah it must've been the Dektol that did us in." (Dektol is a photographic print developing chemical) At that, David said, "You both had cancer, and you think it was because of the chemicals?" I said, "Nah, I'm kidding, man."
David's wife Shawn, at some point, met us at the photoshoot of the BMW. My first impression of the Snows, was that they were both very fit people. I felt that they were very good candidates for developing into competent martial artists. I later found out that David lifted weights, something I had in common with him. I've lifted since the age of 13. Shawn I learned, was a dedicated runner. No wonder they appeared so fit. Both Snows exhibited mild drawls, that gave away their southern roots. I later learned that David's family originated in the hills of Kentucky, before they emigrated to Arkansas.
Could Snow be Jed Clampett's long-lost cousin?
I found 'em both to be very personable, and down to earth folks. After Shawn joined us, Snow related how he had a wreck on his Shovelhead in Daytona recently, and his plans for the bike. He pointed to Mabel's bobbed rear fender and said to Shawn, "Think I'm gonna have that set-up..." The Shovelhead that Snow referred to, was the one that he and his first wife Deborah (deceased) rode up to New York from Arkansas, on. David originally moved to New York to become a professional graphic novel (comic book) artist, but became The Greatest Biker Magazine Editor In The World, instead.
Snow and Sager finished up with the BMW, and discussed where they wanted to shoot my bike. To my surprise, they suggested Chinatown. "Oh, okay," I thought, "They want to play up my ethnicity." I found this amusing, but I understood it from the angle point of view of writing the feature on my bike. In my mind, I call this a hook for the readers, something to immediately get readers attention, and for the writer to weave his story around. Sort of like my mentioning to Snow in my letter, that I wanted to form a motorcycle club consisting of black belts.
Getting off on a tangent for a minute, let me make this observation about martial artists in general: They are the most uptight straights you'll ever meet, harboring the worst stereotypes of bikers in their minds. An MC of martial artists? Ha! Don't make me laugh, man. One of martial artists' greatest fantasies, is having to face off against a pack of trouble-making, Neanderthal bikers, and emerging victorious and heroic. In the minds of martial artists, especially the Asian ones, bikers wear the black hats while the black belts wear the white hats
"Chinatown?" I responded. "That'll be a logistical nightmare, with the narrow streets and congested traffic. We'll have a problem just gettin' in there and settin up for pictures," I offered. All of the streets in Chinatown proper, are constricted one lane streets, teeming with illegally parked cars leaving little room for traffic, which is space-challenged to begin with.
I understood what Snow and Sager wanted, and I suggested using a Chinese take-out restaurant on East Broadway, on the same block where my combat arts school was. East Broadway is a wide, two way street originating in Chinatown at its downtown end, and ending just short of the East River on its uptown end in the Lower East Side of NYC. It would serve as a more photo-friendly site.
I was also familiar with this take-out restaurant and knew their staff, and they wouldn't mind us taking pictures in front of their business. Whenever I ordered food there after teaching martial arts classes, the take-out kitchen's staff called me "Sifu" out of deference. So, we ended up taking several pictures of Mabel and me in front of the restaurant, but this wouldn't be the end of the photoshoot, for the article.
Snow wanted to title the feature about Mabel and me, "Genghis Rides A Harley." I asked Snow if he was interested in seeing my martial arts class that I was holding that night, and maybe take some pictures of the class for the article. He thought this was a good idea, and instructed Rob Sager to meet us there. I invited David and Shawn up to my house (which was only a few blocks from the Chinese take-out) for coffee, to cool their heels until it was time to go to the class. They declined, saying that they'd meet us at the dojo. "Dojo" is Japanese for "martial arts school." Although I taught a Chinese style of martial art, my teacher taught both the Jow Ga Chinese style I taught, and Kuen Do Ryu, an Okinawan style of karate. While I taught in my Sifu's school before I formed my own school, I taught both styles and referred to the school using the Japanese nomenclature of "dojo." It was just more expedient to use one term with the students of both systems, than using separate ethnic terminology when referring to the school, and this carried over to my school. Interestingly, when teaching the Okinawan style in my Sifu's school, I gave commands in Japanese, while I gave commands in English when I taught the Chinese style there.
When Snow and Sager got to my dojo (Shawn didn't come), my students and I were already suited up, had bowed in and were doing warmups. Sager came in and set up his equipment. I said jokingly to my students, "Allright, if anybody here's wanted by the police and doesn't want his picture taken, lemme know now." After gettin' that out of the way (nobody was a fugitive), Sager began orchestrating the photoshoot by telling people where to stand, and how to pose. At this, Snow joked , "Don't let Rob get ya upset, he even bosses Hell's Angels around when he takes pictures." Much of the class time was consumed by the picture-taking, which my students didn't mind, since they knew that they were going to appear in an internationally known biker publication. We had enough time left though, to show Snow our full-contact sparring, which I think he found interesting. He mentioned this in the feature article.
This photoshoot segment at the dojo completed what Snow and Sager needed for the feature, and what you saw in "Genghis Rides A Harley" in Iron Horse issue #100, was the final result.
by The Brian Setzer Orchestra
Yeah, well allright
Gonna tell you the story about the fame
and glory of a girl named Rebelene
She's the renegade daughter of a Nashville Lawyer
and a legend of a musical scene
Well, she's a singer and a guitar lick
Yea, she's country but she ain't no hick,
Gonna be a hard rockin' hell-raising hillbilly queen
Why do you treat your daddy mean
Why can't you hear me when I scream
NEW YORK CITY 1993:
David Snow asked me to meet him at the corner of Houston Street and Avenue A, in Alphabet City in the East Village. He's was going to lead me to the Iron Horse offices at 519 Eighth Avenue, so that Rob Sager could take some pictures of me, for my new "Going the Distance" column. When I pulled up at that corner on my '71 Super Glide, Mabel, Snow was already there, waiting patiently by his bike. His bike then, was a cherry Harley Wide Glide that he found, I believe through the Hemmings Motor News. His Wide Glide was a Southern Girl that he found somewhere in the Land of Stars and Bars, and brought back home to Brooklyn. This bike was a beauty, one of the last of the True Four Speed Swingarms. David would later name this bike, Rebelene and had her name painted on her back fender. Snow flicked on Rebelene's ignition switch and hit the starter, but she wouldn't turn over. After fiddling with the switch and its wires, Rebelene fired up, and we were on her our way to the IH offices.
The traffic that day was pleasantly moderate, a rarity for Manhattan, where traffic is normally stifling and frustrating. New York City traffic is so relentless, that it regularly causes murder-level road rage.
We took Houston Street straight up to Hudson street, and hung a right. Hudson Street eventually becomes Eighth Avenue further uptown. Snow and I cut a swath through the Yellow Hordes Of Taxis, the pipes from our Harleys blasting the National Anthem as we rode.
When we got the corner of 36th Street and Eighth Avenue, Snow shouted to me over the sound of our bikes' straight pipes, "Shut 'er off. We're gonna push the bikes up the block on the sidewalk." The freight entrance to the Iron Horse offices was on 36th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. Snow explained that riding on the sidewalk would result in traffic tickets, "moving violations" in NYC Speak. Moving violations in New York City, such as speeding, running red lights, etc., are more serious than non-moving violations such as parking tickets. The freight elevator was large enough to accomodate both Harleys, and we disembarked at the Iron Horse offices. The elevator let us off near where Rob Sager's studio with it's lights and backdrops were located. This wasn't an enclosed studio, but just an open studio space at the back of the IH offices.
When we got got into the offices, I said to Snow, "We can putz around with the wires on yer ignition switch to find out which one's shorted, and splice it to fix it." Snow said that he'd rather wait until he got home to Brooklyn where he had his tools, and do it there. Snow loved Rebelene for her civilized nature, and dug riding her. She was a comfy battle cruiser. However, he said something to me then that surprised me. He said, "It bothers me to compromise with a bike. Look at Rebelene, she's full of compromises." It was at that moment, when I knew that Snow was still suffering from Rigidmania, which is a less severe, subclinical version of Choppermania. This condition had to in the future, run its natural course. More to come. Later.