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GOING THE DISTANCE
"ONE WAY OR THE HIGHWAY"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
SHOVELIN IT AT THE SEEDY-X BAR:
"Not bagging the idea (or you) but why? Why do I need to confirm or deny anyone's opinion on why I ride. I ride because its fun. It makes me feel alive. Does the bike commuter look down on the recreational rider? ... that noise. While yes its great to ride to work as often as possible it can become a mundane chore. I have a co-worker who smokes a one hitter every morning and every chance he gets. He knows that I smoke but asked me why I don't join him every hour or so. I told him that it was becoming boring. There are some things that I want to keep fresh. I don't want to look at my bike and think of work. Its just that simple to me. I live in northern NJ and the last thing I want is to ride in more traffic. I hope those guys I see on the NY thruway each morning have a safe ride but I don't want to be them. Well maybe sometimes. Later."
This was Shovelin It's strong reaction to Flynch's "Commute The Sentence " column, in which Flynch contended that the motorcycle should be used for what he interprets as its intended purpose---to commute to work, and to endure hardship as a badge of honor. While Flynch doesn't make commuting to work a litmus test for biker bona fides, he does come close to implying this "one way or the highway" approach. Good, because that's why I'm glad that he writes---to express his unique opinions. However, we do see how limiting this approach can be if we examine THBC and it's self-serving insistence that riding rigid and riding to their magazine sponsored events constitutes their definition of what a biker ought to be. In their warped view and the view of their lemming-like followers, if you don't ride a hardtail on the "long road" to their smokeouts, you ain't nuthin, baby! Wotta joke.
This approach obviates the view that bikers are strong individuals who buck conformity---who simply go about their lives and do things their own way---and screw what others think. With this, I'm with Shovelin It. There are multiple motivations for riding, and many views of what a motorcycle represents---all of 'em dictated by each biker's world view. The tenets of the biker subculture were never predicated on hardcores riding their bikes to work every day. If that were the case, then commuters in Toyota Priuses trundling off to their office cubicles every day in their econoboxes, would qualify as hardcores.
The culture is so much more than that sociologically.
I've been on both sides of this issue. I've both commuted to work and in other periods, used my Harleys off-hours as the very centerpiece of my life. My life and my identity has been forged and defined by my Harleys, and my allegiance to them. To me, a Harley is a class entity that far exceeds merely being a means to get to one's job. I'll tell ya what---a Yugo can get ya to work, man. A Yugo is just another useful, disposable appliance, like a toaster on wheels. No, a Harley is definitely more than that, both in concept and in function. When I first started working full-time though, it was a Harley that got me there. That Harley was my customized '68 XLCH, "Sally The Bitch."
SALLY THE BITCH IN THE EARLY '70s
Sally was a little beauty, with a fully molded frame and painted candy apple spray can red. I molded her frame with fiberglass. There was very little bondo on her. The spray can red came courtesy of my neighborhood Auto Aid store, where I bought cans of Kalifornia Kustom paint. The paint job was flawless, because of all the wet-sanding I did between coats, with several coats of clear added on. As beautiful as she was though, I had to use her to commute to work. Not only did I commute to work with Sally, Sally was my work. You see, in the late '60s and early '70s, I worked as a motorcycle messenger with Quick Trip Messenger Service out of Manhattan. On Sally, I delivered packages around the city as well as out of state. I must admit, I didn't like using my Harley for this grunt work. I felt it was beneath her. One day while on the job, I met another biker who agreed with this assessment. Quick Trip's office was located on East 25th Street in NYC. One day at the office after I came back from a trip to the grocery store around the corner, I returned to where Sally was parked to find a biker eyeing her. He was wearing colors. His patch said "Aliens M.C." I said...."What's up?" To this the guy said with a straight face.....
"I was thinking of stealing your bike....."
I broke out laughing, and this guy joined me by laughing with me. The thing was, he was serious. His name was Mario and he said that he belonged to a club. Was I interested in clubs, he asked? I told him that I wasn't. His club eventually became the NYC chapter of the Hell's Angels after clashing with the Pagans in a nationally publicized rumble at the auto show at the New York Coliseum. Mario and I became friends after that, larceny on his mind or not during that first meeting. One day after his club became absorbed into the HA, he came running up to me and said....."The niggers burned my bike, man...." He actually meant Puerto Ricans. In the early '70s there was a turf war between the Puerto Ricans and the HA in the East Village. The destruction of his bike was revenge for the HA stomping a Puerto Rican the week before that. Mario's bike was destroyed. His bike was a Sportster XLCH with a welded-on hardtail, painted wrinkle black. It burned down to the ground and was totaled.
On the first day that Mario and I met, he asked incredulously...."Man, you use your bike for work? I'd never do that...." Another biker friend of mine of that time who felt the same way, was Mitch "Hippie" Diamond. He was a panhead rider who swore that he would never use his Harley for work. He felt that it was demeaning. Another job that I commuted to around that period was a construction job on Long Island. And that's it. Those two jobs were the only jobs that I commuted to on my Harleys. I wasn't the only biker who used his Harley for the Quick Trip Messenger Service. Another was "Eyepatch."
Eyepatch was a Pagan. He only had one eye, and his the empty ocular orbit where his other eye would've been, was covered by an eyepatch. A really surly guy, Eyepatch always seemed to be looking over his shoulder. One day he ran past me on St. Marks Place, and ran up the stairs of a brownstone. He fled into the foyer and slammed the door shut. I followed him and asked him what was up? He said...."The Angels are after me...." The war between the HA and the Pagans was intense back then.
Since that time in the early '70s, I haven't used my Harleys to commute to work. I haven't had to, but that's beside the point and truth be told---I wouldn't want to. To me, my Harley 74 Mabel is more than that. She is more than mere transportation. My Shovelhead represents to me, a larger concept than a usable tool. She is the very center of my life. I suspect that it's ever been so for most in the biker subculture. After world war II, all those adrenaline-pumped soldiers who returned to two wheels as a righteous way of living, weren't all looking for cheap transportation, lemme tell ya. They were looking for thrills. For them after seeing the hell of war, it was a much needed way of letting off steam and expressing 'emselves. They wanted to live life to the fullest and most rowdy---and what better way to do that than on a rip-snortin' Harley big twin? Man, let's scare the citizens and FTW, baby! It wasn't about gettin' to work. It was about gettin' on with life. That's what's it's about for me. It's about gettin' on with life. It's about blasting down the highway at 80 per on my stroker Harley, her pipes screaming....."BRRRRRRRRAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaackaaaaaaa....." as I back off on her throttle, as I enjoy the moment without a care in the world. Also without a thought about work. It's not about work. It's about life. Later.