Thursday, July 11, 2013

Measuring Up To A Hard Woman...

The old lady looked awful. She was as pale as a sheet and barely animated. She wasn’t able to speak. Her skin was cool to the touch and her face bore the distress of inner torment. On her best day, she had a personality like a bag of snakes. Her hatred for me was part reflex and part instinct. Though there had never been any love lost between my mother-in-law and me, I certainly didn’t want to see her like this. I never wanted to see her at all, but circumstances intervened. And now she was here, hovering in the gray area of life on our little vacation to the mountains.

My plan had been to escape to the Adirondacks (the savage mountains of New York), to skinny dip in the creek; to sip wine in the moonlight; and to fool around with my wife in between... Then she asked, “Can we take my mom.” I would rather have taken poison. Her mother was getting on in years and becoming reclusive as well as abusive. The old bat never really came out of her room but her presence was like the shadow of plague. I could deny my wife nothing, and her mother had accompanied us on trips before. Yet this place was nowhere like anyplace we’d ever been before. It was personal solitude for two. I didn’t want her presence coloring the mist. The old lady in the narrow bed hadn’t moved in 24 hours. I didn’t like the looks of this. 

We were tucked away in a remote Adirondack cabin, where the primitive road dissolved forty feet before the driveway began. It was the last house on a power line that stretched 11 miles through woods where desolation was the fifth season. We’d be on our own if the lights flickered. They flickered now, and went out, as a deafening clap of thunder shook the house. A low moan escaped my mother-in-law’s lips as she clawed her way back to consciousness. Then the storm broke and the house was enveloped in the drumming of a maniacal rain.

There was an hour left to sunset, but the cabin was high up, on the western end of the valley, in the shadow of the Sentinel Range. It got murky fast in the center of the clouds, and my wife of seven years lit candles. Only one of them was for light. She was the first to speak: “I’m going to call the doctor.”

I said nothing. The unspoken question “What can he do?” hung in the air. 

As savage as the Adirondacks can be, there are remote communities of artists, musicians, and craftsmen scattered throughout these mountains. Among them are the deep forest retreats of scholars, philosophers, and medical people. By chance, the leading expert in my mother-in-law’s condition summered in the hamlet of “Beaver Creek,” about 9 miles distant. He’d come, if he was home. He might reach us in 20 minutes.  I knew we didn’t have an hour to wait for the inevitable.

“The phone is dead,” said my wife. Cell coverage wasn’t even a thought.

“I’ll go get him,” I said. 

The physical action of doing something would be better than just being in the gloom of the cabin, knowing what was transpiring in the loft bed, though I was pained to  leave my wife alone with her mother in this state. The rain poured off the porch roof like a  liquid curtain. I got thoroughly soaked stepping through it.

You get used to some things working the same way, day-in and day-out over the years, and there is a second of disbelief when they don’t. Turning the key in the Suburban’s ignition produced only silence, made more poignant by the drumming of the rain. I tried again. Nothing. Then I yanked the headlight switch. Nothing. I’d left the courtesy lights on. All twelve of them. The battery was dead. 

There might have been one or two ways to jump the truck, if I’d had time, or access to a phone. But I had to go — now. Parked under the eaves of the back shed was the 1986 K-75 (with the rare Sprint fairing) known as “Blue Balls.” I grabbed my jacket and helmet from a peg inside the shed door. The K75 growled into life as soon as I’d touched the starter, but it would take a minute the old lady couldn’t spare to warm up.

The driveway was 80 percent gravel and 20 percent water. The road was worse. A long, downhill, twisting slide into the valley, the steady torrent took the path of least resistance, sweeping the gravel into the curves. Branches and deadfalls hung up in the shallow current, collecting debris piles of their own. I snicked the K75 into first and scudded onto the road. The water was an inch deep against the treads, but the tires bit and I headed out. 

The jacket was mesh and the rain was cold. It’s hard to understand how these mountains can be as humid as the Yucatan jungle on one day, and cold enough to leech the warmth from a body 24-hours later. It was early August and the temperature was barely 60 degrees, only 6 hours north of a sweltering New York City. I wore the jacket because it was at hand and I thought its armor would be better than nothing in a fall.

I stuck to the crown of the road with moderate success. Super cautious at first, I felt more confident and worked the K75 into third. The crown seemed like a good idea in  the beginning, but the outside furrows of the road were getting edged deeper by the run-off, and I nearly bogged down in these. A bigger mistake would have been to stop on the crown and to have put my foot in one. It never occurred to me that I could have gotten pinned under the bike, and drowned in nine inches of water. 

I came across the first sizable tree branch blocking the road about three miles into the run from hell. It was a dead birch branch, about three inches in diameter, but all snaky with little twigs on it. Detritus was washing along its tapered length to the narrow end, which was pointing downhill toward a curve with negative camber. My first thought was to just slosh over the narrow end, but the water roiled into the underbrush there and I didn’t like the looks of it. So I rolled over it’s center, with broke with a loud pop. The crown of the road was hard enough to support the bike, though the branch’s narrow end popped up and followed the current over the lip.

The next two miles were slow but steady going and I knew I was running out of time. There were more dark patches than gray and coming back this way, even in the Doc’s Jeep, would be no picnic. The doctor would be with us for the night. That would be so much better for my wife. The road was covered by water at Wolfe’s Fork. In the gathering darkness, I couldn’t see how deep it was against the surrounding trees, and stopped, putting my feet down. The water ran over the tops of my boots. The headlight had been growing in influence as it got darker but the surging water just swallowed it. I had only a vague idea of where the road ended and where the swamp began. 

“Shit on this,” I thought. I gave the engine three or four good revs and let out the clutch. I steered through the junction, keeping to the center, knowing full well the road veered to the left somewhat, and that I’d be on the very edge of ground stable enough to hold the bike. 

Then I was through it. 

The crown of the road was higher in this stretch and the trees were cut farther back. It was easier to see more of the hard-packed cinder surface in what was left of the gray murk. I had three miles to go. I played the road over and over again in my mind. There was a turn coming up here and a bit of a dip there. I took every curve upright. There was no point in losing a second to dropping the bike. I kept the engine revving in third. 

Life deals you an odd hand every now and again. My mother-in-law’s relief depended on the person she hated most. I couldn’t remember a day when she didn’t hate me. The night before I was to marry her daughter, she offered me $10,000 to get lost. (Naturally, it was a personal check.) The highlight of every wedding reception comes when the multitiered cake is wheeled out. At our wedding, my mother-in-law swaggered over to the cake and bit the head off the little groom doll at the top. Then she  spit it into the punch. 

“I’ll make you wish you’d taken the money,” she sneered. 

You have to wonder what could make a person so nasty. My mother-in-law was the first of her family to be born here in the United States. Her mother came from Ireland, probably with funds stolen from the church poor box, and opened a waterfront bar called “Tar Box Molly’s.” My mother-in-law grew up spitting in the beer of semiconscious sailers and wharf rats. I could only imagine the scenes that passed for her childhood. 

The scene before my eyes brought me to a sliding halt. 

For years, a pokey little rivulet dripped through a rusting culvert deep under the road. That trickle flexed its muscles today, ripping out the old corrugated pipe and pavement, leaving only a stretch three feet wide and ten feet long. The water roared and surged like a living thing trying to squeeze through a tight collar. It was within an inch of devouring the remaining pavement. 

“Fuck me,” I hissed. 

I was beaten. The rain strained through my mesh jacket, carrying the stain of surrender. 

The woman I was married to got a raw deal. When she needed a carpenter, she got me. When she needed a mechanic, she got me. And now, when she needed a hero, she got a pissant too terrified to risk all when it counted. The clammy misery of failure enveloped me like a mist. Looking down into the mad rush of the water, I saw her face as plain as day. I saw the depth in her eyes. I saw her mouth, drawn back in that familiar sneer. And I heard my mother-in-law say, “I knew you couldn’t do it. Now my daughter will know it too.”

I screamed into the rain.

Some will say I acted foolishly. I pulled my Mini-Maglite out of my pocket, twisted it on, and dropped it just off center of this causeway. Then I retraced my steps for about three hundred feet, revved the engine to 5 grand, and let that K75 go. It fishtailed and slid. It caught. I shifted twice and got it up to 45. I couldn’t even see the ripped culvert in the rain and mist. But I could see the Mini-Maglite. I passed it just to the right.  

You cover 66 feet per second at 45 miles per hour. I was in and out of the cobra’s mouth  in the blink of its eye. 

I pulled up at the Doc’s place blowing the horn and yelling. He was just inside, smoking a cigar by lamplight. 

“Doc! It’s the old lady. You gotta come now.”

“We’ll take my jeep,” he yelled back.

“We gotta take this. The road’s gone.”

I suspect the doctor has had a hell of a life. He barely nodded. Then he was on the back  with an oiled coat and his old medical bag between us. I’d seen the well-creased leather bag in his hall a dozen times. He’s made a few house calls in the desperation of these mountains before. We recrossed the culvert without slowing. He wouldn’t let me slow down going up through Wolfe’s Forks. There were times when both of us held the sliding bike with our feet. 

The doctor was off the K75 and up the stairs almost before I’d brought it to a complete halt. He knew his business. The last vestige of daylight was fading and in that feeble light, my mother-in-law recognized his face — and knew I’d brought him. She knew I’d succeeded. Then the doctor pulled a wooden stake out of his bag and used a mallet to drive it through her heart. 

“We barely made it in time,” said the doctor. “Tell your wife to leave the damn stake where it is. You and I can drag this thing out into the daylight tomorrow and that will be an end to it. Why the hell would anyone want an old vampire hanging around anyway? Tell your wife I’m not doing this again.”

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2013
All rights reserved.

Who Reads Twisted Roads? 

Josh Campbell 

Above: This is Josh Campbell hard at work, feeding baby humming birds, perched 9,000 feet above central Kansas. Each hummingbird chick gets a cheeseburger the size of button and black coffee from an eyedropper.  Welcome to Kansas. Two great pictures, Josh. (above & below) 

Above: These are Josh Campbell's bikes in a very cool picture. On the left is a 2002 Suzuki SV650 which Josh claims "rekindled my love affair with motorcycles." On the right is a 2007 Kawi ZX10R, which he says, "has no soul but satisfies my need to taunt fate."

Lee Shreve 

Above: Lee Shreve (North Carolina) has rolled out an impressive array of Teutonic motorcycle muscle. On the left appears to be a K75 in my favorite shade of red. Next appears to be an R100/7, with a K1200LT on the right. Way to go Lee! 

Rodney Lyons

Above: Rodney Lyons wins the long-distance reader appreciation award for this episode, writing in from Western Australia. An eclectic rider, his stable features a prized Yamaha Classic and a beautiful Piaggio MP3 (300) in the back. Everybody knows that motorcycle tires are cheaper when you buy them in lots of 5! Rodney paid me the highest compliment. He said, "Riepe, you writing about Australia is a lot like me writing about Jersey City." Praise indeed. Thanks, Rodney. 

Do you read Twisted Roads? Send me a picture of you and your bike, and you just might win a prize! Send pictures to Write, "Reader's Photo," in the subject line. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Debunking The Pre-Ride Meditation Myth

I have received numerous requests for a blog episode dealing with the spiritualism of pre-ride preparation — and why it should be avoided. Many of these requests came from women, who asked that I include a lesson in relationship building, illustrating how a man should always take direction from the woman in his life. Specifically, I was to avoid any reference to getting laid (or expecting a trombone solo) as an incentive in the direction-taking process.

I believe in accommodating my readers whenever possible (except for the  BMW “R” bike group in Minnesota who insisted I drink poison). This is the requested blog episode.

I apologize to my readers who were expecting humor. This is sophisticated science.

# # #

The face on the clock condemned me with a sneer, and read 2:45 A.M. It was set to detonate in two hours and fifteen minutes, when the first light of day would soil the sky. My eyes felt like I rolled them in cat litter and there was a dull throbbing in the pit of my stomach. These were the symptoms of holistic motorcycle pre-ride planning.

I was supposed to lead a breakfast ride of close friends and associates through a hostile Amish settlement. (The Amish were pissed over a steel vent fan that mysteriously fell from the heavens, stampeding a herd of chickens.) Arrangements called for me to meet the usual suspects (Bregstein, Frechi, Clyde, Gerry, Ron Yee, and David Hardgrove) in the parking lot of a local Starbucks. These hooligans are punctual to the point of pain. If I was ever more than an hour late, they’ll ride to house and rev their BMWs in the driveway. (They’d make more noise rustling a newspaper, but to these guys the symbolic gesture is everything.)

I should have been ready to spring into the saddle. My preparations were straight out of the holistic rider’s manual. The day before — Friday afternoon — I stopped work four hours early to meditate in a sweat lodge. An authentic sweat lodge is a yurt-like structure made of animal hides stretched over a frame of willow rods and bone pinions. I got plans for one on the internet but Home Depot was out of bone fragments, so I just sat in my old Suburban and smoked a cigar as big as my ass.

The cigar was potent and filled the vehicle with a dense cloud of rich, robusto haze. A wasp had followed me in from the driveway and had just begun to realize its peril. It tried stinging its way through the windshield, but to no avail. The nicotine fog enveloped it like an evil spirit and the insidious little fucker’s head exploded with a micro-pop.

The appreciation of nature is a critical part of the cigar/sweat lodge experience.

It takes 40 minutes to enjoy a smoke as dense and as perfectly rolled as an Arturo Fuentes Anejo Shark, in Maduro. (Maduro is a country in which the days are long and hot; the rum drinks are fruity and cool; and the women are dusky and seductive. I go there every time I light one and close my eyes.) The dense smoke of a great cigar presents a joint-like Nirvana (or so I’ve read) in the close confines of the rolling sweat lodge. I smoked so many cigars in that old truck that the windscreen was tinted yellow.

When that cigar was smoked to the point where I needed a roach clip to hold it, I tossed the smoldering clincher into the neighbor’s flowers. (Her cat had been pissing in our garage for years.) Then I looked to the parked K75 for spot maintenance. This ritual began by sitting in a Kermit chair and looking over the bike while sipping something restorative. I recommend a “Planter’s Punch,” made with Myers Dark Rum. These are the squeezings of a whole lemon, a whole lime, a tablespoon of sugar or simple syrup, and an ounce and a half of Myers dark rum, in a tall glass, topped with orange juice and ice, plus a squirt of grenadine. If you are riding the next day, limit yourself to seven or eight of these.

I discovered a loose mirror and set about tightening it. These mirrors were an aftermarket afterthought that turned this 1995 K75 from a bowling shoe into a glass slipper. The mounting screws were .34512 of an inch. One little wrench was specially cast for this size, before all of the dies were broken and all of the toolmakers who designed it were executed. I couldn’t remember if I left the wrench in my coat pocket, in the tool box, or on a rail fence alongside a dirt road in West Virginia. So I fudged it. The mirror would come loose in mid-ride, after I tried adjusting it at 60 miles per hour. Bregsten would run it over.

The seal on the top case was also loose. This was due to a gasket that BMW sells separately. It appears to be three inches too short on initial installation, and eight inches too long thereafter. I used a brand of super glue to hold the stretched-out gasket in place, closing the lid to guarantee a tight fit. An hour later, I would discover the lid glued shut in places.

It was then time for dinner. The truly spiritual rider does not freight up on carbs, huge cuts of meat, nor piles of starches the night before a ride. Experts claim light supping on things like watercress salad, cheese crusts, and herbal tea is the best thing to propel a rider out the door for a traditional Amish breakfast. I parboiled three green beans, a shallot, and some grubs I found in the garden for my evening meal. I planned to eat while reading a popular self-help book titled, How Not To Annoy The Living Shit Out Of Women... A Practical Guide For Men, when the love of my life waltzed in with a friend.

My lover at the time was a doe-eyed beauty, with a voice as soft as rain water trickling through orchids. She had a smile that refreshed my tortured soul and a kiss like a powerful narcotic. Her friend was another hot-looker with a personality like champagne bubbles set loose in the atmosphere. For the sake of this story, we will call the friend “Melissa.” Melissa was a statuesque brunette with a smile that promised a hot foot or a prison riot, and anything in between.

Melissa grabbed my dinner and tossed it to a rabid raccoon outside. The ladies suggested headiing to a local Asian joint, to savor some mild sushi (along with a cocktail or two), before calling it an early night.

“I am compelled to tell you two ladies that I am leading a breakfast run of philosophers through a hostile Amish encampment a first light. I plan to be in bed by 9:30pm, getting a full 7 hours sleep before this ride,” I said. "I want to wake up fully rested, refreshed,  and headache free, prior to pulling out of here with time to spare."

The beauty who was mine looked at me in that special way that women who have been with the same man for more than a decade use to say, “Wanna bet, asshole?”

“Sure you are,” nodded Melissa, with a look that suggested information to the contrary.

The Asian place was intimate, dignified, and accommodating.The sushi chef, whose name was Ichiban Makozowai, greeted us like old friends, which we had become. The manager, Izu Fong Chu, said to me, “Ha ha. Good to see you again, Mr. Jack. Your fren’ very funny. She no start food fight again tonight, huh?”

Melissa wanted adventurous sushi. She ordered cuttle fish babies served in remorse, shark eyeballs in aspic, pulsating octopus suckers, spicy tuna tongues, starfish balls in bonita flakes, politically astute shrimp brains, squid caps, and electrified eel dicks. She ordered hot dishes too. One was called “The Peacock and The Dragon.” According to the menu, it was a guinea hen that had been kicked in the balls and a komodo dragon that died of natural causes. 

There was no bar in this place but it was BYOB. The ladies had two huge containers of mixed cocktails. By the time we had eaten the last deep sea urchin on earth, the waiters were practicing ritual seppuku in the kitchen (disemboweling themselves). So we went to the Irish bar down the street, where it was Mariachi Night. At closing time, Melissa was wearing a huge sombrero, and reenacting the final moments of Poncho Villa on a Dublin Street corner.

I staggered back to the house, leaving a trail of clothing from the front door to the sofa. At 15 feet, the sofa was closest to a first floor bathroom. I couldn’t find a blanket and wrapped myself in a sleeping dog. Chunks of half-digested sushi began to reassemble and reanimate themselves in my stomach. A fiddler crab fought with an octopus in a deadly struggle. A school of yellow tail went into session.  I was close to death at 2:46am, about a minute after this story started. I knew I had seconds to make the bathroom.

There are times in a man’s life where he fully appreciates the principle behind seat belts. I wished the toilet had had them. Next to the commode was a nice little vanity with a candle on it. My lover back then was as practical as she was pretty. The candle was a small galvanized pail, filled with paraffin and citronella. It had three industrial-sized wicks in it. Next to it was my self-help book from the kitchen, which was opened to page 36. This said, “A man should always light a candle or ignite a block of thermite when taking a dump in a confined space smaller than a zeppelin hanger.”

Matches were thoughtfully provided. 

My lover had replaced the exhaust fan in this bathroom with a ventilation system from a Latvian lithium mine. Sometimes it was not enough. One night, the vent fan blew through the roof of the house and disappeared.

I lit the first wick. The citronella struggled. I lit the second wick, and the scent of the citronella was barely noticeable. Then I lit the third and a nuclear blast of citronella filled the room. Twenty minutes later, I stood up, ready to totter out to the couch again. But I am a fireman’s kid, and I blew out the candle first.

Each wick generated a thick plume of smoke, which rose to the ceiling — setting off smoke detectors throughout the whole house. A woman’s voice, tinged with impatience and a sense of irony, drifted down the stairs. She said, “You finally took a dump so vicious that it set off the smoke alarms.”

Does anyone want a used copy of How Not To Annoy The Living Shit Out Of Women... A Practical Guide For Men? I don’t need it any more.


Who reads Twisted Roads?

Dick Bregstein (PA), Pete Buccheit (MD), and Clyde Jacobs (PA) are celebrating their annual West Virginia Bacchanalia Ride this week. This is where the guys occasionally hit speeds of 62.5 miles per hour, stay up until 8:30pm, and eat meals with all the salt they want. Sometimes they will smoke a cigar, but Clyde complains it is usually all gobbed up by the time it gets passed to him.

Above: Things took a dark and dirty turn on a ride to West Virginia yesterday, when the Twisted Roads Editorial Review Board posed for their annual group picture. Please insert negative comments here. 

Yesterday they announced their riding was curtailed by humidity that went above 20 percent, which is Bregstein’s threshold. When I suggested that they watch something other than the weather channel and beauty queen reality shows, they sent me a picture of their team during morning calisthenics.

Above: Here is the kind of riding that Dick Bregstein (left) and Clyde Jacobs do best.

Above: Here is the idyllic senior citizens home where the boys have checked in for their stay at Berkley Springs.

Above: Paul Pollio sent this picture of ideal riding weather from Hancock, NY, where he pulled over for a drink of water. 

Paul Pollio (NJ) took a day trip from suburban New Jersey to Mount Washington (NH) for lunch yesterday. The rain slowed him to a more practical 86 miles per hour, Here is a picture of the rains in Hancock, NY yesterday, where Pollio pulled over to release a trout from his boot.

Above: The classic Indian Motorcycle that I almost got for a gift...

Henrietta Van Dratten (TN) sent along this picture of an Indian, which she bought me for a gift, and then took back. Technically speaking, this makes her an “Indian giver.” (I’m sure I will hear from 16 politically correct ethnic groups over that last comment.) I’ve known Henrietta Van Dratten for years, but under another name. This is all very strange.

Next blog in 24 hours... 
Dispatches From The Front

Leave a comment... Maybe you'll win a prize! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Memories Of A Bike, Straight Whiskey, And My Father — On Father’s Day...

Parts of the following blog were first run on Twisted Roads in 2008. I have revised certain parts of the story below, to make it more accurate, and to reflect the memories writing it awokened in me. This is a day late for Father’s Day, but so what? The creative process is working very oddly in me these days, but it beats the alternative of not working at all. 

The most challenging moments I have ever had behind the wheel were when driving with a super critical driving instructor — my father. I’d been driving for two years and now heard a sound that was neither a compliment nor a criticism. Nor was it a function of the motorcycle. The bike “yingggggged” its way through curves like it was in a tractor beam. My starts were smooth. The Kawasaki didn’t stall. Stopped at a light, I heard the distinctive click of a Zippo lighter opening, and smiled when I realized my pillion rider was using this lull in the action to kindle a cigarette.

The guy on the back was my father.

Many kids have wonderful memories of unique moments with their dads. The most common of these take place at ballparks, where little league games were played and cheered, and at major league stadiums, where legendary players whacked ‘em out of the park. Fishing is another great Norman Rockwell type activity shared by fathers and sons. Who doesn’t remember the first bass or trout taken in the company of your dad? And working on the engine of the family car with your Dad is yet another source of prime memories for others.

Above" The classic Zippo lighter... My dad's lighter of choice. 

I hated baseball almost as much as my father did. I assume he hated baseball because he never once mentioned it in conversation, nor watched it on television, nor ever gave any sign that he had heard of it. Fish came from Russo’s Fish Market on West Side Avenue (Jersey City). I never knew him to walk by a stream, nor to express the slightest interest if anything lived in one. He hated bugs, the sun, and the heat. As for working on the car, my dad had a great collection of tools. He would let me use any one of them provided I did so without his knowledge and concealed such activity while he was alive.  

He was a classic example of the World War II veteran who could do anything. Basic carpentry, general plumbing, and rudimentary wiring were all in his repertoire. While his mechanical ability greatly exceeded mine, it was not something he attempted to hand down. In fact, he once told me that it was his greatest hope that I would one day make enough money to always pay somebody to do the things on my car that he had to do on his. This advice was lost on me at the time because I was four years old and had just dropped one of his tools down a sewer grate.

I learned to drive when I was seventeen. At the same age, my dad learned how to assemble, maintain, and fire a .50 caliber machine gun at unpleasant Nazis, who were shooting at the B-17, in which he was the tail gunner. (Despite the fact this position required frequent filling, my dad asked for it as the B-17G had a separate door for the tail gunner, facilitating exit. He had started out as a ball turret gunner, but did not trust to the good intentions of his fellow crew members to crank the damn thing up in the event the aircraft became disabled, as the majority of them might already be dead.)

Above: Profile of a B17-G. My father's position can be seen under the rudder. 

He told me the most amazing stories about the war, a few of which did not put him in the best light. This because I was 15-years-old at the time, and the light in which I saw everything was rose-colored. As a man, I now think my father showed great restraint in certain circumstances. I freely admit I will never be half the man he was on his worst day. 

I found some of these stories to incredibly sad. My dad lived in a tent for a bit between missions, which must have aggravated him no end. But he explained to me that living in a tent far behind falling artillery fire (plus eating hot food and getting to take a dump in a facility that also had hot water) was much better than spending days on end in mud-lined foxholes, like my Uncle Bill was doing. My father flew to Italy and Germany 36 times. He never got out of the plane (but always left a little something). 

My father never once spoke of the tents that went vacant when B-17s blew up in mid-air, or wildly spiraled to the ground in gyrations that defeated any opportunity for the crews to bail out. He showed me a picture of a kid, about eighteen years old, dressed in tired fatigues, in front of a depressingly fatigued tent — playing with a little white dog. It was difficult for me to envision my father as an adolescent, but he was the kid in the picture. The dog was a stray that latched onto my dad. Pop had named the mutt “Flash.” 

My father loved dogs and we always had one in the house. I can imagine what it meant to him after returning from an 8- to12-hour flight, in an unheated bomber with open windows, with the roar of four deafening Wright “Cyclone” engines still in his ears, to have a dog lick his hand with a tail wagging. 

“What happened to the dog?” I asked, expecting to hear how my Dad smuggled him home from Italy, or gave him to an orphaned Italian kid, or that the dog lived out his years growling at the mention of Mussolini. 

“The army shot him,” my dad said. “We got back from a mission to discover that military MPs went through the camp, rounded up all the dogs, and shot them.” The risk of rabies and fleas in a camp where every trained man was a critical asset meant no dogs. It was just one more aspect of my farther’s war that I never considered. 

“Did your plane ever crash?” I once asked him. 

“We had a couple of hard landings, after which the aircraft was used for parts,” said my dad. I wish I had asked him more about that, but he made it seem so commonplace.  My first BMW K75 was sold for parts, after a car driven by Emma Blogget ran over it and me. I know what the bike looked like that day. I wonder what my dad’s plane must have looked like.
He was a “no bullshit” kind of person, which made him one of my more articulate critics. His name for me in my adolescence was, “Shitbird,” and I often lived up to it.

In the summer that followed my successful completion of the eighth grade, I was presented with a reading list for high school. Atop the list was “Northwest Passage,” by Kenneth Roberts. I was out of class about two days, when my father wanted to know what I thought about the book. (What I thought was that I intended to read it about 30 seconds before I’d get quizzed on it in September, but I was reluctant to share this strategy with him at the moment.)

A rather one-sided dialogue ensued, in which my dad suggested that the reading list was a Darwinian plot by the Jesuits to separate the higher life forms from the shitbirds, and that I might fool them for a bit if I pulled my head out of my ass and attempted to read a great book that I might enjoy. I looked at the book with suspicion. It was a paperback with 1,000 pages. By page 30 I was hooked as if the book had been printed with narcotic ink. I have since read it at least 20 times.

My dad and I spent thousands of hours in late night conversations on the most incredible topics. These spanned Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness,” the Six Day Israeli War, injuries to the soul, the great works of men and their undoing, the perfection of whiskey, sailboats, float planes, the flaws of politicians, and whether or not I would ever pull my head out of my ass long enough to amount to something. (The smart money said, “No.”) My dad was stoic about the reality of this last topic, though he remained an optimist. 

It was during one of those conversations, he asked if I had ever considered getting a motorcycle. My answer was, “No.” The explanation, which I did not share at the time, was that you could have sex in a car, even if it was a Volkswagen Beetle, like mine. (This was purely conjecture as I wasn’t getting laid anyplace.) Dad spoke about how much fun a motorcycle might be and what adventures lay waiting for the guy who had one. (The details of this conversation, and their ultimate effect, are covered in my book: Conversations With A Motorcycle.) 

It never occurred to me that this could have been the passing daydream of a fireman (albeit a Battalion Chief), with a mortgage and three kids in private schools. But the seed was planted. I wandered into a dealership (another story covered in the book), paid my money,  and became the proud owner of a Kawasaki Triple. (The “Sucker” light burned so brightly in the dealership that I rode out with a tan.)

Months later, I found my dad in the driveway admiring the bike. I showed him how it worked, the tool kit under the seat, and some other neat aspects of that otherwise primitive machine. And before I knew it, I said, “Want to take a ride with me?”

The man who walked through burning buildings and stared down the steely gaze of the Luftwaffe never hesitated.

Wearing only a light zip up jacket and my spare open-faced helmet, he climbed on the back and we took off. It was a weekday afternoon and there was plenty of traffic. I chose random roads, riding north and west to the town of Greenwood Lake, New York. Among the cars my dad once owned was a 1957 Chevy Belair (silver and white with red seats). One of my fondest memories was sitting on the front seat as he hit the impossible speed of 70 miles per hour. I found a straight stretch on Route 17 and opened up the H2. 

“This is 75 miles per hour,” I shouted over my shoulder. I heard him laugh. 

I pulled into the parking lot of a bar. The drinking age in New York State was 18. For the first time in my life, I went into a bar with my dad. We each ordered the specialty of the house, a beer and a ball. This was a glass of whatever the hell they had on tap, probably Budweiser, and a shot of whiskey. I had Jamesons. He had Fleischman’s, a kind of scotch that you would use to clean paint brushes. He bought a round, and I bought one.

I remember telling him about an idea I had for a story. It was about inner city life. He didn’t think much of it and told me if I gave it some thought, I wouldn’t either. He was right. I never wrote the story. We were on the bike again an hour later. The ride home was fun, and took about 70 minutes. The expression “Shitbird” didn’t come up the whole day. My Dad was one of a handful of folks to ride on the back of my Kawasaki.

Now some of you will raise your eyebrows and say nothing. Others may feel compelled to lecture me on the message this sort of story carries about drinking and riding, and how it will impact the nation’s youth. And some may feel that my father exercised really poor judgment.

But if you are going to set me straight about what I did wrong in my youth, I must advise you that this episode doesn’t even make the needle flicker on the “regret gauge.” As for my father, he was the bravest man I ever met. The emphysema that eventually claimed his life was just taking a toehold, and prevented him from getting a decent night’s sleep in the firehouse. He was a captain then, and volunteered to work “rescue.” Rescue rolled on every call. Since my dad couldn’t sleep, he walked through smoke-filled buildings in the dark. He never spoke about that either. 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! 

New Blog in 48 Hours: The Terrible Side Effects Of Effective Motorcycle Pre-Ride Planning... 


The Winner in the Twisted Roads 
Kangaroo Gloves Giveaway is: 
Sean Kerwick! 

Mr. Kerwick should write me at Twisted Roads ( so I can mail him his prize. 

Who Reads Twisted Roads?

Lori “Z,” alias “Beemer Girl” and “Steel Cupcake (Georgia),” and the publisher of moto-blog “For The Love Of A Motorbike,” sent me this inspiring mug, bearing the message: “Writer’s Block, When Your Imaginary Friends Won’t Talk To You...”

If only writer’s block was that simple. My imaginary friends always talk to me. All of them are women, and none of them are nice. One is at my desk right now. She is a brunette, about 5’6,” with shoulder-length dark hair. She is Asian and steamingly gorgeous. She isn’t wearing much and what she has on is secured with Velcro. She says, “Take all you want, but eat everything you take.” She places my hand on her stomach... And instantly turns into Zorina Pamplawicz, my 84-year-old kindegarten teacher. I could scream. 

I called Lori this morning, and she gasped upon hearing my voice. Lori later confided she’d had a dream in which she’d received an email detailing my death.

“Who was alleged to have sent you the email?” I asked.

“It was signed like a internet petition, with 2,500 names on it,” she sniffed. “All of them were woman or literary critics who claimed to know you.”

“Well, you can hear my voice,” I said. 

“But are you in hell?” asked Lori. 

Bill Elliott (New Hampshire) wrote to tell me how much he liked Conversations With A Motorcycle, and that he’d bought one of the few copies of my cigar book from Amazon. 

Politically Correct Cigar Smoking for Social Terrorists has been out of print for years, and used copies are going for a king’s ransom. (I think Bill paid $2 million bucks for his.) I am seriously considering a major rewrite of the cigar book and reissuing it. I get requests for this often and I think the time has come to do another one, more pertinent to the riding crowd. 

Above: Bill thought this work of art was my spitting image, minus the beard. 

In his travels, Bill Elliott found this stein (Royal Dalton) bearing the likeness of Bacchus, the traditional Roman god of gin, cigars, fast bikes, and sympathetic lovers. Elliott said, “That looks like Riepe.” And in a side by side comparison, there is a strong resemblance. In a conversation today, Bill added, ‘I don’t know if it’s a stein or what. It may be more suitable for flowers.” (Bill, my old dog used to drink out of the toilet. He lived to be 17. I can drink a cocktail out of a flowerpot.) 

Above: I do look like the perfect crucible for rum and Coke. 

Bill thought the resemblance was so striking, that he bought the stein and sent it to me. I christened this remarkable work of art by filling it with rum and Coke, which was consumed in the garage, accompanied by a smoldering a cigar as big as a donkey’s dick. (That was the brand of cigar: “Donkey’s Dick, a mild Nicaraguan taste experience in a $1.50 cigar that is as smooth as your third divorce.”) 

Above: Bill Elliott and "Tim" (pillion) about to set off on another "strudel" raid in Bavaria.

Here is a picture of Bill Elliott in 1967, at the helm of a 1952 “R” bike. He and a friend (identified only as “Tim”) are headed into a Bavaria, for a weekend of utter hell-raising. That was the year that gangs of “R” bike riders terrorized remote Bavarian villages by stopping to taste wine, poke the local apple dumplings, and cough loudly in libraries. “The only thing I remember about that trip is waking up in a field of wild flowers, looking at a beautiful old church,” said Elliott.”

Well Bill, that beats waking up in the church and getting married to a woman with a cast iron ass that says “Tirpitz” painted on it. (Don’t ask me how I know.) Elliott brought that “R” bike back to the United States, where it blew up after a dealer failed to tighten the oil plug following a routine service. 

Thanks for the stein, Bill. 

Above: James Joseph Fox, Ph.D, revered member of the East Tennessee Pterodactyls

Above: Detail of the East Tennessee Pterodactyls club logo. This is cool. 

James Joseph Fox III, Ph.D, a ranking voice of reason at ESU (East Tennessee State University - Tennessee) is a Twisted Roads reader and a devotee of Conversations With A Motorcycle. He also rides with the East Tennessee Pterodactyls. Here is the great man modeling a club shirt. The Pterodactyl logo is a appropriate as the the last of these creatures was still alive when the initial “R” bike design appeared in primitive cave paintings. If a member of the East Tennessee Pterodactyls reads this, I would be delighted to trade a copy of my book for one of these shirts: size 2x. 

© Copyright Jack Riepe 2013
All rights reserved