I was the writer.
The pilot fish bartender was Chris Wolfe, my first friend in the Adirondacks. Chris had a stake in a hostel/campground just outside of town. The place was years ahead of its time, featuring a great restaurant, bar, bakery, entertainment and a salmon pond. It is nothing today to pick your live lobster from a tank in just about any restaurant. At this place, you could catch a salmon outside and they’d cook it for dinner. (The amazing thing is that it was not an automatic process. You could stand in the cold rain for two hours while those stately fish gave you the cold shoulder.)
Chris stepped behind the bar whenever I came in, fearing the potential for a reverse tsunami, where the contents of every bottle would simultaneously surge in my direction (such was the strength of my personality). He would also interrupt my cheery conversations with the waitresses, by interjecting terse observations like, “No, she doesn’t want to make 12 bucks the hard way.”
I came to the Adirondacks from the urban grind of New Jersey, and found a cabin in the woods. Chris came from the United Kingdom (Great Britain), and settled in the North Country (Adirondacks) as he’d heard a clipped British accent mesmerized the local women. One of these ladies did the kind thing, spurning me and marrying him. Chris returned the favor by serving as my best man when I married my second wife. He then attempted to make up for this by volunteering as a character witness at my divorce three years later.
This beautiful Autumn scene in the Adirondacks is only a few minutes
from the home of my friend Chris Wolfe.
Everything in the Adirondacks is in a state of transition. The mountains are worn down by the elements. Seasons come and go. Clearings become forests. Lives change. Following my divorce, I entered the witness protection program and moved to West Chester, Pa. Chris left the hospitality industry and became a physician’s assistant. For anything less than surgery, he’s as good as most doctors. (I once asked him about a lump on my testicles. He offered to remove my balls and leave the lump.) Throughout this whole time, nearly 21 years, neither one of us knew about the other’s interest in motorcycles.
In 2006, I showed Chris my 1986 BMW K75 (with the rare Sprint fairing). He proudly trumped my hand with a 1971 Triumph T100 Trophy, in great condition. (The linked website is for illustration. The bike pictured is not the exact same one in this story.) We attended the BMW MOA Rally in Vermont that year, and dozens of people stopped him to ask about the bike. He calls this machine his “Strumpet,” as it takes his money and screws him every time.
The author's incredibly beautiful 1986 BMW K75 with the
rare Sprint fairing, destroyed in a collision in 2007
Chris Wolfe called me shortly before Labor day with the news that he was acquiring a 2000 Honda VFR Interceptor with 5,100 miles on it. I asked if he had considered a BMW? He told me “yes,” but that he prefers his bikes the way he likes his women: with chains.
The bike was in New York City, a scant 6 hours away. He was getting ready to make a mad dash to Manhattan at dawn, try the bike, buy it, plate it, and ride it home -- all on the Thursday before the Labor Day Holiday. He was utterly confident that this adventure would go like English clockwork. Not a minute was set aside for delay. Wolfe described this process to me the same way Field Marshal Montgomery reveled in the plans of Operation Market Garden. His insufferable arrogance is part of his enduring charm.
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's ill-fated Operation Market Garden
inspired Chris Wolfe's elaborate plans to acquire a bike and ride it 400 miles
in pre-holiday traffic.
I made a couple of suggestions, and smiled into the phone when he scoffed at my concern.
“It’ll take me a a half hour to get across town from Penn station... Then an hour to look at the bike, ride it, and do the deal,” said Wolfe, slowly inflating to match the royal grandeur of this scheme. “I’ll be in motor vehicle about an hour... Maybe an hour and a half at the very worst. I should be ready to leave Manhattan by 2pm, even if I take my time.”
As he was saying this, I envisioned the Manhattan office of the division of motor vehicles as a huge soul-chewing maw at the esophagus of hell. The motor vehicle office that Wolfe frequents is in Elizabethtown, New York, the hub of Essex County. I have been there five or six times. The entire town covers ten lovely streets, where everybody gets a turn marching in the 4th of July parade, and you would never walk past a kid selling candy or cookies without buying some. The motor vehicle office there is staffed by four of the nicest, most efficient women I have ever met in a state government facility. I have never been in there longer than twenty minutes.
Artist John Martin's vision of hell, coincides with my concept of a division
of motor vehicles office in Manhattan, the day before a major holiday.
“You’re undoubtedly right,” I said, agreeably. (Leslie, my squeeze, has taught me to say, “You’re right,” as opposed to, “What are you, some kind of a fucking dope?” She claims it’s far more satisfying in the long run and she’s correct.)
We also agreed on the best way out of the City at that time of day, and I planned to meet my old pal at the first rest area on the New York State Thruway, in the picturesque hamlet of Sloatsburg.
As it turned out, hell has many maws and my friend would kiss all of them on this trip.
Chris Wolfe on his 2000 Honda VFR
The Mad Max of the Adirondacks
Photo courtesy of Chris Wolfe
The first leg of Wolfe’s grand plan was to have a buddy drive him from Lake Placid to the train station in Albany. The trip is a good two hours, if you step on it. The train was scheduled to leave at 7am, so these two guys were on the road well before first light at 4:30.
“I was as excited as a kid on Christmas Eve,” said Wolfe. “I got no sleep at all, which put me in fine form for the next day.”
They pulled up in front of the station, and Wolfe said to his friend, “Wait here. I want to see that everything is on schedule and according to my plan.” He then grabbed his backpack and ran in to buy his ticket. Imagine his consternation when he came out and discovered his friend had left. Now this would have been no big deal, except the cashier’s check for the bike and the necessary insurance paperwork were still in the glove compartment.
At this point, Field Marshal Montgomery would have said, “Damn.”
Wolfe said, “Bollocks.” (This is a British colloquialism for “Good Heavens.”) He deduced that his friend, who he described as being like “Lenny” in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, went off in search of a coffee shop. There were three at the end of the street. Wolfe took off at a run. There is no cell phone reception throughout most of 6 million acres of the Adirondacks. For this reason, a lot of people still don’t carry them. Chris had one to call me at the successful completion of each stage of his plan. “Lenny” did not.
Chris Wolfe proudly poses on the first of his motorcycles that
will not drop oil on the pristine Adirondack eco system
Photo courtesy of Chris Wolfe
Wolfe’s driver was not at any of the coffee shops. He then found a cab company, where he offered the owner/dispatcher $100 to chase Lenny, who had a 20-minute head start, down the Northway. With a century note dancing under his eyes, the dispatcher fired up a van and the two of them took off.
“The guy was driving like he was taking his driver’s test,” said Wolfe. “I said to him, ‘For a hundred dollars, you can burn some gas!’ He hit 95mph on a couple of stretches, and we caught up to my friend about 22 miles away, in Saratoga.” Pulling Lenny over, they got the issue sorted out and Wolfe was on the next train. He arrived in New York and got across town in less than a half hour.
The bike was a beauty. It started right up. It had a new battery to compensate for the fact that it had not been ridden very often in the last eight years. The seller insisted my pal ride it.“That was very sporting of him, considering he didn’t know me and it was Manhattan,” said Wolfe.” Exchanging the check for the title, he set off for the motor vehicle office.
The 2000 Honda VFR Interceptor is a great way to carve the curves
in the savagely beautiful Adirondacks. The bike makes a statement
at the end of Chris Wolfe's driveway.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wolfe
By this time, I had left West Chester, Pa for Sloatsburg, NY -- in the Suburban. I had tools, oil, water, antifreeze, and a cooler in the truck. Unlike Field Marshal Montgomery, I had no confidence in the plan. Taking Rt. 100 to I-78 (Pa), to I-287 (NJ) to I-87 (NY), I had a three-hour ride. Repeated calls to Wolfe’s cell phone produced only his wife’s voice in the prerecorded message.
I didn’t care. It was a nice day. A strong breeze flirted with Sloatsburg. There was no sign of Wolfe, but I wasn’t concerned. What the hell, the cooler was working and so was my MP3 player. The office thought I was donating an organ. And in my mind, I was.
The first call from Chris came at 4:30pm. He had been at motor vehicle for over three hours, and the only activity he’d witnessed had been an attempt to steal his new bike. The DMV facility was designed to accommodate about 4,000 people and all of them had shown up (before Wolfe) with a five-part transaction, requiring a multi-lingual explanation.
“Have you ever seen one of those old Frankenstein movies where the crowd has torches, pitchforks, and clubs,” asked Wolfe. “Well it was like that on one side of the counter and like Dawn of the Dead on the other.”
Wolfe told me that he would be at least two more hours and that I should leave. I thought of the traffic I faced on the long ride back, and foolishly said, “Okay.” This was one of dumbest things I have ever done, and I blame it on middle-age concerns for traffic and work the next day.
Wolfe roared out onto the FDR drive in Manhattan, and made the jump to the Major Deagan Expressway. This becomes I-87, the New York State Thruway. After a brief tour through the Bronx and parts of Yonkers, it cross the Hudson River over the magnificent Tappan Zee Bridge.
All of Manhattan turned out to watch my friend ride by on his new motorcycle. And they all came in cars. Wolfe timed his departure to coincide with the mass exit from the last game to be played in Yankee Stadium. There were 2 million people in the stands, apparently. The Major Deagan slowed to a crawl and stopped. So did the Honda. And it wouldn’t restart either.
Chris Wolfe likes his motorcycles like his women: with chains
Photo courtesy of Chris Wolfe
Wolfe had been trapped in bumper-to-bumper traffic for two hours, on a road that expands and contracts from six lanes to ten and then down to four like an accordion. He can lane split like a maul moving through a log, but there was simply no place to go.
“My first thought was that the rectifier/regulator had blown,” said Wolfe. “These machines are known for this problem.”
For the four hundredth time that day, Chris Wolfe again said, “Bollocks.” Like most modern George Jetson motorcycles, the VFR Interceptor is a seamless plastic sculpture, held together by 78 hidden fasteners that can be loosened only by chanting a spell. “There was no thought of attempting to take this thing apart on the road,” said Wolfe.
The temperature at that time of the day was still 89º and my pal was wearing textile ballistics, while carrying a small pack with rain gear in it.
“This setback occurred at the foot of a hill,” said Wolfe. I dropped my gear, and pushed the bike to the top, gushing sweat like a busted pipe. I turned in time to see some guy going through my stuff. I shouted, jumped on the bike, and rode it down, getting a start in the process. The guy took off as I pulled up.”
The bike ran for another three miles and died again. Once again, there was a hill. But this time, it was much steeper. Wolfe caught the attention of a twelve-year-old boy on an overpass, and offered him $20 to help him with the bike.
“What do I have to do,” asked the kid, suspiciously. (The lad had probably never heard a British accent before and undoubtedly thought he was about to be asked to participate in an unnatural act.) The kid reluctantly helped Wolfe push the bike to the top of the hill. This time the machine did not restart on the way down.
“Tough shit,” said the kid. “I gotta go, where’s my twenty?”
Wolfe paid the little bloodsucker, and with the last strength left in his body, pushed the VFR to the top of hill by himself. “I was completely done in,” he said. “I started down the hill and popped the clutch a first time... Nothing. Still rolling, I popped it a second time... Nothing again. I was running out of hill and I popped the clutch a third time.”
The machine hacked and coughed, then roared into life. Wolfe broke into lighter traffic and kept the revs up until he got to the rest area at Sloatsburg, about 30 miles away. There is a two story parking facility there. He ran the bike up to the second level, turned it around, and parked it facing the ramp. “ I was taking no chances at this point,” he said.
The time was 8:30pm. It had taken him four hours to cover 40 miles. Field Marshal Montgomery would have been proud
Wolfe ate his first full meal of the day, and drank four bottles of water. He cooled off in the air conditioning, then mounted up and rode the remaining 5 hours home. The bike performed flawlessly for the rest of the ride. It was 1:30am when he rolled into the driveway. He’d been up for 22 hours. He believes the battery did not have a full charge in it to start and two-hours of stop and go New York City traffic killed it.
"What should I name this bike," asked Chris.
"I can think of three things that are yellow," I replied
Photo courtesy of Chris Wolfe
In hindsight, there are a few things he could have done differently. But I should have waited. There’s a couple of cheap motels two exits up. We could have gotten a couple of rooms, had a few drinks, and partied a bit before getting some rest.
The bike is a beautiful yellow. “What do you think I should call it,” Wolfe asked me.
“Well, what are some things that are yellow? Lemons, piss, and hepatitis come to mind,” I said.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)