The amount of stuff that one collects over the course of a lifetime is astounding. The stuff we decide to keep, but then bury in closets, attics, and garages, is equally impressive. I was rooting through the wreckage of my youth in the garage, under the watchful eye of Leslie (Stiffie) my paramour par excellance, when I pulled a soft, brown glove-leather portfolio out of a box. It had been given to me by my first truly serious girlfriend, the captain of the school’s equestrian team, a sultry brunette, with hair that fell halfway down her back.
She had given it to me twenty-years earlier, to mark the occasion when I had earned my first commission as professional writer. It was made of the finest glove leather, with compartments sealed by three brass zippers. It had a loop to carry it sewn in one end, and my initials in gold on a tab in the front. I was floored to say the least. And the portfolio was somewhat optimistic, as it would be 5 more years before I received a steady paycheck for writing.
In the dim light of the garage, I traced the marks of two scrapes that marred the weather finish of the leather and remembered how they’d gotten there.
And so the story starts:
There is a lot of good-natured, male-baboonish ribbing that goes on between the riders of different marques and the inadequacies of the other guy’s motorcycle. In many cases, this ribbing has its roots in the ancient and noble histories of some brands that used to vibrate the teeth out of the mouths of their riders, leak oil on the showroom floor, and break down every couple of hundred miles. BMW riders who have never suffered mechanical indignities of this nature have been targeted for the HAZMAT-style ballistic gear they prefer, and the odd cut of their armored riding pants, which must be specially tailored (in the front) to accommodate huge penises.
There may even be hard words exchanged between riders of the same marque, who favor different models. For example, BMW “R” bike riders would love to sass “K” bike riders, but there is no combination of words implying self-fornication that rhymes with “proper cooling system,” which is why so many of these guys stutter when it comes delivering a biting remark.
Only twice have I encountered biker banter that was mean-spirited and malicious. In both cases, the source was a couple of Harley riders. Dick Bregstein and I were attending a biker event outside a New Jersey diner a few years ago, with about 50 percent of the 200-plus bikes in attendance being Harleys. (The remainder were metric machines with a very strong representation of BMWs.) Two big, tough-looking assholes wearing leather pirate costumes were walking down the bike-line and stopped in front of Dick’s brand-new F800S.
“I wonder if this little girl’s bike comes in pink,” said the lead cretin.
“I bet the rider wears pink,” said the other Morlock.
I glanced over at Dick, who was busy making sure his tailored armored pant legs were covering his pink socks.
I, myself, struck a pose that suggested I was looking for the meaning of life in my top case, having once heard a rumor that it is dangerous to peer into the eyes of a rabid animal.
Just once in my life, I wanted to say to these guys, “Your wife was wearing pink when I poked her in the ass this morning.” It was only a strong sense of self-preservation and a desire not to have my pants pulled down and my ass painted blue that I kept my mouth shut.
On the other occasion, Dick and I and just knocked off a 400-mile run, on the hottest day of the year, and pulled into a Virginia rest area where four members of the “Rugged Individualist” Harley Davidson movement were identically dressed and riding bikes that were cookie-cutter copies of each other. The head rugged individualist in this group said to me, “Now why do you assholes wear all that gear on a day as hot as this?”
Two hours later I had a head-on collision with an old lady in a mini-van and found myself slammed onto her bumper and then thrown to the ground. I remember thinking my chest was crushed (it wasn’t), that I was about to die (I didn’t), and that it was too bad that asshole on the Harley wasn’t here instead of me (it was). All that gear made it possible for me to leave the hospital without a broken bone or a head injury the next day.
Now I am sharing these experiences with the gentle reader not to pinpoint the shortcomings of the Harley rider’s personality, but rather to illustrate the exception to the rule. In every other situation when I have found myself among Harley riders, there was nothing but polite conversation, generally followed by a friendly offer to buy me a drink. And this reminds me of the first time I crossed paths with a Harley rider (when I was riding a rice burner) in 1976.
The document was more than 250 typewritten pages, complete with diagrams and photographs, constituting the text of the first major project I had ever ghost-written for a client. I was up against an impossible deadline, culminating at a client meeting on the upper East Side of Manhattan. There were two ways that I could make this meeting: a) if I used my 1975 Kawasaki H2 to cut through traffic in the city; and b) if I just brought the original document with me, without wasting a day screwing around with copies.
These were the good old days, long before there were copy centers on every street corner. Copies were made the old fashioned way, by inserting a dime and a page (one at a time) at the Xerox machine in the college library. “Fuck it,” I thought. I’ll copy the damn thing when I get back. (Actually, I meant my girlfriend would copy it when I got back. She liked to help.)
I was no stranger to riding a motorcycle in New York City traffic. I got over the George Washington Bridge in record time and headed to the Upper East Side. The meeting came off without a hitch, and I got the last set of revisions to the text, plus my last check in an installment of ten. I shoved both in the leather portfolio.
The George Washington Bridge, from the New Jersey side, in the '80s. Traffic hasn't been this light on this Hudson River Crossing in 20 years. I pulled over on the shaded spot on the shoulder, indcated on the left. The first exit ramp is for the Palisades Interstate Parkway. (Photo from Wikipedia.)
Down on the street, I found my bike where I had left it, and bungeed the briefcase to the crappy sissy bar I had on the seat. The rush hour was about to begin and I raced through traffic, riding like an asshole, to get back up to 179th Street and the Washington Bridge again. The going was a lot slower, and I got caught in gridlock a few times. But I managed to get to the base of the bridge and cut past a huge line of cars waiting to merge on the approach ramp.
Laughing out loud, I imagined the look on my honey’s face when I’d flash the largest of the ten checks I had earned on a typewriter to date. We’d have lobster that night.
Traffic slowed to another halt on the New Jersey side of the bridge, and I put both feet down for a break. I don’t know what possessed me to look over my shoulder, but I did.
The leather portfolio was gone.
I looked again, and choked off a scream coming out of my soul. The fucking thing was really gone.
The New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge is one hellish interchange after another. It is where the Palisades Interstate Parkway, Route 4, US-46, I-95, and I-80 all untangle like a paved hydra. At 4:30pm on a weekday afternoon, half the cars in the free world come this way. I pulled over on the last bit of shoulder before the exits for these routes started, and got off the bike. One bungee cord dangled from the sissy bar. The others were gone.
Looking back through the snarl of traffic on the GWB, which must have held 10,000 cars at that moment, I got my first taste of utter hopelessness. It would be nearly impossible to retrace my steps back to the upper East Side, and what would be the odds of finding that case, laying on the street someplace? And then I remembered there was no other copy of all that work... Nine months of work. Even with the fragmented rewrites that I had saved, it would take at least a month to piece it all back together again.
It was then that two Harley Davidsons of the period separated themselves from the traffic. The rider on the lead bike yelled, “Don’t fucking move.”
They managed to pull over 50 yards ahead of me, and duck-walked their bikes back. They were two of the roughest-looking riders I had ever met. If I had had to guess at their names, I would have said “Stitches” and “Pus.” Their actual names were “Larry” and “Toad.” The one guy called himself “Toad” because “he lived on the bugs that he ate as he rode.”
I watched as “Larry” dismounted and pulled my portfolio out of a leather pannier.
“You dropped this on the ramp to the bridge,” he shouted over the noise of the traffic. He then pointed to the bungee cord on the sissy bar and said, “These are shit. Get some straps.” He waved, got back on his bike, and the two of them roared off toward I-80.
I shoved the portfolio in my jacket, and rode home with it pressed against my shirt. I never forgot those guys on Harleys, who were headed to New Jersey, on a day in 1976. The two scrapes in the fine leather came from where the case had hit the ground when the bungees became undone. In one instant, my professional life was over... And in another, it was all good again.
Back in the garage, I told the history of the leather portfolio to Leslie and remarked that It was still a very classy-looking bag. I concluded I could still carry it to client meetings.
“Hmmmph,” she replied in enthusiastic agreement.
On Christmas morning, 6 weeks later, she presented me with a beautiful LL Bean briefcase (that was worth more than I had earned in my first ten years as a writer), complete with a saddle bag arrangement that made it acceptable for carrying a laptop computer.
“This is what writers should be carrying their stuff in now,” she said. “And if they’re not, you’ll start a trend.”
©Copyright Jack Riepe
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)