Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Learning How To Ride Two-Up -- By Yourself

Motorcycling is the pursuit of life through motion, sometimes at speed, during which the sum total of one’s existence is defined in the conflict between centrifugal force and gravity. Most BMW-riding cognoscenti claim this is best regarded as a solitary pursuit. Even riding in a group, the decisions made by each rider reflect a solitary analysis of the road, weather, traffic, and other elements that impact safety and personal gratification. Yet the last category, personal gratification, is not by any means the least significant. It is exploring the parameters of personal gratification that we discover serious challenges to the notion that motorcycling is best enjoyed alone.

Consider the typical BMW jockey.

Though a substantial proportion of roundel riders find satisfaction in high speeds, long distances, and shaving their eyebrows against the ground while carving turns (or a combination of the three), it cannot be denied that the majority of their runs end in places where the sunset, the sunrise, the moon rise, or the stars are without parallel as romantic fire-starters. This is unimportant to those Beemer pilots who are engineers, like most of the guys I ride with in the Mac-Pac (the chartered BMW Motorcycle Owners of America club, located in eastern Pennsylvania), who would insist on converting romantic opportunity into data.

Others, like the musicians, artists and writers of that group know a good thing when the see one.

These individuals challenge the concept of riding alone as the best approach to biking. In my youth, the ultimate form of personal gratification on a motorcycle was achieved in a tent, after a day of emotionally stimulating riding, by sharing the event with a significant other, who’s riding leathers (scented with a fant trace of perfumed sweat) then doubled as evening wear.

While it is generally acknowledged worldwide that the BMW is a unique expression of mechanical perfection, it has a low ranking among motorcycles with established reputations of attracting potential significant others on site. (This is probably due to the fact it is the preferred vehicle of engineers everywhere.) As a result, Beemer riders who do not want to ride alone must start each trip with a companion. These companions come in two categories: those who have their own bikes; and those who must ride on the pillion.

Women who ride BMWs are most likely to have extraordinary skills, like superheroes. They will have lightening-like reflexes, incredible organizational abilities, x-ray vision (fully capable of finding the smallest character flaws in men), and an uncanny sense for detecting falsehood. (It’s odd how potentially significant others with these highly desirable qualities find men like myself utterly unacceptable.)

The second kind of companion -- pillion riders -- may have all of these qualities, but they are tempered with an unfathomable degree of trust. This works better for fast-talkers and snake oil merchants like myself. Yet this trust does require the rider to be thoroughly capable of transporting a person on the pillion safely, under all kinds of circumstances. If you are new at this or a re-entry rider, getting hours of practice with someone on the pillion can be tough, especially if the practice pillion rider is sane, sober, or not in coma.

I was a re-entry rider in the most basic sense of the word. In my case, “re-entry” referred to materials in space hitting the atmosphere at speed. Many of my bike trips ended with sparks and parts of the bike (notably the brakes) glowing red. One ride terminated in a huge hole in the garden. (I referred to this as a “near miss.” I was impressing the young divorcee next door with my turning ability, and missed the driveway.) It was impossible for me to find a willing participant required to gain valuable pillion-related riding experience. So I developed the “Jack Riepe Method of Learning How To Ride Two-Up -- By Yourself.”

One of the most challenging aspects of learning how to ride with a passenger is the addition and distribution of more weight on the back of the motorcycle. Slow turns and maneuvers that wouldn’t ordinarily cause you to think twice create new resistance, occasionally made more complicated by a natural tendency for the pillion candy to scream out in terror, or to grab you by the throat in moments of perceived unsteadiness.

My solution was to replace the unpredictable nature of a real pillion rider with simple weight on the back. This sounds easier that it actually is. My first experiment in this area was to load 150 pounds of free weights into my 1995 K75’s stock BMW top case, which was additionally secured to the rear rack with 50 bungee cords.

I took a few tentative turns, carefully noting how the additional weight was canceled out by the laws of physics. But I was amazed at how much additional braking effort was required.

A fast take-off at a traffic light, however, launched the top case backward. The weights gave the box enough mass to fully extend the bungee cords so that it reached the windshield of the car behind me. Sensing something was wrong, I tapped the brakes just hard enough to give the bungee cords the right degree of incentive to retrieve the case, which propelled me through the the windshield of my Parabellum fairing.

I do not recommend this method.

A marginally more successful approach was to tie three 50-pound bags of dry dog food onto the back of the bike. The semi-flexible nature of these heavy-paper containers gives you more options with fastening them onto the luggage rack and the frames that normally hold the side bags. Fifty-pound bags of dry dog food can be purchased just about anyplace for a few bucks, and you can donate them to the local animal shelter when you are done.

Roaring out of the driveway, I couldn’t help but notice how the more uniform distribution of the weight on the bike greatly contributed to its handling. The two 50-pound bags that were tied down low -- to simulate lower body weight -- gave a more accurate representation of a rider’s legs and lower torso. I took off for a 75-mile test run through varied traffic conditions.

A light drizzle started to fall and the water-soaked bags yielded to vibration at the lash points. They tore and began dumping dog food on the road. By the time I got back to the garage, I had a pack of some 18 strays hard on my trail. One bag of dog food was the kind that made gravy when mixed with water. Half my bike was covered in brown soup and smelled like liver. While dogs can apparently snack on the fly, they have to stop to take a dump. All 18 found my open garage handy for this.

Not inclined to give up, I went with “Plan C.” The wilting economy has been hard for a lot of retailers, and many are going belly up. One such ill-fated company sold me a mannequin right out of their front window. About 5’8” tall, the terra cotta woman was exactly the right height and weight for this specialized application, with pose-able arms and legs to boot!

The mannequin made the perfect pillion rider. It enabled me to design the "ideal" woman, 
dress her up like I preferred, and add the perfect fashion accessory -- a gag -- to minimize criticism. 
(Illustration by Loren Ellenberg -- Click to enlarge)

For once in my life, I could design my ultimate dream-girl pillion rider. I outfitted her in designer sweat pants and a tight halter top. Using a kid’s paper transfers, I gave her a “tramp stamp” tattoo that spelled out my name in bold letters. She came with a reddish-brown wig that I combed into a pony tail. The mannequin sat tall in the saddle and I used five or six coils of rope to secure her to the top case. There was only one thing missing. Since this had become pure fantasy, I tied a gag around her mouth to remove myself from criticism.

We were on the road ten minutes later.

This was pillion-practice realism’s finest hour. I cut turns tighter than a violin string and was able to experience the closest thing to having a real passenger aboard. Sitting in traffic, some folks waved and guys blew their horns. The mannequin leaned with the bike and behaved perfectly. Things were going exceptionally well when I noticed the flashing red and blue lights of a police cruiser, attempting to pull me over.

The cop got out of the car, carrying the mannequin’s head, which had come off when I hit a bump.

“I think this is hers,” said the cop, handing me the missing part. “I heard it was nearly impossible for you Beemer riders to get a date but this is really pushing it, don’t you think buddy? What kind of engineer are you?”

Author's Note:

This story appeared in the current issue (May 2009) of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America's Owners News. It was supposed to run with an illustration by a very talented artist, Loren Ellenberg, neice of the Jim Ellenberg I occasionally ride with. The story ran in a very artistic presentation, though in a small, gray-colored typeface that some found difficult to read. I have opted to re-run that story here, with the original illustration. 

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

All The Gear... All The Time!

It was hotter than blazes the other day when I came roaring into the driveway. The BMW K75 was running like I had stolen it from one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and I didn’t feel compelled to rein her in as I approached the garage. With utter confidence in modern electronics, I triggered the automatic garage door opener and gave “Fireballs” an additional burst of gas as I hit the incline of the driveway. The gentle reader will imagine my surprise when I crested the hill and found the garage door in the final stages of going down.

It took some fancy braking action on my part to avoid catastrophe.

The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse -- Dick Bregstein, Pete Buchheit, Clyde Jacobs, and myself. According to sources, the four horsemen represent jock itch, the clap, cheap whiskey, and blog writers who have the opportunity to malign the others with impunity.

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Ckick to enlarge)

“I wondered if there would be a chance that you would come careening up the driveway at this very moment,” said Leslie (Stiffie), my squeeze. She had been herding snakes out of the garage, and had both doors up, when I sent the signal to the motorcycle bay portal. Naturally, my action closed it again. I came to a perfect stop mere inches from having to replace the smaller of the two doors.

“What are you doing out here in the heat,” I asked?

“Trapping snakes. They’re here,” she said, pointing a triangular cardboard sleeve, full of writhing serpent loops. “I did the hard part. You do the rest.” Leslie then retreated to the house like a person fleeing swine flu at a hog callers convention.

I do not deny that life around here is sometimes like watching a Lithuanian movie -- without the subtitles. I was drenched in sweat, perched on the motorcycle in the relative shade of the garage, that was apparently the secret residence of snakes... Snakes that were now caught in a trap that I didn’t know we had, nor needed. The literary term “non sequitur” was coined in anticipation of explanations that I am continually required to go without.

The trap was a simple affair designed to look like a six-inch long cardboard tent, intended to catch and aggravate mice. It is lined with a kind of glue derived from the stuff spiders spray on their webs. It had been placed behind the trash cans in the garage early last winter to discourage the entry of field mice dreading the winter cold. The glue in these traps is not affected by cold, heat, nor the passage of time, apparently. There was about nine inches of snake (in various coils) sticking out of both ends of the little tent. The more active end terminated in a head, which was about the length and diameter of the last joint on my thumb.

The trap was as a simple cardboard affair, folded to look like a tent, smeared with incredibly sticky glue inside.
(Photo courtesy of Victor Mouse Traps Site -- Click to enlarge)

The head glared at me like the attorney who represented my second former wife.

I bent over to assess the situation and the head struck at me three times. Had it been attached to one of those spitting cobras, I suspect I would have been blinded instantly. As it was the killing nature of this viper was restricted by the camping gear attached to it.

“What are you going to do about the snake,” asked Leslie, from the far side of a steel door.

“That depends,” I replied.

“Depends on what,” she asked again, in words that not only lacked confidence but dripped criticism.

“Depends on whether you can get me the right tools,” I said.

“What kind of tools,” she asked, adding exasperation to the criticism and lack of confidence.

“Well, a flute and a basket or a mongoose would come in handy.”

The door opened a crack, exposing a single eye that emitted a look generally achieved by higher grade commercial lasers, or one of the more popular "Terminator" models. “Are you some kind of an idiot,” asked the eye?

I hate it when Leslie gets all philosophical on me.

But she did have an unspoken point. Even if I had a flute, there was no guarantee that I would have been able to play it well enough to force the snake into a basket. A mongoose would preclude the need for a basket, a flute, or flute lessons. Then again, we’d be back to square one if the damn mongoose got caught up in the glue too. What would be the point of solving one problem with another of greater magnitude?

Leslie had kicked the snake tent out of the garage and onto the hot sunny driveway about a half-hour prior to my arrival. I suspected the heat had made that snake good and pissed. I fetched my folding arthritis cane from the the Beemer’s top case and attempted to slide the little tent into a spackle bucket. The snake went after the cane, then withdrew entirely to safety of the glue.

I will say this, all glued-up tight, this tent contraption is the preferred way to carry a snake, sort of like a serpent six-pack. Yet there was not a doubt in my mind that if there was ever a time in which a snake would be tempted to say, “shit,” this would be that historic moment. With the tent and some 10 or 12 snake coils in the bucket, I retreated to the kitchen, where it was about 20 degrees cooler. I moistened my hand with tepid water and let it drip on what coils I could see. I figured this might cool this poor snake off some, while emphasizing that I was trying to help him, as opposed to the tanned lady, who had put the trap down in the first place.

Assuming these were garter snakes, I still proceeded with caution having recently read that the black mamba often hangs around with more harmless reptiles to lure cattle and wildebeasts to certain death.

“I hope you didn’t bring that damn snake into the house,” said Stiffie (Leslie) from a hidden safe room. This time, I opted to say nothing. (There are times when silence is the best gasoline to throw on a fire, as not saying anything leads alpha women to believe they are being ignored. Nothing makes women crazier than to think they are being ignored, especially during a time of crisis, when they are occasionally forced to rely on men they suspect of low cranial capacity.) Since the snake’s head was no longer visible, I carefully unfolded the little tent and gently opened it to a flat card. This set the coils to writhing but to little effect as the end parts with the fangs were set in glue, and glue in an advanced state of cure, I might add.

The younger reptile was obviously a young garter snake like this one, but about twice this size.
(Photo courtesy Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

The trap revealed not one snake, but two. The larger of the two was better than 4 feet long (my estimate) and had a bulging belly that looked as if it might have been the better mousetrap. While it had the same color configuration of the smaller snake, the colors seemed dustier or faded. I attributed this to age and the current economy. The smaller one was about three feet long, with a head the size of a dime. It appeared to be smiling at me, but then I realized it’s lower jaw was glued to the cardboard.

I tried flexing the cardboard away from the tail of the smaller one but only succeeded in gluing my finger next to the snake. Dissolving the cardboard in tepid water was equally unsuccessful and seem to be regarded as the equivalent of reptile “water-boarding.” The last thing I wanted to do was tear their skin or injure these snakes in any way. A healthy snake population is the best insurance against field mice and other things that try and come into the house. These two had given me the idea of releasing a 26-foot-long anaconda to deal with our aged neighbor's cat, who feels our garage is a delux feline urinal. Since the cat is usually in the old bag's lap, I could see nothing but positives in the scheme.

The second snake was much larger, and had slightly different coloration.
"What the hell," I thought. "A snake is a snake."
(Picture courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

“Hey Leslie,” I yelled from the kitchen. “Please get on the computer and find out what dissolves this damn glue.” A muffled response detailing the first option had to filter through piles of furniture stacked up against her office door. It was rubbing alcohol. My knowledge of snake skin is limited to cowboy boots, but I was certain that the snakes wouldn’t think much of the rubbing alcohol solution. Then again, maybe they’d absorb it and tie on a good Memorial Day Weekend drunk. The thought of having drunk snakes in the house was another limited appeal idea, however.

“There has to be something else,” I yelled back. "A more natural and harmless substance." It was my thought that some online authority would recommend lighting up a joint and blowing the smoke over the snakes to relax them.

The answer was vegetable oil.

Smearing some vegetable oil on my fingertips, a gentle massage freed approximately six inches of the smaller snake’s tail in about 15 minutes. The novelty of running a massage parlor for reptiles was wearing thin, however, and it occurred to me that a better option might be to bring the snakes to the Oriental Pearl Chinese Restaurant (in town) and see what the cook could do.

Both snakes were really stuck to the card, breathing quickly, and attempting to pull away from the glue. That’s when I got the "great idea." I poured a tablespoonful of the oil over the snakes, smeared the card with it, and then let them do the work. They could flex their skin at whatever rate was more comfortable. Sixty seconds later, the small snake dropped off into the spackle bucket. I would like to report that “Dwight” (which is what I named the smaller one) curled up and awaited release. The frigging snake hit the bottom of the bucket like a coiled spring. He was out and halfway across the kitchen counter in the blink of an eye.

I watched three feet of pissed off greased snake head off toward Leslie’s office like it had a GPS.

Did you ever try to grab a greased snake? I barely had a grip on him, when I felt movement on my other arm. The larger of the two snakes, who I had named "Himmler," had worked his way free and was headed up my elbow to settle an old score.

“Leslie,” I screamed. “Get in here and help me or there will be snakes in every room in this house.”

“I can’t,” she sobbed back. “I just can’t. You’ll have to do the best you can and maybe die trying.”

This was from a woman who has swatted bats with her fly fishing rod, standing in the Beaverkill at dusk. This was from a woman who calmly reloaded a shotgun rather than be intimidated by coyotes into dropping her day's take of pheasants. (Leslie owns a custom-fitted Beretta shotgun.) This was from the woman who tracked down a scorpion released into the house, and then confronted the kid who released it with the squirming poisonous creature. This from a woman who in every way personifies the tenets of the Hemingway Heroine. (Even more amazing, I used to call Leslie my "snake charmer," as a kind of pet name. When we first met, I thought she was the spitting image of Selma Hayek, doing the snake dance -- seen here in the link -- in the cult classic "From Dusk Till Dawn," which may be the best Quentin Tarentino flick ever made.)

“I can’t stand snakes,” she sobbed. “Sorry.” I could hear her piling more furniture against the door.

If I ever fail as a writer, I know I have potential as a greased snake juggler. I got both snakes in the bucket, got the bucket out into the driveway, and released the two reptiles into the neighbor’s yard, where this elderly blight was sleeping in a chair not 20 feet away.

“Make me proud boys,” I whispered. I was barely back in the house 90 seconds when screams from outside punctuated the warm afternoon. Mission accomplished.

“You can come out now,” I said to Leslie. “It’s all over. I took care of it. No big deal. The guy took care of things.”

“The brave guy, who isn’t afraid of anything,” asked Leslie. “The brave guy who is still wearing his riding gloves, his ballistic jacket, and his full-face helmet with face shield down. That guy?”

I was tempted to say, "Yeah, that guy," in my best Clint Eastwood-type tone. But knowing the peals of laughter that would have drawn, I replied again in silence.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Flying Along An Amish Road... As Viewed From Two Wheels

The first warm days of spring touched everything in the field with a bit of magic. The brown grass slowly yielded to a bright green and dandelions sprouted up with random abandon. Song birds returned to the few trees and a fox or two could be seen patrolling the fence lines. Even the cows, normally indifferent to things like the the change of seasons, executive decrees, and sophisticated humor, seemed more attentive to their surroundings. Yet nowhere in God’s great earth was the sun’s warmth felt with greater effect than the pile of manure 5 feet from the road.

Uncollected like thousands of other meadow muffins that were moistened and lovingly spread around the corn field by Amos Zook and his three Amish sons, this pile sat all by itself, unnoticed in the gray shadows of winter: a solitary monument in mute testimony to the quality of silage liberally bestowed upon the milk cows, who were the principal residents of “Hard Penance Farm,” one of the pristine and picturesque agricultural concerns that constitute the core of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

To the untrained eye, this solitary manure mound might not rank prominently among the miracles of nature. It was barely eight inches high, though it had towered among its peers when freshly dropped by “Flossy,” a good-natured Jersey cow that had once had aspirations of stardom at the county fair... Aspirations that came to naught with a sale to the Amish dairy farmer, who had taught her humility with each tug on the bovine's multiple flabbrous teats. Yet Flossy never quite adopted a life of total servitude and quiet contemplation. In the sort of gesture that could only be appreciated by other cows, she contented herself with dropping the largest loads in the field.

Non-typical Amish Pole Dancer
(Photo courtesy of the Internet -- Click to enlarge)

The average person goes through life never realizing that the corn stalks left standing in fields are gathered and stored as feed for cows. They are cut and piled in silos, hence the name silage. One of the active ingredients of silage is methane gas, which is released in pulses through the churning action of a cow’s seven stomachs, and which partially serves as a propellant for firing the meadow muffin several yards at the point of it’s inception.

And so it came to be, that in the middle of the short season known as “Indian Summer,” Flossy launched a “steamer” of exceptional size, in the far corner of the south field of “Hard Penance Farm.” And launched was the word. It sailed straight through the split rail fence, never losing its characteristic shape during the course of flight.

Freshly baked meadow muffins continue to generate methane in varying degrees as they are gradually dissolved by the elements, primarily rain and wind. With methane comes heat. Enough heat to keep the core of the manure pile at 50 to 120 degrees, despite a coating of ice, snow, or months of freezing temperatures. (There had once been some discussion as to which kind of manure was the most potent with regard to methane content. Some thought cow manure was all pretty standard, though others felt bullshit was superior for methane generation. Had this been the case, the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. would have been renamed as the “National Gas Factory.”)

Vulcan Al -- Tony Luna -- sampling "Road Apples" on a recent ride to Lancaster, County, Pa.
They are ripe if firm to the touch, but not as cool as the ambient air, according to Tony.
(Photo courtesy of the author -- Click to enlarge)

Because of this heat factor, manure piles are sought after as more desirable residences by a variety of discerning flies. Now the average housefly, bott fly, or horse-fly might not be regarded as a suitable subject for a Disney movie, considering they have few good qualities and a propensity for squirming in cow shit has limited visual appeal. But a comprehensive study of fly lifestyles will reveal many hold jobs, look forward to jury duty, and attend monthly dances. Such was the life of one such specimen, who found herself in a family way and quietly fulfilled her maternal duties by squirting her preformed children into the recesses of the steamer, launched by Flossy, during an Indian Summer day, in the south field of “Hard Penance” farm, in the heart of Lancaster County, Pa. Police reports indicate she then came to a bad end on a sticky strip, overhanging a chow mein pot in a strip-mall Chinese restaurant.

Typical manure pile resident
(Illustration courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

Our concern is with her children, particularly one named “Skip.” He was a titan among larvae, though good-natured and unaware of his size. While the other adolescent larvae would be content to get into shit all day, Skip wondered about things. He had questions about his mother, the place where he lived, the options that were open to him, and how the hell General Motors, the largest automobile manufacturing company in the world, has worse prospects than a Third World lemonade stand. But above all, he had questions about the world. He would tunnel to the edge of the manure pile and carve himself a window, to watch the things that happened outside the shit pile he called home.

Like a miniature atomic pile, the manure heap grew warmer and warmer. It began to percolate when the sun hit it, and “Skip” felt himself consumed by hormonal changes and strange feelings. The sausage-like maggot casing that had been his physique dropped off and yielded soft wet wings. At one point, he felt like he should become a used car dealer or a lawyer, as he had an overpowering urge to fuck somebody.

In that instant, the manure pile that had been his home, his birthplace, and his birthright, became a noose around his thorax. He struggled to the top of the pile and felt his wings stiffen in the clear spring air. Flight came naturally and Skip found himself lost in bursts of speed, banked curves, and maneuvering at a slow drone. But he was driven by an instinct that overpowered everything else. The buzzing of his wings, the wind in has face, and the power of defying gravity and centrifugal force intensified his desire to find a piece of over-ripened fruit (well into fermentation) and to get laid.

It was then his forty-six eyes caught a glimpse of the sun glinting off a fast moving object -- just like it was glinting off his wings. It occurred again and again. Overcome with lust and desire, Skip aimed for the glint and vibrated his wings like they had never been vibrated before. Unmuffled by anything, their buzzing thundered through the air as the huge horse-fly reached the incredible speed of 18 feet per second. His sperm tube extended like arresting gear as he focused on the glint.

The last thing to go through Skip’s mind as he slammed into the face shield of the Nolan helmet was his asshole.

“Dammit,” said the rider of the gorgeous red 1995 BMW K75. “That friggin’ bug hit me like a shot from a .38. I just cleaned that damn face shield too.”

The rider brought the bike to a halt near the corner of the south field of “Hard Penance” farm, in the heart of Lancaster, Pa. Drawing to a stop, he put his foot down in the largest pile of cow manure he had ever seen.

“Shit,” said the rider.

“Yah... Dat’s vot it izz,” said the Amish farmer, Amos Zook, leaning on the fence. “You English ist nein scheist-kopf.”

Author's note: 

"Flabbrous" is a word I coined to describe the teats on a cow, when they are both flabby and floppy. There are times when only a made-up word will do. And sometimes, you need to bend a definition like it is a coat hanger. Once, while under the influence of  week's worth of rum and Cokes in a bar that was famous for attracting a biker crowd, I found myself in the company of a hulking bar floozey who wouldn't let go.

"Tell me I'm beautiful and I'll blow you," she said.

I remember thinking that being on the receiving end of that attention and walking across Niagara Falls on a tight rope would have one thing in common: that it would be fatal to look down. 

I felt the color draining out of me as the tide of alcohol receded faster than it could ever be replaced. "You transcend beautiful," I said. "You are a combination of beautiful and divine. Bovine is the word that comes to mind."

She looked at me like I was Aristotle reborn. And then I yielded to inspiration: "But I wasn't the first to to see you and think that. I stole that sentiment from my friend Bob (Pearson). He can't take his eyes from you."  In truth, Bob's eyes were focused straight ahead, but not seeing anything as he was in a Jameson's Irish Whisky trance. She waddled over to Bob, grabbed him by the jacket collar, and dragged him into a back room. Three minutes later, his screams shocked the bar into two seconds of silence, then a score of hardened bikers started laughing hysterically. Bob had apparently regained consciousness and looked down.  He would never again regard the view of Niagara Falls the same way again. 

It sad what people go through for a few minutes of romance... Sometimes we are no better than flies. I am going to burn in hell for whole chapters of my life, most of which were written before I was 20 years old. I was a real prick then. 

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Scrambled Eggs and Emotions -- April 19, 2009

Our routine was always the same. Scott Volk and I would start our Saturday bike hikes (as we called them) around 6am. We’d push off from his front porch on ten speeds loaded with lunch, water, and tools, heading down Nelson Avenue to Hague Street, turning right to pedal up hill to Kennedy Boulevard, then turning north on the “boulevard, the longest thoroughfare in Hudson County. There was something of a dip in the road where the Boulevard crossed from Jersey City into North Bergen, and then a slight uphill for the next five blocks. The clicking from the ratchet on the back wheel would become a steady buzz going through the dip but then become a slower litany that announced the cranking of the sprockets going uphill.

The year was 1968. I was fourteen.

Some of those rides were shorties, averaging about 40 miles. Others would go as far as 115 miles (to Peekskill, NY, coming back over the George Washington Bridge). We always headed north, as that was shortest way to get into what passed for country, highways and roads lined by cliffs and trees. There was never any complaint that we were passing through familiar territory once again. That was the price of getting out of town. We were pedaling north toward freedom... Long sweeping hills where we would hit impossible speeds on the downgrade... New things to see upclose... And an invisible line, the New York/New Jersey border, about 24 miles away. We were the only kids in the 7th and 8th grades who routinely rode their bikes into another state, looking for a good time. (This would become my lifestyle as I got older.)

The good times might be climbing on cliffs in Palisades Interstate Park (now illegal, the penalty is death), visiting historical sites (largely associated with the grand retreat of the Continental Army on their way to the next defeat), or riding through neighborhoods where people had real money (Alpine, NJ, Croton-On-Hudson) and imagining we might have some too someday.

Yet in those first few blocks, as my bike (which came from Sears and featured some really neat stuff on it, like drilled rims so the brakes worked in the rain) cleared the dip and started on the first mild uphill, I would always think, “Shit, I’m going to be doing this for the next eight to ten hours.” It never occurred to me to say, “I really don’t feel like sweating my ass off all day.” For one thing, my friend would have thought I was a pussy.  And for another, I'd waited all week for this. We were city kids. What else was there for us to do? Jersey City was the dog shit and broken glass capital of the world.

This was our way out.

I think of the halcyon days of my youth every time I get on this motorcycle. My routine is always the same. I get the bike to the head of the driveway and drag my left foot to the peg, a simple action that has come to hurt like hell for the last two years. And I always think, “Shit. I’m going to be doing this all day. Do I really feel like dealing with the pain in my knees and dodging killer traffic for the next eight hours?” The answer to that question is always the same: What the hell would I do anyway? And Bregstein would just think I was a pussy. The inside of my head has become the dog shit and broken glass capital of the world. 

This bike is the way out.

I had just gotten my left foot up to the peg with a minimum of grimacing. In fact, it was easier than I expected. I looked over at Michael Cantwell on his blue K75, loaded for the 400-mile ride home, and said, “Follow me.”

“I have to,” he said through his helmet. “I don’t know where we’re going.” Cantwell had been saying profound things like that for the last two days. Quoting him in this story would be liking paraphrasing a cigar store Indian.

The morning was exactly as I like them, deep gray, with a promise of rain that wouldn’t come until the next day. It was this forecast that caused Michael to cut his trip by a day, and to be headed back to the Adirondacks, out of the wet. Yet this was the third Sunday of the month, April 19th, and we’d be having breakfast at the Pottstown Family Diner -- with the assembled company of the Mac-Pac (the premier chartered BMW riding club serving southeast Pennsylvania.)

It’s a fast run to the diner, about 18 miles. There was absolutely no traffic and 7:30am is too early for most of the chrome and leather boys. But was not too early for one of the harpies from “MacBeth” to be out driving a mini van. This personification of stupidity was stopped in front of me at a light in the town of Eagle. She signaled left (from the far right, ignoring the left turning lane), and I went to get around her on the right shoulder. Amazingly enough, she started to turn right (despite the fact there is no road there but a low wall). Michael and I hit our horns at the same instant, bringing her to a stop. I showed her the roost for the state bird of New Jersey (the finger) as I got around her.

And even then she decided not to take the left turn she signaled for.

Nine out of ten of the vehicles that will tailgate me, turn in front of me, or do something stupid around me will be minivans. What is it with minivan drivers? Do you have to be really stupid before they sell you one, or do you get a lobotomy at the dealer’s?

There were about 60 bikes parked behind the diner. The majority of these were Beemers, ranging in age from brand new to 40 years old. There were also Ducatis, Triumphs, a semi-precious MV Agusta, a Harley, and one Gold Wing. I always try to park next to the MV Agusta, as the owner breaks out tears when he realizes how close I come to falling on his machine as I dismount. (It is my understanding that an MV Augusta starts at about $64,000.) A faded K75 followed Michael and I into the lot, and I failed to recognize it as Moto Edde’s bike. This is the machine that Moto Edde Mendes rode from Morocco, through the Sahara, up through Turkey and “the Stans,” across China and Russia, and then from the west coast to the east coast in the United States, to his native Philadelphia. The trip ran 39,000 miles and took 11 months.

“I can’t believe you didn’t say ‘hello’ to me when you pulled into the lot,” said Edde. “Didn’t you recognize me?”

I admitted I hadn’t. “But you didn’t wave to me either,” I said in my own defense. “Didn’t you recognize me?”

“Actually, I had,” said Edde. That stung.

Moto Edde Mendes, who rode the K75 in the picture from Morocco through the Sahara, up through Turkey, the "Stans,"  plus China, and Russia, before shioping the bike to the US and riding it from the west coast to Philadelphia... Some 39,000 miles in all. Unlike a couple of movie stars who had an entourage, Edde did it alone. The scratches on the fairing were not sustained on the-round-the-world trip, but as the result of a tip-over in Philly. The bike got a thorough mechanical make-over from the legendary Tom Cutter, who kept finding sand in every part of it
(Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

We were among the last to arrive and breakfast was playing out along the lines of a prison riot. The two waitresses were overwhelmed, and would stand in the doorway to our private room, yelling out things like, “Who ordered the fried eggs with bacon?” Naturally, twenty guys would yell out, “I did.”

A more experienced waitress arrived on the scene and restored order by dispensing coffee with a fire hose.

Michael and I had a brief search for empty seats. My brothers in arms immediately vacated a spot for me, with a full view of the men’s room.Whenever the door opened, I could see somebody standing there shaking a Taylor ham. (You must be from New Jersey to fully appreciate this last line.) Every time Cantwell approached an empty seat, someone would throw a coat over it and yell, “No room.” (He eventually found himself sitting with the six or seven guys that nobody else likes. These included Dick Bregstein, Gerry Cavanaugh, Horst Oberst, and myself.)

Jim Sterling (left) and Rich Newman both tell me I'm limping much better today.
There is never a polo mallet around when you need one.
(Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

The Mac-Pac has a long-standing restaurant tradition of demanding separate checks. This is to prevent one or two tight wads from ordering the steak and eggs and insisting they only had coffee. The waitress sauntered over to our table and asked Bregstein his name.

“Dick,” he replied.

“No argument there,” chimed in a voice from an adjacent table. It might have been Jim Ellenberg. Jim rode in that day on his Suzuki resurrected from an accident that sounded a lot like Mack Harrell’s. (Read previous post.) Jim limped away from that one, but he too earned a rod in his leg.

When the waitress looked at me and demanded my name, I couldn’t resist. “Big Dick,” I said.

One of the most beautiful vintage bikes to show up at this breakfast. I believe this is an R60/6 (thanks, John Clauss, but I did not get the rider's name or the details. 
I'll publish these when I do.
(Photo by Jack Riepe - Please enlarge)

There were few points of business to announce that day, but we had been joined by quite a few guests, who were all asked to stand up and suffer introduction. Two gentlemen, Bill Mauser and Doug Braley had ridden up from Virginia to join us, having read about the Mac-Pac in this blog. Doug Braley asked Jim Ellenberg to introduce me.

“Why?” replied Ellenberg. “Meeting Riepe is a highly overrated experience. Wouldn't you like to met some women instead? They might do to you in person what Riepe will certainly do to you in his blog.”

We had the pleasure of meeting Michael Thomas, a blues musician from Frazer, who rode on one of the oldest Beemers in attendance. Mr. Thomas insisted on eating his breakfast outside, at the picnic table where the waitresses smoke. While many of us instantly saw the wisdom of this decision, he explained that his riding partner, Windy, a 40-pound white labrador retriever who likes the pillion, was restricted to the outside. (We almost took a vote on the subject to bring the issue before the diner’s manager. Then two other individuals, one may have been Bregstein, made a motion to nominate the dog as club president. Someone else said we can't have dogs in the club, but that idea was scrapped as it would have excluded several non-German bikes in the parking lot.)

Michael Thomas, a blues musician from Frazer, Pa, and "Windy," a 40-pound 
labrador retriever who rides pillion on a venerable Beemer "R" bike. 
(Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

Mr. Thomas got the dog to keep him company following heart surgery (his, not hers). Since all he could do was lay on the couch after the operation, the puppy grew up thinking this is what people did. She is the most attentive and sedate dog I have ever met, and one of the sweetest. Out in the parking lot, she put her head on my shoulder, and whispered, “I’ll lick your ear if you go back in there and get me a cheeseburger.”

"Windy," responding to something that Dick Bregstein said.
(Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

The best part of a Mac-Pac breakfast is the stuff that goes on in the parking lot later. The guys make the rounds, look at the really cool bikes, and occasionally peel out on rides. I like to be the last one to leave. This makes it possible for me to hear the sound of each machine as it goes, and to remember the face of each rider. Events with these guys are always like having Thanksgiving dinner with a big family, in which you like each member, and are always sorry when they leave.

Gerry Cavanaugh (left) and Chris Jacarrino (back to camera) give Michael Cantwell some good advice before his departure. Rumor has it they told him not to come back anytime soon.
(Photo by Jack Riepe -- Click to enlarge)

Chris Jacarrino and Dave Case put together a nice little backroads run up to I-78, and the boys led Mike Cantwell on a pleasant and picturesque ride to the slab as the parting shot for his Mac-Pac indoctrination. I decided to give it the pass, as I didn’t want to hold anybody back. Jim Ellenberg and I sat there bullshitting for almost two hours, Then we took off down Rt. 422, parting company at Valley Forge.

I rode the last twelve miles in introspection. It had been a busy three days. I had been looking forward to this weekend for a month. Now it was over. The custom seat had become a trial... Mike Cantwell had come and gone... And Mack Harrell had dropped his bike...Then I noticed how the jolts to my hip always become more pronounced when I’m riding alone. Finally, I realized this weekend wouldn’t be over until I wrote about it. And then it would never be over. Not for some.

Doug Braley (foreground) and Bill Mauser (background) rode up from Virginia to join the Mac-Pac for breakfast. On the way home, an extra long battery post (replacement battery) connected with the aluminim gas tank on Braley's GS, and burned a hole through it. They effected repairs on continued on their way. It was a pleasure meeting these two guys.
(Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

I was on US-202 now, which can be very heavily travelled. But the traffic was minimal this day, as I held the red beast to a steady 65 mph. Yet a glance in the mirror revealed some asshole in minivan was three feet behind my back wheel. “Eat shit and die,” I thought, twisting on the gas. Five seconds later, the minivan was a flyspeck on the mirrored glass, and my tach read 8 grand.

I richocheted up the driveway, where I met Leslie (Stiffie) in the garage.

“How was breakfast,” she asked?

“The same,” I replied.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Mack Harrell Bites (The Dust)

Saturday, April 18th

Having had the presence of mind to split my arthritis medication and to take half of it before I went to bed, mobility did not taunt me at dawn Saturday, April 18th. I was walking around like something out of the grave, but I was still able to tie my own boots, which was not always the case the day after a ride last year. My house guest for the weekend, Mike Cantwell, was also up and moving around. I found him trying to work the rather exotic coffee-maker, his face was masked by boyish frustration.

“I realize these things that look like 12 gauge shotgun shells are probably the coffee,” said Cantwell, “but I can’t tell is this thing is a semi-automatic or a pump. Then again, this is the first coffee-maker I ever saw that has a clutch on it too.” Mike is from the Adirondacks, where coffee is ground by beating it with a hammer, and strained by running it through yesterday’s undershirt.

We peeled out of the driveway and headed over to the Exton Diner, the rally point for the ride. The temperature was in the high 50’s, which might be cool for some, but I had stripped the liner out of my Joe Rocket Meteor 5 ballistic jacket and stuffed it into the top case. Mike was dressed for the season, though we both expected it to warm up in the afternoon. (It would get to the high 80’s down on the coast.)

“How many folks will be at the diner,” asked Mike.

“That’s a tough question to answer,” I replied. “There could be 50, or none. It’s a mood thing.”

My riding partner Dick Bregstein had been planning on this ride, but his bike had developed a stalling problem the day before, and I knew Dick wasn’t one to fight a balky engine for a couple of hundred miles if he didn’t have to.

This was to be the ride I had dreamed about all winter. A rural road through Delaware’s salt marshes and wild bird sanctuaries... The smell of the ocean mixed with the aroma of pines... Old cast iron lighthouses and two-room schoolhouses on the same road... And a bar, right on the water’s edge, serving rum and clams and fish that were in the ocean that same time we were pulling out of Pennsylvania. This bar (its more of a temple to my personal values than your typical gin mill) has live music in the summer, and women wearing scanty little things drinking “hurricanes” in the sun. The incoming tide occasionally swells up onto the street, and it is not uncommon to find a few Harley’s parked outside.

My vision was to sit on the deck of this place, with a cool drink in my hand, surrounded by my closest friends, all giving me shit and laughing, and with a line of BMWs at the curb. It was a fairly simple request.

There were 15 bikes at the diner and 12 of them were BMWs. The guys had come from a 50-mile radius (for the exception of Mack and Mike, who had come much farther) and a carnival atmosphere prevailed. Everyone had a full tank too. (That should have been my first warning that this ride was doomed.) We piled into the diner and the manager was delighted to give us a single table for 17 (another bad sign). Finally, the waitress smiled at the request for separate checks (which was the absolute kiss of death). Then she said I had nice eyes, and lifted up her shirt. (I should haver known right then and there this ride was cursed.)

A very decent crowd showed up for breakfast. That is the author first on left, sitting next to Karen Kennedy, and her husband Mack Harrell. Karen is unaware that her husband will break her leg in two places, about 22 minutes from the time this picture was taken. Corey Lyba is sittig across from Karen. His moving his face so it looks like rubber.
(Photo by Mike Cantwell -- Cick to enlarge)

Since the distance wasn’t that great, less than 100 miles down, we lollygagged over breakfast. The run directions were passed out and I reminded each in the group to ride their own ride. Glancing through the crowd, I could see that the majority of these guys were peg draggers. The boys might be inclined to run hot on this one. No matter... Everyone knew where we were supposed to end up.

Headed south on Rt. 100, the group was strung out over a mile. I realized that Mack Harrel, his wife Karen (pillion), and I were in the last two spots. I signaled for Mack to close it up and gave “Fire Balls” the throttle. From Rt. 100 we hit US-202 South and turned onto RT. 926, which becomes a beautiful road, where expensive residences give way to more expensive stone houses (predating the Revolution), and finally to horse farms. Mack accelerated like a sea anchor, but I eventually positioned us farther up in the line behind Mike Cantwell.

The long line of BMW's (and a couple of others) at Augustine Beach in Delaware.
Don't look for the author as he is not there. Sixteen bikes took this ride.
(Photo courtesy of Rogers George -- Click to enlarge)

At a right angle kink in the road, the leader, Matt Piechota, deviated from the course to take a very twisty and really pretty run along the Brandywine River. Thirteen riders followed. David Case, riding a beautifully restored BMW museum piece, cut right. (Dave was not joining the group for the ride.) I followed him as I was one of two riders who knew we were picking up Clyde Jacobs, in front of Buckley’s tavern, on Rt. 52. Again, this made no difference as we were all riding our own rides and had the complete directions for the run. The right turn was the original course.

Looking out at Delaware Bay from JP's on the Wharf, North Bowers Beach, De.
(Photo courtesy of Rogers George -- Click to enlarge)

Route 926 hits Rt. 52 at a light, and a left turn will bring you through the property of Longwood Gardens, arguably one of the most beautiful estate gardens in the United States. Having made this left, I saw that Mack Harrell, his wife Karen (on the pillion) and Dennis Doose were behind me. It was a gentle shot through some open fields and woods to US-1 and I slowed to stop for the light at this intersection.

Dennis shot up beside me, and cut to the left-hand shoulder. In an instant, he had his bike shut down and was peeling off his gear. “What the fuck,” I thought. “I wonder if he’s got a bee or something in his jacket.”

The town of South Bowers Beach is about 85 feet from North Bowers Beach, but a 20-mile ride by motorcycle.
(Photo courtesy of Rogers George -- Click to enlarge)

Then I looked for Mack Harrell on his big BMW GS. There was no sign of him in either mirror. I snapped my head around and saw the bottom of the yellow bike spanning both lanes, Mack and Karen were sprawled on the ground behind it.

We were 22 minutes into the ride.

Dennis Doose was there in ten seconds. I got my bike turned around and headed for the left shoulder, which turned out to be the only solid pavement in 100 yards. It was 15 feet long. I duck-walked the bike down to wreck on the soft shoulder, then realized it would be impossible to get off in the soft duff. At this point, Mack was up, and he and Dennis righted the GS. They had just gotten it to the shoulder (precariously balanced on some scrap) when a cop pulled up and closed the road. They moved Karen to the shoulder, where it was determined that she was seriously hurt, with an injury to her leg.

About this time, Mike Cantwell pulled up, having left the other group to see where I had gone. He dismounted in the soft duff, and went to assist, only to watch his bike topple over two seconds later. The shoulder was so soft, however, that the fall didn’t even put his mirror out of adjustment. Dennis Doose assisted in picking up a motorcycle for the second time that day.

The ambulance arrived and the EMTs loaded Karen onto a gurney. Then they wisely went back and asked Mack a few questions. He is advanced in years, between 70 and 168 years old, and they were concerned he might have a hidden injury. After a brief discussion, they printed “DNR” (Do Not Resuscitate) on his forehead in black magic marker and drove off.

About this time, Clyde Jacob pulled up having been summoned by my call.

The cop interviewed Mack about the cause of the accident, which seemed to have been triggered by the confluence of gravity and the loss of forward motion. The only thing that could have possibly prevented this crash, would have required the driver to put one of his feet down. Riding a motorcycle is a complicated thing, and there are a lot of tricky procedures to keep in mind. For Mack, this is one of them. (Mack is going to practice this dangerous maneuver sitting on a chair in his kitchen, or whenever he uses the toilet.)

To my amazement, Mack jumped on the GS and chased the ambulance with all the determination of a lawyer. Dennis, Clyde, Michael, and I formed a huddle to determine the next step. It was at this point Cantwell told me that Mack had asked for me to meet him at the hospital. I called two other people in the main body to let them know that I was out of the running for the day. Matt Piechota and Chris Jacarrino took over the run. My three pals wished me well and took off for Delaware.

I have some experience with hospital emergency rooms and motorcycle accidents. A brief stop in the emergency room, getting examined, filing the paperwork, getting an x-ray, and a doctor to read it would take all of two hours. I knew Karen was alive and well by the way she cursed at the EMTs who lifted her. So I decided to return home, about 11 miles away, and get the truck. My thought was that the truck would serve as a useful base of operations, allowing me to read a book, watch television (portable DVD player), smoke cigars, or nap while I waited for information from Mack.

I found Mack at the hospital about an hour later. Surgery (a rod in the leg) was under discussion and they wanted a second opinion. Mack volunteered my services to take Karen to another hospital and Saint Barnabas was the one of choice. I had never heard of it before. That’s because it is in Essex County, NJ, two hours and 53 minutes from here.

EMTs converted the back seat in my Suburban into a hospital bed. They lined it with sheets and a blanket, and tossed in Karen, who was wearing one of those open-backed hospital gowns and a splint on her leg. A nurse handed me a huge hypodermic needle, saying “Stick this in her neck if she complains of pain.”

“Is it a pain killer,” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “Liquid Plumber.”

Karen lit up a cigarette and said, “Step on it, fat boy. We're burning daylight.”

I had my window down to take advantage of the spring air, which could have been early summer. The incoming breeze fluttered her gown a bit, and I the rearview mirror framed a glimpse of a tattoo of Mack, made out to look like Elvis, on her thigh. (It was either Mack or Willie Nelson, as the beard was executed in great detail.)

She caught me catching the glimpse in the mirror and said, "Keep your eyes on the road, Blimpo."

Saint Barnabas Hospital is in Livingston, NJ, along the old Erie Lackawanna Main Line. The GPS routed me there through Chicago. But we pulled up in good shape and Karen let out a squeal when she saw Mack outside.

My phone rang several times enroute, as the guys called me from the bar in Delaware. They wanted to let me know that my three pals had joined up with them, that they were having a great time, and to thank me for a great ride. They described the chill of the cocktails, the sweet saltiness of the clams on the half-shell, and the trill of the ride. Actually, they asked about Mack and Karen first. Several then inquired what he was going to do with the motorcycle. (The vultures circle quickly with this group.)

In a discussion about the accident much later on, some of the Mac-Pac’s GS riders cautioned Mack that the bike’s power-assisted brakes, even with the ABS, can slam that model to a sudden stop, which may have played a role in the accident, and two others in which he dropped the bike at a standstill.

Some of their recommendations included:
• Not filling the side bags with library books before leaving for a ride.
• Leaving the free-weights back at the gym.
• Not carrying a hot water heater strapped to the back of the bike.
• Attempting to remain conscious when bringing the bike to a stop.

Yet the boys are the soul of practicality, and had an engraved piece of metal made for the bike’s dash. It reads, “Place feet on ground at full stops.”

While motorcycle accidents give me the creeps, I prefer to deal with those where there are no fatalities. The bike sustained some degree of damage to the left jug, and the incident would have been a wash had Karen not been injured. I understand the surgery was successful and that Karen’s long-term plans include a Kawasaki Ninja. Mack and Karen are friends of mine, and I was glad to be of assistance during these circumstances. I will never forget the effort and personal sacrifice endured by Dick Bregstein on my behalf, when I was hit by that mini van in Virginia in 2006. It was my turn to "pay it forward."

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)