The weather dopes on every network from Fox to CNN, and from CBS to NBC, started waxing orgasmic about the the winter storm that was to ravage the east coast from New York City to Virginia, five days in advance. Their predictions included highly editorialized conclusions that snow would pummel places like Philadelphia to the point where civilization would vanish. All transportation would cease... Parents would eat their children... And society would be reduced to wearing hides and communicating via grunts and primitive gestures.
The day before the storm, the mediocre meteorologists were joined by a battery of talking heads, who foamed at the mouth as they explained how the snow would erode recent market gains, destroy US credibility abroad, open the country to a new wave of illegal immigrants, and cause babies who were conceived during blizzard-like conditions to be born with lemur-like eyes. Right on cue, the airlines cancelled hundreds of flights into Philly, before the first flake hit. I half expected the army to start shooting looters, even though no one had stolen anything yet.
I immediately ran out and bought 50 cases of tomato soup and all the leather tanning supplies I could lay my hands on. My thought was to have enough of one commodity to eat, which could also be mixed with vodka for entertaining, and to get a head start on learning a craft, like converting cows into yurts. A friend of mine stocked up on enough food for 48-hours and barricaded himself into the basement with three women he’d met in a bar.
“Do you think two-days worth of comestibles will be enough,” I asked.
“You eat what you want, and I’ll eat who I want,” was his response.
By 5pm on Thursday, February 4th, the chance of finding an elected official in Washington, D.C. was only a point or two greater than the chances of discovering a unicorn munching oysters at the Old Ebbitt Grill. The federal government fled Washington, D.C. long before the storm was expected to strike. The United States has not seen such a mass exodus from the Capital since the battle of Bull Run. Footmen and servants attended stately Senators as they grabbed anything of value and crammed it into their limousines. Cases of champagne, clusters of silver candlesticks, and bunches of women in diaphanous gowns where thrown into car trunks or lashed onto the roofs.
It was a different scene in the poorer neighborhoods — where Congressmen live. Most of them relied on the tried and true routine of tossing a mattress out the bedroom window, and dropping their few things of value onto it, hoping to minimize breakage. One Congressman is alleged to have tossed a crate of chickens from a third-story attic loft, where he had been raising them and selling the eggs, only to see it hit the pavement — splitting open and liberating the occupants. He spent 45 minutes chasing his constituents in and out of traffic.
On the day of the storm, Friday, February 5th, many schools in the Philadelphia area and surrounding region dismissed their students at mid-day, hoping to prevent great loss of life due to avalanches, frostbite, and the increased risk of having thousands of kids wandering around in whiteout conditions. The students were advised to go straight home... To huddle around such heat sources as they had... And to join their families in prayer and meditation for the little time they would have left together.
I was glued to the big screen at noontime. Every channel tracked the storm as it came up from the south. Reporters relentlessly dogged it from airports, to highways, and to rural farming communities — even following it into a bar and a whorehouse. There was nothing about this storm that I didn’t know. Yet the sun was still shining wanly outside, without an indication of the cataclysmic activity that would follow shortly.
My attention was split between televised scenes in which thousands of people were storming supermarkets, buying bread and milk — and the telephone, which had remained ominously silent. (Do people think bread and milk will prevent snowstorms?) You see, I had an assignment to cover a motorcycle event that Friday night (the day of the storm), and I sat by the phone, waiting for the call confirming it had been cancelled.
“Do you honestly believe that anyone is going to turn up for a motorcycle event, in Pottstown, Pa., on the night of one of the worst snow storms in local history,” asked Leslie, the love of my life and the voice of reason.
I hesitated in my response, which was as good as saying, “Yes, I fucking think everyone will turn out for this event because it involves BMWs and BMW riders, who are the closet thing to the Knights Templar in the Middle Ages when it comes to resolve and purity of obsession.”
“You think these guys are gods, and that if you worship them, they’ll let you be a little one,” she said.
Once again I hesitated, which was as good as saying “Yup, that’s what I think.”
The call came at 1pm, at which point the event organizer, Todd Byrum, explained to me the event was on — and that there had been very few cancellations.
Now the gentle reader should be advised that I am something of a dimwit when it comes to details. Todd had sent me some promotional material, two weeks prior, explaining the nature of the two-day event, its objectives, the caliber of the speakers, and the focus of the participants. I figured I’d look at it while I was at the event, pretending to take notes. I was under the impression that this was a Mac Pac sanctioned discussion group on mechanical upkeep, and that I already knew most of the guys who’d be in attendance. (The Mac Pac is the premier chartered BMW riding club in southeast Pennsylvania.)
Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
I wandered into the conference center at the Pottstown Motel 6, which shares a building housing a truck-loading facility, and found a full room. In fact, it would be standing-room only ten minutes later. I counted 60 participants, and didn’t recognize more than one or two faces. ‘What the fuck,” I whispered, pulling a notebook out of my pocket.
(Above) This sculpted flower pot sits on a table on our back patio. Leslie used it as an intial snow gauge. Photo by Leslie Marsh
This was the opening reception of the annual BMW Airheads Super Tech Conference, a technical/and social event catering to the riders of magnificent antique and vintage motorcycles of this marque, powered by the air-cooled version of the classic boxer engine. A year in the planning, this event attracted riders from states as far as California, and from at least one other country (Canada). Looking around the room, these guys reminded me of an elite sharpshooter’s unit in the US Marine Corps. A guy to my left stuck out his head, told me his name, and asked what “Airhead” I rode.
I went on the defensive immediately, realizing that I was trapped in a room full of fanatics.
“I ride a 1995 BMW K75, a bike with a proper cooling system,” sneered I.
The guy’s smile faded to “minimal,” but his eyes narrowed, clearly regarding me as a bus station pervert.
“I’ll buy you a glass of coolant at the next BMW rally,” he replied, looking sideways at his companions.
They thought this was hysterically funny. In fact, they began whispering and pointing at me like I was fat or something.
Of the gentlemen sitting at my table, one was from Minnesota, two were from Ohio, one was from Toronto, and another was from Warren, NJ. All of them drove in. When I asked if they had been concerned by the snow, they looked at me like I was wearing a tutu.
(Above) This is the same picture of the sculpted flower pot, except Leslie has now included the entire table top. This is not drifted snow. The snowfall on the table is indicative of what is on the ground in every direction. Photo by Leslie Marsh
Todd Byrum called the room to order and introduced some of the attending biker royalty and keynote speakers. These included Chris Carr (the world’s fastest man on two wheels, 368 mph on the salt at Bonneville), Tony Foale (the world’s leading expert on motorcycle suspensions), and Tom Cutter (one of the foremost BMW restoration experts in the country).
(Above) This was the height of the snow at the driveway door. This was undrifted height across the driveway. Photo by Leslie Marsh
Chris Carr was the headline speaker for the opening reception, and he began by detailing his racing career, which commenced at the age of 6. A two-time AMA (seven year) Grand National Champion, Carr has attained rock star status in both dirt track and super bike categories. He has set the speed record as the world’s fastest man on two wheels twice.
(Above) This was the scene that greeted me when I raised the garage door. Note the scale of the snowfall to the height of the motorcycle. Leslie titled this picture, "No Motorcycling Today." The motorcycle is a 1995 BMW K75. Kindly note it is fucking spotless. I run a tight ship. By clicking on the picture, you can see how new the back tire is too. Photo by Leslie Marsh.
Carr has the rare every-man speaking quality of the late actor Jimmy Stewart. He downplays his accomplishments, making each member of the audience feel that they too could have done what he did, if they had had an $8 million motorcycle in their garage. He ran through his last record-breaking run, briefly touching on an on-board fire created by a parted oil line, a momentary crisis caused by the failure of a brake chute, and the stress endured by a set of tires costing six-figures, all of which seemed to develop at speeds over 300 miles per hour.
(Above) Certain friends of mine always stick pictures of their dogs in their biker blogs. If they can do it, I can do it too. Atticus Finch (rear) chases after Scout (front) in a mad dash back to the house. Scout believes this is too much of a good thing. Scout is a rescue mutt the size of a standard Labrador retreiver. She weighs in at 100 pounds. Atticus is 148, without an ounce of fat on him.
Carr is the consummate professional on and off the track. He spoke for 90-minutes, took questions, and then met with participants one-on-one. Realizing that I would not be called upon to narrate my high-speeds runs for the crowd, I made my exit and stepped out into a raging snowstorm.
I should have made the effort to stay at the hotel, though it is unlikely they would have had an open room. But there was barely two or three inches of snow on the ground in the parking lot, and with my customary concern for caution, I said, “Fuck it.”
With the Beach Boys pouring out of the stereo and the wipers flipping snow off the huge windshield, I pulled out onto Route 100 in Pottstown and felt the rear wheels slip in the eery white slurry. It was eery in the sense that it was largely undisturbed and undiscolored on a major thoroughfare. And then I realized that mean there was no salt or grit on it yet. “How odd,” I said to myself, pulling the floor lever to engage the four-wheel drive.
(Above) Atticus Finch sitting in the back doorway, the lord and master of the snowy wasteland that is now the yard. There is no evidence that Atticus ever gets cold. Photo by Leslie Marsh
The snow was falling at a rate faster than two inches per hour and created a dense fog that bedeviled the truck’s headlights. I chugged along at 25mph, which seemed to be the going rate for what traffic there was. Route 100 is a pleasant run through changing terrain that normally delights the eye and provides the average biker with multiple thrills. There are pure country stretches that are very pretty, running through charming little towns where adulturors are still stoned to death. These connect with freeway stretches and two-lane twisties alike. Had I had a hot cup of coffee and a cigar, I would have enjoyed myself thoroughly.
(Above) Though she looks like she is digging in, Scout is coming through the snow at about 40 miles per hour. She hates it... And she hates having her picture taken. That is her look of abject betrayal. Photo by Leslie Marsh
The nice twisty stretch starts at the intersection with Route 23 and runs down to Ludwig’s Corners. (Doesn’t Ludwig’s Corners have a nice ring to it? It sounds like the kind of town Norman Rockwell would visit to get laid.) I was well into this bit of heaven, listening to Blue Oyster Cult going on about not Fearing The Reaper (my theme song), when I picked up “The Asshole.” This guy appeared out of nowhere and filled my rear-view mirrors — all three of them — with his high beams. He appeared to be 15 feet off my bumper, with no other purpose in the world other than to aggravate me.
Checking the speedo, I was dead nuts on at 25mph, now hacking my way through what appeared to be more than half a foot of falling snow. “Blow me,” I thought, concentrating on the road ahead. The nicest twisty bit unfolds on a hill that opens to three lanes, with the center one closed to traffic in either direction. The asshole passed me on curve, in driving snow, on a hill. I slowed slightly and let him go. I met him again at the top, where he was the last vehicle in a line of 11 cars... Stuck behind one that was taking the incline sideways.
(Above) Atticus Finch, named for a character in "To Kill A Mockingbird," as is Scout, is seen here looking wise and just. He is four years old and probably was planning to ambush Scout when this picture was taken. Clicking on the picture will show you this magnificent dog in detail. Atticus goes on the alert well, to advise you that he senses something odd in the house. Scout not only has an impressive bark, but she will kill anyone who comes in here without the nod from Stiffie. She went after Dick Bregstein, my riding partner, one day. Photo by Leslie Marsh.
I only had 18 miles to go from the Motel 6 in Pottstown to my driveway in East Goshen. It took me an hour and 45 minutes. Every road at my disposal runs through a valley, with a somewhat steep climb out the other side. Every route I picked had stalled cars sideways on the hills. Turning north, I road into Paoli and turned onto Paoli Pike, which is level at that point. I had a pleasant cruise (hitting 30 mph), throwing up nice rooster tails of snow from the back.
(Above) Hitting the bread line just outside the living room windown is "Cardinal Mendzenty," named after the great Vatican financier. Despite the cold winter, the Cardinal is looking a little chubby. We love these birds and have had a pair of them around here forever. Photo by Leslie Marsh.
The driveway was a bit of challenge — not. Though it is an incline with a slight curve in it, and covered with eight inches of snow (at that hour), the great blue beast never hesitated. I made myself an Irish coffee the size of my ass and called it day. The Airhead Conference was scheduled to reconvene at 8am the next day for a full 7 hours of classes. (The program also included an addition half-day on Sunday.) It was being held at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles, and would feature some priceless BMW restorations.
Yet it was not to be for me. When I raised the garage door the six hours later, the snow was 22 inches deep. My arthritis was screaming, and the thought of digging a path to the truck, then digging a path in 22 inches of snow around the truck, then clearing 22 inches of snow off the truck, drove me back into the house. My part in the great storm was over.
It is my intention to write at least two articles on the Airhead Super Tech event (one for my hard copy magazine column and one for this blog) at some point in the immediate future. Later this week, I will present a story called “183 Miles Per Hour in First Gear,” focusing on the details of Chris Carr’s most recent record-breaking run.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA The LIndbergh Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)