The day was hotter than hell and the heat added a shimmer to the cactus and sage brush in the Nevada desert. It was the kind of terrain in which everything rattled, stung, or pricked — with an added dose of poison. My younger brother was in his element. He rode a viciously primitive 1974 Harley Davidson Iron Head Sporty Hardtail. The lack of shocks, coupled with a flat, contourless seat (which could have been a piece of stove plate), must have assaulted the rider’s ass like a lover in a Turkish prison. The pipes, which were as straight as the ethics of a Baptist preacher, channeled the constant blast of the engine into the otherwise still atmosphere.
The Harley was a resumé-builder for an agent of Hell.
The bike came with an electric starter, which was an exotic feature for Harleys in the mid-seventies. It was so unreliable, my brother had replaced the factory battery with a unit taken from a Caterpillar bulldozer. The starter was activated by a hardware store doorbell switch on the handlebars. (This last refinement was my brother’s invention. So many of these “starter button” switches burned out that he carried a few with him. They were about 8o¢ each.) The bike also had the shifter on the left, though it was connected to the transmission by some half-assed aftermarket device that passed under the frame. (Federal law would mandate moving the shifters to the left on Harley’s the following year.)
My brother takes after the Riepe side of the family, as he is thin, tall, tough, and easily aggravated. He is as smooth as an alligator that eats hand grenades for breakfast. He started smoking when he was three — Camels, without filters (like my father). When he was 15-years-old, he and the kid across the street built a still in the garafe. They managed to distill a quart of white lightening, but set the garage on fire attempting to decant it. My brother came home with a hole burned through his leather jacket, which was used to beat back the flames. Both he and the other kid lost their eyebrows in the small blast that triggered the blaze. My brother had a profound disregard for caution. As a kid, his motto was, "Fuck it... Watch this."
An airframe and power-plant jet fighter mechanic for the Air Force, my brother was assigned to a base outside Las Vegas, which he considered heaven. My father hated the cold and so did my brother. My dad claimed that he had frozen his balls off sitting in the tail gunner’s position of a B-17 over Iceland in January. My brother froze his ass off working on flight lines in Germany and Korea. Las Vegas appealed to him on a number of levels, climate being one of them. My brother also believes the four food groups are beer, topless women, tobacco, and topless women. (He cannot be swayed from this theory.)
This day found him roaring across the Nevada desert on a crude iron frame, propelled by two cylinders — that fired first in protest and then in rage. My brother had a simple explanation for the peculiarities of that Harley Davidson motor. “If you look at the classic and most powerful engines of the ‘20s,” he said, “you’ll conclude the most successful of these were 10 or 12-cylinder radial aircraft engines. The Harley engine is essentially two cylinders pulled from that happy balance of ten or twelve. The anger of the motor is nothing more than separation anxiety. So fuck you and your German ‘Bat Cycle.’” (My brother routinely compares my BMW K75, with it's Parabellum "Scout" fairing to the instantly dated motorcycles used in the Adam West version of the old "Batman" television series.) He went on to add that my sainted father spent the crowning glory of his youth bombing the industrial presumption of the Axis, only for me to transfer my wealth to the “Fatherland,” just to ride a flawless, vibration-free, high-speed motorcycle.
"Like a real douche," said my brother.
When I pointed out that my dad was the first on his block to own a front-wheel drive Volkswagen “Dasher,” my brother reminded me that our father grew to hate that car and replaced it with an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. According to my brother, my father hated the Dasher so much that he regretted not going after the ball-bearing factories in Schweinfurt on the second raid.
The desert roads were perfect for the Harley. They ran straight to the horizon, which was ideal for a machine incapable of making a tight turn. They were virtually free of traffic, which suited a beast that boiled its own oil in the intense internal heat generated by stop and go situations. And there wasn’t a lot of people around, which dramatically increased the likelihood of my brother getting a blow job from the blond bimbo on the back. My brother once claimed he’d gotten laid on the desert at night, using nothing more for a pad than his leather jacket and the woman’s ass.
His destination this day was some gin mill on the shores of Lake Mead. The ride was progressing nicely when my brother noticed headlights creeping up behind him. A tractor-trailer was coming like a bat out of hell and would likely pass him on the stretch ahead. Twisting back on the pulsating throttle, he swung far right, giving the flat-front rig plenty of room.
But the truck didn’t whiz by.
In fact, it seemed to have slowed considerably. Glancing to the left, my brother discovered the truck was barely a couple of feet away. It seemed glued to the void just over his shoulder. Looking up, he saw the driver and a passenger —both guys — leaning over and looking down. That was because the show girl on the back of my brother’s bike had lifted up her top and was waving her tanned, twin glories up at them.
“Stop that,” he yelled, slapping her leg. “These assholes are gonna kill us both.”
He chopped the throttle, and the bike dropped back, letting the truck move on, with the trailer swaying as the driver blew the horn. My brother brought the Harley to a halt, kicked down the side stand, and dismounted. He lit a cigarette in one fluid motion, just like a previous Riepe did upon exiting a beat-up, four-engined Boeing bomber. My brother surveyed his surroundings with a sweeping gaze. His view included the tanned ass of the blond, who was squatting to take a piss by the side of the road.
“Fucking beautiful,” said my brother.
“Thanks, Honey,” said the girl with a smile.
My brother was looking at the bike and the desert.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA “The Lindbergh Baby” (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)