Monday, December 21, 2009

Mac Pac Riders Hold Monthly Breakfast In Teeth Of Crippling Blizzard...

The news stories began two days before the first snowflakes started to fall. Network television with outposts in frontier Philadelphia interrupted their regularly scheduled newscasts (the daily murder, the high speed car chase, and the pit bulls that were shot by police after mauling the little old lady who baked cookies for them) to commence coverage of the fall of western civilization, prompted by the worst blizzard-like conditions to blow though this area since the Quakers began screwing Indians out of real estate 300 years ago.

The pending storm was being described as “crippling” and “paralyzing,” with snow accumulations to rival the penis-length of the average BMW rider (approximately eight to ten inches). The immediate result of these apocalyptic predictions was to drive crowds of people into supermarkets to decimate the shelves of milk, bread, cigarettes, and hard liquor. For a brief period of brisk public trading, rock salt eclipsed gold on the commodities exchange and bidding wars were declared over snow blowers that couldn’t be given away at any price last week.

I must confess to raiding the local Chinese restaurant at 9pm on Friday, December 18th, and fleeing with containers of chow mein, Singapore noodles (loaded with chicken and shrimp tinted with curry), fried dim sum, and egg rolls (which I suspected would be the new currency of survival in the wake of the storm). I slammed down a bowl of hot and sour soup while waiting for my order, and was amazed at the sense of calm displayed by my inscrutable Asian hosts. The very fact that they seemed unconcerned with what was about to happen began to piss me off.

“How can you be so nonchalant when the world is going to end tomorrow in frozen desolation,” I asked the manager, Fong. (His real name is Philip, but that would not do for the mood I want to set for this story.)

“Jack, the world not end tomorrow,” said Fong. Only snow.”

I persuaded them to turn on the news from Philly, and it was from the flickering screen of a little television in the kitchen that they learned the truth... That eight to ten inches of snowfall would halt all molecular activity in the Philadelphia area, that law and order would collapse, and that people would turn on each other like savages, slaughtering the weak for the last vestiges of warmth and shelter.

When I left the restaurant, they were screaming at each other in Mandarin, heaping tablecloths and plates in a pile, and nailing the long wooden tables over the plate glass windows. “That’s more like it,” I thought.

Vapory reports of folks in Virginia and Tennessee, who were trapped with nothing but each other in darkened houses (dimly lit by holiday candles and heated by wood stoves and fireplaces) for periods of up to 24-hours festered widespread panic. Long-time lovers normally buffered by eBay, Facebook, e-mail and reality shows took long, slow looks at each other and began to sweat. In the absence of texting, some couples resorted to handing each other “Post-its” that said, “U suk” on them.

And all of this was before the first snow flake fell here in East Goshen, Pa.

I had a few egg nogs (of the adult variety) and climbed into the sack around 1am. Glancing out the window, an erie brightness hung over the yard, but it was one that came from the sky and was absorbed by the ground -- which was choked by a snow-free shadow. And that was exactly the same way I’d found it again at 6:10am (Saturday), when I got up to drain the alligator.

But there was an inch of snow on the ground when I checked again an hour later. Generally the rate of snow varies during a storm. You start out with big flakes that become little flakes. Wind-driven blasts yield to gentle snow globe-type fall rates and you even get periods when the precipitation seems to hesitate. Not on Saturday, however. Thunder snow was reported in some areas. The snow fell steadily all day — like the chances of getting a meaningful healthcare reform bill from Senators with their hands up the asses of the American public.

I measure the density of snowfall in two ways: by my ability to see the light post on the front lawn; and by the depth of the plateau that piles up on the glass table out on the patio. I couldn’t see the light post at all during much of the day and the table on the patio was beginning to resemble a sheet cake for a convention. Endless weather reports from Philly indicated the extent of the chaos that existed there. Public service announcements in this city are issued in code. For example, a police advisory that says, “Stay indoors tonight and do not drive your car,” really means, “Jump in the nearest fucking vehicle and head straight to City Line Avenue, so you can sit for hours in stalled traffic unable to crawl over the slightest hill.”

I am proud to tell you that citizens of Philly followed these instructions to the letter.

By 6pm it was apparent that this was no ordinary snowfall, and much of Chester Country (where we live) was now either on the 16 to 20-inch line of accumulation, or on the wrong side of it. Our local network affiliate (WSFB -- Shit For Brains) interviewed motorists who were at great risk for traveling in the storm. The interview was conducted live in the falling snow, in the parking lot of “Total Wine,” the tri-state area’s largest discount retailer of hard liquor and wine. It is in the neighboring state of Delaware, where so much snow fell that polar bears and seals were rampaging in the streets. We listened to a guy who claimed there were some accidents on I-95 ("involving mostly Cadilacs"), but it wasn’t too bad and they basically had the liquor store to themselves. The reporter then announced that many malls would be closing at 7pm, but that Macy’s would be open to 11pm — "at least."

Thank God television is able to provide this kind of quality information in the face of real disaster.

It was then we learned that three airlines had cancelled a total of 1700 flights on the east coast. Leslie measured the snow in a number of places and concluded we had received 15 inches by midnight on Saturday. Her final instructions for me regarding blizzard preparedness were without condition.

“The snowplow people will be here about dawn,” said Leslie.

“Maybe even earlier,” I said. “Maybe they’re like the fire department and will pull up with the sirens roaring and crews of guys running up the driveway with shovels.”

“And maybe you’re a shit head,” said Leslie. “In any case, your Suburban is blocking the access to the upper driveway and you’re going to have to move it. Why not do it now, before they show up and plow around it? Otherwise, your fat, crippled ass will be shoveling out the garage doors.”

I thought of handing her a Post-it with a clever phrase written on it, but thought the better of it.

“My Mac Pac monthly motorcycle breakfast is in the morning. I’ll be out of here around 7am. My guess is I’ll beat the plow guys.”

“Do you honestly think anyone is going to show up for the monthly motorcycle breakfast tomorrow... On the worst weather day of the year... An hour after the snow has stopped?” As with most questions that Leslie asks in this tone, the unspoken word “asshole” is strongly emphasized following the punctuation.

“If I were in your shoes, and didn’t want to be running around in the frigid, snow-covered driveway, clad only in baggy underwear, while the plow guys are blowing the horn at dawn tomorrow, I’d move that piece of shit Suburban right now,” Leslie warmly counseled.

I replied with a nod, and my special smile which has an unspoken emphasis all its own.

I found consciousness without the benefit of the clock at 6:15am (Sunday), and lay in bed reflecting on the fact that the whole world was under the silent white mute button of fallen snow. The only sound I could hear was... A plow scrapping through a driveway.

Mutherfucka... Those assholes are really here,” I thought to myself, pulling up jeans over my baggy shorts.

I shoved a fat-assed, dozing dog away from the window and saw one of the town’s behemoth plows slamming through our cul de sac. False alarm. Nevertheless, it was time to get started. I couldn’t help but notice that the huge city plow wasn’t revealing the blacktop in its wake. A cup of magma-like expresso, with enough caffeine to reanimate a dead body, got me moving. The garage door went up like the curtain on outdoor inuit theatre. The same 15-inches of snow that covered the glass table out back also covered the Suburban. I used an old sponge mop to clear the hood, the windshield, the windows, and a lot off the roof.

Looking down to the street, the snow created an unbroken profile burying gardens, paths, steps, and the driveway, under a layer of white that suggested all imperfection can be covered by something, if you slather it on deeply enough. But I had now reached the moment of truth. Would this ancient rusting hulk handle 15 inches of unplowed snow on a curving driveway, with a slope?

What do you think?

This veteran vehicle of countless Adirondack snowstorms (that all made this one seem like a joke) fired right up and drove through the snow without hesitation. I picked up my riding partner Dick Bregstein, and we headed off to the Pottstown Family Diner, 10 miles away.

Present for the December Mac Pac December Monthly Breakfast were Roddy Irwin, Tom Byrum, Todd Byrum, Joe Dille, Chris Jaccario, his girlfriend Melinda, David Denesowicz, Dick Bregstein, and myself. By a quorum vote among those present, it was agreed that we had real balls, and were entitled to wear a special tee-shirt commissioned at club expense. There is something unique about getting together for breakfast with friends in a diner, when everyone else is watching cataclysmic news reports about how the world is ending under the worst snow storm of the year.

This little gathering was my first Christmas gift of the year.

I would like to say that each of the municipalities I drove through, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (Penn DOT) did a great job of managing the snowfall. Every main road was open to blacktop by the time breakfast concluded, and the side roads did not warrant 4-wheel drive.

The motorcycling season for myself and many others may have come to an end with this storm, however. Looking out at the street from my office window, I can clearly see little piles of salt, cinders, and sand in the road. The salt will melt. But the tons of other crap will pile up in curves and intersections, offering the highest entertainment value for riders leaning into a turn, and stay there until it is swept up sometime in April. This is especially sad news for me, as I believe I saw a box from Gerbings Heated Riding Gear arrive here yesterday.

Santa is as perceptive as she is beautiful.

Merry Christmas And Happy New Year...

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009

AKA The LIndbergh Baby (Mac Pac)

AKA Vindak8r Motorcycle Views)

AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'Tis The Season

I have long-since pledged to my readers that this blog -- Twisted Roads -- would always offer pure motorcycle content 24/7. I lied. While I have one or two Christmas stories involving a motorcycle, this is by far the best of the lot and it was quite impossible to write a motorcycle into it. I tried. But I like to go for the laugh, and I’m sure none of you will mind. This is my Christmas card to you, with additional apologies to the Mac Pac, who’ve seen it on their list before, complete with the picture that I took to annoy my Swedish friend Roy Groething.

Long before my career in public relations included writing things like congressional testimony, state-of-the-industry speeches, and quotes written expressly for politicians easily mistaken for cardboard cutouts or bodies seeking reanimation, I earned a living doing the marketing for a roller rink in New Jersey. Now this wasn't one of your run-of-the-mill skating facilities left over from the 'forties, but a multimillion dollar disco/singles club for the well-heeled and slick wheeled. From Thursday through Sunday, indescribably heavenly bodies gyrated and swerved through this place to a throbbing beat that percolated raw sexuality.

But on weekend mornings the place was given over to the three- to seven-year-old-crowd. And in the interests of screwing a dollar out of every conceivable opportunity, some genius decided that nothing would delight this particular demographic more than to have Santa Claus arrive on skates.

"Great," I said. "I'll get a release out to the papers and get started on the ads. What chump are you going to get for the role of Santa Claus?"

Public relations is the story of unending service to the client. Yet the measure of that service is subject to constant change. There are days when your clients hang onto your words as if the were directions from a prophet. And then there are the days when your value is measured by how fast you can get them coffee or clean the toilets.

"Well, we thought you'd do it as part of the seasonal promotion," they said.

"Do I look that stupid," I asked.

They already had the Santa suit custom tailored for me. Made of crushed velvet and lined with real fur, it was rumored to have cost a grand. (This was in the '70's, when a grand was real money.) The leather belt was four inches wide with a silver buckle. There were real leather pullover boots too. But the best part was the wig and beard. They were all one piece and either made of real hair or silk. Even the little square Ben Franklin glasses were real glass. The costume was gorgeous.

I would be lying if I said I didn't make one hell of an official looking Santa. I was more muscle than pork in those days, and gave the impression that jolly old Saint Nick could easily split a cord of wood.

"Help me pull on these boots and we'll be all set," I said to one of the staffers, who was dressed like an elf.

"Boots? The boss said you were to wear roller skates."

"Are you out of your mind?" I asked. "I can't skate. I'm not wearing skates!"

"The boss said that you were to wear skates, that you were to shut up about it, and that we're supposed to help you out to Santa's throne."

The skates were strapped to my feet before I could claw my way out of the room. With an elf on each arm, I was wheeled out into the masses of children. For the first and only time in my life, a collective sigh rose as I entered the room. (It must be pointed out that the sigh wasn't really for me, but for the person I was impostering. Still, it remains a significant high point among my memories.)

I was mobbed by hundreds of little kids who simply wanted to touch my hand, wave to me, or say "Hello." I was dressed like the ultimate "yes-man," who always delivered. True to plan, Santa's elves each put a shoulder behind my back, and began shoving me across the carpet to the skating floor (a distance of 20 feet).

Santa's throne was an elaborate chair in the center of the skating floor, with fake reindeer standing on each side. As I recall, one of the deer had a flashing red nose. The elves meant well, but I was beginning to accrue a bit of mass in those days (though nothing like my present size). The wheels of my skates were digging into the carpet and encountering substantial resistance. The elves later claimed it was like wheeling a howitzer through a swamp. They were really putting their backs into it when the wheels of my skates hit the hard wooden floor.

Their energy and my mass were converted into forward movement in an instant.

I broke free from my moorings and shot across the floor at about 40 miles per hour. Arms flailing, I took out the deer with the flashing nose and smashed into the throne with a loud "thud!"

"You missed the other deer," said an elf, who was laughing so hard he could barely stand up. "You want to try again and see if you can pick up the spare?"

Ten minutes later -- with the deer and the throne back in place -- I started listening to the dreams and hopes of about 1200 kids. I began each interview with the same litany: "Ho... Ho... Ho... What's your name? Have you been good this year? Do you listen to your parents? Do you do your homework? Do you share with your friends?"

Their responses were the standard boilerplate lies, followed by the presentation of the Christmas lists, with few variations. Most were memorized and delivered as one constant flowing word. "I want a bicyclefootballtaperecorderguitarracingcarsetandaG.I.Joe." A small percentage of kids came with written lists, complete with their addresses and directions to the same so there'd be no mistake on the morning of the 25th. Some froze and forgot what they had to say. One or two cried. And I will never forget the little girl who buried her face in my beard, saying "Sanna, Sanna..." over and over again.

At the peak of this holiday networking, a bigger than average kid climbed into my lap. This one seemed kind of old to be perpetrating the Santa gimmick, but I figured he wanted to hedge his bets as the zero hour drew near."

We went through the routine with me playing the straight man and the kid being the ventriloquist's dummy. He had just finished the gift inventory, when he suddenly said, "But you won't bring any of this stuff to me. You won't come to my house on Christmas."

"My God," I thought. "What horror story does this poor kid have at home?" I imagined a divorce in progress... Sickness... Parents out of work... Perhaps even the death of a parent...

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Because I'm Jewish. I don't believe in you. You're just a fat man in a red suit. I'm going to pull your beard off in front of everyone."

"Ho... Ho... Ho," I laughed, positively relieved. This was a job for a true public relations specialist, trained to make folks instantly see the bright side. I needed to make the kid feel the joy of the holiday season, to get in the spirit of things, and to feel part of things. Leaning over, I whispered, "You touch this beard and I'm going to drop kick your ass halfway across the floor."

I fired off another "Ho... Ho... Ho...," for the benefit of the general public. "You'll get everything I promised," I said out loud to the kid. He backed away, never taking his eyes from my feet.

I figure that kid is about 36-years-old today. Ke was probably in therapy for years. I wonder if he gets as many laughs from that story as I do. I wish I knew where he was now. I'd buy him a drink.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Chanukah!

Roy Groething has been my friend for over 38 years. He is under the impression that he is Swedish. He is Swedish like I am a son of old Erie. Yet every year he holds a traditional Swedish Yule event, during which the personification of Santa Lucia, a beautiful, young, blond princess (crowned with light) is honored for her virtue. This is my salute to Santa Lucia, and my depiction of what happens when a virtuous princess spends harsh winters drinking beer, fishing through the ice, and eating lutefisk (fish that died of natural causes, then got cooked in Draino, according to an old Swedish recipe). Photo by Leslie Marsh.

© Copyright Jack Riepe 2004
From "Mid-life Crisis: Let The Ordeal Begin"
All rights reserved.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Harley Riders and My Christmas Briefcase..


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)

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Lost Holiday Weekend...

There are few things in life that create the aura of wild anticipation like a mild weather forecast for a long holiday weekend — especially when an individual (of such shallow emotions such as myself) is only required to put in a single day’s attendance during this period to satisfy family obligations. The evening before this past Thanksgiving found me sitting bolt upright in my comfy chair as the weather stooge on NBC began chanting a litany of near impossible temperatures for the 72 hours following the holiday. Except for Thanksgiving Day (which was rainy and murky here in southeastern Pennsylvania), we were looking at partly sunny, or absolutely sunny days with highs in the 60’s (f). Perfect riding weather! Granted the mornings would start off cool enough, like in the low 40’s (f), but a passing chill of this nature is nothing to a BMW rider.

Getting a string of pleasant riding days like this, so late in November, is rare in these parts and I began to make my plans accordingly. On Friday, I would straddle “Fireballs,” my 1995 K75 BMW, and head out through Amish country. This would be a solo run as my usual partner in crime, Dick Bregstein, had his kids in town for the holiday and he was busy pretending to have a good time without riding his motorcycle. On Saturday, I would join the elite company of family and friends over at Jim Ellenberg’s, where it was rumored that the world’s fastest man on two wheels -- again -- would be making a special presentation to me. It would be fun to ride “Fireballs” right up to the grill where the host would be baking homemade pizzas.

Sunday would be special too. It was the date of the world’s slowest motorcycle race, the Turkey Pro National, held at a semi–secret location up by Macungie, Pa. This event routinely attracts some of the finest classic and vintage motorcycles (many restored), and riders from all over, who compete for the slowest time on a hillside of wet grass, where instant disqualification occurs if a rider drops his feet. The event is highlighted by the aroma of burgers, dogs, hot chili and the engine oil of Beesas, Triumphs, and Nortons. The day’s festivities would begin with donuts and coffee at the lair of Chris Jaccarino, a close friend and a Mac Pac member.

So it was with a gleam in my eye and a song in my heart that I danced through the Thanksgiving festivities, knowing that I’d have three days of motorcycle enlightenment to burn off the feast. And what a feast it was! Stiffie (Leslie) roasted a “brine” turkey that was as moist as a mountain mist, yet which sent the heady aroma of exotic spices wafting through the house. The table was straight from the set of a Martha Stewart holiday special, and a tribute to Leslie’s artistic eye, and that of our close friend Monica McDowell, whose family joined us for the occasion.

Dawn knocked politely on the bedroom window, then again more insistently when I ignored it. The same fate that dealt me two former wives instead of winning lottery tickets had struck again. In the brief span of a few nocturnal hours, I had acquired the symptoms of bubonic plague. These included a headache, a grayish cast to my flesh, and a tendency to break out in pustules while rotting on the street. There would be no taunting the Amish for me on Black Friday. My bike sat patiently feeding on the battery charger in the garage.

Leslie (Stiffie) is a practitioner of ancient healing methods advocated by the Navajo Indians of the deep west. She dragged me out to the yard, where a weak fire smoldered sadly on two or three sticks of damp wood. The idea is that the night spirit of the wolf would either take me in the dark, or that I’d recover. I’d been out there about ten hours when I poked my head in through the doggie door to sip some beef broth from the German Shepherd’s saucer. The love of my life determined I was recovered enough to return to the house.

(Above) A picture taken of Robert McGee in 1890. He had been scalped by Indians as a child. Similar holistic "healing" approaches are often suggested to me. Photo from internet archives.

All that remained of my illness on Saturday was a headache of epic proportions. Had my head been x-rayed that day, the films would have revealed two massive fronts—like the most perfect storm— coming together in my cranium. Imagine thoughts and intentions, clinging to a small raft in my head, waiting to be saved. I tried hot compresses, powerful pain-relieving medicine, and coffee strong enough to get tattooed. The pain subsided to the kind of dull throbbing associated with a kick in the balls, and I felt well enough to attend Jim Ellenberg’s event, but in the truck not on the bike.

Ellenberg holds these little gatherings two or three times a year, and I am very lucky to get invited to them, as they have a reputation for attracting the who’s who of motorcycling. The first person I ran into was Chris Carr, who once again raised the bar for being the world’s fastest man on two wheels (367.382 miles per hour on the Bonneville Salt Flats) this past September. The last time Chris and I crossed paths it was in the pits at Hagerstown, where I tried to pawn myself off as a moto-journalist. It was on this last occasion that I left a folding chair next to Carr’s motorhome, telling him I’d get it some other time.

The author, Jack Riepe (Left), receives a highly modified and decorated folding chair from Chris Carr, celebrated seven-time AMA Grand National Champion and the currently the world's fastest man on two wheels -- again -- following a record-breaking run on the Salt Flats at Bonneville this year (367.382 miles per hour). Carr decorated Riepe's chair with track and sponsor stickers from throughout the 2009 racing season. Riepe presented Carr with his Cigar Book... Which he intends to read aloud on Christmas Eve. The attractive woman in the background is Mac Pac rider Kimi Bush, who cannot take her eyes off Riepe. Photo by Jim Ellenberg.

Well that time was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Chris Carr carried that chair to every racing event in which he’d competed, covering it with stickers relating to tracks, sponsors, and racing products. His final contribution was the installation of two plastic bags complete with shipping material. “These are the equivalent of air bags, in the event your ass collapses the chair, they will save you from hitting the pavement,” said Carr.

I had intended to stay until Ellenberg’s rum puddled in the bottom of the bottle, yet my gutter instincts were beginning to kick in and I bid adieu suspecting the advent of diarrhea. This was my incentive for piloting the Suburban like it was in a James Bond chase scene. I barely got the garage door up before I ran through the house screaming for the right of way.

Stiffie (Leslie) was working in her studio, when I passed like a locomotive named The Spirit of Kaopectate. “You could have taken a dump in your truck,” she said. “No one would be able to tell the new shit from the tons of other shit in there.” (This remark would come under the heading of accurate analysis intended to call one's attention to a certain situation. I would thank her later.)

Chris Jaccarino (left) and Doug Raymond unloading 750 donuts off the back of Doug's BMW RT prior to departing to the Turkey Pro National. Photo by Gary Christman.

And so it came to be that on the last day of the best weekend of Fall 2009, I was once again laying out in the yard by a sputtering fire — and a spackle bucket — with cramps at one end and a block-buster headache at the other. My friends were all up at the Turkey Pro National, either riding or jeering the others on.

Doug Raymond pits his mighty BMW RT against the 125cc street bikes in the Turkey Pro National, the world's slowest motorcycle race. Photo by Gary Christman.

According to a published report from Doug Raymond, who both competed and took notes on the Turkey Pro event, there were approximately 150 bikes on the property, including one Vincent Black Shadow. Twenty-one riders competed on the 150-yard, sloping course. The best time (the slowest) was 2:41 seconds. It should be noted that Doug Raymond attempted this course on a mighty BMW RT, but put his feet down after 20 seconds. (Doug Raymond is the rider who guided this same bike from south eastern Pennsylvania to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Circle in Alaska, and back in 14 days. He also rode throughout Argentina, while taking Tango lessons, and swims regularly in a quarry on New Years Day.)

This is only known photo of the great moment titled, "Jaccarino Craps Out." The photo was taken by David Hardgrove, who then entered the Witness Protection Program.

According to Raymond, Chris Jaccarino made a valiant effort at winning, first on a 125cc bike that got him one third of the way around the course, before the chain broke. They gave him a second try on a KTM and he made it three-quarters of the way around before he was forced to put his foot down again.

(Above) The Turkey Pro National always draws an eclectic collection of bikes. Photo by Gary Christman

(Above) Many of the bikes are as flawless as they are rare. Photo by Gary Christman.

(Above) This tiny, folding scooter jumped in combat with members of the British Airborne, who used it as club after many broke their legs trying to kick start it. Photo by Gary Christman.

It should be noted that my friends held a "finger of silence" vigil for me, each one taking a moment out of their fun, to pose for a picture taken by Mac Pac rider David Hardgrove, and to send these to me so I would know exactly what I meant to them. You’d have to look far and wide to find folks like these... And when you do find them, don't ever turn your back on them...

(Above) Matt Piechota (left) and Dick Bregstein usher in the "finger of silence" vigil in my honor. Behind Dick is his new summer cottage. Photo by David Hardgrove.

(Above) DucDude (bald and humorless) and Dick Bregstein flip the "Finger Heard Round The World" to commemorate my absence. Photo by Dutch Hardgrove.

(Above) Chris Jaccarino gives way to a rare expression of emotion, triggered by my absence, which he cited as the main reason why he blew a 120 yard race — one of the most important in his career. Jaccarino is a humble man and a conservative one. He would later eat dinner on the #17 plate. Photo by Dutch Hardgrove.

(Above) Jessie (left) and Melinda can't stop thinking about me and resort to a kind of primative subliminal sign language that is still used to score votes in Congress today. Photo by Dutch Hardgrove.

Epilogue --

I would like to thank Linda Sorensen and her husband Rick who also sent a "feel better picture," but who had the good sense to tell Dutch Hardgrove that they'd kill him and me if it made it into print.

All that was last week. We got the first snow of the season over this past weekend. Thankfully, the municipalities only spread salt, and not sand. Strong rains and temperatures for 38º (f) are predicted for Wednesday. Hopefully, the salt will wash away, and we may still get a few nice days in December. I have been feeling sick for the past two weeks, plus I have been working a major career change with mixed success. As a result, I have been somewhat peculiar — even more so than usual.

The Highlight Of The Week...

The highlight of the week was a communication I received from my Pal Electra Glide in Blue, who is seen posing, in the "Best Get Laid Shirt" ever made available. His testimony to the legendary Twisted Roads shirt can be read here... The comments to his blog, many of which seem to doubt the autenticity of his claims, make good reading too.

(Above) Electra Glide In Blue... A Classic Bike... A Classic rider... A Classic Shirt... A Classic Look... Plus I understand he got laid wearing this shirt home from the post office. I had a similar experience yesterday, but the post office is surrounded by senior citizen housing and I was terrified of all that support hose and those walkers.

I am thrilled to report that many of my readers are Harley riders, and I expect to spend a whole weekend riding with a Harley group early next year. I may bring my violin to play for them. The headline might read, "Piece Of Violin Removed From BMW Rider's Ass At Local Hospital."

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA The Mighty Vindak8R (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eight Inches Above Sea Level

Nothing amazes me more than Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. The unit clamped to my handlebars is an out of date (and no longer supported) Garmin Nuvi 660, cradled in a Ram mount, which holds the device at the perfect angle for me to read it (without my glasses). The maximum volume on this GPS unit is so loud that I can hear it over the utterly masculine whine of the K75 at 75 miles per hour. This was good last Sunday, as the damn thing was screaming for me to go right onto local Route 141 (Delaware), coming off of local Route 52 (Delaware/Pennsylvania).

It had been while since I had last come this way and I was just thinking, “If my memory serves me correctly, Route 141 pops up like a weasel on a spring around here,” when Route 141 popped up like a weasel on a spring. Leaning the bike way over to grab the sudden curve, I felt the icy fingers of gravity wrapping around my balls in accompaniment to the realization that I had neglected to throw a bigger bone to centrifugal force. This was accomplished by twisting on the gas. And it was at this exact location, in a downhill, descending radius turn to the right, that I executed flawless control on a blind curve that should have been named after Stevie Wonder.

Now paragraphs like the one immediately above are almost always followed by qualifying data like: a) Then my front wheel found the puddle of spilled oil; b) Amish horse shit adds little to the dignity of a tight turn; or c) Emma Blogget was almost as stupid as she was old and ugly, having parked her car in the apex of the turn, were she could feed the herd of deer from the open window... Yet in this case, the next line reads, “The K75 responded to my input like lightning on tracks, rocketing into the turn, and precisely following an imaginary line from my mind through the arc of the curve.”

It was the last decent turn I made all day. The rest of my maneuvers looked like I was steering the bike with my elbows while smoking crack.

Route 141 is a necessary but nondescript 8-mile connection to one of the most beautiful runs on the east coast. Heading south, it takes you around the airport (whose largest tenant appears to be the Delaware Air National Guard) in New Castle, and then to Route 9. The view immediately softens with a gentle right turn with the beginnings of salt marshes and open water on the left. It is an illusion. Less than five miles ahead lies the Valero/Texaco refinery, a huge black eye on the soul of beauty.

This is in Delaware City, which is actually a quaint riverfront community (with over 200 active residences listed on the historic register), sandwiched in between the Delaware River and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. The city (and it is a small one) contains two state parks of some significance. These are Fort Dupont State Park, which was home to German prisoners of war (WWII) and Fort Delaware State Park on picturesque Pea Patch island (which housed thousands of Confederate prisoners in the Civil War). Pea Patch Island is now home to thousands of nesting herons, and is regarded as the largest heronry in the US. The island is accessible by ferry.

Route 9, also known as 5th Street, bypasses all of these attractions. Putting the spurs to the K75 brought me -- and the other five riders in my group -- through town in about 30 seconds. And it is here that the road to heaven starts. Route 9 bounces over a steel grate bascule bridge with a slight arch before ascending a 25-story ramp to the spindly deck of the Reedy Point Bridge, which spans the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. This sea-level canal connects the Delaware River and the port of Philadelphia with the Chesapeake River and the Port of Baltimore. The original canal opened in 1829 and saw incredible daily traffic through 1919. Work started on its current configuration in the 1960’s and continued into the ‘70s. The canal is 14 miles long, 450 feet wide, and 35 feet deep. Lift bridges were in common usage through the ’70’s until 8 of them were removed by collisions with ships.

The entrance to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal on the Delaware River (Photo from Wikipedia)

I always get a thrill riding over the Reedy Point Bridge. The view from the top is incredible, offering a fleeting glance of three states: New Jersey to the left, Delaware straight ahead, and Maryland to the right. The view is like nothing you would expect, even though it does personify the character of each state. The most prominent thing on the New Jersey coast is the Salem Nuclear Power Plant. Maryland is a distant glow of commerce. Delaware unfolds as a tableau of estuarine salt marshes, flowing around hardwood stands, cornfields, and quaint villages -- some complete with light houses.

The Reedy Point Bridge, about 25 stories above the majestic Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, drops a rider into an incredibly beautiful setting. (Photo by Wikipedia)

The Reedy Point Bridge is also exciting for two other reasons: a) The descent from the deck is abrupt and like landing in an open cockpit plane (if you are on a motorcycle); b) Maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Reedy Point Bridge looks like it will fall down in the next really strong breeze.

From left, Kimi Bush, Jack Riepe, Dick Bregstein, and Alain Kaldewaay take a break in the village of Taylor's Bridge. The author's stumpy knees were killing him. (Photo by Rob Haut)

Another fascinating aspect of Route 9 as it runs through this unique area (for the next 35 miles or so) is that the pavement is 8 inches above sea level. This eight inches is an arbitrary figure when the moon is exceptionally full, when the wind is blowing, or if a tidal surge is in progress and brackish water will simply cover the road. This was the case in the next few miles, where the road was closed due to standing water, sand, and other debris courtesy of Tropical Storm Ida, which had pounded hell out this place only a day or two before.

GS rider Kimi Bush coyly whispers to the author, "Ha ha... You're fat and old. Want directions to the La Brea tar pits?" (Photo by Rob Haut)

That was part of the allure of this ride, to take our bikes through an area that had been pounded by a bad storm within hours of its passing. I was accompanied on this run by Dick Bregstein (my usual partner in crime), Kimi Bush, Rob Haut, Alain Kaldewaay, and Corey Lyba. The road is a main thoroughfare for four or five little communities, all of which face Delaware Bay. I am surprised that there aren’t more bars, eateries, or tourist traps along this road. It may be that not everyone understands the beauty of the marshes. Of course, it could also be that the 25-story-high cooling tower of the nuclear facility across the river, plus sirens atop utility poles with signs reading, “In the event of six long blasts of the siren, put your head between your legs and kiss your x-rayed ass good-bye,” have soured folks on the area.

The row of Beemers on the silt-laden streets of Bowers Beach, De. Tropical storm Ida was responsible for the tidal surge. (Photo by Rob Haut)

Traffic can be heavy on Route 9 in the summer, but we had the road to ourselves and picked up the pace considerably. About half of the ride is through the marshes directly, passing through bird sanctuaries, and winding over a series of bridges that rise no more than eight feet above the water. These bridges sneak up on you in a form of comic relief. In a few cases, the joinery of the bridge concrete and the macadam of the road is purely coincidental. Hitting it at 50 miles per hour will loosen the fillings in your teeth. Naturally, these bridges occur at points where the flowing marsh currents are at their most aggressive. Therefore, they mark the places where standing water is most likely to be an issue. The first three bridges carried signs which said, “Standing water on the road.” We all slowed down accordingly.

The roads were bone dry.

So it was with a light heart that I hit the fourth bridge at 50 miles per hour. This was one of the ones that was badly seamed where it met the pavement. I felt like I had just been kicked in the ass by a horse. And not a petting zoo horse either. I mean a Clydesdale. The shock to my spine had barely registered when I cleared the peak of the little arch to see a pool of standing water, spanning the entire road, for a distance of 30 feet.

The view of the water from our restuarant's dock in Bowers Beach. (Photo by Rob Haut)

“Holy shit,” I thought, dropping two gears and hitting the binders at the same time. The K75 dug in and slashed 30 miles per hour from the speedo. I hit the water at a modest pace and discovered it was about ten inches deep. My boots submerged and acted like twin scoops, diverting the water up my pants legs. I’m told that cod are a cold water fish. Well that water was so damn cold that I thought it was probably a cod crossing.

Later, Kimi Bush (an accomplished long-distance rider on a BMW GS model, painted pink and known as “Tuff Cookie”) would come up to me, looking out of the tops of her eyes, and say, “I thought for sure you were going to stop dead at the water. I would have run right over your fat, stupid ass. Then I would have beaten you to death with parts of my fallen motorcycle.”

Corey Lyba (left) and his wife Kimi Bush (right). She wanted all of us to call him the name of a cute animal. From now on he is "The Jackal." (Photo by Rob Haut)

The scenery changed from marsh to meadow, farms to fishing villages, and ultimately, from carefully preserved habitat to more urban settings. There used to be a great place to stop in the town of Little Creek. “Three Cavaliers” was a bar and restaurant that featured some of the best crab chowder that I have ever tasted. I was sorry to see that it has fallen victim to the economy, and that it was closed and up for sale. I had a lesson in humility sitting at the bar in this place (on a prior ride), that Dick and I will laugh about for years to come.

We got on the Route 1 expressway and rode the final seven miles to our destination, Bowers Beach, at speed. Bowers Beach is a little community that sits on a spit of sand, where a tiny inlet winds its way into the widest part of Delaware Bay (probably 30 miles across). New Jersey cannot be seen without binoculars. (That's the good news.) The tide comes in and out here with some force, and regularly flows onto the street. Tropical Storm Ida improved on that plan, by dumping tons of grey sediment hundreds of yards inland, making for careful navigating on slick streets.

The author cannot get through a day without trauma. The crap in his topcase jammed the lock from the inside, denying him access to his step, his cane, and other things. Corey Lyba, and not Rob Haut, is seen carrying away a cinder block used to get "Jumbo" on his seat. Alain Kaldewaay is standing by to make sure Riepe doesn't fall over in the gravel. The attractive blond lady on the porch has asked Riepe not to lean up against the restaurant. (Photo by Rob Haut)

I consider Bowers Beach to be the Paris of the salt marshes, as it has not one, but two excellent saloons to choose from. And it is here the plot thickens. The bar I thought we were going to was closed. And the bar I thought would be closed for the season was open. This turned out to be perfect as bar #2 is a great seafood place, with unparalleled views of the bay.

Ride photographer, Rob Haut and his "Green Machine" (Photo by Klute The Wonder Moose)

And so passed what is likely to be the last utterly nice day of the 2009 riding season. By “utterly nice” I mean temperatures warm enough to ride in mesh. (It was 70º from start to finish on this ride.) Dick was wearing straight mesh and I had removed all of the panels from my Joe Rocket “Meteor” jacket. I was riding in perforated summer leather gloves.

The Senator Willian Roth Jr. Bridge crosses the C&D Canal in style... We paid $4 in tolls to cross this spiffy-looking bridge at speed. (Photo by Wikipedia)

We decided take the fast way back, which was the Route 1 (toll road) to Route 141 in New Castle. We got there in 40 minutes, moving through traffic like a hot knife through butter. At one point, an asshole in a minivan corked up the works for about five miles, while keeping side-by-side with a slower moving car to her immediate right. I edged up next to her, and waited until until a slight curve in the road caused her to fall back a few feet. Then I went though the opening with my engine screaming. To my delight, another bike followed me. In the golden light of the setting sun, I could see it was pink.

(This level of maneuvering must have scared the shit out of the woman in the minivan, and rightly so. After the bike behind me got around her, so did five other cages. I do not understand why slower drivers do not stay to the right. I suspect it’s because they don’t want to be bothered with traffic entering and exiting the highway.)

There is one aspect of these runs that I am seldom prepared for, and that is the rolling good-byes as riders peel off for their preferred ways home. Alain Kaldewaay was the first to go, followed by the tag team of Kimi and Corey (who is her husband) while still in Delaware. Rob Haut disappeared next. His Beemer has two speeds: fast and inter-galactic. Bregstein and I parted company on US-202 (Pennsylvania) as the last bit of light faded into darkness. My dash clock read 1700 hours (Beemer time) as my HID lights filled the garage door. The ride back, which had a high spot of 92 miles per hour, took just two hours. The K75 used 3.5 gallons of high test gas in 168 miles, for an average of 48 miles per gallon. The total mileage for the day was 212.


Sunday’s ride (on November 15, 2009) was preceded by the Mac Pac “3rd Sunday of the Month” breakfast at the Pottstown Family Diner. (The Mac Pac is the premier BMW group in southeast Pennsylvania that I ride with.) The occasion was marked by a big turn-out of riders (about 50) and the first run on Marge Busch’s new F800 GS. This sleek machine represents the finest example of the motorcycle-builder’s craft, and is one of the most sought-after bikes in the BMW line. By count, I believe it is Marge’s 23rd motorcycle in her collection, which includes many rigs from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Way to go Marge!

Marge Busch with her new BMW F800 GS. Note the cool cast wheels and the overall sinister look to the machine. (Photo by Rob Haut)

The business end of Marge Busch's sizzling new F800 GS. This is a hot-looking Beemer. When I asked if she paid the same price for each of those headlights, Marge replied, "Just keep your fat ass off my bike." (Photo by Rob Haut)

Jim Gingrich from Reading, Pa showed up in a “Smart Car,” which almost garnered as much attention as Marge’s bike.

Technically, this "Smart Car" could be a Beemer K75 on "Miracle Grow." The three-cylinder engine puts out 71 hp, just like my K75. I think these are hot shit and plan to own one some day. (Photo by Rob Haut)

• Mark Mehalik was our speaker for breakfast. His lecture was titled, "The Difference Between Battery Acid and Timothy Leary's Acid." Mark went three rounds to a fall with a battery problem.

Mark Mehalik and his beautiful Blue Beemer F650GS. This picture was taken just outside the "observatory" room at Mac Pac International Headquarters. (Photo by Rob Haut)

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