Friday, October 16, 2009

Nothing Really Beats A Pair...

The exact date of the following event is no longer clear in my mind. What I do recall is that I was 14-years-old and riding a ten-speed bike on Route 9W, which runs up from New Jersey across the New York State line, along the tops of the Palisades. The stretch of 9W in New Jersey is still incredibly popular with bicyclists (literally drawing hundreds of them every day of any weekend), owing to the fully-paved, tree-lined, wide shoulders and modest elevations that are part and parcel of this road.

I was riding in the company of Scott Volk, a co-conspirator in many of my life’s early adventures, and our destination was Nyack, New York. By itself, Nyack is no big deal, other than it was the first place I ever had a lap dance from a totally naked performance artist (albeit ten years after this story occurred). Yet from the heights of the cliffs (still the Palisades) that look down on the Hudson River around Nyack, two 14-year-old boys could park their bikes in High Tor State Park and gaze down at the amazing sight of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Above -- The "Tappan Zee" Bridge, which carries the New York State Thruway across the Hudson River.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge.)

Now it is important to understand that I was born and raised in Jersey City, the dog shit and broken glass capital of the world. The place was famous for attached houses (many painted highly implausible colors) with flat roofs, suffocating summer heat, and accents in the mouths of residents that made Leo Gorcey (of the Bowery Boys) sound like William F. Buckley. Scott and I pedaled our bikes as hard as possible to escape to open views, from a lofty perspective, with a breeze that carried no hint of ethnic cooking nor the exhaust of cars orbiting a block to grab a parking spot.

Above -- Leo Gorcey of "The Dead End Kids, Angels With Dirty Faces," and "The Bowery Boys."
I once dated a girl who dumped me because she said I sounded a lot like him. (Photo from Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

Pedaling along 9W was the closest thing we could do to getting out in the country. There were virtually no houses on this road (31 years ago), while a number of access points permitted entry to Palisades Interstate Park, with its vistas (400 feet above the Hudson), and opportunities to take street bicycles along hiking trails. But nothing could compete with the splendor of looking down on the Tappan Zee Bridge, which to us, was an engineering marvel on a par with the Eiffel Tower and the Great Pyramid.

The bridge was built in 1955 at one one the widest points on the Hudson River. With its approaches, the bridge is 3 miles long, with a center span of 1200 feet, with the roadway 138 feet above the river. We just liked to look at it. Actually, we’d lean the bikes up against a couple of trees, pull our sandwiches of a bag, and pool the cookies or cupcakes that remained -- all while studying the silver structure that spanned the river like a bracelet, hundreds of feet below.

Above -- The "Tappan Zee" Bridge snakes across the mighty Hudson like a bracelet, runningh from Nyack, NY to history Tarrytown, NY -- home of the "Headless Horseman." (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

Some of the cliff faces and mountains (such as they are) on the river’s edge are famous. The “Storm King on the Hudson” had been immortalized by painters like Thomas Cole and Homer Dodge Martin (of the Hudson River School) in the early 19th century. Now Scott and I were immortalizing them with peanut butter and jelly.
Above -- Storm King Mountain On The Hudson, one of the many landmarks of nature I pedalled a bike over as a kid. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge.)

Yet bigger fish were to be fried on this trip, and there was nothing that could have prepared me for it. Not far after crossing the New York State Line, Route 9W drops in elevation with a sweeping curve to the right. Though the shoulder was non-existent at this point, we’d get our bikes up to 45mph shooting down this sweeper of a curve, moving out among the traffic.

Above -- A painting of the Adirondacks by Homer Dodge Martin (From Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

With the wind whistling in my ears, I can remember reaching down to switch the levers, which threw the chain on the combination of sprockets that brought the greatest resistance to the pedals and the fastest speed to the bike. Scott was hot on my heels. Not only was this part of the “big fun” for this ride, but it was crucial to get up a good head of steam to minimize the effort of climbing the inevitable hill that followed this refreshing plummet.

Yet halfway around this curve, two guys in jeans with bandanas on their heads stepped out of the brush on the right and waved us down. I remember the squeal of the rims as the rubber center-pull brake blocks bit into them, bringing the bikes to a halt.

They were two Harley riders with a problem. They had pulled over in the darkness of the previous evening to spend the night with their girlfriends, and one of the bikes drove into a little bog. It was buried in muck almost up to the exhaust system, and was being held upright by a piece of wood. They wanted us to lend them a hand at pushing the bike out.

It took the four of us (the ladies didn’t help) nearly forty minutes of pushing and shoving to get that bike out of the ooze without dropping it. Scott and I were in sneakers that were covered with foul-smelling swamp rot that came halfway up to our knees. “Frank” and “Butch” had muck on their feet, hands, and faces. But the Harley was free and only the tires were covered with shit.

We got ready to leave, and Scott was asking Frank about something on his bike (the unstuck one). I found “Butch” and this incredibly attractive young thing swapping spit on a log.

“So long,” I said. “We gotta go.”

The guy looked at me with a suggestion of a smile.

“You want anything,” he asked. “A cigarette... A shot of tequilla... A few bucks...”

“Naw, we’re fine.”

I rather got the impression I was having my leg pulled, and then he said, “Want to see some tits?”

Before I could say anything, the babe with him lifted up her shirt. She was about 20, with a dark tan, modestly endowed, with nipples like finished beadwork on perfection. I was conscious of my eyes opening like the torpedo doors on a submarine. Nerve endings in my brain, long since considered dead or unattached, started firing impulses with machine gun rapidity. A voice in my mind whispered, “Tits... You get to see 'em with a motorcycle.” My soul responded by assuming the shape of a steel bar, a compass needle pointing in her direction, my new dtstiny, committing my whole being to the endeavor of a two-wheeled lifestyle.

And then it was over. She smiled. He laughed. The shirt came down and I turned away, wondering if this had just happened to me.

We pedaled into the park 40 minutes later, with the roar of two Harleys briefly passing behind us, heading north on Route 9W.

I told Scott what had happened as we unwrapped our PB&J sandwiches.

“Why didn’t you come and get me,” he asked.

“Because I didn’t want to waste a second by blinking,” I said.

We ate our lunch in the usual silence, looking down at the bridge. Years later, Scott told me he often thinks of those rides we took as kids, and remembers every detail of that bridge. Now matter how often I look at the Tappan Zee Bridge now, I am instantly transported to a glade of trees, where the girlfriend of a Harley rider showed me my first real natural wonder.

I knew then that I too would ride a motorcycle. I sort of also knew that I’d love the feel of power in the handgrips, the rise and fall of the engine’s growl, and the scream of the wind around my helmet. But I had no doubt as to what I was going to love best about having a bike.

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


Unknown said...

Another good read, Jack. I think I'll plug you on my travel blog, but you have to plug mine in return: and

I finally carried out my threat to post about the nine females I keep captive in my shed out back.

cpa3485 said...

I am right now in the city of my teenage years after making a marvelous drive today. Our reunion is later this evening and I plan to relive some old memories, not too unlike the one portrayed here. It is strange driving around a city that you once knew very well and find that there have been lots of changes to the town, but not to the memories.

Unknown said...

Jack "r"

Okay, I have this great image in my mind and I am hoping that when I turn my back and return, there will be a picture to enhance my perception. I don't care if you took it yourself or delegated this function to someone else. I love natural wonders

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Cantwell said...

For some reason, that has never happened to me...and I'm only a hand full of years younger than you. I'm not sure that my K75 will elicit that response from any woman. My luck would tend more toward a woman with the average age of sand showing her gratitude by giving me a quarter.

Cantwell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sgsidekick said...

You are the man, Jack! I actually saw this playing out in technocolor in my mind! I could picture the young lad getting his first eyefull, poor thing.

And to be truthful? You aren't hard to understand at all when you talk! It only took me 30 mins before I got the rhythym of your accent so I could figure out what the heck you were say...

Electra Glide In Blue said...

It's amazing what can happen to you when you're packing a PB&J.

Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around that sandwich.

Woody said...

Excellent story, but everyone knows two pair beat a single pair ;-)

redlegsrides said...

ah yes, I thought to myself as I read the title...another tale involving Jack and Mcguffies....good way to start the day!

great posting Jack....

BMW-Dick said...

Dear Jack:
That's how addictions begin -- with just a taste -- then, pretty soon you're up to your ears on tits. Hope it worked out that way for you, too.

Steve Williams said...

I don't have the same images appearing in my head when I see the Tappan Zee Bridge. At that age all I can remember is that I was mowing lawns and not seeing shit.

Maybe that's why I ended up riding a Vespa....

As usual a great post. It was a privilege reading.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Rogers:

I am slightly behind in my blog reading but intend to refresh myself with your latest adventures over the weekend. I am delighted to plug yor latest literary endeavor, but generally restrict this blog, and its references, to motorcycles. I will investigate the potential for creating a new section to plug non-moto stuff.

Thank you for reading my blog, and for leaving a comment.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear cpa3485 (Jimbo):

Going back to Jersey City, on the few occasions when the necessity presents itself, is always something of a culture shock. The city constantly changes, but seldom for the better. The waterfront district could be any 12-block section taken out of Manhattan, while the more questionable spots have become even moreso.

It's funny, but when I think of the place where I grew up, the place where I learned the ultimate vaslue of life -- it is in a small community in the Adirondacks. And I was 31-years old when I got there.

Have fun this weekend and have a great ride.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobskoot:

Someone once said that they can always tell when I am being 100% truthful because of the strength of the details in the story. This piece is utterly true in everry regard.

There was no picture for this piece as things like disposable cameras and the concept of digital were far into the future. (Scott later bough an Olypus 35mm camera that was the smallest unit of its type.) But this was the summer of our eighth grade, and the fact that we owned ten-speeds was amazing.

My memory has a very unusual feature... It corrects any flaws and eliminates age. Consequently, the image I have in my mind of that afternoon, is more vivid and more perfect than ever.

Thank you for reading my blog so frequently, and for always takimg the time to write in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Cantwell (Mike):

Stand before the mirror in the bathroom for 10 minutes every morning and try to conjure up a look that is a cross between sincerity, boyish wonder, and depthless appreciation... Bingo.

This is still not the "battered baby harp seal look" but it will be a good start. And when you're standing there under a harvest moon, having just presented a hot dolly with a cup of spiced cider -- and the curtain goes up (so to speak) -- don't yell out, "Hot shit! Reep was right."

I look fiorward to our next riding adventure, which I suspect will be in the spring, as the snow is already falling in your neighborhood. I want to do a real seashore ride in the worst way, and the winter hasn't even started yet.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sgsidekick (Tena):

Poor thing! I replayed that scene in my mind over and over again, until it was finally repeated when I got into high school.

One of the photo caoptions in this piece was quite true. My accent really used to anny the shit out of a woman I dated, and contributed to her ultimately determining I was an "ELUM," expendable limited use male.

Thank you for reading my blog, and for taking the time to send me a note.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Electra Glide In Blue:

It's funny... But that Harley felt like it weighed 2,000 pounds... (Naturally, I was kid then.) And it was more on the lines of a customized bike with a little gas tank. I do recall I was not overly impressed with the finished job. In other word, this wasn't the kind of job that would cause a 14-year-old to say, "Cool, neat" or "tough," or whatever expression was in vogue at the time. But the other bike sort of was.

I was impressed with the guy's girlfriend though. And if I had had my wits about me then, I would have said, "I wasn't ready. Can you do tha again?"

Thank you for reading my blog, and for leaving a kind note.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Woody:

Thank you for your good-natured observation. But one in hand is better than one with a bush... Or something like that.

For me, the whole point of this story is that the most amazing stuff has happened to me throughout my entire life... And I thnk this was the start of it.

Thank you for reading and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Domingo):

I do not deny that have a strong preoccupation with the naked female form. In truth, I was pondering breasts ten minutes after I was born. Old habits die hard.

It's interesting... A number of new riders are very apprehensive about taking a motorcycle out into traffic. I had ridden a ten speed bike at outrageous speeds (downhill) out in traffic for so many years before I ever got on a motorcycle that I never gave it a second thought.

But I have never not given McGuffies a second thought.

I'm glad you got a laugh out of this.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick:

Can you believe the fucking rain outside today? The wind from this bullshit "N'or Easter" is causing the tress to shiver, dropping millions of leaves to the ground in one endless slime patch. I could scream.

If it abates even a little tomorrow, I might try to ride into breakfast. That would amaze everybody.

See you tomorrow.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

A Vespa does have its advantages in certain social circles. It seems to me you must have to shoo the singing nuns out of the driveway. Besides, you're the only guy I know who's ridden 10 new bikes in one summer.

Thank you for writing in and for reading my tripe.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Conchscooter said...

I rode bicycles at home in England, at school in England and at home in Italy until I got motorized at an impressionably young age and never did a woman show me her breasts. Which probably saved me at least one life long obsession.
Every single obsession I got I had to work for, son.
And who taught the impressionable young working class stiff about schools of painting? Did all those taxes your Dad paid in New Jersey ( you should see the old one, an island full of tax exiles and Conchs) get you a proper education?

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conch:

I have the kind of face that women find "interesting," in the beginning. They all get over it. But during the interesting phase, many have indulged me for no greater satisfaction than to see a genuine sense of boyish wonder wash over my face like a tide.

I loved riding my bicycle... It became a simple escape machine to get out of horrible Jersey City. But it was an escape that slogged through a sea of sweat. One day, I slung my ass over the saddle of a Kawasaki H2, and never looked back. Hills that previously required strategy and demanded muscle to conquor now only needed a twist of the wrist... And 70 miles per hour everywhere became the order of the day.

Regarding my education... My father (God rest his soul) and my mother decided that the public school system in New Jersey was not up to the task of beating the shit out of me in the most productive manor, and I was entusted to the Roman Catholic parochial school network until the eighth grade, and then the Jesuits until college.

I studied the Hudson River school of painting, Shakespeare in the Park, and Baroque music at the hands of Jesuit priests (prep school), at a cost of 1/10 of my farher's salary, who still paid local school taxes -- despite thinking that system was less than effective.

But my dad was also a man of mercy. I was accepted into Xavier Prep in New York, which was a military academy/high school. He took pity on my wailing, crying, and constant pissing in my pants, and spared me that agony.

I learned far more in high school than I ever did in college.

By the way, were you one of those "fags" in Britain, who had to run around, performing acts of obsequious obeisance for upperclassmen?

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Joe Dille said...


Great piece. I grew up in White plains and went over the Tappan Zee many times.

Unfortunately, I have never been offered the view you received.

I did not know 9W was a bicycling road. I will have to put it on my list.

Ride Safe,


MackBeemer said...

Lovely read, Jack. Hey, you know what? You oughta take up writing for a living! No shit!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Joe Dille:

Route 9W is affectionately known as the "Old Road" running north to Albany, NY from the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, NJ.

The stretch from Ft. Lee to the state line is very pleasant. Moreso is the Henry Hudson Drive -- under the GWB, on the New Jersey side as part of Palisades Interstate Park. From the State line to Nyack it has it's nice points, though I daresay a lot more traffic.

It gets nicer headed into Bear Mountain State Park, with a lot of uphill climbing. There is an amazingly fast hill down to the edge of the river just before Bear Mountain, and the ride back up to the lodge there is a hard pull. Bear Mountain State Park connects with Harriman State Parkand it is possible to ride your bike in early spring or fall in light traffic all the way over to Rt. 17. There are seven lakes in this park and many have camping.

But if I were going to ride a bicycle through Harriman Park today, I'd cart in up in a car.

Fondest regards,
Jsck • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mack:

I'd venture to say you have a tale or two to tell yourself.

If my calendar is correct, I'll be seeing you and Karen on Sunday. The absolute earliest Yar wants anyone there is 11:30am.

Thanks for reading this tripe and for sending in your comment.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Ihor advisedly said...

The Tappan Zee Bridge is due to be replaced in the near(8 years)future. Get a look and enjoy while you can, loyal readers!
Just back ffom 9 days in the Adirondacks, 4 days of work and 5 days of fishing. Cold,rain-free, with a bit of snow that was gone by dinner. Most of the canoeing was a boat ride, streamside was more productive. Saw a beaver in the Ausable,(east of the Route 9 bridge, north of the Chasm), twice. Sorry, no picture.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Ihor:

It is my understanding they are going to replace it with a ferris wheel and a small theme park. There is nothing like a stimulus package. They will undoubtedly buils a new bridge right next to the old one. weekend traffic coming down from the Adirondacks will still be backed up to the rings of Saturn.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

irondad said...

Man, were you lucky. I mean, your first experience was pleasant. The first pair I saw that a woman showed me ( as opposed to my peeking in bedroom windows ) was not that sweet.

There was this girl in high school that had a lot under her sweater. One day I rode to her house on my Suzuki dual sport 185. Hey, that's what we had back then. Her parents were gone. I finally got her to show me. They were fat, bloated, pale, and covered with big blue veins. I actually told her to put them away.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Irondad:

Did she turn off the lights before letting you look? Is there a possibility that you were looking at her grandmother's? This sometimes happens in the heat of the moment. At least 40 Suzuki riders have all called me with the same story.

You guys must have lived on the same block.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Lance said...

Jack, a wonderful account. I really enjoyed reading this, and it took me back to my 14 years, when a chance encounter such as yours was this young man's hope.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Lance:

Thank you for your kind note this morning. While a certain percentage of the tripe I write is subject to embellishment, this piece was not. And I remember it like it was yesterday.

I bet we did that ride on bicycles a hundred times between the time I was 14 and 16-years-old. That was a one-time event. Quite frankly, I'm sorry I didn't take the shot of tequilla too.

Look for the sequal to that piece tomorrow.

Thank you for reading and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads