Monday, February 28, 2011

How Not To Maintain A Low Profile...

It was to be my first year of long rides following a 25-year absence from motorcycles. Riders I’d met on a former About.Com motorcycle list where putting together an event called the BuRP Rally, at a hotel in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. (BuRP stood for The Blue Ridge Parkway and “u.”) This group of about 35 riders met annually in this resort town to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Cherahala Skyway, The Dragon’s Tail, and west to Cherokee. I jokingly said that I wanted to make the ride... Which I did, though I wasn’t serious about actually doing it. As a fat, out-of-shape, bullshit re-entry rider who had only recently joined a BMW riding club, my longest ride to that date had been 70 miles.

Yet a kindly gentleman, by the name of Steve Assan, who hailed from the west coast, publicly posted the line, “If I can ride from the Pacific to attend the BuRP Rally, Riepe can certainly ride down from Pennsylvania.” And such was the challenge that brought me to North Carolina and Tennessee three months later. The ride down on a 1986 BMW K75 (with a rare Sprint Fairing) was the forge upon which I learned about moto- friendship, pushing myself, and finding my limits on two wheels. While I rode in the company of Wayne Whitock and his wife Lucy most of the way down, I rode back alone, and once again tasted the seductive allure of riding solo.

Above: Steve Assan, traveling light, at Mono Lake, enroute to the "BuRP" Rally in 2006. His public challenge forced me to take two long distance rides, most of which were "solo." He looks tough... But he's not that tough. Photo from Steve Assan.

I was home just long enough to gas up the bike and do laundry for a ride up to Burlington, Vermont, where the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (MOA) was hosting a full-scale rally that would attract nearly 10,000 riders. My plan was to head north to the town of Lake Placid, New York (in the heart of the majestic Adirondacks), spend a few days, and the cross Lake Champlain to the fairgrounds in Burlington. I was thrilled to be headed to the Adirondacks. I had lived there for more than 18 years, and now dreamed of running into old friends, and shooting between the mountains on valley roads astride this magnificent if not somewhat peculiar bike.

Above: Three desperados of the worst kind... (From Left) Wayne Whitlock -- Harley Davidson; Tony Luna — BMW; and Mack Harrell — BMW R1200GS. Wayne rode with me to Maggie Valley ("So you won't kill your fat ass on the way down.") and Mack Harrell rode north with me to Lake Placid. Tony Luna joined Wayne and me for the "BuRP" Rally, but finished a ride on the Cherahala Highway strapped to a gurney in a helicopter. A stone wall ran right out in front of him. The guys were assembled in my garage for the 2nd Annual Amish Horse Pile Swerve Ride. Photo by the author.

The High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks offers beautiful motorcycling through incredible scenery; into some of the country’s first and most prestigious resort towns; communities that are not served by any direct highway nor airport. It is seldom ever really crowded here, through weather that changes hourly can be a consideration. The area includes Saranac Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake, Tupper Lake, and Old Forge (one of the coldest places in the lower 48 states in winter.) I have three great friends up there who ride, and I was dying to cut up rough with them.

Above: In this outline map of New York State, the Adirondack Park is indicated in bright green, inside the "Blue Line" Boundary. It is larger in land area than three US States: Rhode Island, Delaware, and Vermont. The park is governed by a "Forever Wild" policy that was years ahead of its time. Diagram from Wikipedia.

But there was one potential difficulty. The region is also home to a former wife of mine, who worships the quicksand I walk on. While relations between the two of us were cordialy frozen, I was always afraid the ice could crack and I’d be pitched headlong into some kind of a dispute. (My initial departure had been sudden, as it occurred to me that I was close to being murdered. But this is all magma under the bridge.) I was not entirely surprised to get a call from her on the day before my departure north.

She had heard I was coming. (Some bastard talked.) She wanted to know, pleasantly enough, where I was staying, who I was going to see, and how long I was going to be in town. While I had an agenda as rigid as that of a visiting head of state, my response to all of these questions was, “I don’t know.” I was staying in one of the nicest hotel properties in Lake Placid (when rooms were impossible to get) through the good graces of the sales manager, who is a friend of mine through the travel industry. I was visiting a handful of close friends, who got amnesia whenever my name was mentioned. And our riding schedule was somewhat serendipitous, as it entailed riding across Lake Champlain into Vermont. I was reasonably certain that no chance encounters were likely to occur. While the resolution of marital discord is usually final, who can tell what is likely to happen in the minds of former spouses who see themselves as the aggrieved party? And it is only prudent to proceed with caution when tiptoeing around women who are crack shots or who are recognized international authorities in human toxicology. I shit you not. She could plink the eye out of a chipmunk with an assault rifle and knew how to fix toothpaste so brushing you teeth resulted in a heart attack. She was not from around here, and they teach different things in Soviet-Bloc colleges. (In her defense, Leslie has felt like killing me on a number of occasions too.)

Above: I-87, the Adirondack Northway, is a superslab that gets very pretty just north of Lake George, NY. Photo from the Internet.

The run north was made in the company of my old friend Mack Harrell, a dedicated BMW R1200GS rider. Mack was aware of my riding limitations and thought we might get as far as Albany, NY, or Lake George, NY, before I gave out. This was a logical conclusion as the total run to Lake Placid would be 400 miles, a bit far for me even then. It was a July day and it was hotter than hell. We clawed our way up the Pennsylvania Turnpike to I-84, and crossed into New York State below the Catskills, at the place where Pensylvania, New York, and New Jersey all meet at one corner. I had to stop three times to suck down cans of ice cold diet Coke. My knees were already raging, and Albany seemed about as far as was reasonable. We stopped at every other rest area on the New York State Thruway, so I could put my feet down.

Yet there was a kind of madness on me when we got to Albany. “Fuck this place,” I thought. “I didn’t bust my balls all day to spend the night in a big city motel.” I looked at Mack and said, “Lets press on a bit farther.”

The Adirondack Northway, I-87, is a superslab that runs from Albany (the capital city of New York) to the Canadian border. In the mid-1960’s, it was judged the most scenic interstate in the United States. The road is heavily-traveled and somewhat honkey-tonk until it gets to the over-used resort community of Lake George (the Seaside Heights of the North Country). You enter the Adirondack Park in Lake George, and the “blue line boundary” of the park is marked by a sign, and a line painted across the road. (The Adirondack Park is the largest state park in any of the lower 48 states, spanning 7 million acres, and containing 1200 lakes. The park is home to bear, wolves, mountain lions and some of the best trout fishing in the United States. It’s southernmost boundary is 4 hours north of New York City. For the record, it is larger than any three national parks in the lower 48 states added together.)

Mack Harrell and I stopped at the rest area in Glens Falls, NY, just short of Lake George. I had sweated out all the moisture in my body, which was good, as I wouldn’t have been able to get off the bike to take a piss.

“Are we gonna look for a place in Lake George?” Mack asked.

Lake George is home to 5 or 6 big chain hotels, and 30 others in the immediate area, and countless little “No-Tell Motels” on the periphery. There were about 50 great places to eat, including a Polish restaurant (that is sadly no longer there). The resort town is honkey-tonk in the extreme, but sometimes that has a charm all its own.

“No,” I said. The madness had spread to my soul. “We’re going all the way to the heart of the High Peaks Region. Next stop: Lake Placid.”

Mack Harell looked at me in open-mouthed disbelief.

It was only another 86 miles to go, but we’d already been in the saddle for 7 hours and two weeks prior, this stretch alone would have been 16 miles farther than my longest ride. The Northway gets real pretty just a few miles outside of Lake George, and I started to remember a thousand details that I had forgotten in the 5 years that I had been away. There is a mountain in the middle of nowhere, upon which someone has painted the word, “Hello,” on a rock face at the top. I first saw it in 1971, when I was 17. It has been repainted every few years since, and is like a handshake from an old friend. We roared past the sparsely-settled expanse of Schroon Lake. It was a deeper blue than the sky above it, and reflected a dozen huge white clouds.

Above: Route 73, a ribbon of pavement in a vast wilderness, in New Yok State Adirondack High Peak's Region. Photo from the Internet.

Finally, we hit the exit for US-9, north, a two-lane road that disappeared into the deep woods. Two miles later we pulled over at the Prince Phillip spring, an icy cold torrent of sweet, pure water that bubbled up from the ground. It made my teeth ache. Gone was any hint of the big road. US-9 is simply a nicely paved stretch running into Essex County, NY. There is the most insane interchange (if you can call it that) between US-9 and RT. 73. It is called “Dysfunction Junction” by the locals. While there is a preponderance of “Stop” and “Yield” signs, the locals will barrel into this intersection (where there is usually no traffic at all), pausing in the vaguest sense of the word.

Above: Hidden, mysterious, and beautiful waterfalls on the creeks running parallel to Route 73. This one is in Keene Valley, NY. Photo from the internet.

And it is here that Rt. 73 becomes the pavement of God. It parallels a mountain brook that looks right out of a Thomas Cole painting. There are tight turns, sudden changes in elevation, and a stupendous rock face, about 2,000 feet high — shooting out of Chapel Pond, one of the few bodies of water in the area that are home to “splake.” Barely a mile from this dramatic setting, the road clings to to the lip of a valley, which falls a thousand feet to the right, showcasing a waterfall and another sheer rock face. Rt. 73 plunges several hundred feet in elevation, to go though the towns of St. Hubert, Keene Valley, and Keene. I have a strong attachment to each of these places. I sat on a blanket with the love of my life (Leslie/Stiffie) on an unbelievably exquisite golf course in St. Huberts, when the July Sky was filled with fireworks. And Leslie and I have made love in remote shadows and hidden glades on a stream that runs through here. There was a bookstore in Keene Valley, The Cozy Bear, in which I had my first book signing. The store sold $2,000 worth of stock that day, and I was interviewed for the 6pm news by the CBS affiliate in Plattsburgh.

The road climbs coming out of Keene, NY and parallels the Cascade Lakes in a valley that is tighter than my riding pants. Each of these lakes is a heavily protected body of water that flows like steps from one to the other. And it was here, on a perfect summer morning, that I married the second Mrs. Riepe as the sun rose over the mountains. A boom box played Gregorian chants and classical churchbells, as the local judge, Arnold Rothman, pronounced us man and wife. Ten years earlier, Arnold Rothman sold me my first resident’s fishing license when I moved into the area.

Above: The plushest hotel committed to timeless Adirondack ambience in Lake Placid, New York, is the Crowne Plaza Resort and Golf Club Lake Placid. When I stay in town, this is my preferred residence. Photo from the internet.

It was getting dark now, and the heavy cool air that always lies in this valley began to refresh my soul. The demons that haunt me were in full control and numbed the pain in my limbs. There are two steep hills both in and out of that valley, with pronounced turns at each end. I cranked the throttle wide open and leaned way over, for once in my life taking a road like it was meant to be ridden, free from the fear that keeps me chained to reality. The K75 took over, and growled in German. It was on turf that was close enough to the black forest and it knew just what to do. It was fully dark by this time, and the road ahead became a basket of light woven by my brake caliper-mounted MotoLights. I passed a cottage that had been the home of a blond who had been a love interest for a year. (She melted in my arms on a trip to Europe, and refroze on the flight home.)

Above: A breathtaking lobby to frame a breathtaking view, at the Crowne Plaza Resort Hotel and Golf Club Lake Placid. The view is of Mirror Lake, and the range beyond. Photo from the internet.

And then we were on the main street of Lake Placid. This is a world class resort where the five stars of American hospitality shine with European elegance. The Crowne Plaza Resort and Golf Club Lake Placid sits on its own promontory, overlooking Mirror Lake. The suites in this hotel are as plush as any you will find in New York City. The regular rooms are extremely comfortable. I could barely get off the bike. Mack Harrell was as stiff as an ironing board, and walked like he was auditioning for a role in the remake of “The Mummy.” We came to rest at the bar, where he had straight whiskey and I had the bartender mix me a series of Tom Collins — made from scratch — and not with that fucked-up standard bar sour mix.

The seed for this ride’s punch line was planted the next day.

Mack was out the door at the crack of dawn, headed for Montreal. There was a lady in that city who would throw her caution and her panties to the wind when he was in town. He was picking her up for the rally.

I felt like Barabbas, who was spared the crucifixion of riding that day, with room service and a dedicated bartender at hand. And yet, I had come to ride. Throwing my leg over the saddle elicited a loud crack from my left hip. “Fuck me,” I thought. I had a hard time getting my left leg up to the pedal, and a harder time trying to get it down again. And this was on the lowest saddle to ever grace a BMW K75. It was called the “Comfort” saddle and came with the Sprint Fairing package. It may have been pure comfort for someone like a Romanian gymnast, but I thought it had been designed as an interrogation aid by the North Korean Secret Police.

I retraced the previous day’s run and soared down through the interconnecting valleys like a condor. I had had a couple of tense moments in town with my stiff leg, but it gradually stretched into something like normalcy, or what was normal for me in 10 or 15 miles. I went left at “Dysfunction Junction,” and followed US- 9 into Elizabethtown, the county seat. This stretch of US-9 runs through a couple of little farm plots, a few horse paddocks, and fields being taken over by trees. It parallels a wild stream that forms deep hidden pools, dances over waterfalls, and flirts with the road. The bike cut through shaded areas, which held the sudden coolness of the previous night, only to surface on open, flat stretches that lived up to the reputation of July.

It was here, in Elizabethtown, that I considered stopping for breakfast. Trolling at about 15 miles per hour, I came upon a scene right out of Norman Rockwell’s sketchbook. A dozen little kids, about 6-years-old, were running a car wash to raise money for their town’s summer program. Usually, I only stop when these things are being run by the local college’s girl’s field hockey team, and they are out in force in their bathing suits. But there was something so compelling about this, that I ground to a halt. The car wash wash was $2.50. I offered the kids $5 bucks, telling them and the adult with them, that they only had to wash the wheels and windscreen. I didn’t want them to touch anything that was hot.

The kids were like a force of little Tasmanian devils. They started cheering, “A motorcycle... A motorcycle...” And then they began to wash the wheels and the fairing like little Michelangelos working on the Sistine Chapel. This was the most incredible thing to watch. And then it happened... Suddenly, she was there.

“Excuse me, Sir,” asked a voice. The voice was attached to a cute woman wearing glasses. I noticed the glasses and her smile first. Then I took in her ass, which was pretty nice too. She was a reporter for the local paper and thought it interesting that a peculiar looking motorcycle, with Pennsylvania plates, had stopped in town for the kid’s car wash. “So why did you stop?” she asked.

I told her I had originally lived a few towns over, that I was up for a BMW motorcycle rally in neighboring Vermont, and that I was cruising for breakfast. I saw the sign and the kids, and thought I’d show up at the rally with clean wheels. She wrote everything down and took my picture.

Then I asked her where I could get a nice breakfast (which I already knew), and asked her to join me, so I could continue to tell her many interesting things. She answered my question with the universal look that said, “Tell your story walking, asshole.”

The rally was fantastic and full of adventure. I had a raging pisser of a great time. The ride home was solo and also challenging. Combined with the trip to Maggie Valley, it was the first time in 25 years that I had taken two weeks off from work. I was back home a day, when I got another call from the second former Mrs. Riepe.

“You didn’t know where you were staying up here,” she said.

“You didn’t know who you were going to see.” she said.

“Nobody remembers seeing you,” she said.

“And yet, you are on the front page of the fucking newspaper. Why am I not surprised?” she asked.

But it was a rhetorical question. Otherwise, I would have had to say, "I don't know."

Above: The front page of The Valley News, a publication that had the good sense to reject my application as a reporter almost 20 years ago. One more time, my philosophy of maintaining a low profile is sacrificed for maintaining a wide one. This was in July of 2006.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What Guys Talk About On A Long Ride...

It was our last night on the road to Asheville, North Carolina. Pete Buchheit, Dick Bregstein and I had ridden south to attend the annual rally for the BMW Riders Association (BMW RA), which was being held on the grounds of the historic Biltmore Estate. While many in my riding club, the southeastern Pennsylvania-based Mac-Pac, easily made this 620-mile trip in one day (on back roads), the boys and I did it in three. This was partly because we came most of the way on the Blue Ridge Parkway and didn’t want to rush the experience; and mostly because of my debilitating arthritis. The pain in my knees and left hip gets pretty bad after four or five hours in the saddle, but does not reset itself to “zero” over night. I start out the second day with the pain meter reading 25 percent of total tolerance, and can look forward to 50 percent at the beginning of day three. I am fortunate to have patient, and kind riding buddies who are willing to accommodate my limitations.

Above: This is one of my favorite pictures of "Blueballs," a 1986 BMW K75. It was 20 years old in this picture and was routinely pulling the ton (no pun intended nor accepted). This is one of my favorite pictures. It was taken by Dick Bregstein shortly before we pulled into Asheville. Four days later, this beautiful motorcycle was totaled.

I try to compensate by sparking outrageous good times and by being the catalyst for impossibly funny situations. On the way down, we stayed in one place that had great accommodations, but which could only be reached by a long, negatively-cambered gravel road that had been washed out in 10 places. The office was a mile away from our rooms, and in hindsight, we should have gone to dinner first. I don’t like gravel under any circumstances, but I absolutely detest it at the end of a long, hot day, when my hips and knees are making me see things in shades of plaid. I willingly admit I had a couple of touch and go spots on this stretch, where I almost dropped the K75 in the washout ruts.

“I think we’re in for the night,” said Pete, looking down the gravel ski slope. “To hell with dinner, we’ll just eat a big breakfast.”

Bregstein agreed.

“Fuck that,” I said. “It’s our last night together as a little group on this trip and we are going to have a party. I’ll call the woman who manages this place and offer her $40 to drive us into town. There has to be a pizza place or a Chinese joint somewhere around here.”

Above: Beer and Chinese food on the verandah at dusk. Pete Buchheit, Dick Bregstein and I (and later Clyde Jacobs, when we voted Bregstein off the island) have had some of the best times together, drinking whiskey, smoking cigars, and watching the stars come out on distant bike trips.

Above: One of the many vistas on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here I am parked behind Pete Buchheit's 2003 BMW K1200S. I am sitting on my bike in every picture taken on this trip because it hurt too much to dismount. Picture taken by Pete Buchheit. Buchheit and Bregstein were in a competition to see who could take the most unflattering picture of me.

I should mention that this is our standard procedure. When we arrive at a hotel in a rural community where the concept of a cab is alien, we bribe someone at the hotel to drive us to a local gin mill or tavern, where we can get a decent taste of the local cuisine, and knock off about 20 drinks. This way no one is anywhere near a motorcycle with half a bag on. Neither Peter nor Dick (both names are synonymous with penis in colloquial US English) wanted to deal with this gravel stretch again, either to save me the embarrassment of crying, or to save themselves the effort of picking up my bike.

But I was hungry and had a particular hankering for Chinese food.

A call to the manager resulted in a tone of surprise.

“I thought BMW riders could ride over anything to go anywhere,” she said. “That road really has you spooked?”

“Not me,” I replied. “But those other two guys are old and they get frightened easily.” It was then I made the offer of $40. She seemed equally surprised that I would pay someone that much for a short ride into town.

“I’m baking a surprise for my husband tonight and want to get it done before he comes home. But if you’re ready we can go now. Town is only about ten minutes away. I’ll be right over to pick you up.”

Pete and Dick were each sitting in rocking chairs, looking out over the Shenandoah Valley. Pete was sipping a vodka martini and Dick was drinking vodka and prune juice, which he calls a “Squatting Russian.”

“You guys aren’t going to believe this, but she is willing to take me into town provided I throw her a fast pop, before her husband gets home.”

The unholy two looked at me and laughed.

“I’m serious,” I said. “She just told me flat out... She didn’t want the money... Just a good old-fashioned, meat-tenderizing, plowing of the lower forty. And she jumped right in the truck to come and get it.

“Aren’t you going to shower?” asked Dick, with a total look of incredulousness.

“She told me she wants it fast, down and dirty... Before the old man gets home. I’m just gonna lay there like the Woolworth Building and let her jump up and down on Thor’s hammer.”

“When is he supposed to get back?” asked Pete. “You might be cutting this kind of fine.”

Before I could fabricate an answer, a jeep came bouncing up the road, and the manager, who was an attractive brunette in her mid-40’s, yelled out the window, “We’ve got 40 minutes before Bob comes home. Let’s get ‘er done.”

I thought Pete and Dick were going to shit themselves.

“They are kind of old,” she said to me, as we headed down the gravel track.

And then with a graciousness that you can only find in the American south, this lady whom I barely knew for more than ten minutes said to me, “Keep your money and take the car. I’m baking a cake for my husband and I don’t want to rush.” The Chinese joint was 15 minutes away. You would think that Chinese food in rural North Carolina would taste like shit (compared with what you’d find in New York City’s Chinatown) but this stuff was great. I ordered five entrees, plus egg rolls and spare-ribs. (Did you ever notice how you get the munchies on a road trip about 10pm, and wish there was something like egg roll or spareribs to eat?) I put $20 worth of gas in the car. The kitchen was a hubbub of baking activity when I got back. The manager was up to her smile in flour and eggs, and just told me to leave the jeep in the driveway, with the keys on the counter, and to take the golf cart up to the cabin. I folded two twenties in half, and left them under the keys.

“Did you do it?” asked Pete when I pulled up.

“Of course. She was unbelievable,” I said, passing out the Chinese food.

“So what happened?” pressed Bregstein.

“What do you think happened? She made me sit in a big recliner, then climbed on with her legs over the arms and whaled away.”

Pete and Dick looked at each other in total amazement.

“Did you pay her anything for the car?” asked Pete.

“She didn’t want money... She wanted certified Jersey City love python, and she got it.” With that, I absolutely refused to say anymore about the subject, and neither one of these guys could tell if they were being hosed or not.

Checking out the next morning, the manager told us to help ourselves to the coffee — but she poured mine. “You were very kind last night,” she said, jingling the car keys.”

“As were you,” I replied.

“Are you boys coming back this way,” she asked. And then to me, “I saved you a piece,” pointing at the cut cake.

I thought I heard Bregstein choke.

I couldn’t look at either one of these two guys as we saddled-up and headed out for breakfast. But Pete and I have been friends for over 20 years and I knew he suspected fraud. The diner where we were having breakfast was about 5 miles distant, and it can take me that long to stretch my knees when first starting out. I found a tight parking space in front, and reached around behind me (without looking) to fish my folding cane out of the top case. I wasn’t having much luck with the latch, when suddenly, another pair of hands popped the lock and handed me the cane. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the sweetest little old southern lady, wearing a kind of bonnet.

“Two pairs of hands are sometimes better than one,” she said with a smile. “I used to ride a Harley Davidson before the war.” I figured she meant World War Two, but the waitress in the diner called her "Miss Gracie," and Bregstein thought she could have ridden an H-D before the War Between The States.

“You were lucky she didn’t see the Pennsylvania plate and beat the shit out you with that cane to settle the score at Gettysburg,” said Bregstein.

“Do you want us to wait while you tap that one too?” asked Pete. Some guys can be so petty at times.

The bike I was riding on that trip was Blueballs, a 1986 BMW K75, with the rare Sprint fairing. I was the machine’s third owner. Pete Buchheit had been its first. Pete was splitting off to head for Maryland after breakfast, while Dick and I were continuing on to Asheville. What none of us knew nor even suspected was that four days later that K75 would be a pile of wreckage and my trajectory would end in a Virginia hospital.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

Strasburg by Twisted Roads


According to an ancient Chinese proverb (which may have been spawned on the city desk of a US newspaper in the 1920’s), “One picture is worth a thousand words.” This is one of those enduring bromides that just seems to drip wisdom and sense. The truth of the statement regarding the photograph depends on the subject of the picture, and who took it. A bad picture can be rescued by snappy text. But bad text can never be revived by a bad photo. And a good photo just makes bad text look even worse. That is why nervous writers like myself brush our teeth with gin in the morning as part of the creative editorial process that paints a series of pictures in the minds of dedicated readers.

I like to think I write the kind of stories that seduce the reader from paragraph to paragraph. But there are times when I am inclined to let the gentle reader relax between transitions by looking at a picture that is unique, odd, sexy, or just interesting. This is tough to do as all my photographs look like shit. My pictures suck so badly that they would stick to the surface of a waterfall... A really big waterfall... Like Niagara Falls. Many other motorcycle blog writers take great pictures. It is something they like to do. I am inspired by pain and aggravationto take shitty pictures. On most of my motorcycle rides, I arrive at our destination having chewed through the strap in my helmet, dripping sweat that kills the grass by the side of the road.

Above: The YouTube video at the end of this blog was taken using this tiny Apple iPod Nano. It has limitations, but it was a snap to edit on iMovie, barely taking longer than an hour. This is the screen-side. Photo by the author.

Competition from other riders for reader attention got hot for a bit with the advent of moto-video. Yet moto-video is very different from carefully composed still shots. It is generally taken from cameras mounted on a helmet or the handlebars, and which simply records mile after mile of a run. Now unless a rider is skirting the rim of the Grand Canyon, riding the Road of Death in Bolivia, or racing through the back alleys of the whore district (Reeperbahn) in Hamburg, Germany, there isn’t a lot to see. When it comes to straightaways, sweepers, and country roads, we all have a story tell — and that little video camera seldom gets the job done.

Above: The camera side of the Apple iPod Nano. US Quarter Dollar coin (now worth 6 cents) provided for scale. Photo by the author.

I have no interest in buying one of the current handlebar-mounted cameras. Then fate brought me to an Apple computer store one day last summer, and I got to play with an iPod Nano, which as the approximate size of a short stack of business cards (a stack of about 10). It was $175, held 400 songs, eight hours of prerecorded video (movies), and a few hours of movies you could take with the onboard camera. It had no options for zoom or anything else. According to the salesperson, a hot little cookie named Chrissy, this tiny device could take remarkable movies that would almost download themselves onto my MacBook, and through iMovie, would allow me to stabilize the video, adjust the lighting, dub in sound, and play with some surprising special effects. She then showed me sample video taken by the iPod Nano. It was astounding. (It was also taken by a team of experts, under ideal lighting conditions, and edited by a Hollywood studio.)

The $175 flew from my pocket.

I had an idea for a radical concept: Twisted Roads TV. This would be a monthly video program that would go far beyond the standard moto-video. It would be a chronicle of select destinations, with pertinent interviews (of some surprising figures in motorcycle circles), with related footage. In my initial concept, I thought to use one or two of these iPod Nanos to simplify the editing, to reduce costs, and get double the usage out of the camera/devices. I also intended to combined the video with a decent story lead-in. Today’s blog episode is my first initial experiment in this direction. The video is primitive... Shakey in places... And the limitations of the iPod Nanos (no longer offered by Apple in this configuration) became obvious in the shooting and in the editing. (The iPod Nano cannot be used by the rider on the road.) Yet from little acorns, mighty oaks might grow. (Another stupid bromide.)

Strasburg — By Twisted Roads

It was the kind of clear, summer day on which you were absolutely compelled to ride... But the conspiracy of heat and humidity would see to it that you wouldn’t ride far. A ride would seem cooling as long as you were moving, and unaware of the moisture being sucked from your body through your mesh gear. You have to stop sooner or later, and unless you are by a place where the lake is remote, the beer is cold, and the women undiscerning, then you will be compelled to retrace your steps, probably in worse heat regenerated by stalled traffic. Pennsylvania is one of those states that gives the impression that a good time for many is sticking their thumbs up their own ass, while tap dancing. It has no seashore. The mountains that are close are table-sized and crowded. The mountains that are far are home to more bear than deer, and your chances of running into a deer are much higher than finding a joint with great topless dancers.

Yet those of us who live in the southeast corner of the state are blessed with options. World-class beaches are only three or four hours away in New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. Better still are the tiny, dead-end roads that lead to shore communities famous for their three-stool bars and great seafood. And if one is determined to find a relative coolness under the trees, or the solace of open farmland drenched with tradition, the Amish fields of Lancaster are 40 minutes to the west. It was there I pointed the business end of my K75. My destination would be a familiar one — The Strasburg Rail Road — on Rt. 741, in Strasburg, Pa. It would be cool here in the sense that it is home to some of the greatest technical transportation marvels of the late 19th Century. Yet it is an atmosphere of sulfurous coal smoke, clouds of steam, and trickling streams of boiling water — located in the heart of Amish cornfields, that follow the contours on interconnecting valleys.

Above: The unique and picturesque switch tower overlooking the siding at the Strasburg Rail Road, in Strasburg, Pa. This photo, which does not suck, was taken by Leslie Marsh.

I had some company on this run. My riding partner Dick Bregstein was joined by a posse of John Clauss, Bobby LeBoutlier, and Jay Scales. (Clyde Jacobs would turn up later at our destination.) These guys are all better riders than I am, but each thought the idea of fooling around with making a video in and around these ancient, bellowing trains would be a pisser. Bregstein, LeBoutlier, and Scales are of the BMW “R” bike persuasion. Their machines each sport twin horizontal cylinders, whose basic design would predate by a year one of the locomotives we’d see today. The aroma of burning coal is like the scent of quim to these guys, who work the throttle with one hand and stoke the boiler of their bikes with the other.

Above: Two massive locomotves awaiting restoration at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, across the street from the Strasburg Rail Road. Photo by Leslie Marsh.

John Clauss rides a vintage BMW K100, which is a K75 with an extra cylinder. Clauss’s bike sports the OEM full fairing, which was the predecessor for the stock K75’s sense of homeliness. If Clauss’s bike were elected prom queen, the other kids in the class would dump pig’s blood on it. (Clauss knows this but refuses to throw in the towel.) On the other hand, Clyde Jacob’s 2004 BMW K1200GT is one of the most beautiful and impressive motorcycles ever to roll out of Bavaria. I will own one some day.

The ride to Strasburg was uneventful, and fast. It was the expressway (the US-30 bypass) most of the way. But this stretch of mini-slab is surrounded by cornfields, cattle, and barns with silos. Picking up Rt. 741 in the town of Gap, we were compelled to share the road with Amish buggies, tow-headed kids chasing hoops with sticks, and the occasional plow — crossing the road drawn by four of the biggest draft horses, or mules, you have ever seen.


I had a interesting experience on this road the week before. An Amish family was selling pulled pork, barbecued chicken, and potato salad by the side of the road (on trestle tables that had been carried in open wagons). I am partial to the local non-carbonated, home-brewed root beer peddled by these folks, and saw bottles of it on ice. I downshifted my K75 and managed a tight 380-foot U-turn over to their stand. Pulling right up the table, it was my intention to get a sandwich and a bottle of root beer without getting off the bike.

Then I saw her.

Amish women have the reputation of either being boney-assed, or for being no-fun Pennsylvania Dutch noodle-eating versions of American Gothic. The person standing in front of me was unquestionably one of the most beautiful ladies I have seen in my entire life. She was tall, willowy, tanned, and her body was accented by the stark lines of her dress and apron. I couldn’t see her hair for her starched bonnet, and she was wearing heavy-framed glasses. I had a suspicion that whatever she put on would only make her look better as it came off. And for the second time in my life, I lost my ability to speak with a woman.

“Can I get you something?” she asked with a smile.

I simply nodded and looked down at the trestle table.

“Can I make you a pulled pork sandwich? All of the ingredients are fresh from our farm.”

Watching her lips frame the words “pulled pork” nearly caused me to lose consciousness.

“Yes, pull thar pork like taffy,” I thought, though I simply nodded.

“It comes with potato salad.”

“I'm not surprised,” I replied, unable to take my eyes off her face.

“Can you carry a plate of potato salad while riding your bike?” she asked, tilting her head slightly.

It was then I realized how stupid I was about to look juggling a sandwich, a plate of potato salad, and a bottle of home-brewed root beer on the gas tank of my K75.

“I’ll park it and come back,” I said. I rolled it back to the road under power, slipping the clutch. It didn’t take me 3 minutes to get the stand down and waddle back.

“That’ll be $4.75,” said a man’s voice.

The woman was packing up stuff in the wagon. She was bent over a basket lined with a plaid cloth, but I swear she was smiling, and trying hard not to laugh.

This guy was smooth-shaven, as lean as a rail, and as blond as elm wood. I’m told that the Amish are pacifists and "Dutch." But he looked like he’d be perfectly comfortable in a Waffen SS uniform, and equally at home with the idea of kicking me in the balls. I suspected I was not the first guy on a bike to pull up for pulled pork.


The boys and I pulled into Strasburg Station without fanfare. We were early and the first train of the day had not yet been assembled. Nearly everyone has seen a traditional steam locomotive. Whether it is in the book, “The Little Locomotive That Could,” or an old black and white western on TV, or Frank Sinatra in “Von Ryan’s Express,” everyone has an idea of what one of these things should look like. Yet at least one of the guys in our posse had never been here before, and the look on his face was priceless when #90 rolled out of the maintenance shed. The tolling brass bell, the hissing of the valves, and the metallic shuffle of the drive rods is captivating (to a guy), who realizes that this machine, weighing 175 tons, can pull 40-50 freight cars at speeds over 50 miles per hour. It’s one thing to see something like this in a movie or in a documentary. It’s quite another to be standing 8 feet away when this rolling steel mill taps into a line of standing passenger cars. (At one time the Pennsylvania Rail Road owned 598 of this particular model.) This locomotive is a Decapod, one of two operating in the world today.

The Strasburg Rail Road is one of my favorite short (40-mile) warm up runs. But I think I’ll let my video tell the rest of the story.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Know Your Hand Signals...

My blessing and my curse is that I cruise around in my own world, finding fascination in a thousand things that are regarded as too commonplace for more than a passing glance from anyone else. Sometimes, there is gold in these miniscule details in that I find a rare bit of history, unexpected beauty, raw emotion, or the scent of a unfolding story. And other times, I just get a couple of details that tell me the story is passed, or that I missed the punch line.

Above: Dick Bregstein, my riding partner. Photo by Leslie Marsh

I had just waved goodbye to Bregstein, concluding an early summer day’s ride through Amish country. The season was just getting started so that the killer heat and millions of tourist buses — enabling “das Englanders” to view the Amish in their natural habitat — had yet to make an appearance. Dick Bregstein and I have ridden thousands of miles together, and have grown quite comfortable with each other’s riding style and peculiarities. If I want to stop a lot, so does Dick. If I want to see something stupid, Bregstein acts like it’s his mission in life. And if I want to ride as fast as I can, Bregstein will be six inches off my back tire, guaranteeing we’ll share the same jail cell when they pull us over.

Dick was maneuvering for his farewell turn, when he looked over his shoulder, shot me a smile, and flipped me the bird.

“Aaaah, Dickie,” I thought. “You are a clever son of a bitch.”

Bregstein rides a traditional BMW R1150R, with a boxer engine that hangs a beer keg-sized cylinder out each side. These are so big that Dick once had a California condor nesting on one.

Above: Dick Bregstein's classic BMW R1150, which he named "Suzy Wong." Photo by Clyde Jacobs.

There was less than six very familiar miles to go on this run before I’d hit the garage door button — when the “others” passed me. I was sitting in traffic on a divided highway, in the middle lane, at a light. They came up on my left as red turned to green. Traffic in the left lane was already moving and these guys barely had to slow down at the intersection. They went by in a half-assed formation that managed to snag my attention in the two seconds it took for this scenario to unfold. Now under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t think of tagging onto an obvious group of friends (even if they sported the Roundel), especially if they were wearing colors or a group tee shirt. The “others” fit the spirit of guys who should have been wearing the same tee shirt, but who’d gone beyond that, maybe without intending to. And there was something else that piqued my interest too.

So I held onto second gear for a tad longer than necessary and did the same thing in third. My quarter horse of a K-75 wound up for the pitch, swung into the left lane, and caught up just in time to get in behind these boys at the next light.

The “others” were three guys riding identical Harley Davidsons. Now I do not profess to know much about Harleys, and I had to scan the HD product line to find a machine that matched the one that stuck in my memory. The 2010 “Street Bob” fit the bill exactly. These bikes were painted a lustrous jet black; the kind of black that you would get if you pulled all the stars out of heaven and were just left with the void. The shine on the chrome was such that the exhausts on these rigs could have been used as currency in ancient Rome. The thing that really caught my eye, however, was the handlebars. Not quite the traditional “ape hangers,” these handlebars still placed the riders’ hands at eye level. The rest of their bikes was basically naked and seemed to imply the rider was the portrait of minimalistic existentialism.

Above: Classic lines of 2010 Harly Davidson Street Bob. Sheer power and raw muscle,
in an authentic bobber ride Photo from Harly Davidson on the internet.

Now there are a million reasons why anyone gets a motorcycle, and there is a model or a design to meet each of those reasons. To my way of thinking, however, those handlebars looked like the prelude to crucifixion. But then again the seating position of any late model Ducati makes the rider look like a monkey humping a watermelon — in my opinion. And my aging, bloated carcass won’t do well on either the Harley Street Bob or any Ducati ever made. This story is not a judgement of marques nor of their unique characteristics.

There is nothing unusual in riders wearing the same gear either. Lots of different brand-name ballistic gear has a similar cut and look to it. The same goes for the leather stuff too. What seemed so utterly unusual is that these guys were dressed identically, without going the route of leather nor ballistic stuff. Each was wearing black boots, black jeans, a weathered flannel shirt, and a “do” rag. The shirts were a variation on a theme. The leader was sleeveless. The guy to his left had his sleeves rolled up and the guy to his right had his sleeves rolled down. All of these guys were in their early-twenties, and gave the impression that they were roofers or in construction. (Rugged looking and in good shape; the kind of boys you’d want behind you in a bar fight.) They could have been three guys riding home from work, where they were building a house or something. Three guys dressed identically... On three identical motorcycles... Hanging in the left lane... Barely reaching the speed limit.

I could just see three friends from high-school, getting in trouble together, getting jobs together, hanging out in the same bar together, and walking into a Harley dealership together, saying, “Give us three of those.” There is a certain element of enduring coolness in that. And yet, there might have been trouble in the making. I was certain of it. The leader was out in front, by about three car lengths. I never saw him take his eyes off the road. The two wingman were riding side-by-side — and having a running conversation.

This wasn’t easy to do.

For one thing, there was plenty of traffic. And for another, none of these bikes had the factory exhaust. The wingmen were shouting. I was 20 feet behind them, and I could hear every word over the enraged hummingbird growl of my K75’s engine. It was this shouting that caught my attention as they passed by. And while the Harley’s were identical as they had left the showroom, one of them had a gorgeous brunette on the pillion. I like looking at hot girl asses on motorcycles and this one was a contender for the hall of pillion candy fame.

She was about 19, had her long dark hair in a ponytail, and had a face that will undoubtedly inspire poetry and murder in her lifetime. She wore jeans that could have been applied by a plastic surgeon. Her ensemble was completed by an open denim jacket, that revealed a yellow blouse underneath. It was my conclusion that the guy whose pillion she was straddling was in far over his little pillion head. And the look on his buddy’s face said to me that he had reached the same conclusion... Because while he was shouting his remarks to his pal, he kept glancing back at the girl.

You all know how difficult it is to say anything to a rider on a bike next to you — especially under way. For this reason hand signals have been developed to convey critical information that precludes unnecessary conversation. Tapping the gas tank means “I need gas.” Tapping the top of your helmet means, “Some asshole cop with nothing better to do is monitoring our speed.” And flipping the bird to the guy on the red K75 means, “I had a nice time riding with you today, Jack.” Apparently, there is no hand signal to represent, “Yeah... I’m gonna ride out to the west coast... Malibu... Maybe start a band... Maybe do a video... Too bad I’m goin’ alone...” (I heard all this clearly, riding 20 feet behind them.)

This ongoing conversation between the two trailing Harley riders lasted through 4 traffic lights. The guy without the girl was doing most of the talking. His facial expression said it all though, and I was reminded of the lyrics from the 1981 hit “Jessie’s Girl,” by Rick Springfield. The boys turned onto a side road that was going in my general direction, and I decided to follow along. The conversation fell off as this was one lane in each direction, and the leader had picked up the pace. However, the next intersection had a couple of turn lanes and was wider than most. The light was red. The three musketeers were headed left and my garage beckoned straight ahead.

I pulled alongside of the rider with the pillion candy.

These three guys looked at me like I was a pile of dog shit, wearing a party dress and cha-cha heels, on a pink Vespa. Yet I would remind the gentle Twisted Roads reader of a favorite statement of Julius Caesar, Hitler, or Benjamin Franklin. (I forget who said it.) But it goes like this, “Divide and conquer.”

I lifted the face shield on my Nolan helmet and shouted, “You guys have great looking bikes... But I like yours best.” The brunette shot me a 1500-watt smile, and her boyfriend started laughing. The light changed in that instant, and I pulled away.

There may not be a hand signal to adequately express that you are planning a ride to California, where you might start a band or make a video; (whatever will get you laid first). But there is a hand signal to adequately express the appropriate response. It entails closing your hand like it is grasping a broomstick, and moving it vertically up and down.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hibernating In The "Man-Cave"

The purpose of cave paintings remains a highly disputed and volatile subject among archeologists today, nearly 32,000 years after the oldest of these have been discovered. It is academia’s dirty little secret that determining the “meaning of cave paintings” is the number two cause of death among boozed-up archeologists, who attempt to settle the issue with knives and point-blank gunfire — often within feet of primitive artwork that has been undisturbed throughout the millennia. (The number one cause of death among half-bagged archeologists in the field is knife-wounds and shotgun blasts sustained in attempts to impress tanned, well-racked coeds, who hang around about digs and excavations wearing only thongs, sweat, and Indiana Jones hats.)

One of the most famous cave paintings is in the French town of Merde De Chèvre. It depicts a single individual, most likely a hunter, walled up in a cave, squatting next to a fire, eating a roasted haunch, and drinking something (a fermented hop and yeast beverage no doubt) from a gourd, while a large female dog (evident by three sets of parallel teats) and another man, who is wearing a more formalized set of hides, stand outside — about to be eaten by a tyrannosaurus rex. The loosely-interpreted title of the image is “The Bitch and A Lawyer Get The Settlement They Deserve.”

While it seems truly impossible to determine the exact nature and purpose of cave paintings (either religious or as a kind of chronicle), it cannot be argued that many of these are of women in odd positions of repose, with oversize breasts being a primary element of the image. “What could these guys have been thinking,” I thought to myself, as I fastened centerfolds gleaned from 1970’s Playboy magazines, and calendars from the same era on the walls of my “man-cave,” otherwise known as the garage. The “Man-cave” had become the tomb of the beast for nearly all of this winter, as temperatures plummeted close to 0º degrees outside, and weren’t much higher inside.

The imperfect seal of the bay doors (a double, full-sized one for the two SUV’s and a smaller compact one initially for an Audi TT) let in some gray light, the odd confetti celebration of powdery snow, and concentrated blasts of frigid air off the tarmac of the upper driveway. In the small bay my 1995 BMW K75 sits on the center stand, with the reflection of the green LED of the battery tender making a peculiar “eye” in the curved windscreen of its Parabellum “Scout” fairing.

With the overhead florescent lights off, the man-cave is a gloomy place. For weeks, snow-caked fir trees have kept the sunlight from the eastern windows. There is only light from the western ones, and it is weak at the end of the day. I had the overhead lights installed 5 years ago. The three-bay garage was originally illuminated by two bare 55-watt bulbs dangling from the ceiling. The effect was to recreate the cozy atmosphere of a non-union copper mine a mile under the Andes. (This garage was designed and built by the famous contracting firm of Three Assholes Who Fled). The place is cold and my attempts to heat it have not been successful.

What seemed to work best was an old kerosene heater... But there was something in the way of a jet-engine scented exhaust, which filtered into the kitchen. Then a small, electric, ceramic disc “furnace” (heater) warmed something placed within three feet of its grill, but gave up the ghost when pointed at anything else. Two glowing propane-fired funnels did even less while effectively going through $27 bucks worth of gas. I had envisioned myself sitting out here in a Kermit chair, smoking a stogie the size of a Ducati muffler, sipping a huge mug of Irish coffee, while fiddling with odds and ends on the bike. My vision just didn’t seem to be. And for a second or so, I felt I may have been the cause of this endless winter, as I had purchased winter riding gear, to make the best of cold, dry, salt-free roads. (The motorcycle gods despise hubris.)

My Gerbings electric gear...!

The last garage-oriented purchase I made for this winter was a 5 amp AC to DC converter. It was $35 bucks and it is made in friggin’ China. The Gerbings Nubuck gloves plug into the jacket liner and the jacket liner plugs into the converter. The converter plugs into the wall and suddenly, it is July in February — and I am as warm as French toast, sitting in my Kermit chair. And when the mechanical odds and ends prove to be less than inspiring, I look up at my man-cave paintings, which have been primarily harvested and repurposed from the 1976 July Issue of Playboy Magazine. (This issue had the hottest centerfold since Barbie Benton and an insanely steamy pictorial of Kris Kristofferson and Sarah Miles). I am reminded that I was riding a Kawasaki H2 750 in 1976, and routinely did the kind of stuff Kristofferson is doing in this pictorial. And I would have scoffed at the idea of electrically heated gear back then — let alone wearing it in the garage.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dispatches From The Front... February 2011

One a month, Twisted Roads will present "Dispatches From The Front," a collection of letters from our readers, many of whom are writing from the road, the halls of government, pool halls, the Witness Protection Program, and fully accredited mental institutions. Whenever possible, the Twisted Roads Editorial staff will attempt to answer readers' questions or provide some measure of resolution.

Dear Twisted Roads:

If you make fun of another Harley in either your blog or in one of your elitist magazine columns, I’m going to ride my Electra Glide (if it’ll start) over there and shove that red BMW K75 so far up your ass that you’ll have to go the dentist to check the tire pressure on the front wheel.

Do you understand me?

Your Mother
(Who can still beat the shit out of you with impunity.)

Dear Mom:

Yes, Mom.

The Twisted Roads Editorial Staff

Dear Twisted Roads:

If you make fun of another BMW “R” bike in either your blog or in one of your elitist magazine columns, I’m going to ride my R1150R over there and unplug your battery tender. I‘m sick and tired of the way you make fun of the iconic bike that spawned that bastard BMW “K” series. Now here is my question, I was in the straightaway on US-202 the other day, pushing 80 miles per hour, when the stream pressure gauge dropped to zero for a second or two, then it came back to the proper reading. What do you think is the problem?

Baron Von Munchausen
Struddle, Germany

Dear Baron Von Munchausen:

It sounds like you are burning coal that has too many prehistoric toads in it. Pick out a few random nuggets and see if they will eat flies. If so, you’ll know you got a bad load of fuel.

The Twisted Roads Editorial Staff

Dear Twisted Roads:

I hope you can answer my question, as I may have hurt someone’s feelings. My circumstances are very unusual. My wife asked me if I’d mind if her cousin came and stayed with us for a few months, while she looked for a job. Her cousin was a former model for a specialty company that made brassieres for gymnasts who are 34 “Cs.” But the company moved to Tahaiti and she wanted to start a new career as a mud or Jello wrestler for a traveling carnival.

What could I say?

Family is family. My wife is 32, Asian, with the kind of body to kill for. She has long black hair that frames her face in a statement of passion and pure sexual electricity. Her cousin is two years younger, with a slighter smaller build and a perfect rack (that stands by itself with nipples that point to stars on the lower horizon). How do I know this? Because she walks around naked all the time.

I first ran into her coming out of the bathroom. She was running from the shower to the guest bedroom, wearing only a few droplets that the towel had missed.

“Don’t look,” she squealed, as she squeezed by me in the hall. Naturally, I looked.

I thought that this would make things cumbersome for a while between us, but she acted like nothing happened. Then a week later I stepped into the bathroom (the door was open), and she was shaving her legs on the edge of the tub.

“Sorry,” I sputtered, “But the door was open.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she laughed. “The bathroom was steaming up and I opened the door to un-fog the mirror. Do you mind if I use your razor to shave this?” And with that, she shows me the three-by-three piece of heaven’s real estate that she’s lubing up with baby oil. I grew a bone so big and so hard I nearly fainted as the blood drained from my head in two seconds flat.

Since then, I have run across the cousin three times in various states of undress. Last week, she was making breakfast early on Sunday morning — topless. Then I found her skinny dipping in the pool. I came home from work early one afternoon to find her doing yoga on a mat.

“Watch this,” she said, assuming a position that put her sugar scoop at eye level. Then she started to hum and I’ll be damned if it didn’t seem like the music was coming from Cupid’s mail slot.

The final straw came yesterday. I was in the in the garage, changing the oil on my 2004 BMW K1200GT, when the cousin came in wearing only a really short football jersey.

“Whatcha doin’,” she asked.

“I'm changing the oil on my motorcycle. I put 3,200 high-speed miles on this batch and it’s time for a change.”

“Modern lubricants can go a lot farther between oil changes,” she said, slowly raising the football jersey to reveal she had once again polished her fortune cookie with baby oil.

“But the manufacturer, in this case — BMW — specifically calls for changing the oil at 3,000 miles, to prevent engine wear or damage due to oil breakdown or from particles suspended in the lubricant,” I replied.

“That’s old-school thinking,” she purred, running a fingertip up and down her peach slice. “Oil is so much better now. And its better for the environment to go through less of it. Less of it in use and less of it to dispose of. More of it for other things.”

I hate pushy women who have to be right all the time... So I told her to shut the hell up and then I threw her out of the garage. So here’s my question, could she be correct about the oil? I’d hate to think I gave her a hard time over data that could very well be "old school."

Russell Elis
Beaverview, Tennessee

Dear Russell:

Technically speaking, your wife’s cousin is correct. Yet according to the manual of the time, changing the oil every 3,000 miles will guarantee the best possible performance from your 2004 K1200GT, while minimizing potential damage to the engine. However, it’s nice to know that you can go a little farther, if necessary, without compromising the engine. You could apologize to her if you wanted, but it sounds to us like you have a much bigger problem. If she feels this comfortable wandering into the garage, what’s to stop her from occasionally taking your tools.

The Twisted Roads Editorial Staff

Dear Twisted Roads:

I am the leader of a powerful nation and can fan papers off my desk with these huge fucking ears. Experts have determined that the key to stimulating the economy is to get small businesses, which employ 65 percent of the nation’s workforce, percolating again. So here’s what I did: I met with the leaders of some of the hugest corporations on the face of the planet, sat them down with the head of the last country in the world to have an artificially sustained economy, and told millions of people who neither live nor work here that we were ready for business.

Let’s see you and all the other small business assholes find fault with that.

Gummy Politico
Not Quite Maryland, Nor Virginia

Dear Gummy Politico:

“The oxen are slow, but the earth is patient.”

The Twisted Roads Editorial Staff

Dear Twisted Roads:

Sexism is rampant throughout the entire biking culture in general, but reaches an all new low on this blog. Why do men have to be viewed as alpha dogs? Why must women be seen as an art medium for “tramp stamps.” How is is you see everything in terms of visual appeal, with tanned, slim, leather ensconced bodies as part of the destination.

I had hell of a run along the border in Arizona, yesterday. I started out in a joint in Sierra Vista, and ran north to Green Valley, and eventually hit Tuscon. I was traveling light with a leather pack and a bedroll, both of which were strapped down on back. I was out for dust, starlight, and adventure — the three things that make a ride great. I know you’d be inclined to toss a bit of romance into the mix to make it perfect... But your idea of romance is a “trombone solo,” breakfast you didn’t have to make, and fond memories of mammaries out in the sunlight by the side of the road.

I wanted a run devoid of the things that would make late to hit the road in the morning, and the kind of entanglements that might tempt me to double back. My route was laid out in a loop, and I thought I might get something in the way of a warm welcome. Yet my lover is a devoted Twisted Roads reader, and your influence has taken it’s toll.

I rolled in the front door of the house I’d left four days before. There was a candle lit in the kitchen, and moonlight pouring in from the skylight.

“Stay right there,” a familiar voice said.

I stopped.

“Now take off your top.”

I took off my top.

“Step out of those jeans.”

I stepped out of my ripped jeans.”

“Now take off that little lacey bra.”

I took of the bra.

“And drop the panties.”

I dropped the little silk panties I had been wearing.

Then my wife told me to make sure the Sportster wasn’t blocking her in the garage, as she had to leave early for work, considering I just sit around all day, drinking, farting, and trying on her clothes. I’m tired of being reduced to a target for her sexist remarks. I want to be recognized for what I am — a Sportster rider.

Bill Toverstadt
Between Tuscon and a Hard Place

Dear Bill:

Twisted Roads can recognize you a mile away.

The Twisted Roads Editorial Staff

Dear Twisted Roads:

All my life I wanted a tattoo. But I waited... Not because I wasn’t sure that I wanted one... But because I wasn’t sure what it should be. Some days I wanted the image of my motorcycle on my chest. On other days, I thought an illustration of the perfect woman would look cool on my chest. Yet one’s idea of the perfect motorcycle is sometimes subject to change. And there is nothing like the occasional hint of divorce to make one think twice about permanently inking a portrait of a woman to one’s skin.

I have supported various political causes — and thought some cool political slogan or philosophy would look good as a tattoo — only to be disappointed by the ultimate results of either the movement or the philosophy. I have gone through different phases in my life, such as the skull and dagger phase, the lightening bolt phase, the sex, drugs and rock and roll phase, and strange symbol phase.

Well after years of deliberation, I finally came up with something I am never going to change my mind about... And my wife is giving me a ton of shit about it. The design would be dead center on my chest, though not of an imposing size. It would combine an illustration that is almost feline, with something that looks like a winking eye. Still, she is busting my balls relentlessly.

What advice can you give?

Currently Tattoo-less in Seattle
Seattle, NJ

Dear Tattoo-less In Seattle:

Do not rule out compromise. Is there something she would like to have that bugs you? For example, does she want a bike of her own, a piece of jewelry, a pug dog, a hot-looking gardener to screw when you are out riding? You might be able to find common ground by offering something that she’d like in return. Another possibility is to tell her you have a fatal disease, and with less than six months to live, you really want this tattoo. Of course, you will be miraculously cured in six months, and she will be used to the artwork by that time. Either that or you will have acquired a gardner.

The Twisted Roads Editorial Team

Dear Twisted Roads:

My husband is normally a good-natured, sweet guy who rides a Yamaha Royal Star Venture. For years he has talked about a tattoo, but never acted on it. Now he is finally determined to get one and I am enraged by the idea. I wouldn’t give a shit if it was a skull and crossbones, or a hand grenade with the word “mother” over it.

But what he decided to get is two lines of type that reads, “My Mother-In-Law — Kathleen Carmody of Duncansburg, Pa — Has A Face Like A Cat’s Ass.” It would be over an illustration of a cat’s rear-end, with the tail curling in the air. I rest my case.

An Enraged Spouse
Seattle, NJ

Dear Enraged Spouse:

Your husband sounds like a man who doesn’t lie. Does you mother have a face like a cat’s ass? If so, we must sometimes bow to the inevitable. It never pays to deny the truth, especially in a relationship.

The Twisted Roads Editorial Team

The Twisted Roads Editorial Team will accept and consider any reader letter regarding motorcycles, riding technique, gear, personal relationships, Constitutional law, hygiene, or bizarre sexual practices. Published letters do not represent the official position of Twisted Roads, nor the personal opinions of its editorial staff. Twisted Roads does not offer counseling from licensed practitioners nor should one assume any answer will not be anything but the biased opinion of a guy who drinks beer, smokes cigars, and looks to get a little every now and again. Send letters to

Monday, February 7, 2011

On Another Night In 1975..." With Cretin"

The English language is one of the most expressive and remarkable means by which two people can communicate. While the true romance languages (French, Spanish, and Italian) may flow like honey poured from silk high-heeled shoe, nothing gets the job done like English. Other languages create a third word by coupling nouns together (like potato in French is “pomme de terre” or “apple of the earth”). English uses the briefest number of words to create an emotion, describe a mood, and predict the immediate future — all at once. For example there are five words which tell a man he has failed to be successful enough in the real world... That he is not going to get laid anytime soon... And that his beautiful girlfriend (who is probably way out of his league to start with) may have met some other studly, sperm-donor while out with her single friends. Those five words are:

“I’ve been thinking about us.”

On this occasion, the origin of these words was a slightly older woman, by 2 years, who initially thought I was a shooting star in a ground loop. She would end up being the second-most beautiful woman I would ever see naked, but not the last who would find cause to recite that five-word litany.

There is no real response to that line.

A guy can talk himself into lock-jaw trying to get a stay of execution from the “I’ve been thinking about us” sentence. But in truth, you can’t simply undo the way someone has started thinking. You can only “act” your way out of it through meritorious deeds of self-enslavement. And you can’t even begin the meritorious acts of enslavement until you are missed, which requires someone leaving and initiating the period of “no contact," and certainly “no sex.”

To a guy who is barely 20, this is a glum reality at 1am on Sunday morning. She wouldn’t even look at me as she said this, but buried her face deeper in a pillow. (We were in bed at the time.) Failing to look a guy in the eye when a red hot babe delivers this pronouncement generally means “I’ve been thinking about someone else,” or more emphatically, “I honked somebody else’s horn while you were out riding around today.” I got dressed without saying a word. I grabbed my helmet and jacket from a chair in the hall and went down to the street.

It was as humid as a Turkish bath and the damn seat on the Kawasaki H2 was slightly damp. Rutherford, New Jersey was one of the most affluent and beautiful towns in the Garden State, back in the mid-70’s. Every street was lined with stately elms, poplars, and oak trees, many of which were over a hundred years old. The center of town was The First Presbyterian Church, which looked like a stronghold of Henry VIII. Dim street lights in the heated summer mist added to the Hollywood set-like appearance of this community... But it all meant nothing to me in the forced virtue of post adolescent celibacy. The bike yinged (the sound of a big two-stroke street motorcycle) into life on the first kick. It occurred to me to ride around town for ten or fifteen minutes to see if anyone showed up after I left, but what would that prove? I headed east toward the lights of New York City on the horizon, and the smudge of reality that was Hudson County.

Above: The First Presbyterian Church in Rutherford, NJ. It was beautiful 36 years ago... And it is beautiful now. Photo from the internet.

The smart money would have been just to head back to my place and call it a bad end to an average day... But I never liked to crest the middle of a weekend on a sour note. My destination was the spittoon of humanity, a saloon in the “Heights” section of Jersey City. To say that Jersey City had “Heights” was like adding a balcony to an outhouse. Palisade Avenue had a view of Manhattan but it was like looking out from an Ingmar Bergman movie, and this gin-mill was the lounge for its cast of characters.

Above: Ernst Ingmar Bergman, 14 July 1918 – 30 July 2007) was a Swedish director, writer and producer for film, stage and television. His influential body of work dealt with bleakness and despair as well as comedy and hope. His major subjects were death, illness, betrayal, and insanity. Photo and text from Wikipedia.

Pulling up, I looked for a familiar Norton at the curb. It was conspicuous by its absence. Five desperate characters (who all had names like “Stitches, Fungus, Rattler, Blade, and Scummer) clung to the bar against the reality of closing time. Two ladies were also present. They reminded me of thoroughbreds that had been pulling heavy carts on uphill cobblestone roads for the last ten years. Jersey City had that effect on you.

“Hiya, Reep. I called closing time already,” said the bartender, a great guy named Vinnie. “But I’ll pour one anyway.”

“I’ll pass... Gimme six to go. Anybody seen Cretin tonight.” (For a complete description of "Cretin," please read this previous blog.)

The word on the street was that Cretin’s Norton had blown up or something and that he was in a rage over it. My response was that Cretin was usually in a rage anyway, generally over an issue of his own making. I straddled the bike again and headed north for a bit. The border between Jersey City and Union City is indistinguishable to the naked eye. Yet to a resident of each (in those pre-metrosexual days), these cities were as different as the atmosphere of Mars was to the vapor of Venus. Both were toxic but had distinctly different flavors. And the streets of both cities are odd at the border too. Named streets in Jersey City become numbers in Union City. Straight lines became a rabbit warren of diagonal streets at the Transfer Station (so named for long absent trolley lines). And the roadway fronting Manhattan was like a drain running down to the 14th Street Viaduct in Hoboken.

Above: The Old Yardley Soap Factory at the head of the 14th Street Viaduct, on the borderline of Jersey City, Union City, and Hoboken. Jersey City is to the left. Union City is to the right. And Hoboken is at the bottom of the viaduct. Cretin's place was to the right, at the top of the hill. Photo from the Internet.

The Kawasaki followed the drain from Jersey City to the viaduct, but instead of turning down into Hoboken, I headed up the other side, which was aptly named Manhattan Avenue. The architecture here at the time (1975) was structures built of brick and sided with vanilla-colored concrete. Not stucco, but smooth-sided concrete. Each building had flat, tar-paper roofs and a few had covered stoops. There was about six feet between structures and I found these as depressing as hell. Yet inside, every floor with an eastern exposure had an uninterrupted view of the New York City skyline. A house that was two stories high at the street, might have a foundation eight stories high at the back.

Above: The 14th Street Viaduct from the bottom. It terminates in Hoboken. This non-redundant steel structure is the preferred route of about 9 million cars, trucks, and buses every day. It is expected to be replaced soon, before it collapses (hopefully). Traffic will be backed up to the rings of Saturn during the years it will take to replace this structure. Photo from the Internet.

Cretin lived in a first-floor apartment in a four-family house, on an inclined street that made parking a motorcycle difficult. It was the kind of incline that would do justice to a city like San Francisco. You would just kill the engine in gear, put down the side stand, and park parallel to the curb, like a car. Since there were lots of cars parked about, finding an open space six to eight feet long was sometimes aggravating. There was no Norton at the curb here either and the lights were out in Cretin’s lair. But that meant nothing. I tucked the bike in a barely adequate spot, climbed the stoop and rapped on the front window with the bike’s key. Cretin wouldn’t answer the bell at night, nor the phone. But this routine of mine drove him crazy. He slept in that front room and the noise from my key would get him up like a shot. Since this was a four-family house, residents carried two keys. One for the hall door and the other for their individual apartment. Putting my face to the glass panel in the vestibule door, I could look through the gauzy curtain down the dimly-lit hall to see if another door opened.

It did.

Cretin stepped into the hall, stark naked, carrying a rife with a scope. He was as wiry as coiled copper cable on a spool, and had nothing to make excuses for. (He referred to his tool as the “12 gauge.”) While nothing he did surprised me, he had a way of pushing the envelope.

“Hey, Reep,” said Cretin. “Fucking broad throw you out of your own house again?”

I stepped inside and offered him a can from the still cold six-pack.

“Did I come at a bad time?” I asked. “Are you courting some woman in your own way again?”

“Fuck you,” he explained.

“Supposed I had been the cops?” I asked.

“Do you think I’d have opened the door if you were the cops?”

Cretin’s apartment was laid out in classic railroad room style, common to Hudson County structures of the ‘30s. (Each room was in a straight line, like a compartments in a train car, without a connecting hall.) From back to front, there was a living room/dining room, a kitchen (with a door to the outside hall), another room that closed off with sliding pocket doors that disappeared into the wall, and the front room, which was the bedroom, usually. The living room/dining room was huge, even by old apartment standards. It had six full-sized windows on Manhattan.

It was the kind of living room that could get guys like him and me laid in about 30 seconds. Or it could have been. Cretin filled it with 1940’s style Art Decco furniture that he meant to have reupholstered, but never did. The kitchen was littered with pizza boxes, two weeks of unwashed dishes in the sink, and a refrigerator that was breeding penicillin. The middle room was home to the Norton... At least that where the Norton was parked now. It was up on a cinder block with the carbs on the floor. The room smelled faintly of gas. The bedroom in front had the aroma of the lockers in Cupid’s gymnasium and looked like a flea market that had been car bombed.
The place was a raging shit house. (Oddly enough, the bathroom was immaculate. Cretin couldn’t take a dump unless conditions were perfect, apparently.)

“How did you get the Norton in here?”

“Scummer, Little Joey, and Jackie ‘The Glyp’ carried it up the stairs for me. I had it parked on the street and somebody fucked up all the carb settings.”

“What’s with the gun?” I finally asked.

I initially thought it was a .22. But casual inspection in the light revealed it to be an exquisite, high-velocity German pellet gun.

“There’s a squirrel living in the walls in the living room, and I’m gonna shoot it when it comes out again. I nearly had it couple of times earlier tonight.”

“You mean you have a rat in the walls,” I said.

“I don’t live anyplace where there are rats,” said Cretin. “It’s a fucking squirrel... The only rat in here is the one who walked in with six cans of beer and who will smoke fifty bucks of reefer before he leaves.”

It was then I noticed that the moulding on the wall, along the floor, had been punctured in about 40 places by high velocity German pellets. This was one of Cretin’s finest moments. This predated the age of cable TV, and I was nodding off on the tattered, museum piece sofa listening to the national anthem, as NBC signed off for the night. They were right at the point where the “bombs bursted in air,” when Cretin gave a shout and let fly with another barrage. Pellets slammed into the heavy plaster wall with a characteristic “pit-tonk,” marking the end of their trajectory with little plaster clouds.

I watched in awe as a mouse ran the length of the wall, defying the gunfire to rummage around in the kitchen.

We got Cretin’s bike back together again in the morning, and it was all I could do to keep him from riding it out the kitchen door and down the stairs. (He looked a little bit like Steve McQueen and liked to play the part.) A call to the bar mustered some of the same guys who’d dragged the Norton in, and they it got back out to the street again. A year later, Cretin fell victim to a woman who managed to love him for the way he was. She was one of the sweetest people I have ever met, and was utterly determined to give him the life she thought he deserved. Her plan was to start by reupholstering the ragged Art Decco chair he’d sat in that night he went mouse hunting. The furniture company picked it up and discovered there was a huge but vacant mouse nest in it.

That explained why Cretin could never see where the mice were hiding.

I recently returned to the scene of the above crime. The neighborhood has changed. Cretin’s apartment is now a co-op. It is listing for $600,000. I stood on the sidewalk and looked up at that front window. Cretin never owned a Harley... But he lived fast and died hard.

Addendum: Cookie Winner Announced!!!!!

The winner of the Big Jim’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Drawing is Cy-Clops. If you are Cy-Clops, please send me your name, address, and telephone number to (.) But wait... Big Jim says one winner is not enough! That I should pick two! So another Twisted Roads Reader will win another box of cookies on Thursday, on February 10, 2011. Winners are selected at random from those who comment on Twisted Roads. But this box of cookies will go to a winner selected from those who comment on this particular blog episode!

Cookies can only be shipped to US contestants only (Sorry.)

Twisted Roads! The blog that gives you cool stuff.