Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Holiday of the Dead and The Undead

The weather on Halloween can be tricky. Sometimes damp and blustery and other years as crisp as a Macintosh apple, I find the best combination is a sunny day for the early trick or treaters, with a rising wind at night, to make the moon a ghostly galleon on storm-tossed skies (the perfect backdrop for zombies, witches, and ghosts going door to door). Yet on this Halloween day, the temperature would peak in the high 50’s (F) with conditions perfect to release the beast within my sinister 1995 BMW K75. Wingman Dick Bregstein, astride a pristine 2002 BMW R1150R (with the iconic whale oil-cooled boxer engine), followed me through a series of picturesque loops and Amish-infested back roads in and around Lancaster, Pa, the epicenter of the straw hat and horse-drawn buggy conspiracy.

Our early morning run had taken us through fields picked clean by the harvest, through little towns where buggies were tied up at the local hardware store, and through some forested spots, where the deer peered out from cover with the apprehensive look of rats on stilts. At one point, we paralleled the steam train out of Strasburg, which matched the death whine of my K75 (and the hell-spawned sewing machine sound of Dick’s “R” bike) with the angry chuffing of spent steam and coal soot from the stack. Yet the time had come for the solace of coffee, and eggs (sunny-side up) on slabs of toast carved from bread that had been baked fresh that morning, and we headed off for a diner on US-30, before that route is corrupted by rank Amish huckstering in the tourist void of “Paradise.”

That last line sounds good, but there are damn few decent diners in Pennsylvania. As I have written before, New Jersey is the diner capital of the world, with the greatest number of stainless-steel beaneries, staffed by armies of buxom blonds with great asses, serving the fastest and best coffee in the world. There are maybe two “very good diners” in the 2000-square miles in and around Philly... But “very good” doesn’t quite cut it by New Jersey standards. There were three diners within our easy range on this Halloween day, and one was in the rare “excellent” category, but Dick and I were not in a mood to backtrack, nor to wait in line until a couple of seats popped up at the counter of “Jennies.”

So we headed off to the least objectionable of the other two.

Dick and I pulled up like two World War I aces fresh from a Jagstaffel sortee and dropped our kickstands with unintended precision. It was after 10:30am and this place was doing a thriving business in mothers and children headed off to various Halloween functions. Bregstein removed his helmet to reveal a smirk that translated to, “Swell, breakfast with screaming, squirming pint-sized versions of Spiderman, Sponge Bob Square Pants, and Bart Simpson.”

But I saw something else. Standing in the diner’s doorway was a kid about five years old, dressed like a biker. Not exactly a BMW rider in full ATTGATT (All The Gear, All The Time), but a young, aspiring Harley jockey in a little leather jacket with studs and chains, topped by a skull and crossbones “do” rag. And behind him was “Mom,” a cougar if I ever saw one, dressed like Pippi Longstocking. But Pippi Longstocking never looked this hot.

The kid was staring at my K75 like it was the Holy Grail. (It is.)

“He just loves motorcycles,” said his mom, impaling me with the kind of smile that Nordic goddesses traditionally used to harpoon elephant walrus.

“You like motorcycles,” I said to the boy.

He just nodded and smiled.

“C’mere,” I said.

He looked at his mom. who nodded, and before running over.

I picked him up and sat him on the bow of the Russell Day-Long Saddle.

“What’s your name,” I asked.

“Carl,” answered his mom.

“Did you ever sit on a motorcycle before, Carl?”

Carl shook his head “No.”

“This motorcycle is sleeping,” I said. “Should we wake him up?”

I turned the key in the ignition, which fired up the little LED Christmas Tree that is the aftermarket voltmeter, and said “Press that button,” indicating the one with the little horn on it.

Carl pressed the button with the enthusiasm of a five-year-old who understands that another chance like this is not likely to come along anytime soon.

The Steble/Nautilus compact air horn sent shock waves rolling through the parking lot, Carl wore the satisfied look of an anarchist who had just blown up the Czar’s train.

Checking to see that the little number “0” was in the gear shift indicator window, I then told Carl to press the starter. No one was more surprised than this kid, unless it was his mother, when the K75 snarled into life with a very satisfying “thrum” (different than errant vibration) that swept through the bike. I could see this kid’s face clearly in one of the mirrors, which remain rock steady as the bike idled at 1200 rpm.

“Now put your hand here,” I said, steading the kid with my left arm, while placing his pudgy little digits on the throttle. Then we twisted old Fireballs by the tail. The tach shot up to 5 grand with a whine of pistons in perfect Teutonic agreement. The kid busted out laughing... And twisted the throttle again on his own.

I shut the engine down and pointed to the roundel on the gas tank. “Do you know your ABC’s?” I asked Carl? “Because the three most important letters in the alphabet are “B...M...W.”

I handed Carl back to his mom, flashing her a famous look of my own, and asked, “Have you ever been on a motorcycle?”

“Once or twice,” she said, with a different kind of smile.

“Aaaaaaahhh, well,” I replied.

She loaded the kid into a mini-van and drove off with a perfunctory wave.

“I was waiting for that kid to kick the bike in gear while it was revving up,” said Bregstein. “It would have rolled right over his mom and gone through the diner’s plate glass window.”

“You’re just pissed that the kid wouldn’t look at your ‘R’ bike.”

“I wouldn’t let a kid near my “R” bike,” hissed Bregstein.

The ride home was fast and furious, as many of these runs with Bregstein tend to conclude.

Dealing with the trick or treaters at the door used to be my responsibility in my last relationship, as the love of my life didn’t share my enthusiasm for the holiday of the dead and undead. My routine was simple. I rigged my computer stereo to blast scary wolf howls on demand, and taped a sign to the front door that read: “Do Not Ring Bell For Candy. Scream!”

This guaranteed that our normally sedate, boring cul de sac d’ordinaire would be punctuated by blood-curdling screams up until 10pm. But that was only half the fun. No one got a single chocolate bar without a “trick.” This meant that kids had to scream louder, in a kind of contest, or sing a song, or dance, to get access to the candy basket. I can assure the gentle reader that it used to be mayhem at my former residence — when I ran the Halloween festivities.

The first screams came in around early dusk, and the feeble nature of the staged terror told me these were little kids. I pulled open the door with a exaggerated stage presence, and startled a flock of ghosts, goblins, pumpkins, princesses, super-heroes, and the ever popular flesh-eating zombies. And in front, was one tough looking little Harley rider, with his little leather jacket, complete with chains and studs, and his skull and crossbones do-rag.

I raised my eyes and scanned the crowd of parents in the background, and found Pippi Longstocking — standing next to Mr. Longstocking, I presumed.

“These kids are so cute,” squealed my former significant other. “Let me take their picture.”

“Get one of the parents too,” I suggested. “Some of them dressed for the occasion as well.”

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011


Chris said...

Might have to try the scream for candy trick next year, but we'e had two years in a row with zero kids.


RichardM said...

I like that idea. Hadn't heard it before...

I managed to be not home last night but was told that about a dozen hardy kids showed up. (I was below zero)

What is "S>R>K"?


Nikos said...


Apologies for being pedantic, but I think you'll find that "Mr Longstocking" was in fact Ephraim Longstocking, captain of the sailing ship Hoptoad.

Kind regards from outside of the eurozone, N

Ken said...

Pippy Longstocking was probably standing next to Pimpy Longstocking. Had you had some extra cash on hand it might have been an entirely different kind of scream that the neighbors heard.

Anonymous said...

S>R>K as in s1000rr > r1200gs > k75

Steve Williams said...

Why the hell didn't you post this before Halloween? That scream sign would have been great.

That kid won't ever forget the time on the K bike. He probably would a similar experience on an R bike though. Sort of like sitting on a mule.

redlegsrides said...

Nice story Jack though I share Leslie's seeming disdain for Halloween.

Alles in ordnung is more appealing but am sure kids preferred your stop the best whilst making their rounds to extort candy from what usually are complete strangers.


Bluekat said...

I love the scream for candy - what a fun idea!
And what a great day for the kid. Bet he'll always his first time on a bike and firing up the engine. Precious!

Lady R (Di) said...

Great story! I love how you gave that young lad his first taste of motorcycles. I would bet that stays with him for a long time.

Your scream for treats idea is great! I may have to try that next year. I too, like to play with the little beggars in the hood. I wore my long black hooded cape, big dark sunglasses (didn't want to take the time for makeup and all) white powder with black blush (it really brings the ghoul out) and of course... my custom fitting fangs (made for me by my boss, the dentist) Top all that off with some blood red lipstick and I was pretty intimidating... to a 5 year old. Booo!!

I would stand on my front porch and yell at all the kids who would cut across the grass..."WHO GOES IN MY YARD?!?!" Sometimes they would run back around to the street and pick up the sidewalk, sometimes they would just walk right up and say "I'm a bumble bee... trick or treat!" Awww, so cute. I was getting some pretty uncertain looks, however, when I smiled and showed my points. One little girl told her mom while they were walking away... "I think she might be a real one!"

Muwahahahahahaha! I just love Halloween!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Lady R:

Nothing gives me more satisfaction from tormenting trick or treaters from the old scream gimmick, unless it is holding a good old-fashioned costume party. (And I haven't held one of those in a while. Maybe next year.)

You have to admit, that being held up for candy becomes a lot of fun with costumed kids screaming, dancing, and running around in the dark.

Glsad you liked my piece. I especially liked your response.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear BlueKat:

The whole point of Halloween is to have fun! Fun for the kids... And fun for the adults. I love it when the little ones stagger up to the door in their costumes... But the really game souls are the 12-year-olds who have murder and mischief in their hearts. These are kids who know how to yell like hell.

As far as putting the little guy on the K75, it was my pleasure. That kind will be blowing the horn and twisting the throttle in a hundred daydreams to come.

Thanks for reading Twisted Roads...

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6:

The whole spirit of Halloween is cool. I'm sorry the tradition is dying out in places where the kids have grown older, or left, or have gotten so used to computer games that the thrill of running around and scaring each other in the dark is passe.

I got a note from Stiffie that claimed gangs of kids appeared on her doorstep and screamed, without the sign.

Thanks for reading Twisted Roads...

Fondest regards,

Gary France said...

I like the idea of screaming for candy. Thankfully however the joys (?) of Halloween haven't reached these rural parts of the UK. In the US it is sort of cute with kids dressing up for a fun evening out. In some UK cities it is seen as a chance by older teenages to simply be given things for free and they can become threatening. Many good things have crossed the Atlantic, but trick or treating isn't one of them.

Anonymous said...

You have to stop at the Gap Diner and try the homemade apple dumpling with vanilla ice cream. It is worth putting down your kick stand and giving it a try.

Anonymous said...

Don't do it. The Gap Diner sucks almost as badly as the Pottstown Family Diner.

Nice read.


Anonymous said...

I heard about that ride on the motorcycle. "Pippi" told me it was a Harley.
Sorry to hear about your "former" date. Do you have a phone number?

Pippi Longstocking's Younger, Unattached Sister.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Gary France:

I recently witnessed some of the late adolescent thuggery perpetrated by crowds of youth in Britain (on the US news) and was horrified. (This goes back to riots and burnings of the past couple of months.)

So I can understand your position on the annual costumed candy extortion.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Anonymous:

The Gap Dner, in Gap, Pa, is cool for the "motoorcycles" only parking lot... But their breakfast and lunch service leaves a lot to be desired. It's hard to screw up eggs and bacon,or a cheeseburger, but these guys have the knack.

Try "Jennies" further down the road, on the other side of "Paradise."


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Pippi's Unattached Younger Sister:

Feel free to send me your phone number (to my e-mail address). All data is kept strictly confidential.

Fondest Regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Chris Luhman:

When you say you had two years in a row with "zero" kids, does that mean "No kids showed up," or "that the kids were real dopes?"

Thanks for reading Twisted Roads and for leaving a comment.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Richard M.:

The last year my daughter went trick or treating in Lake Placid, NY, it was about 18ยบ outside, and she was so disappointed that wearing a coat was going to change the nature of her "fairy-winged" Halloween costume.

It was her introduction to space-age insulating underwear that let her spread her wings as planned. But zero degrees is zero degrees... They must grow up tough in Alaska.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos:

My only concern for Mr. Longstocking being the Captain of HMS Hoptoad would be Britain's longstanding policy of "impressing" seamen from the crowds of the curious and idle.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Ken:

Believe me... Had that been the case, I'd have gladly written a check to get the negotiations started.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

While I am naturally flattered that you so willing admit that it is the vintage "K" bike rider with the boundless depth of imagination, I think your Halloween program of sitting under the table, in a darkened house, eating candy purchased for the "kids" in perfect silence, is also novel — and effective in its own way.

"K" bikes come alive in the presence of hot, cougar-like moms.

Thanks for reading Twisted Roads.

Fondest regards,

Chris said...

No kids


Nikos said...

...there's the rub

Unknown said...

Over in Deutschland two things struck me on Halloween
1. Trick-or-treaters stopped by our apartment, which is owned by the guy who lives downstairs. It's the kind of place that last had the electrical system redone in the 50s, with the interior design in the 70s. It's usually dark, and cold (Germans don't want to go soft) and in the first few days took some time to get used to.

On Halloween, there was a gigantic, shuddering attack on the front door, as if it were being attacked by a siege engine. How three little trick-or-treaters managed to make so much noise I have no idea. My landlord then passed out whole milk chocolate bars to each of the children. He passed out more money in candy than American kids see in a whole night.

2. I saw a group of german teens buying enough liquor (no schnapps) to drown a trout. The amount of Coke to rum that was purchased astounded me. Is there such a thing as rum shooters?

Sorry I'm late to the party. You still alive, by the way? Feel free to drop an email.

Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

Classic Velocity said...

Dear Jack,

great to hear what you did for that kid. I'm sure that in a couple of decades he will write about that experience in a blog and include a link to this piece, and cause a whole new generation to appreciate this blog. Cheers

Classic Velocity

Anonymous said...

Be nice to the children Jack, for they shall care for you or not care
for you in your old age...