A buddy of mine from a misspent corporate affiliation had joined a division of the federal government. He rides a cost efficient, chrome efficient, and noise efficient Harley Davidson. It was his suggestion that we meet in the Oyster Bar of the “Old Ebbitt Grill,” and bestow sneers upon those who wear red ties and kiss asses. I winced. I wore a red tie the last time I was in the “Old Ebbitt Grill,” as I kissed the ass of a potential client who would hire me to write congressional testimony.
Ass kissing is an important part of the daily business ritual in the nation’s capitol and I was good at it. I would apply ChapStick to my lips with a paint roller, often going as far as three coats (but only in the center to conceal telltale wax build up). The ritual entailed springing for lunch, laughing at tedious jokes, and shrewdly implying that I too hoped to be a cockroach when I grew up.
The client would then present his, or her, ass, and I would kiss it. Sometimes I did this with a loud noise but etiquette generally required a quiet bullseye on the buttocks. The lip balm would form an instant bond and I would be attached like a lamprey. It should be noted that it was a point of honor to be attached to an ass of some consequence. Washington, D.C. is a target-rich opportunity for thousands of inconsequential asses.
Above: This is the newest feature at the US Capitol Building. It is called the "Speed Connect." US citizens can now enter the little white booth and leave a message for the elected official of their choice. It allows the average American to give back to Congress what Congress so liberally bestows on the rest of the country. The warning light indicates when Congress is in session. "Red" means the dome is filled with scalding hot gases.
The “Old Ebbitt Grill” is an extraordinary place. It has been the source of great dining, potent drinks, fresh oysters, political schemes, conspiracies, and scandals since 1820. The decor is manly, with mounted trophies on the walls, some alleged to have been shot by Teddy Roosevelt. It is intensely popular with the eloi of Washington society and some 800 diners are turned away daily.
Above: "Old Ebbitt Grill" —on the corner of 15th Street and "G," with the blue awnings.
It was my thought that we could meet on the high ground outside the city, tour the monuments, then eat a couple of dozen oysters, washed down by a couple of Bourbons. (Yes, I know what some of you are thinking. Get your ChapStick out.) I wanted to have my 1986 K75, known as “BlueBalls,” photographed against the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. These are two of my favorite Presidents. Jefferson believed that the federal government was a necessary evil, to be limited in its authority over citizens. Lincoln believed there should only be one necessary evil in North America and that he was running it.
Both men were incredible political manipulators with their respective character cast in stone. One doubled the size of the country. The other held it together and managed to get a train running through it. Politicians today can’t chew gum and scratch their asses at the same time.
But this run was not to be. My friend was called away and the grim reality of this ride began to sink in. Old Ebbitt Grill is close to the White House and parking can be a challenge. You can get oysters in places with a nicer view. Traffic in Washington, D.C. is based on the logic of most legislation, which is to say it is maddening. And Washington itself is a squalid city, with elite neighborhoods surrounded by those that are less so. There was no guarantee I’d get a decent picture of a monument with my bike in the foreground either.
So I went anyway.
The most direct way to Washington, D.C. is Interstate 95. This route winds its way through hell. In some places, each side of the road is six lanes of bellowing trucks and careening cages pounding by like asteroids. Cops are as thick as ticks on a deer’s hide and the view ahead is limited to your escape points. But I know another way that eliminates almost half of this, bypassing Delaware completely and putting me in Maryland at the Susquehanna River.
This ride took me through horse country and Amish farms on a day when the predominant color of the weather was slate gray. I like gray days in early fall when the tinted light in the world seems to rise from the leaves on the trees. The air is cool and sometimes crisp, making the wearing of ballistic gear a delight. My 21-year-old BMW ran like it had just left the assembly line and made the sound of a Messerschmidt on a mating flight. There was a perceptible buzz in the handlebars but nothing that would have qualified as vibration.
I stopped every now and again to drop my feet, alleviating arthritis misery. At one place, I watched an Amish farmer handle a team of six horses dragging some kind of harvester. He stood ramrod straight on the yoke, pivoting the team like it was a Vespa. He didn’t have arthritis. On the other side of the field, two women in bonnets watched him put the horses through their paces. I could almost hear one of them say, “Hans ist goot. Hans se haben a grosse schwanstucker.” (This is Pennsylvania Dutch for, “Hans has a big hat, I bet.”)
There were hedge rows lining the last field where I stopped. I poured coffee from a battered Nissan bottle in my top case and savored the bite of the steaming brown liquid. A Chinese ringneck pheasant, an enormous cock bird, stepped out of the bushes and regarded me with utter disdain. Since I wasn’t hunting, I could appreciate the expression on this bird’s face. It was like he knew I was headed to Washington and he wanted me to kiss his ass too.
The country road aspect of this trip was soon to peter out and I was in no hurry to break the spell. A little planked church sat on the other side of the pavement, accompanied by a churchyard full of satisfied customers, the majority of whom had moved in during the late 1800’s. I like old cemeteries. The sentiment is honest and the artistry is sometimes surprising. This one was pretty modest, even for the country. The oldest of stones were grouped under an enormous oak tree. The name on the largest of these was Enoch Borders, a husband, a farmer, and good man, apparently. He was in his seventies when he died. I could almost hear Enoch telling his wife, “You can bury me under that little tree. It won’t amount to much.”
This cemetery gave me an idea and I pulled my atlas out of the top case. On the outskirts of the nation’s capitol sits a huge cemetery that was apparently the place to call it quits for the most prestigious families in government, back in the years following the Civil War. The headstones and mausoleums are some of the most resplendent and unusual in the nation. I could go there.
It was about two and a half hours from where I stood though it would seem longer to my knees. Twice, I nearly came back. But I had it in my head to ride someplace that appealed to me on one level, and yet was challenging on another. I am not giving the name nor the specific address of the cemetery, though anyone looking just beyond this story will figure it out. My reasons for not giving the actual name and address are simple. The atmosphere in this place is fragile. I don’t think hoards of bikes should descend on it. Certainly not those with deep-throated growls audible at more than three feet from the engine. But I do think this cemetery has museum status for architecture, artistry, and personal expression. The place does have library-type rules, which should be respected.
The cemetery is a series of interconnecting roads that skirt ponds and meadows that sooth the mind, and presumably the soul, as so many of them are resident there. The mausoleums run the gamut from stark to unbelievably classic, complete with attending angels, statues, and exquisite stained glass windows, visible through clear panes in bronze doors. But other grave sites use a variety of artistic techniques to achieve a high level of personal statement, or a family’s regard for their deceased.
My BMW made no noise as I rode in from one of the side streets. Yet while I intended no disrespect, I felt the bike was out of place here and I rode back to the street and parked at the curb. This was seven years ago, when the arthritis was more manageable than it is now. I planned to walk for a bit. Some of the mausoleums were in the style of temples or little palaces for the dead. They must have cost hundreds of thousands in the 1880’s, when money used to be worth something. There were a couple that would have made nice Bilbo Baggins-sized houses in different settings. Yet some of the most haunting graves were among the simplest. One was a granite slab that had a bronze figure of a reclining man on it. He was raised on one arm with a hand pressed to his forehead. The carving on the slab read, “Don’t forget me.” The look on the statue’s face was unnerving. Though I never knew this man in life, it is impossible for me to forget him in death.
I spent an hour gimping around on my cane and I walked too far. My knees started to creak in keeping with the atmosphere and I looked to get off my legs. One grave had a carved marble chair as a tribute to the deceased. A few fallen leaves had collected in it. Glancing around, I saw the cemetery was deserted and I sat in it. The stone was cool against my riding gear and I closed my eyes for a minute. You could hear the breeze starting rumors in the trees as the day turned even grayer. I found myself wondering if I was the first person to ever sit here, and I thought that unlikely. Then I wondered about the purpose of this marble seat. It was actually on the grave facing outward, not on the edge looking in. Was it to accommodate the spirit of the deceased? Was it there so he could pass judgement on the living? Or was it to provide the living with a perspective from the grave? Such were the thoughts that drifted through the holes in my head.
I fell asleep before I could come to a conclusion.
The minute for which I closed my eyes grew into an hour. The afternoon cooled as the gray day progressed and a slight chill passed from the seat into my butt. While the seat part of the marble chair was actually sculpted in the smooth shape of buttocks, it was still hard stone. I couldn’t help but notice that this marble seat and stock seat on my BMW had a lot in common.
I awakened grateful for the snooze but really stiff. The day had darkened considerably and my black riding jacket blended in with the shadow of hundred-year-old trees. I lurched to my feet and stretched. I cannot tell you the effect this had on the Japanese tourists 50 yards away. They were taking their time and taking pictures of the more intriguing graves. They may have been in my vicinity a full 10 minutes without realizing I was not part of the scenery.
One woman let out a half scream and the whole crowd, about a dozen, stampeded up the little road. I felt like Godzilla.
I do not know the penalty for stampeding Japanese tourists in a cemetery, but this was Washington, DC, the home of politically correct and politically motivated regulation. It would either be life in prison or I’d have to kiss the ass of every tourist on the bus. While I have a thing for Asian women, I doubted I’d get the option of kissing their asses selectively. I took one last look at the grave with the carved seat and I swear I heard a muffled laugh. Maybe I’d stumbled on the purpose of the marble chair after all.
The K75 started with the subtle whine that is the bike’s trademark and I headed north. The pain in my knees was considerable and I didn’t make it all the way home. There is a nice little motel on the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania and I called it a day. In my kit there was a toothbrush, a cigar, and a pint of rum; enough for a night’s survival. My room looked out into a little court, and across the way I saw a Mennonite woman flick on a light and remove her bonnet. A cascade of red hair flowed over her shoulders. Then she drew the shade.
“Damn,” I thought. “Are they all like that?”
To be continued...
Future Blog Postings
March 23 -- Dispatches From The Front
March 28th -- The Redhead Episode
Who Reads Twisted Roads?
Above: Amelia Gazzana reads Twisted Roads all the way from Australia, where she uses this beautiful powder blue "F" bike to herd wombats. Amelia contends that this "F" model makes a more peculiar noise than the legendary K75. She says, "It sounds exactly like the futuristic car the Jetson's used tp drive." She included a reference. Click here.
Above: Ken Bruce, life-sized action figure on the right, recently showed up at the last Mac-Pac winter breakfast of 2013 with his new Ural. Ken has now joined those riders currently surfing the hack rig wave of nostalgia. For those wondering, that is the natural shape and texture of his head.
Above: Bud Wilkinson is the moto correspondent for The Republican-American, the most significant daily newspsper in Waterbury, CT. He is also the publisher of RIDE-CT.comhttp://www.ride-ct.com/, a progressive website on the cutting edge of moto news and developments. Bud just sent me an urgent notice on the availability of Jamison's Irish Whiskey's newest and most exclusive label — Select Reserve Black Barrel. His heart is in the right place. (Wilkinson's website is the newest addition to my growing list of "Destinations," posted on the right. Check it out.) He is seen here on a 1974 Honda CB 750.
Above: Wayne DeWaay, of Minnesota, sent us this photo of a classic K75 loaded for bear and the long haul. I love the authority bars on this rig. From what we can see of it, the paint on this bike appears to be cherry, though it is blue.
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That;s a great picture and caption for the capitol building. I was wondering what all of the warning lights in the area were for. I may have travelled on the same route trying to avoid I95 at all costs. Nice to see another post and looking forward to part II.
Great story, I'd have loved to see the reaction of those folks! Like a flock of starlings doing a 180. They'll never forget that cemetery tour.
So nice to talk with you yesterday, I always come away with a properly adjusted perspective and attitude.
As usual, you got a chuckle out of me at the end of that story. I don't care how often you post a new piece, it's always worth the wait.
Man, I hope things work out for this summer, it would be a great ride with great company in a beautiful area. It would also be fun to follow and watch another nut that connects the handlebars to the seat of a motorcycle demonstrate the proper technique on how to take a turn without actually leaning.
Again, a great posting.
Kindest regards, Curt
I occasionally go through these phases where I question a lot of what I write and I just stop. In this case, I stopped to start work on the sequel to the moto book. It's not that there was a compelling necessity to do this... but I just felt like writing some of this stuff down before it got away from me.
The chapter I completed is very avant-garde and was eliminated in draft form from the first book. When I looked up at the calendar, I'd lost a month. It happens.
Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.
I was delighted that you called yesterday. I realized it had been nearly three months since we last chatted and I wondered if I had offended you. (I was pleased to learn I hadn't.)
There will be another of these blogs posted on Saturday.
Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment.
I am very glad you are back in good form. I was worried about you. I even tried to call a few times, as late as last week. Hoping all is well and you are getting around without much trouble.
Just think, only 4 more months . . .
Riding the Wet Coast
Great story Jack - I love ghost stories. I felt sure there would be a twist at the end but I couldn't see it coming until you fell asleep.
Thanks for writing!
Glad to see you got out of the Conclave alive. Sorry you got edged out by a Latino; tough break for a grumpy old white man, but thats the way the world is going these days.
I hope that sometime before the next conclave you will be revealing at last what exactly it is the heretic Mennomite's wear under their coats. The world needs to know.
Your Brother from Cell 18,
Pontifical Secretary of State
I apologize for the picture I took of you passed out on the steps in downtown Key West, but you look adorable snoring on the brickwork.
My iguana wanted to let you know it's lips are fully balmed up asd ready to be planted on your backside as you can find some space on it.
Dear Jack —
Oh Jack. Every time I read what you've written, it feels me with awe, and jealousy, and despair that I'll never write as well as you! I roared about the Godzilla part!
I am going to try and reach out for you over the weekend. I have no idea how this riding season is going to pan out, but my hopes are fading fast. Thanks for reading Twisted Roads, and for writing in.
Dear Paul S.:
I actually have a good repertoire of legitimate scary stories, many of which include motorcycles. I'm thinking of trying a few out on the blog. This one was hardly spooky, as all I did was what I do best... Fall asleep.
Thanks for reading my blog and for leaving a comment. The cigar search is on.
Dear Tarcisio Bertone:
The conclave came close to chaos. On the fifty-third vote, in which Durango Leseppes, the Cardinal from 53rd Street, tied with Bertucci Ungotz, the Cardinal from the Sopranos, it was discovered that an imposter was voting. Cardinal Breg Dickstein had his hand in the air all the time. He really had to take a leak.
Thanks for reading Twisted Roads, and for writing in. I know how painful this was for you.
I am getting ready to draft a piece called the "Ghost of Ramrod Key." It is the beaten spirit of a Bonneville rider who appears when the moon (and glasses) are full. He apparently has an iguana sticking out of his fly. He acts like this is perfectly normal, but plays as the lizard's straight man. He is the Abbot to the lizard's Costello. It is all very strange.
Your blog got some business tonight. Thank you for reading Twisted Roads, and for leaving a comment, such as it was.
What a nice thing to say! Generally, my comments section carries a lot of tripe from guys with unruly iguanas.
Thanks for reading Twisted Roads, and for leaving a comment.
nice story Jack....but you are too easy in your description of the political swine in D.C.
Great story as usual. Miss your stories and look forward to the next one, looks like you've got those worthless politicians all figured out.
Jack - A good day includes one of your stories!
Dear Charlie6 (Dom):
I am constantly amazed at the horseshit that passes for legislation in this country.
Thanks for reading my blog and for leaving a comment.
It is my pleasure. Thank you for reading my stuff and for leaving a comment. I suspect you are going to see a lot more of it.
What a nice thing to say!
Dear Mr. Riepe: Some posts are painful to read -- they trigger such a strong desire to stand up, gear up and head out on the road -- that I just hate having read them. Kiss No Asses... is one of them.
Everything from the ride through Amish country to the description of sitting in the cemetery, I was there.
A side note -- I thought I was the only one who noticed plow teams pivot in the same manner as a Vespa. You have a keen eye. A farmer at heart no doubt.
The most disheartening thing about this and other posts -- for some damn reason I have been looking at used K75 bikes. There was one for sale at the local BMW dealer.
Shit. What's wrong with me?
Scooter in the Sticks
Just finished a big day herding those damn wombats! Been flatout like a lizard drinking!!
Boots off finally and drink in hand, finished reading first instalment of your latest blog, as usual made me laugh! :) We have same ass kissing tradition in Australia... rampart here...
Reading 'Conversations with MC' for second time!! (fav book after 'To Kill a Mockingbird'!! ) Look forward to next instalment of blog soon please! :)
Amelia aka Scout
Dear Mr. Williams:
Thank you for your kind note. As I said, no biker should have to kiss anyone's ass, unless it's purely recreational. You just said you hated reading this blog in the nicest way. I am deeply touched.
You are an intelligent, intuitive, soft-spoken philosopher with a strong sense of mechanical perfection. Why shouldn't you treat yourself to a K75? They are powerful, reliable, somewhat disturbing to look at and expensive to keep. Just like me. (You can ask dozens of women.) You'll never regret owning one.
I look forward to meeting you on the road someday.
Thank you for reading my blog and boosting my credibility by leaving a comment.
Most Americans are unaware that the wombat is the equivalent of a great white shark, albeit a creature that skulks upon the firmament. I had an uncle who was killed by a wombat. He was training it to give political speeches, and it ripped his throat out.
I am posting the new blog in five minutes. It is not what I said it would be. So what?
This is amazing! "To Kill A Mockingbird" is not only one of my favorite books, but it is also one of my favorite movies. I am amazed that you are "Scout!" I am either Boo Radley or the rabid dog Atticus shot. It depends on the day.
Thank you for reading Twisted Roads, and for reading my book twice. I have just completed the first chapter in the sequel: "Motorcycles Speak Louder Than Words."
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