by bj max
A few weeks ago while suffering through a bout of nostalgia, I rode up to the “Cutting Room Floor” video store and asked the nice lady running the place if they might have a copy of that old sixties motorcycle cult classic, “Easy Rider”. You see, Wyatt and Billy, the lead characters in that old film, used to be my heros and I musta seen that picture a thousand times when it first hit the theaters. “You’re in luck,” the lady says as she returned from the back room waving a dusty copy over her head.
Back at home, I nuked a sack of popcorn, plugged in the movie and with much anticipation, I raced back to watch the show. But it wasn’t long ’til I realized that something was wrong. Bad wrong. What’s going on here, I wondered. Those two scruffy lookin’ characters on the screen ain’t the heroes I remember. I can’t identify with these guys at all. Somebody’s been monkeying around with this film I thought.
But later, as the story unfolded, it slowly began to sink in that it wasn’t “Easy Rider” that had changed. Not at all. It was me. I was the one who had changed. Like the dinosaur, as some paleontologist would have us believe, evolved into birds, I had evolved into, of all things, a responsible human being.
Back in 1975, a green Maverick cut me off in traffic and my chopped Harley and I went down like free beer at a HOG rally. Three cracked ribs, complete loss of confidence and a bad case of road rash, of which I still wear the scars, were the results. Spooked by the sight of my own blood, I patched up the Harley, sold it, bought me a bass rig and went fishing.
I was gone fifteen years and during that time, unbeknownst to me, the motorcycle industry burned the midnight oil, developing sleek new designs and technological wonders in an all out effort to entice me to return. Honda finally succeeded with their six cylinder Gold Wing and I could hardly believe the changes that had taken place during my absence.
The motorcycle itself had evolved from a persnickety and cantankerous adversary into a dependable ally. Silky smooth engines, brakes that actually whoa’ed you up and power and torque to spare. Breakdowns had been virtually eliminated and being stranded in the middle of nowhere was a thing of the past.
I was impressed but even more impressive was the evolution of the image. The stereotypical hooligan of my youth was no longer the norm. The Dairy Queen had taken the place of the Long Branch. A pleasant change, I might add, in that so far as I haven’t had to fight my way out of a Dairy Queen. And I noticed an ad recently for a contraption that lets you pack your golf clubs out to the links on the back of a motorcycle. Can you imagine the dope-smoking rogues of Easy Rider stopping for a round of golf or an ice cream on their way to New Orleans?
The more I thought about all this, the more I wondered. Why was I a social outcast in the sixties and perfectly acceptable in the nineties? In the sixties, the general public cast a wary eye at motorcyclists and Hollywood bolstered their fears by cranking out dozens of movies depicting bikers as barbarians on wheels, raping and pillaging like a horde of fourth century Huns. We were considered a threat to society and, rapists and pillagers being somewhat detrimental to ones’ business, it wasn’t uncommon in those days to be turned away from restaurants and motels.
But today, motorcyclists are typically responsible citizens and come from all walks of life. Bankers, police officers, businessmen…
Businessmen. Now there’s a good example of the evolution of the image and how the sport and its acceptance by society changed during my absence. In my youth, the only businessmen I ever rubbed elbows with socially were a couple of bootleggers and an enterprising young commercial fisherman who used dynamite for bait. But today, it’s not at all uncommon for the likes of me to be seen mingling with the upper crust.
For example, not long after my return to the sport I was gassin’ up the bike when a big shiny Mercedes makes a hard left into the gas station and parks. The door opens and out steps this young doctor. A regular Doogie Howser he was, dressed in full regalia. White smock, stethoscope coiled in his pocket, Rolex on his wrist. The whole shootin’ match. He makes a beeline to the pumps, introduces himself and strikes up a conversation.
Hmmm. Last time I had a conversation with a doctor I was sicker than a mule ,so I sneaked a peek in the mirror to see if I had turned green. Nope. My color looked healthy enough. Then why was a bona fide MD instigating a conversation with a blue-collar type like myself? True, he didn’t know what my vocation might be and that’s my point. He didn’t care. He was a motorcyclist and I was on a motorcycle. That was good enough for him.
That was my first hint of how the sport had changed during my absence. There was a new breed of motorcyclist on the road, the likes of which I had never known in my youth. It seems that every movie star, country music singer and TV preacher owns a motorcycle these days. Do they actually ride them? I don’t know, but I would venture that most don’t. There might be a few honest to goodness enthusiasts in the bunch but after the cameras stop rolling most of ’em probably hang their Harleys back in the closet along with their clown suits and rubber noses. But it really doesn’t matter. The fact that they are even remotely connected to motorcycles has scrubbed up our image somewhat and we owe them a debt of gratitude for that.
And of course the “clubs” that sprang up while I was being made a fool of by a stupid fish played a major role with the image makeover. Like the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.), the Gold Wing Touring Association (GWTA) and the Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) and others. They provided like-minded riders with a network of instant friends. Just sign on the dotted line and you had a hundred thousand folks lined up from coast to coast to lend you a helping hand. Beautiful.
As I pondered these earth-shaking events the last reel of “Easy Rider” spooled down and it suddenly dawned on me that, other than the shots of the bikes rolling down the highway, I had been bored to tears. And as the final scene played itself out I couldn’t help myself and stood and cheered when those two drug trafficking scumbags got blowed away. I don’t know if I was thrilled that the movie had finally ended or that two more drug pushers were off the street. Probably a little of both. But whatever, the movie was over and I was glad.
Happy Motoring, Good People.