Autumn Angst

by Gary Charpentier

I’ve never really understood physics, at least not from a mathematical perspective. It has always been something more intimate, something I experienced firsthand, usually to my detriment. On some days, you might go so far as to say I’ve been a physics victim…

This certainly holds true when it comes to time. Whenever I walk through the door of one of my industrial jobs, I always sense a slowing down of the clock. Tick-tock-tick-tock becomes CLANK…. CLUNK…. etc. It’s as if the employer had installed some sort of time distortion feature at all the entrances to amplify the normal everyday oppression.

But the reverse holds true when you purchase a new motorcycle. Time goes into overdrive, and the riding season passes in a blur. Suddenly you find yourself standing in the chill of a September morning, wondering where July and August have gone. You remember a dream you had of sunny days, winding roads, and trails that seemed to go on forever. But then you awaken to a cold gray sky in which you can see your breath steaming against the stark outlines of tree branches going bare.

That’s when it hits you: Winter is coming! Dammit, why am I still LIVING here!? That peculiar Minnesota Seasonal Amnesia has done its job yet again. We sailed through the summer deferring home improvement and maintenance chores in favor of the next ride or event, drifting from one weekend to the next in blissful denial of the fact that we live in a cold, white hell for half of the year. Now autumn is upon us, and you can feel the anxiety in the air. Calendars are packed full of last chance rallies, fall colors rides, and more bike shows than you can possibly attend in the short time remaining.

For example, in the first half of September the faithful Kermit and I have attended Wings and Wheels, the Twin City Norton Owner’s Club Concours d’Elegance, MMM’s Reader Appreciation Event, and the Fall Flood Run, all in the space of a couple of weeks. We’ve been out on the roads every weekend since mid-July, enjoying this unusual drought that has turned my lawn to shredded wheat. My weeknights have centered around routine bike maintenance and local rides here in the city, and it has all passed by too quickly to digest. I want to attempt to recapture some of that here, if only to feel less cheated by this seasonal acceleration of time.

Wings and Wheels: I spent four years of my childhood in Osceola, Wisconsin. We lived in a little house on the shore of Mud Lake, about 8 miles out of town near the junction of County Roads M and K. Between the ages of 8 and 12, I was obsessed with riding my Briggs and Stratton powered mini-bike and killing small animals with my Daisy BB-gun. I don’t know if this event existed at that time, or whether Classic Motorbooks was even in business yet. These days, Wings and Wheels is a huge spectacle, drawing classic and exotic vehicles from all over the area. The sheer scale of the thing is overwhelming, even for a semi-jaded motojournalist such as myself. I spent the morning wandering the grounds with Gus Breiland, saying things like, “Ho-hum, there’s another Porsche…” -and “Oh look, yet another squadron of Ferraris.” The motorcycles were all arranged in a long line down the entrance drive, and there were so many rare and beautiful machines that it was impossible to concentrate on any one of them for very long. Too much of a good thing, really.

One sight that stuck in my mind was a vanity license plate mounted on a Ferrari Testarossa, declaring “I LIVE”. I thought about the arrogance of that statement. Then I thought of previous “Diary of a Cafe Racer” columns in which I expressed the very same sentiment while denigrating the masses of cage-bound drones around me out on the highways. Well, I guess I know where he’s coming from, but there is one major difference: I cannot afford a Testarossa, and chances are I never will. It has long been my belief that you cannot attain such a high station in life without committing some sort of major crime, at least ethically speaking. The law of the land allows for some seriously heinous behavior, as long as you confine it to the financial exploitation of your fellow man. Thus we draw on the lessons taught to us by early Black Sabbath and Judas Priest albums: Satan communicates in reverse-English. Using that theory, you can translate this license plate into “EVIL I” &endash; or Evil One. I never met the owner of this car, so I was not able to test my hypothesis.

The Twin Cities Norton Owner’s Club Concours d’Elegance was a hit at its new location. Diamond’s Cafe on Central in NE Minneapolis is a fabulous venue for such an event. Located in a large warehouse space amongst a myriad of art studios, it has plenty of parking off the street and lots of room to wander around. The cafe itself offers everything a rider could want in terms of non-alcoholic refreshment in an eclectic setting, with brilliant service from the cheerful staff. Bob’s Java Hut has a serious competitor here, or perhaps the two will compliment each other by virtue of the distance between. Some incredible bikes showed up, including an original round-case desmo 750SS Ducati, Ariel square-four, and my personal favorite: “Al”. Al is a Norton Commando cafe racer done up in the finest rocker tradition. Sporting Evans Wilcox handmade bodywork, rearsets with the shifter on the right side as the Queen intended, and a hopped-up Commando motor with belt primary drive. Al is the cafe racer I have always wanted. Unfortunately, I have never developed the necessary skill or bank account to make this dream a reality. Well, I’m not dead yet… maybe someday.

The MMM Reader Appreciation Event was a showing of the original “Mad Max” at the historic Riverview Theater in South Minneapolis. The highlight of this show was the appearance of the original Main Force Patrol Interceptor movie car in front of the theater, complete with driver in full black leather uniform, right down to the sawed-off shotgun sidearm. George Frederick did us all a great service just by showing up. The movie seemed even more lurid and melodramatic than the first time I saw it on the big screen, and it puts the VHS version to shame. The Riverview impressed me with its art-deco authenticity, and I will definitely go back again to enjoy other films in their deep, comfy seats. This sounds like the beginning of an enjoyable winter hobby.

Now what can I say about the Flood Run? This event goes back many years, starting in the 1970s as a way to generate contributions for flood victims along the Mississippi River. Rolling down Highway 35 in Wisconsin and Highway 61 in Minnesota, dense packs of mostly Harley-Davidson motorcycles rumble slowly through one small river town after another. Sitting in this loud, unruly gridlock for the third town in a row, I experienced an epiphany… Harley riders, or “Bikers” ™, are really just frustrated grown-up kids with a parade fixation! Think about it: what was the high point for Captain America and Billy from the movie Easy Rider? Duck-walking their choppers down main street, blipping the throttle, and waving at all the little kiddies. Look at me! LOOK AT ME!! I didn’t spend all this money on my big, two-wheeled parade float for NOTHING!

Even the tarnished princesses on the back get into the act, waving their black-gloved hands and smiling to the crowd. Instead of throwing candy, they lift their tee shirts to treat the throngs on the curb. This is what we experienced, town after town, until we finally got fed up and decided to do some actual RIDING.

Our group was not sporty. Bill and Bonnie Bassett, their 70 year-old friend Glenn, and master machinist John Sivanich were all riding Gold Wings. Bernie brought up the rear on his ST1100. We turned east on County Road N and never looked back. For some two hundred miles we grooved on roads almost devoid of other traffic. All the cops had been sucked over to the Flood Run, so we were able to set our own pace. These guys really know how to hustle their `Wings through the sweepers, so Kermit and I were never bored. The day passed way too quickly after that, and it was well after dark by the time I got home.

Now I am contemplating the Slimey Crud Fall run, but I don’t know if I’ll make it. We have new doors and a high-efficiency furnace to install before the snow flies, and I have got to make some hard decisions: fix the doors, or go for a ride? Clean the garage, or give up my winter project bike? Replace the furnace, or pay ridiculous gas bills all winter? I can’t bear the thought of abusing Kermit on salt-encrusted roads, so winter riding is out. People in New Mexico don’t have to worry about these things. The vision of an Airstream trailer squatting in the high desert is really haunting my dreams these days. But wife Amy would never go for that, so I guess I’m stuck in Minnesota for good or ill.

It’s been a fabulous riding season, and I can take comfort from that. Next year can only get better, especially if I finish my winter project bike. When I start to go stir crazy, I’ll drag the family out to the Riverview Theater for a movie. We can do this. We will survive.


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