by Shawn Downey
but on a bike it’s just delightful.
I lean against my office window staring at the fallen leaves, as they are methodically buried by the snow. I remember my retired neighbor’s lecture on proper leaf disposal to avoid the unsightly brown spots caused by acidic leaf residue. “Now listen to me sonny,” he said as I was zipping my leather jacket and buckling my helmet. “Proper lawn maintenance is imperative to the community. You can’t be shucking your responsibilities at your age. You ain’t no child anymore. You’re a homeowner.” I rode off in a cloud of smoke &endash; part burning rear tire and part oil.
A piercing wind whistles through the crack in the window (oops, another project day gone bad due to the influences of choice weather and curvy roads) shocking me back into winter misery. My wife takes a break from her phone conversation. “Hey, Mr. Joy to the World, want to go to Wisconsin?” “No I do not want to go to Wisconsin,” I reply harshly. “My Dad bought you a Waterbuffalo,” retorts my wife.
Five hours, a broken windshield wiper and a couple of “Blame it on the McSomethings” later we arrive at a mature motorcycle shop in Southeastern Wisconsin. Walking into the smallish showroom I call out to the abandoned counter, “Hey! Anybody here?” Through the walls I hear wrenches dropping, some cussing, a lot of cussing and some more cussing. “Yeah, blankety blank, back here. Come on through the red door.”
I open the door and am amazed at the cavernous shop before me. Behind that tiny little showroom resides a complex of large rooms holding hundreds of motorcycles that look like they have not seen light in years. As we make our way towards the figure crouching over a freshly painted black motorcycle, I spot a 1972 Triumph with the original price tag on it, a CBX in need of some TLC, a couple of Suzukis, Nortons, RD 350s, and freshly restored Indians.
“Hey,” I say to the figure still crouched over what I now see is a fresh Indian The figure replies, “You must be that fella here for the Waterbuffalo. Well, look around, I’m in the middle of something and can’t be disturbed. ” I look at the strange addition he is grafting to a restored Indian “What are you doing?”
“What the hell do you think I’m doing? I’m fitting the sidehack. The blankety-blank river will be froze over in no time. I wanna be ready for the ice racing season.” Staring in horror, I ask him the question praying for a negative response. “You’re not going to ice race this beautiful work of art, are you?”
“You’re not one of those blankety-blank blanks who restores these bikes and then puts them in a storage shed stealing occasional glances at them like you was looking at nudie magazines, are you? One of those guppies or yuppies or whatever the hell you call ’em guys who make trailer queens out of these bikes, are you? ‘Cause if you are, you ain’t getting that Waterbuffalo.” He gives me one final glance before returning to his work and spits, “Wuss.”
A couple of minutes pass while I stare in complete disbelief. Respect my elders? They abuse me all the tune. First my neighbor Mr. Greenjeans and now this guy. “I’m not afraid of kicking old man butt.”
He looks at me again and begins chuckling. “You’d have a hard time FINDING my butt, sonny. I’ve been racing sidetrack Indians on the ice for fifty some years. I can’t find anyone to ride monkey for me any longer except my son. I’m a better shot, so when we play Ice Polo I ride in the hack, and he drives.”
Ice Racing? Ice Polo? On an Indian? Oh Esther, this is the big one. Get me the oxygen.
“Stop looking at me like I was painting graffiti on the Sistine Chapel! Back when motorcycles were naked and cigarettes had no filters, we all rode as soon as the road was clear all year round…salt, sand, whatever. That’s what your foot’s for. You stick it out when the ass-end comes round and grin! I suppose you got your bikes stored with Stabil and fresh oil waiting for spring. I collect hundreds of dollars from suckers just like you…got their bikes stored in the back. Believe me. Life’s too damn short to ride six months out of the year.”
After retrieving the Waterbuffalo (you’ll hear more about that later) and nestling in on a cold winter’s evening, I begin to hear remnants of the old guy’s words. “…riding all year long… spray down the chrome with oil and hit the streets…screw the salt…put your foot down when she slides.” Doubting the old guy’s sanity I rummage through some of my father’s old motorcycle photos. Peering into the backgrounds of the black and white photos, I was amazed at what I saw &endash; the white stuff. The modern day biker’s nemesis. It was all around and the riders were protected with nothing more than a leather jacket and a burning desire to ride. To hell with the Stabil and the Battery Tenders. I’m going riding.