It’s not something I think about a lot, but, yes, it could be argued that I am, at bottom, a statistic
. I was born less than a year after the end of World War II
. I grew up visiting my friends’ parents’ bomb shelters
. Watching the Mickey Mouse Club
. Drinking Yoo Hoo
I am a Boomer. As in Johnny Came Marching Home and Got Laid.
I and tens of millions like me—not rock n roll—built this town.
I am one of the more indigestible parts, I’m certain, of the proverbial pig in the python, the Bell Curve of Mortality in America in the 21st Century.
Advertisers think I have money to burn. So do my kids. Because I am old and don’t want to take it with me. Because I've already spent too much on a lot of crap I don't need and they think I'm addicted to crap.
I don’t think it was membership in the generation that is beginning to be tickled by the twinges of Old Age that made me want to start riding motorcycles again. You know, pursuant to some sort of atavistic Death Wish, pockets full of cash that is useless unspent, we boomers are (allegedly) going off and climbing Everest. Buying Porsches. Scaling the costly artificial breasts of women half our age. Killing ourselves loudly on forty thousand dollar Harley-Davidsons.
So they say.
I don’t know. I admit, the memory of her breasts up against my back, on the road in summer, bar-hopping, pelvis sliding firmly against me each time I applied the brakes, yeah, the memory of motorcycling ran through my mind as I stood in the doorway of that BMW shop a couple of years ago.
But I think I had in mind even Bigger Fish in the frying pan of life as I took in the familiar smell of new rubber, old leather, and money on fire.
The woman behind the counter was my age, wearing bifocals, fussing with Windows 3.1 as I stood there a dramatic beat or two.
I decided to go for broke. She looked so...good-natured:
"Well," I said, fully aware of my ironic quest, "here I am."
"Oh yeah," she said, sliding her glasses up in her tousled gray hair to get a better look at what mortality had dragged in, "we get a LOT of you!"
And I had to laugh out loud.
You must understand. The net makes it easy to buy pretty much anything anywhere these days. I knew the phone numbers, street addresses, and driving times to every BMW motorcycle shop between San Francisco and San Diego within seconds after booting up. I had picked West Valley BMW because it was at the apex of a hundred mile commute I had been making for a while. It was on my way to the golf course I’d been playing.
And I had picked it cause it was a Mom and Pop shop, in business for fifty years on the same site. Sure, I could buy a bike cheaper someplace else; yeah, someplace even closer to home. The largest BMW dealer on the west coast was only ten miles from my front door. But that’s not what I was looking for.
Nobody rides motorcycles cause they’re convenient.
"No, no, no, you don’t understand. I want to do it right."
"Yeah. I used to ride."
She heaved herself wearily away from her keyboard. Shaking her head. Here we go again.
"Honey, everybody used to ride."
She eyed me closely, took a brochure from a box right next to me, by the front door. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation's New Riders Course. I had her there:
"Yep. Already signed up."
"Good. Cause you know I’m not going to let you kill yourself, right?"
"That’s not what we’re about here."
And I knew I was in the right place, for sure. Looking around, I caught sight of a picture: this woman, three or four decades younger. Her Mom. Her Pop. This same counter. A family business.
Friend of mine, a little younger, never ridden before, bought himself a brand new Harley Hog. Expensive as hell. Scary loud. Lots of chrome and leather saddle bags. This guy made millions in pharmaceuticals. Retired, for crying out loud, at forty eight. Dropped his Brand New Harley four blocks from the shop on the way home. Scared himself shitless. Has never felt the wind in his face on a motorcycle yet.
"You have to find out if riding a bike is really for you."
"Yeah, well, I think it is. I mean I used to ride a lot, but I wanna start slow."
"Good. We like to hear that. You know, you don’t need a NEW motorcycle."
I took a good look at this woman. Smart as hell. She seemed so happy talking to me:
"We want you to come back."
"Yeah, I guess I kinda need something I can—"
Because, you know, there are two kinds of motorcycle riders, those who have dropped their bikes and those who will.
"But, but, you still don’t understand where I’m coming from. My son and I...he thinks it’d be a good idea if we drove across country on motorcycles together. Just the two of us. I figure I’ve got three years to get myself in shape."
And Laurie fixed me with the stare that carried the weight of thousands of similar conversations with men young and old who want to do something that she’s been doing since she was knee-high to a kickstand. Said the 50 year-old woman who’d been riding all her life to the 50 year-old man who kinda sorta thought he might like to get back into it:
"Oh my God! I hope you’re not gonna make him read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance!"
We’ve been happily doing business ever since. Laurie helps me keep my shit together.
And Mom and Pop? Well, Mom and Pop are the real deal. They've seen it all and made change.
Without Mom and Pop that damned python'd starve to death.