How was I supposed to know what it was when I was standing in front of the most gorgeous piece of machinery I had ever seen?
On the road they looked different. There was always a scary guy riding it. Always a guy who needed a bath, wearing a torn-up shirt and scuffed boots. Under those conditions it was impossible to see what we were seeing at the age of eight when we stood in front of the first real motorcycle.
When I tell you I have the image of that bike locked in my mind to this day, will you believe me? When I tell you I just went looking for 1984 Harley Davidson Motorcycles for an hour so I could tell you exactly what it was that took our breath away, will you think me silly?
Well I did. I searched my mind and I searched the internet and I can tell you when I was eight, I saw a 1984 Fatboy, flaming red with black leather seat and black saddle bags.
It was huge. I had never stood in front of one before. On the street they look small, but this thing was enormous. The tires were thicker than I thought they would be, the handlebars bigger. The entire bike was massive, and Cage and I stood there, staring slack-jawed at it for almost an hour.
All I knew about motorcycles was that Roger rode one. My mother’s old boyfriend and my uncle’s dearest friend. I knew he was wild. A rough and tumble martial artist with a craving for the night life and a habit of finding himself in a fight. To this day I believe Roger was my mother’s soulmate, but he was too wild and she had two young kids.
This motorcycle reminded me of him and the way he used to hold me tight to his side and watch Saturday morning cartoons with me when he had just got home from a hard night of drinking and fighting. I loved Roger with all my heart. Even today I know if my mom had been able to work it out with Roger, my life would have been much different than it was. I would be a different kind of man.
Well, this was not Roger’s bike, but it was gorgeous, and as I stood staring at it, I saw the owner walking up the street.
He was coming out of Crystal’s house. She was a new mother with a bland husband and she entertained gentleman suitors while her husband was away. The toughest man I ever saw came out of her house and stopped before us.
“Hey guys, how ya doing?” he said. He was tall with a handsome face and a black eye. His hair was long and black, and it shined a way I had never seen before. He had a bit of a beard, but only that which disinterest could provide. This was not a man who was trying to grow a beard, this was a guy too busy to shave.
“We are okay,” I said through numb mouth.
“We didn’t touch your bike,” Cage said. “We weren’t doing anything to it, we were just looking is all.”
“Want to touch it?” he asked.
We could not speak.
“Rule one is you never touch a man’s bike. You never sit on it, you never lay a finger on his bike. Women and money come and go. Steal a woman or a few bucks from a man, and years later you can still work it out. It will take a fist and a few kicks, but you can always work it out. Touch a man’s bike, and that can get you killed.” He stared down at us and I couldn’t breathe. “You fellas sure you didn’t touch my bike?”
I took a step back. Cage’s chin started to quiver.
“Honest we didn’t. We just looked at it,” Cage said. Then he turned and ran.
“I’m just fucking with you, little man. I’m not going to kill you,” the man said to me with a laugh. “You didn’t run. You’re either made of harder stuff or you are locked in place. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Now, go get your friend and bring him back here.”
I ran. I found Cage in his basement behind his mother’s old washing machine. Together we braved the streets again and came to the guy’s bike once more.
“I was just fucking with you, little dude, I’m not going to kill you. But the lesson is the same nonetheless. Don’t ever touch a man’s bike without his permission.” He laughed. “We get kind of edgy when people get too close, but you guys are fine.”
“Do you have a helmet?” Cage asked.
“Do I look like the kind of man who wears a helmet?” He ran his fingers through his hair and grinned. “No helmet, no chaps, just me and the road.”
“You ever been in a crash before?”
“How did it go?” I asked.
The man seemed to take on a sad look when he said, “Lost my first girl in that accident. She was a Superglide. Gorgeous, with a bit of a hollar in her and a fuck you that would not quit. Loved that bike. There was almost nothing left when that truck was done with her.” He lifted his shirt. “I got this for my part.” He pointed to a spot on his flank that looked like a burn. “Road Rash. I was in the hospital for a while. Got out and the first thing I did was buy her.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the bike.
My heart stopped. I looked around to see if anyone had heard him. I felt like I was in trouble already, but when I looked at that bike I knew I would get on it. I was not to talk to strangers. I was never to get in anybody’s car if I didn’t know them, but I knew looking at that bike and that man, I was going on a ride with him.
Cage was first. The man sat down and with no effort at all hiked Cage right off his feet and placed him on the seat in front of him.
“Grab ahold of something,” the man said. Cage grabbed the gas tank, and with a spit and a growl, they were gone.
When the rumble of the bike was gone and nothing but the sound of the street was left, I started to cry. I just knew the biker had kidnapped Cage. I tried to imagine what I was going to tell the police. What I was going to tell Cage’s mother. I sat on the grass between the sidewalk and the street, held my face and wept.
In my life to that point the sweetest sound I ever heard was the distant roar of that bike as it came down the street back in front of our house. I saw a look on Cage’s face that day I will never forget. Within that man’s chest beats the heart of a biker. He was born to be on a motorcycle.
I hope one day, when his life is his again, he finds a way to get a bike under him. I truly hope he has not lost that part of him I saw that day.
When the biker I did not know lifted me onto the Fatboy, I was at once struck with how wide it was. My legs barely fit around the gas tank. I gripped the gas tank hard, and the man said, “Fuck it,” and off he went.
As I think back on it now, I remember him saying something to himself when he took Cage out on his ride. I realized every time this guy got on his bike and started it up, he would say that to himself.
We leaned on the turns. It stole my heart to do it. When I tipped on the bike for the first time I almost cried. His arm wrapped around me and his hand sat on my chest. He shouted something to me, and though I could not hear it, I understood. This man would not let anything happen to me. He had my back.
When we got to the straight away he kept holding me and I looked up at the street in front of me and held my hands out to my sides. The wind whipped across my arms and blew my shirt up. I leaned against this hard stranger, who would kill a man if he touched his bike, and closed my eyes. I felt the wind. And I felt for the first time in my life like a badass.
When we got back to the sidewalk in front of my house I got off the bike and looked at the window to my living room. Nothing. My mother had not looked out the window the entire time I was gone. Cage still stood locked in place, his eyes wide, a smile on his face.
When he set me on the ground, he nodded to us before he said, “Fuck it,” again and was gone.
It was as if he had never been there, but neither of us would ever forget it. For years we would talk about it.
I bought a motorcycle a few years ago. It was a gloss black 2010 Wide Glide. It was the coolest thing I have ever sat on. I felt like a badass. I rode it a few times, but in the end, I just couldn’t look into the wind and say, “Fuck it.”
I sold that bike to my father-in-law. It hurts every time I have to look at it.