So many excuses, with laptop breakage, job loss and transition…but here ya go.
Better late than never?
I woke up at 5am, gathered the last of my toiletries and walked to the airporter in the morning mist. I followed an elderly couple from the building to the bench at the center of the parking lot where the bus picks up the passengers. The man made two trips back and forth from the building to the bench, carrying their suitcases to where they needed to be . His wife stood under the awning, out of the wet air.
He told her there was coffee inside.
In the airport after security checks I still had time for bad coffee and a greasy breakfast sandwich. I checked my email and trip itinerary obsessively like I do when traveling. I eavesdropped on strangers and people-watch like I do when I’m alone in crowded places. The intercom sounded several times asking for Ja Rule.
Waiting for my connection in Denver, I was sitting at an airport bar when the intercom called out for Corey Haim to please pick up the white courtesy phone.
Either someone was messing with the folks at the information desk or I am a terrible listener.
I continued to watch people. What they carried with them, how they killed time between flights, their luck with finding available electrical outlets. I counted three women in neck braces between SFO and Denver.
The flight to Denver had been on a nicer plane. A beast with televisions installed on the back of each chair. The child next to me was ill mannered and kicked the back of the seat in front of him, crawled all over his mother and refused to sit still.
“No, James.” she’d say weakly, obviously annoyed but used to this type of thing. He’d smile at her and continue whatever he was doing that she had asked him to stop.
I’m a terrible flier so I slammed two glasses of wine in Denver before boarding my flight to Rapid City. I caught a nice mellow buzz and fell asleep just as the tiny plane hit turbulence.
My little brother Tommy and his fiance picked me up at the airport and drove me into Sturgis where my dad was falling in love with this years Indian in Journeymen blue.
I grew up going to motorcycle rallies and runs. My dad has been riding longer than I have been alive. I’ve never before seen so many motorcycles at once.
The sound never bothered me. It makes me feel warm and I think of home.
I’d never seen so many people trying so hard to be “bikers.” You can spot them by their squeaky clean tennis shoes and bare legged women who shouldn’t get on the back of a motorcycle if they value their own skin. Half the attendees posturing, imitating stupid television shows and trying to impress the old school, who just remember what it was like when it actually meant something to get to Sturgis.
“We spent half the week on the side of the road working on our bikes. Hell, I didn’t even make it all the way here the first couple times I set out.” said my dad.
Since the event is so large and so many people converge upon the area, the local hotels make it a point to make all the money they can. They raise all the prices because they know that out of towners won’t have a choice. I called around and found that most hotels were going for $200+ per night.
For a Comfort Inn. It ain’t the fucking Ritz.
Locals don’t seem to mind going out of town for the week. Some of them even rent out their homes to visitors. A club member’s wife knew someone who had recently purchased a house in Lead, just outside of Deadwood, a small mining town outside of Sturgis. They moved in a week prior and then moved back out to let twenty-something bikers squat in their house for a few days.
The house was on top of a hill with steep stairs and a driveway filled with motorcycles. There were three rooms with beds, plenty of air mattresses, sleeping bags and tents in the yard. The week before the trip my dad filled the house with air mattresses, checking for leaks. He claims efficiency, I’m pretty sure he was building a fort without me.
(He saved me one.) Tommy and Bree brought an extra tent and sleeping bag for me. One of the Journeymen blew up the mattress while my brother put up my tent. No one would let me do anything, so I cracked a beer, enjoyed it for a moment, and went to find Kim Bobo. We hugged and played catch up for a while, but she was badly dehydrated from the ride the day before and wasn’t feeling well. I needed another beer. I let Kim rest and went outside to talk to everyone else.
I threw my suit case in the corner of my tent and made sure my pajamas were on top so I could easily access them later in the dark. I stepped carefully through a yard filled with tent posts toward the porch where I found a bottle of Fire Ball which I grabbed excitedly before even bothering to ask who it belonged to.
Long Hair James came out of the house through the laundry room holding a crystal candle stick and a bottle of Casadores. He set both down on the table, poured one into the other and knocked back the shot.
I guess the residents of the house hadn’t unpacked their shot glasses. Sometimes you’ve got to improvise.
We sat on the porch and in the yard. Talking, catching up and enjoying the cool South Dakota evening. Ralo’s father was a professional wrestler. She told me about how the first time we met she was talking about growing up around a bunch of men with wacky nicknames like Tank and Beautiful Bobby Wolf.
“And you laughed and said ‘Me too.’”
The day I arrived was my brother’s 21st birthday. Ralo and Long Hair James wanted to make sure we did something to celebrate, which turned into taking a cab to town and going to see LA Guns at an old opera house that the taxi driver swore was abandoned until we arrived in front of it.
There were maybe thirty people in the audience. We got seats in the center and settled in. James bought everyone a beer and the show started.
I drank every beer he handed me. Even the ones I didn’t want. He’d ask, I’d tell him I was fine, and he’d hand me another beer. Tom collected them under his seat. James was a man who did not know the meaning of “no thank you, I’m okay.” and I didn’t mind one bit. (thanks James!)
LA Guns started their “unplugged” set. (They were definitely plugged in.)
“I’ve been a vampire for fourteen years…” the singer crooned. I turned to my brother.
“That’s not that long. I mean, In vampire years…”
After a handful of songs the guitarist played a few bars of something familiar. Everyone else went outside to smoke. Long Hair James shouted “BLAAAAAACK SAAAABBATHHHHHH!”
We cheered, we whistled, we ask for more Sabbath. He stopped playing the song and the band conversed briefly amongst themselves. They ended their set with a bunch of cover songs and got the most applause while covering Violent Femmes ‘Blister in the Sun” then launched into a cover of ‘All Along the Watchtower.”
I looked around to make sure everyone else could hear it too. Just in case I was a waking Cylon.
When they finished the last song the crowd clapped and whistled but not as loud for their original song as for the covers. The guitarist leaned into the mic and said to the small audience “You make me feel like a whore.”
Drunk, I shout back “YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF!” then walk out to the lobby where they have an antique iron lung on display for no apparent reason.
We waited for our cab and James went into the Silver Star lounge across the street. I followed him inside to tell him how much time we had until our ride arrived. On my way in I passed a young guy, twenty something, alone. He had a three piece Sons of Anarchy back patch sewn to his vest and I openly laughed at him as I walked by.
“Did you SEE that shit, James?” I asked.
“I was going to take it from him, but I don’t think it’s worth going to jail.” he said, staring him down across the bar.
Wednesday morning was the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame induction breakfast. And I was hung over.
This year they were honoring my father along with six others. A lawyer and some custom bike builders. My father was specifically inducted into the Freedom Fighters Hall of Fame for all the work he’s done for motorcycle rights and safety.
Each inductee was given five minutes to speak to the audience. Most of them spent that time saying thank yous. My dad used it as a platform to further publicize what he’s working toward.
“Any one who knows me knows that this will be brief.
One of the things I tell them in my seminars is that when I was riding into their neighborhoods what I noticed was a lot of room. So take that territorial shit and get over it. There is plenty of room for all of us. Another thing I tell them is that there are only so many colors in the rainbow, so get over that too. As long as your patch doesn’t look like mine, we’re okay.
I also tell them that if they want to go out and get into a fight on a Friday night…go to the cowboy bar.”
And that was the end of his speech. Had the mic not been attached to the podium, dropping it on the ground and walking off stage would have fit perfectly as an exit.
I sat through the presentations about the other inductees, listened to them thank their families and try to raise money for the museum. I excused myself twice to throw up and when we returned to the house, I laid on the couch for the whole of the afternoon recovering from the night before and let the flies land on me.
We woke early the next day and began packing up camp. We scrubbed the toilets and floors, did dishes, replaced groceries we’d used (mostly coffee and toilet paper) and washed all the bedding and towels.
JD passed around a small black notebook and everyone wrote a thank you letter to the owner of the house, chipped in and left a stack of cash inside the book. We left them with a house so clean it was almost impossible to tell we’d been there, save for a few blue feathers that had shed from a boa that Ralo demanded that I accept from her.
We stopped off in Rapid City when my Dad´s clutch went out and I scored a sweet leather jacket for $40, then it was off to Mount Rushmore where I saw some guys carved into a rock that didn’t seem as massive as I imagined it would be, and they charge $6 for an ice cream cone.
It was delicious.
Since my suitcase was still in Ralo´s car, we had to drive to Wyoming to drop off my dad and get it. A storm was moving in and as we headed into the blackness my brother looked over at my dad and said “This goes against every instinct I have.´
After driving hours in one direction, we turned around to drive back to Rapid City. Back into the storm. I had a flight to catch the next evening and we took some dry clothes to the folks who got caught in the storm on their bikes.
Long flat stretches of highway so black that you only know that the horizon still exists when the lightning flashes and illuminates the sky for a split second. In that flash you can see the line between the sky and the road in a pale pink glow.
Going around Mt Rushmore there are deer in the middle of highway. Tom flashes lights at them and they scurry off. A mile later we see signs telling us to watch for big horn sheep.
That will fuck up your car.
Got into a Super 8 motel at 4am and paid $190 to sleep for a few hours and was denied a late check out. My flight didnt leave until 5pm, so I went to Denny’s across the street from the hotel, where they were so slammed that I wanted to help them run food- server instinct.
Waiting for a taxi outside of Denny’s I’m watching a morbidly obese woman on crutches struggle out the door. I remind myself that It’s not polite to stare, look away and scan the passing traffic for my cab. When I look back, a woman in her party with bug eyes and buck teeth wearing hospital scrubs smiles at me. I smile back. She grins wider and holds up a pamphlet with a picture of a bear on it. I smile back and say “ooh!” she continues to smile an crawls into the backseat of the SUV.
Checking in at the airport the girl at the computer next to the woman helping me looks at her screen and sighs. “I’m looking at how many flights we over sold. We’re in truh-uhhh-bull.”
My own flight was over sold by 2 seats. Another on Delta, where they are so desperate to remedy their error, that they offer to reschedule the flight as well as a $600 voucher. Suddenly the quiet airport is buzzing. There are few things you can’t get for the right price.
The woman next to me keeps prodding this guy to volunteer to take a later flight. He has an “important meeting” in the morning and says he would like to but can’t.
“Talk him into it” she says to the guy at the gate.
I can’t help but wonder why she doesn’t volunteer herself. He strikes a conversation with her and they start talking bikes. He’s showing her photos from his cell and sounds more excited about the steak he had at the roadhouse than any motorcycle.
“It’s been about 15 years since I’ve been on one. I’ve been telling my wife I want to get back on one. It’s a lot of fun. But its been a long time.”
In 15 years you haven’t managed to get on a fucking motorcycle? Clearly, you don’t want it that bad. I can’t imagine my father, or anyone else with a passion for two wheels and the open road, waiting a DECADE AND A HALF to get on a bike.
Some people are conversing behind where I am seated. The men are looking out the window contemplating the storm rolling in.
“Man, look at that lightning.”
I wasn’t looking forward to the storm in this teeny plane, almost certain that I would vomit on someone, if I didn’t get struck by lightning first.
The officer at the bar sipping coffee tells the bartender that there are flash flood warnings. I sip my vodka and sigh into my book. He asks how I’m doing. I tell him I’m well, just hoping I’m not stuck here. He says so long as there isn’t too much lightning we should get out fine. The longer I wait at the gate the closer the grey clouds push in.
Ten minutes before our flight is due for departure the intercoms sounds and the man at the gate announces that we’ve been placed on a ground hold. Everyone but me is worried. I have four hours between flights.
Still, I’d rather not wait for anything. I just want to crawl into my bed.
An hour after my flight should have taken off I’m sitting at the gate listening to a bunch of folks from back east talk to one another while reading WE LIVE INSIDE YOU for the third time. They talk about their bikes on a truck somewhere outside, saying that if they have to stay later they will go get their bikes. One of them says that a least they aren’t missing ride time. If they were really so concerned with time spent riding…why were they flying?