I have a riding buddy. We take every opportunity we can to get out in the countryside and just relax. He has a black Harley Davidson Road King Classic Touring motorcycle decked out with lots of chrome, equipped with saddle bags, radio, the works. I have a Honda Silverwing motor scooter. I call her “Red”.
John looks like a typical Harley rider. He’s not a great big guy, probably hovers around 5’10”. But he is solidly built, very muscular, and he enjoys his long shoulder length wavy graying hair. His wears a full-face beard and mustache (both matching his hair color) with a great deal of pride. He is constantly stroking it as if he wants to make sure it gets noticed.
Often, we ride in Southeast Missouri. On those days I would usually ride over to John’s house and we would leave from there. Watching John prepare for our ride was an adventure in itself. John would don his black leather jacket, black leather chaps, and midcalf black boots.
We ride with helmets. My buddy always took care to insure his helmet didn’t cover up all the hair. One hand would hold the helmet. He would place his free hand on his forehead and then slide it toward the back of his head to flatten the hair. He would then grab his ponytail and ceremoniously place it on his left shoulder. Then he would grab the helmet with his now freed up hand, lift the helmet to his head, carefully slide it over his head, all the while insuring that his ponytail stayed put. I never did understand why the placement was so important. After all, as soon as forward movement began, he no longer had control of placement.
The helmet was special. John fought in the Vietnam War and he was proud of his service. The helmet reflected his feelings. A decal of his old unit as well as the American flag covered every square inch.
Honestly, I was proud to be seen with him. He let me in on some of the hardships he had endured while a POW there. But that is another story.
My buddy loved his leather motorcycle apparel. He said he bought the gear shortly after getting home from Vietnam. The motorcycle he bought then had long since worn out as did the next three.
“These leathers will never, ever wear out”, he told me every time he would put them on. But a problem was developing he did not want to see, let alone admit.
Since the purchase of these leathers, his frame had expanded, somewhat. It was an ordeal to fit his body in that outfit. I would joke that I could see some stitches pop out. He ignored the comment. Somehow, he managed to work himself into his treasured leathers. Once that was accomplished, off we’d go. To this day, I don’t know how he could breathe. But John didn’t complain about that.
His complaints were directed toward the growing number of wear marks and holes appearing in his jacket. You might say the jacket was unsightly. Some wear marks and holes on a leather jacket are OK. They add character. John’s jacket, though, looked more like homeless than rugged. The homeless appearance was beginning to get to my riding buddy. I was sure that a new set of leathers was coming sooner or later. From the look of the jacket, it would most likely be sooner.
One day, our riding experience totally changed, and I was not prepared for it. No one could have seen this one coming.
As usual, I arrived at John’s house around 10:00 a.m. We were planning to ride around in Missouri. The weather was ideal. Southern Illinois was coming off an extended cold and snowy winter. John and I had been cooped up long enough. We were excited, to say the least. This particular outing had been planned for some time. We were not sure, though, if the weather would cooperate with our planning. In Southern Illinois, weather not cooperating with one’s plans happens frequently.
Fortunately, it did. I could hardly contain my excitement as I rode up to my buddy’s driveway and parked Red.
John met me at the door of his house.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Purple was all I saw. A big splash of purple!
A voice from inside the purple invited me in.
I realized it was my riding buddy, John. “He must be playing some kind of trick on me.”, I thought. We’re going riding. Where’s his treasured leathers, and, and WHY is he in purple leathers? I can’t wait to hear this story!”
Just as I stepped through the door, Doris, John’s wife, greeted me with a big wide smile. She seemed especially happy and couldn’t wait to let me know why.
“What do you think of John’s new riding outfit?”, she asked?
I was in serious trouble. That’s an extremely unfair, loaded question. How is a man supposed to answer a question like that? Your macho friend is standing next to his new wife and you do not want to hurt either of their feelings. But purple on a macho guy like John; and his wife of two months wants to know your opinion? The answer you give could be very problematic.
John was a confirmed bachelor until he met Doris. At age fifty, John finally met the love of his life. Doris was twenty-four years younger, full of energy, and intent on pleasing her man. They married three months ago after a short but intense courtship.
Fortunately, before I could respond to Doris’s question, she explained the purple leathers. “I bought his outfit for his birthday. He complained so much about his other outfit and he never did anything about it, that I just took it as a hint. I went to the Harley store the other day while he was at work and found these. I thought they were pretty and very colorful.
I worry about him being seen on his black motorcycle and black clothes. The guy at the store said John would have no problems being seen when he wears these. I’m not so sure, though, that John really likes them. I think he looks sexy! I can’t wait to go riding with him. But this day belongs to you two. You’ve been waiting for this ride all winter. So go have fun.” She gave her husband a kiss on the cheek and bounced out of the room.
I still didn’t know what to say. It was up to my buddy to be the first to say something. But he didn’t.
John enjoys his machoism, but purple definitely does not help that image. I’m pretty sure he sensed that as well. Doris bought the outfit for him and he absolutely adores his new bride.
He turned around, walked through the kitchen, opened the door to his garage, then pushed the button to open his garage door, and went straight to his bike. I followed behind him through the garage and went to my scooter.
He pushed his big ol’ Harley out of the garage and went through his pre-ride routine.
John is not necessarily a big talker. He’s kind of like Sylvester Stallone and Clint Eastwood in their movies. They are men of few words, but when they speak, you listen. John was not speaking until he had the right words to say.
I watched John stroke his beard and then grab his helmet with his right hand. He put his left hand on his forehead and smoothed back his hair from front to back, just like he always did, before proceeding to put on his helmet. And like always, John took great care his ponytail was just in the right place on his shoulder.
I really wanted to talk about that new set of leathers, but if John wanted to say anything he would.
When he finally mounted his bike and started it up, I about lost it. Fortunately, I already had my helmet on and my visor down, so he couldn’t see me quietly laughing at the site of that Harley dude on his big bike in purple leathers. Believe me, John always took great pride in his biker dude appearance, but this definitely put a crimp in that appearance.
John was ready, so off we went.
We don’t communicate when we ride until we get to a predetermined place.
We generally ride about three hours before we stop to rest. But it did not happen on this day.
John and I had heard that a group of motorcycle riders from California were going through Southeast Missouri and we knew what time they were expected. The talk was that they did not necessarily have a good reputation. John, for some strange reason, was of the opinion they would not mind if we rode a short way with them.
Yea, right! Like, I really believed my scooter would be allowed in with that group.
It took about forty minutes for us to get into Missouri. About an hour into Missouri, it seemed to me as if John was riding faster than normal. My scooter and I had no problems keeping up with John, but I was worried that we might miss the biker gang from California.
It was needles worry. From out of nowhere, it seemed, they roared up behind us. I knew my scooter had to be a source of amusement. It was the smallest thing on the road at the time. I was convinced I was sticking out like a sore thumb, and needless to say, I felt a little uncomfortable.
That turned out to be an unnecessary concern.
We were on a two lane back country road with lots of curves. Obviously, we needed to insure we stayed on our side of the road. From what I could see in my mirror it didn’t seem to matter to the gang coming up behind us. At that time and in my current frame of mind, I was of the opinion that they were riding as if they believed the road belonged to them and there was something in front of them (me) that didn’t belong.
I heard their rpms rev up. I believed they were going to check that “something” out in front of them.
There were six in the group of motorcycle riders. The 1950 and 60’s Hell’s Angels came to mind. They passed me without so much as a look. I noticed the high handle bars on a couple of bikes. All had lots of chrome and fat tires. Patches covered their well-worn leather jackets. They wore big heavy looking black boots. I swear I saw spurs of some sort attached to the boots. One guy was wearing a black half helmet with spikes on top. Every one of them were scary looking characters. Most likely, though, my imagination was running away with me.
Anyway, they all passed me as if I was a rock in the road they didn’t want to run over. The lead guy was pointing at John. The lead guy slowed his bike down and looked directly at my buddy. I was worried. The leader sped up and went on by. The second biker took the leader’s place next to John, studied him, and then drove on by. Every single guy in that group did the same.
John, as far as I could tell, did his best to be unconcerned about those checking him out. I was worried, though, for John and worried that we may have to also deal with on-coming traffic. A sharp curve was approaching.
I needlessly worried on both counts. It seems, I did a lot of needless worrying that day.
When the last Hell’s Angel got by John, they all grouped up in front of us riding side by side. It appeared as if they were discussing something. One of them even pointed behind him. We watched as they rode into the curve ahead, side by side.
John slowed his bike down and pulled it to the side of the road a few yards ahead the curve. The other motorcycles were now out of sight. He turned his bike around and headed back in the direction we came.
I did the same.
About ten minutes later, I saw John look behind me. He slowed his bike again and pulled it into the next farmer’s lane. I pulled in behind him.
All he said was “That was scary. Let’s head home.” I agreed. An hour and a half later we pulled into John’s driveway. John parked his bike in the garage. I told him I’d see him next week-end and then I left.
The total time of this ride was about three hours.
I happened to see John at McDonald’s the next day. We talked a little about our ride. He and I were both convinced that the riders we saw the day before in Missouri didn’t really know what to think about the “purple dude” on the Harley and that we were wise to turn around. Perhaps they would have allowed us to ride with them, perhaps not? We will never know.
My Harley riding buddy did tell me he was going to buy another pair of leathers. Doris was OK with it because he told her how much he stood out to the Hell’s Angels.
I never did, though, find out what happened to the purple leathers.