25 Years Behind the Pack
My senior year of high school, I had to take on a Senior Project. I had to do something that I was passionate about, then at the end of the year, give an hour-long speech about what I did. Since freshman year I knew what I was going to do, I was going to rebuild my father’s motorcycle after it sat for twenty or so years.
The poverty riders, a group of underfunded knuckle heads with second hand motorcycles carefully put back together time and time again with a perfect cocktail of duct tape and zip ties. The group filled with an array of friends, some of whom didn’t know of each other until meeting, in the backyard of a house in the heart of New Orleans, around a fire tall enough to see from space, they laugh and drink as if they were friends for fifty years. One of the members, the one gluing two empty beer cans to the sides of his cracked green dome helmet, that’s my father, and the tall one laughing at him with the girl way out his league, that’s his best friend, the same friend that got him to go to Mexico four times. These men and women are the poverty riders, with bottle cap pins to show their pride and nothing planned they set off every day, with the spirit of adventure.
When I was a kid I would go into the garage, climb my way on the bike covered in mismatched paints and homemade bags. My father would tell my sister and me stories of his travels when I was younger. I would sit on the floor and look up at him in awe. He would ramble on about the trips from coast to coast, into Canada, into Mexico, and so many more places. My imagination tainted with his words, once I was on that motorcycle, I drifted away, seeing exotic lands, I was mapping uncharted lands, meeting with the people, and so much more.
As we slowly rolled the bike out on flat dry rotted tires, I was amazed with the peer beauty. Covered in dents, sloppy wielding patches and 1970’s duct tape, it was everything I wanted and more. I promised on that day, I was going to see as much of the world as I could just like my father did, with no money and without a plan.
My father along with friends are riding through Mexico, bikes loaded up with their temporary homes and the maximum amount of gear they can carry. As they around a corner, they are stopped by a pair of tanks and a line of sandbags. Men in uniforms step out from the shadows casted from the trees, rifles and knifes in hand. Through the communication of broken English and poorly translated Spanish, the uniformed men want to search to make sure these inadequately dressed people aren’t running drugs. As one of the men begins to search my father’s bag, my father notices the patches on the uniform are falling off, others in the line don’t even have patches, and some look like they could be a farmer with a gun. The man yells to a smaller man with a much better uniform and larger patches. The man points at some substance at the bottom of the pouch on the side of the bike, and begins to yell at my father. After some more arguing back and forth in sad excuses for translations, the man takes a line of the white mystery substance, and quickly is knocked to his ass and coughing uncontrollably. The gang of bikes drives through, tears rolling down their cheeks from laughing, and with one less box. A small box of Borax left behind, just in case that small man wants another line.
Old shoeboxes and metal cases litter the floor of the living room. Topographic maps dating back to the early 70’s and cases of spent rolls of Kodak film fill most of the treasure chest. An old slide projector, hums and flickers to communicate its age. Photos of friends, bad ideas, less than ideal living situations, and most importantly a picture of Randy’s butt. As it was told every time we look at those slides, “That’s the end.” I begin to mentally sketch out my plans for traveling, would I be catching buses like Jack Kerouac, sailing oceans like Jeff Johnson, or would I follow in the footsteps of my father.
I was told that you can’t take someone else’s adventure and make it your own. You have to be original, learn from the mistakes made by those before you, but make plenty of your own.
I couldn’t take a motorcycle like my father, the adventure wouldn’t be mine. I didn’t want to sail for days on end, or live as unruly as Kerouac.
Somewhere in the mountains of Mexico, my father and his friend hear a faint voice yelling at them. As they turn they are greeted with the best view Mexico could offer. A white VW Bug, no paint only primer, with “policia” on the hood in blue paint, and a young male leaned out the window yelling at them. The barely running pile of junk was leaning to the side where the guy was yelling from and a rust flaking off every bump. Guts hurting from laughing at the poor excuse of a scam, they turn the throttle and head off.
The journey to rehab the bike into some seems of ridable started with meeting with my father’s best friend, a tall, skinny, bearded wonder, Ace. He wasn’t that much to the eye, for most of his life he was pulling out shirts from trashcans at rest stops, covered in a mixture of diesel and spent oil, it was more of a piece of fine art rather than appeal.
When we brought him the basket case of the bike, he was full of stories, some of happiness, but others of just survival. We spent the first day of building just talking. Sitting on the tailgate of his truck I watched the two fifty plus year old men laugh and share memories that they would slowly be piecing together as the trips were 28 years ago.
The start of the build gave no hopes of finishing, finding a dead mouse in the air filter and a small gathering of spiders in the underpart of the fairing. Lines dry rotted out, cables missing and wires going to nowhere. The first glimmer of hope was when the starter came in the mail. With a new air filter, a preowned gas filter, and a small John Deer tractor to jump it, the bike kicked over in just a few ticks.
The worst mistake my father ever made was leaving before days Christmas. Leaving behind his mother at the house in Connecticut and his dog at a friend’s place for the time being. As days on the road came and went and the holiday approached he felt a loneliness, the one note song of the engine between his knees and his mind were the only two to keep him company.
Christmas Eve came on the day of the border crossing, the guard wished him a Merry Christmas but just like the song, it didn’t feel like Christmas at all.
My father drove for miles along with a few friends, the made good time, but as the day grew long, they searched for food. Pulling off into a little town on an unmapped dirt road, he was rushed by a sea of kids. Wide eyed in amazement of the super heroes pulling in on magical machines, my father pulled deflated soccer balls and cheap flip flops out, the kids were soon off playing with their new toys. For the adults, the gang of bikers brought toilet seats, something we take for granted. It may have been the worst Christmas for my father, but for that small unmapped village, it was a miracle.
To explore, that is when you have a plan. To adventure, that is when you have no plan and everything goes wrong.
I don’t exactly know how my adventures will go, who I will meet, or who will follow. Maybe, not knowing is understanding.
My older sister is born and my father looks to settle down now in his life after being a child who never spent more than a year in a single house. My father never wanted his kids to have to go through what he did, eating just enough to be alive but far below nutritional. Throughout my father’s childhood, many places were called home, from boondocks Maine to inner city New York. The only constant was family. My father’s father was only in the picture for a short while and the older brother and elder sister moved our fight after high school. My father was left with only his mother, younger sister, and endless travel.
As my father rest the motorcycle into its temporary resting place, memories of when the house was being built by my father’s mother. After coming across some money from her husband's passing, the off shade of blue house is a staple to the Reutzel’s.
My father’s friend, Greg, is a tall lanky man with thinning hair he hides under mystery stained hats, connected to his beard in which he developed a habit of twirling in times of deep thought. As he stands over the bike, he explains what a basket case means, it’s just a bike that is brought to someone to rebuild, but instead of being put together, it’s in roughly a million pieces, none of which are matching serial numbers or paint color, and if you are truly lucky you will find a skull of a rodent or mummified amphibian in the bottom.
The more we work on the bike the more knowledge spews out of him, like a BMW Motored encyclopedia, every part he pulls, he gives number part, mechanical name, and biker lingo for. Once in a while he sings along to the single speaker radio in the bike of the makeshift, dilapidated shed that is currently held up with a VW van and a couple of two by fours left over from that roofing project that he did last week.
Greg is wicked smart in most forms of life, obtaining his teaching degree in college he taught at a high school where he was able to meet Beth, the girl that was so far out of his league. These two traveled together with my father in not only the states but into Mexico as well.
As my father is leaving Mexico with close friends, Greg and his other companion, Boat, a very large man with a shit eating grin, they begin to race the sun, trying to hit the US boarder before sun fall. Hitting speeds far past the legal limit, my father is greeted with a large metal UFO flying inches from the motorcycle. As my father looks to Boat, riding the next up from him, he watches the large man tilting his head to either side, like a dog trying to grasp a new concept of reality, trying to figure out why it sounded different. As my father rips the grip on the motorcycle to catch up, he is able to flag Boat down. Communicating through cussing, hand gestures, pointing, and some actually words, my father is able to tell Boat he lost of the exhaust pipes about a mile ago. Boat turns to retrieve the part, a mistake as they were racing to get out of the country before night fall and did not want to risk consequences of having to stay. My father calls him an idiot and tells him if he doesn’t make it back, he is going to take everything that he owns.
At the border, Greg, Beth, and my father are shimmying through the lines using United States single dollar bills to make a faster experience, my father turns to hear the sound of a motorcycle thundering in the darkness with only a single round headlight to guide the way. As the orb gets closer and closer, my father is stunned with such a strange view, a man on a motorcycle with wat looks to be a pipe strapped to the bike, rigged with bungies, tape, rope, and hopeful prays, Boat comes out of the darkness. The large man is full of smiles and the look of gloating as he stares at my father.
Topographic maps line the walls of my room, mocking me as the plans for travel have teased me these last four years. College, getting a piece of paper that tells people to hirer you, learning to bullshit assignments minutes before they are due, friends that kidnap you to go camping on a Tuesday because some KOA is having a deal.
The thought of the motorcycle slips to the back burner as projects and homework takes importance. Pictures and certain words will spark the memories of the build. The blood, sweat, and tears complimented nicely by the uncountable number of hours I put in. The face of my father has he sees the motorcycle running again, with the carbonators that underwent road side surgery on and magically they still work. The words my father proudly stated to me when the bike was again brought into the garage at home, “our bike.”
I brought home a dog, was it the best choice, probably not, but it was done. Her name is Tegan, a smaller forty-pound mutt, blue eyes, longer body and a shoulder that never healed right. They know almost nothing of her past only that she had a couple of puppies near her when they rescued her and that her shoulder was stuck how it was.
In the car on the way home, Tegan is in my lap, staring out the window with the biggest smile on her face. Staring out the window to just see the blur of life as she is now coming into her new life.
Training with Tegan is a mess. I have no control over this spastic two year old Tasmania devil. She doesn’t listen to anything I say, she’s a freaking thick head, I think I’m in to deep.
A couple weeks after I adopted her, I get a package in the mail, Tegan’s paper work. With dental records, she’s only a year, she’s a puppy. Being lied to hurts, but I get to spend an extra year with her, things aren’t too bad, I guess.
Tegan loves the care, between staring out the windows, flopping her tongue out the window
College has made me something I have never been before, unable to do a long hike. Ten miles used to be an absolute breeze, eating this college mess of a mystery meat and abstract pasta has made these miles a challenge. Do I blame myself? Nah, I blame the Roll and Rock along with the midnight tacos too. It’ll be work but I’ll get back to where I was.