As the legendary Harley-Davidson Company celebrates its 100th anniversary, not everyone in America can lay claim to having ridden a motorcycle, but surprisingly enough the ol' one can. Certainly not born to be wild (as in the hit '60s single by Steppenwolf), the ol' one never had had the slightest inclination to "get out on the highway," and go "lookin' for adventure" until one afternoon in the spring of '71.
He was happily toiling away at his first job after college, working for The Philadelphia Inquirer in downtown Philadelphia at Broad and Callowhill streets. Ray of Audubon (Yes, the same Ray for whom the ol' one was best man, who with his wife Diane recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary), the ol' one's longtime friend and compatriot, had this thing for motorcycles, and had gone out and bought a pre-owned BMW, the Cadillac of motorcycles. The ol' one was not exactly impressed, but was happy for his gumba as he satisfied one of life's thirsts for adventure so typical of young bucks. It was in the spring of '71 when a young buck's fancy also turned to the fairer sex that the ol' one had gotten Ray to join him in helping out with Rosemont College's spring festival of one-act plays. For the uninformed, Rosemont College is a Catholic women's college nestled out there on the Main Line between Bryn Mawr and Villanova.
Fast on the heels of his supporting role as one of the stage crew in the college's annual major spring production, the ol' one was about to make his Rosemont acting debut with parts in three of these one-act productions. Ray was about to "knock 'em dead" with his behind-the-scenes technical expertise.
Now, the ol' one had yet to acquire his first car and was leaning toward a Volvo on the passionate advice of Ray who had bought one himself. In fact it was in his maroon Volvo that our two heroes would venture out to the Rosemont campus after work each afternoon in pursuit of the dramatic art. There would sometimes be a stop enroute at a state store for a gallon of the fruit of the vine, which, when administered properly soothed the fragile egos of actors and stage crew alike. But where does Ray's BMW bike fit into all of this?
Well, one day as the ol' one made his way out of the Inquirer building to meet up with Ray at the corner of Broad and Callowhill, there was Ray standing with a big grin on his face holding what appeared to be some sort of headgear. Consternation and a sinking feeling rapidly came over the ol' one as he spotted the headgear and knew what it signified. Ray's Volvo was nowhere to be seen, but there was the BMW motorcycle, conveniently parked around the corner just out of the ol' one's line of sight.
"Uh, you don't have the Volvo," muttered the ol' one. Ray, with a knowing look, readily agreed and in his good-natured manner began to issue words of encouragement for the ol' one to climb on the back of the bike and leave the driving to him.
Did the ol' one really have a choice? No, and there was the question of that headgear. Ray had a super Top Gun helmet for himself. For the ol' one, he had what looked like a cross between an early leather football helmet and the leather helmet and goggles of Rocky the Flying Squirrel. A tad hesitantly, the ol' one donned the "helmet" and got on the BMW bike for what he thought was to be the ride or the first and last motorcycle ride of his life, as his Inquirer co-workers laughed at the sight there at the corner of Broad and Callowhill. Off we went into the setting sun and to the Germantown section of Philadelphia where Ray's maroon Volvo sat on the street in front of his apartment. That's where we transferred to the Volvo because it would have been somewhat difficult to hold a conversation regarding the upcoming productions as well as to hold a variety of wine on the back of the bike.
The ol' one was getting used to this bike routine. After all, Ray couldn't "open it up" on the streets of Philadelphia, that is, until one night after rehearsals. He had just gotten the BMW tuned up and wanted to give it a real go.
Now, the ol' one was still living at his ancestral home in the northeast section of Philadelphia to which Ray would provide a ride with the Volvo. But not this night. Ray plotted a course for the bike from Germantown to the Northeast via the Delaware Expressway or I-95.
Hoo-boy! This was to be the end, the final curtain that the ol' one had dreaded from that first ride on the BMW. We made it to the entrance ramp of I-95 at a reasonable city speed. Then, all bets were off.
Like a pilot receiving clearance from the tower, Ray pointed the BMW up the ramp and we took off into the night with the ol' one holding on for dear life fashionably attired in a trench coat and that Rocky the Flying Squirrel headgear. Was this the way it felt for Peter Fonda in Easyrider? Was this the way it felt for World War I flying aces with nothing but baling wire and fabric between them and the wild blue yonder? There was nothing but air and space on either side of the ol' one. The BMW usually purred like a contented kitten. Now the kitten had turned into a mean, fleet-footed jaguar bent on outrunning anything and everybody in its way.
Hunkered down behind Ray at the controls, the ol' one held his breath when he could catch it. He had never been this close to those white lane markers in his life, and sincerely hoped he and Ray would not get any closer as we roared up I-95. All of a sudden the ol' one thought about that tale Tonya, that girl from the summer "down-the-shore" had told him about burning the skin off one of her long legs as the bike she had been riding slid out from under her and her boy friend. Well, the ol' one was wearing long pants and the Rocky helmet, and there wasn't a lot of traffic on 95 at that hour of the night, so why worry?
Alas! We made it to the ol' one's ancestral home in one piece. Curious, the ol' one had asked Ray just how fast we had gone up 95. "We were hitting 70," he laughed as we exchanged thumbs up signals upon his departure.
Well, that was numbing news, but exhilarating and accelerating as well. No, the ol' one hasn't been on a motorcycle since those days. Maybe that's why he turned to coffee.
Hmmm. Compared to the gas mileage of a Winnebago, a motorcycle is a Sunday drive: A bit on the nervy side, but like a drive in the country. Wonder if there's a holder for a cup o' joe on a motorcycle. Nah, just wondering.