Stories From the Road
It was Sunday. Traditionally I avoid weekends for any kind of motorcycle travel, given that weekdays tend to provide less crowded roads. But, it was Sunday and I was in possession of an Indian Chieftan, eager to put some miles on it in the kind of environment where it deserves to be ridden. A coastal cruise up Hwy 1.
Traipsing back roads, past agriculture, over rolling hillsides, through valleys and vineyards, I’d arrived in Cambria. It was time to refuel. As I filled that tank with the glorious paint scheme of the noble Indian with colorful headdress, I noticed an older woman at the adjacent pump isle, looking at the bike. I would guess she was in her early seventies. Well-preserved, she obviously had been a very attractive woman in her younger days.
She had a somewhat forlorn, dreamy air about her as she gazed at the Indian, eyes tracing the contours of the machine. Then, conjuring a memory from long ago, she said, “My first motorcycle ride was on an Indian, ” adding whimsically, “I was seventeen.”
I responded, “Tell me more.”
Having filled her vintage 70s-era Rambler—which was in as immaculate shape as she, despite its years—she approached. She leaned in and whispered, “It was the first time I smoked dope, too.” Then, bringing herself back to the present, with a hint of mischief, she asked, “What does it sound like?”
How could I refuse? Having capped the tank, I cranked the mighty V-twin over and let it purr, the chrome pipes emitting that glorious, lugubrious exhaust note. She smiled. It was a smile that suggested the sound was serving as aural affirmation as to the value of her memory. It was a telling smile, so much more than simply an appreciation for the workings of an internal combustion engine. Then, as if the mechanical sensations were welcoming a rush of flesh and blood memories, she said simply, “Smooth.”
Her aura lightened by several decades, the regal grey-haired beauty nodded, got behind the wheel of her Rambler, and slowly pulled out of the station, reaching her arm out the open window to wiggle her fingers in a kind of adolescent wave good-bye, her eyes focused on me in the rear-view mirror. I found myself thinking there was perhaps another first that day, all those years ago, which she chose not to share with me.