Why we ride — Part 2

My First Bike

Dad sold his motorcycle while I was still very young, and I had pretty much forgotten all about the adventure those days meant to me. For some reason, he never got around to selling his helmets. Perhaps he was holding on to his glory days, when he felt younger, more alive, viscerally virile. Whatever the case, those helmets collected dust for years. Until one day… they were just gone. Kind of like my misspent youth.

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Mother Fletchers was a legendary landmark in Myrtle Beach for several decades.

Through high school and my first year of college, the memories of carving the countryside with dear old dad lay dormant. They were buried beneath layers of cars, girls, partying, and too many illicit substances to admit that I had anything to do with. Riding was a distant memory, and I was too caught up in other interests to notice. At 20, I was hired as the resident DJ at a club called Mother Fletcher’s in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Let me tell you, it was a helluva job! For five nights a week, I was the man behind the music at one of the most popular and well-known clubs in the entire state back then.

Location is everything, and Mother Fletcher’s was dead center of the action in Myrtle Beach. Every night, thousands would pour through the doors to drink, dance, and see the girls.  And each night there was either a bikini or wet T-shirt contest. Yours truly had the enviable task of hosting these contests. It was rough work, playing music, hosing down hot girls, and basically being the ringleader for the nightly debauchery, but hey, a guy’s gotta make a living, right?

There is simply no other feeling that can compare to the soul-cleansing rejuvenation you get from cruising down the highway on two wheels.

why-we-ride-008One of the unique/weird things about Myrtle Beach is that beginning with Spring Break every year, every week has a different type of crowd. Spring Break brought the college kids (obviously) followed by families over Easter. There is a bit of a lull, but then it picks up again in mid-May with Harley Week, followed by (I am not making this up) Black Bike Week. While the Harley riders roared into town on thundering V-twins, the (predominately) black bikers came screaming down the Grand Strand on sport bikes like Ninjas, R-1s, or Hayabusas. If the annual rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, is the mecca for he Harleys, Black Bike Week in Myrtle Beach is on the bucket list for every crotch rocket with an extended swing arm and nitrous oxide bottle.

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Black Bike Week – yes it is actually called that. 

Thousands upon thousands of bikers descend on the Grand Strand every year, lured by the sun, sand, and waves… and the fact that South Carolina has very relaxed helmet laws. Basically, if you are over 21, you don’t have to wear a brain bucket. So, they come pouring in from all over the East Coast to ride, to drink, and most importantly (to them) to party! For those two weeks, the bikers outnumber any other tourists ten to one, and they bring every type of two-wheeled transportation you can possibly imagine.

 

That first summer when I saw the hordes rolling into town, I was amazed by the bikes I saw. Most of them were just average bikes, and there were certainly some show-winners too. But what kept my head on a swivel was the sheer number of motorcycles in one place. Growing up in Lenoir, motorcycles were the exception, not the rule. In Myrtle Beach though, the bikes were everywhere; on the highway, on the strip, on the sidewalk, stuck in the sand, you name it! With so many bikes to ogle, I couldn’t help but recall the vivid memories that had lain dormant for so long. I absolutely had to have one!

I made okay money, but I was living paycheck to paycheck in those days. So I didn’t have a lot to spare for a second mode of transportation. I searched the newspaper classifieds but couldn’t find a bike I could afford. Keep in mind that this was in the mid-90s, so there was no Craigslist or Cycle Trader Online. After I exhausted all my efforts, a friend of mine offered to sell me his old Yamaha XS650. It was rusty and desperately needed some TLC, but it was what I could afford.  So I handed over a grand total of $500, and I finally had a bike of my own.

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My first bike was a Yamaha xs650.

My friend had to show me how to work the clutch, and how to change gears. I tentatively rode around the neighborhood for a few weeks to get the hang of starting, stopping, and changing gears with my foot instead of my hands. It was such a different experience than driving a car with a manual transmission, but I grasped the concept soon enough. And I felt comfortable enough with my hand-eye-foot coordination to ride to work within the first month. That little bike was not a particularly good looking machine, but it got me around town just fine. What it lacked in style, it made up for in maneuverability and convenient parking. Rather than rolling around the block four or five times searching for a parking space within walking distance of the club, I could simply pull the bike up on the sidewalk, easy-peasy.

 

Myrtle Beach is predominately a tourist destination, and that means most businesses close up shop for the winter, including the Mother Fletcher’s. In the fall of 1995 when the club closed down for the winter, I started collecting an unemployment check. I could have probably moved on, and gotten another DJ gig in another city, but I really liked Myrtle Beach and I didn’t want to leave. The unemployment check was paltry compared to what I was making at the club, but it paid the rent and kept food on the table. Meanwhile, I had a lot of free time on my hands, which also meant I had a lot of time to ride.

I lived south of the city of Myrtle Beach in Surfside, and explored every nook and cranny that I could find. I would ride for hours with no particular destination in mind. With the sun on my face, and the wind in my hair, I couldn’t think of any place I would rather be in the world. It brought back all those nostalgic memories of riding with dad, riding off to nowhere.  Only now, I was in control. I was the one who decided where I was going, and it was glorious!

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Some people drink, some do drugs… I ride!

 

There is simply no other feeling that can compare to the soul-cleansing rejuvenation you get from cruising down the highway on two wheels. Some people drink, others do drugs, there are even those who talk about runners’ high, but to me, the catharsis that comes from riding is magic. That is the core of why I ride. I don’t like a lot of the bells and whistles on most modern bikes because they are distracting. I don’t need a 300 watt sound system, heated grips, or excessive amounts of chrome. Like they say, “Chrome won’t get you home.”

Don’t get me wrong, I tinker with my bikes just as much as the next guy; more probably, but I try not to make any changes that would detract from the way the bike was engineered to operate. I don’t understand the guys who build $50,000 “trailer queens.” Bikes are made to be ridden, not hauled around from show to show. My Yamaha wouldn’t have won any trophies, but that didn’t matter to me at all. All that mattered was how often I could swing my leg over that bike and hit the road.

As it turns out, I have owned several bikes since then, and I still feel the same way.

Up next – My first project

Why we ride — Part 1

My interest in riding motorcycles began as a child, when I watched my father return from his daily commute on a relatively urbane import bike.  Looking back on it now, I realize it was nothing spectacular, but to me, at that point in time… it was thrilling! He would pull roar into the driveway on two wheels, gun the motor a few times to let us know he was home, and wait for me to run down the stairs so he could rev it a few more times before he shut it down. It was as if he rode in on the dragon he conquered every day.

kawa-z440-ltd-1980My dad was (and is) a practical kind of a guy who spends money only when necessary. He goes to garage sales on the weekend looking for old fishing poles that aren’t too far gone, or maybe a set of well-worn wrenches that don’t have too much rust on them.  Just last weekend instead of putting new shutters on the house, he carefully took the old ones down, sanded them carefully, coated them with several layers of primer, resprayed them into a color of mom’s choosing, and reinstalled them himself.  He is handy, self-reliant, and thrifty to a fault.

The motorcycle was far from a luxury item; on the contrary, it was a practical means to an end. He was a department store manager in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Woolworth’s was a retail company and one of the original pioneers of the five-and-dime store. It was arguably the most successful American and international five-and-dime, setting trends and creating the modern retail model which stores follow worldwide today. These days, I don’t think you could find a Woolworth’s anywhere in the continental us, but at the time, it was a  pretty good gig for dear old dad.

His daily trek to work was anywhere from 30 – 45 minutes on country back roads, and the practical side of dad reckoned that a motorcycle got better gas mileage than a car. So, he saved money by braving the elements to make the ride there and back.  As the manager, he was expected to dress a certain way, slacks and a tie at a minimum, but rather than wear them, he packed them, along with his lunch, in a homemade wooden box bolted to the back of the bike. He was usually gone before I went to school in the morning, but I eagerly anticipated his  triumphant arrival each evening, when I would beg to climb aboard so we could slay the dragons together.

kawasaiUsually, the answer was no; he just wanted to come home and relax after a day at work. However, there were a few times on the weekend that he and I would hit the road. The few times he let me ride on the back of his motorcycle were simultaneously terrifying and thrilling . I was only 10 or 11 years old, and the bike seemed so powerful and beautiful to me.  The burgundy paint was deep and richly layered while the chrome glistened in the sun.  I don’t exactly recall what kind of helmet dad wore, but the one he had for me matched the bike and had a bubble-screen face shield. I vividly recall him weaving the strap through the double D-ring fastener underneath my chin, securing it tight enough to hold the helmet in place, but not so tight that it choked me.

1980-kawasakiHe held the bike steady as I climbed on and got comfortable, then he would swing his leg over and thumb the starter.  When the engine roared to life, the adrenaline rush that hit me was like a drug, powerful and intoxicating. I trusted Dad implicitly, but the worried look on my mother’s face and the protests she made about me being too young to ride on the open road made it all the more exciting. Dad would reassure her calmly that he did this every day, and that of course he would ride slower than he normally did. Of course he would take it slow around the corners, and absolutely, he would be back before dark. She would wring her hands and watch us until we were out of sight, as if her gaze would keep us safe from harm. I know she was just being overprotective, but once we made it around the first corner away from the house, we were off like a rocket!

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I couldn’t see very well since I was so small, but I didn’t mind. I was out on the motorcycle!  With my arms wrapped around dad’s waist for security.  we would wind our way through two-lane back roads for hours. I don’t recall ever going anywhere in particular, but we did cruise around the Kerr Scott Reservoir, occasionally stopping so dad could stretch his legs or so that I could use the restrooms at a campground near the lake. But of course, the destination wasn’t why we were riding at all; it was all about the journey to nowhere. Riding just to enjoy the ride, the road and the beautiful weather.

parkwayfall4_0Growing up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains meant we enjoyed all four seasons. Lenoir is a small town; not like one-stop-light small, but small enough that I remember when the first Taco Bell was built. These days it’s best known as a mid-way point for the Bridge-to-Bridge bicycle race leading up to the Tour De France. We lived outside of town, in the Kings Creek area, which had no stop lights, no fast food, and plenty of curvy roads. The summers are hot and humid, but the fall is absolutely stunning. The temperatures start to drop in mid-September, and by mid-October, the trees are in  their full fall regalia. Lush greens make way for brilliant reds, vibrant oranges, and intense yellows. This time of year is pretty much the perfect time to be on two wheels, especially if you have this kind of scenery to appreciate.

The wind chill at 50-60 miles an hour meant I needed multiple layers to keep me warm, but huddled there behind dad was the perfect spot for me. The gentle rise and fall of the miles as they passed never lulled me towards sleep as it might in the back of mom’s station wagon. It was invigorating, I always felt more awake, more in tune, and more alive on the back of that bike than I did anywhere else. It made other aspects of life seem as if they were moving in slow motion, and boring in comparison.  It affected me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and it is why I still ride to this day.

Next time…

A bike of my very own!

Daily Prompt: Breakthrough

via Daily Prompt: Breakthrough

Is it possible to have a breakthrough on a Monday such as this? When the day starts well before the sun crests the horizon, there is plenty of time to face the challenges cluttering your life. By the time my coffee brewed from the Keurig and I began my morning commute, there were already challenges tumbling around in my sleep addled brain. Too bad the coffee doesn’t even kick in until I am 30 minutes into the drive. Nevertheless, there is an idea bouncing around in my head that has been plaguing me for weeks now… writing. Where do I start?

the-f-35-may-have-big-problems-fighting-at-long-rangeI’ve been a journalist, a photojournalist, an editor, a webmaster, and even an international media liaison, but none of those jobs were on my behalf.  They were all for someone else; more specifically, for the Air Force. It was easy enough to pick a story idea, especially if it was a newsworthy event.  On the other hand, now I am trying to do this for myself.  I don’t want to write about the Air Force’s Core values, or about the next multi-billion dollar fighter jet debacle. (F-35 anyone?)  I want to write about what is near and dear to my heart… if only I could find the inspiration to get the ball rolling. If only I could break through the constant chatter online to reach new readers.

I recently read On Writing by one of the most prolific writers of the modern age, Stephen King. Sure, he is mostly known for his horror stories, like The Shining and Carrie. But did you know he also wrote The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption? Those were all major Hollywood blockbusters, but they were King’s novels before they hit the big screen. He has written literally thousands of stories, even penning some of them under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, which still garnered critical acclaim.20160731_223716

His book, On Writing was actually a pseudo-autobiographical story detailing his life, and his approach to writing. It turns out that even though he has an extraordinary talent for spinning intricately woven tales of horror, suspense, and intrigue, his inspirations and methodology are quite straightforward.  It can all be boiled down to this: sit down, and write. Obviously, his book expounds on that quite a bit, but at his core, he approaches writing as his job, a day-in, day-out, this-is-what-I-do-for-a-living job. He just does the work.

I found it quite fascinating, and now I hope to  have a breakthrough by applying that method in my own way.  Stephen King isn’t a blogger, but I think his approach could work quite well here too. Just write. Just sit down and do the work.  So here we are, you the ever constant reader, and I, the intrepid blogger, on a journey to new and exciting destinations. None of which have been handed out by the Air Force, but rather chosen by me; sometimes on a whim, and at other times by the daily prompt. Perhaps we are on the precipice of new horizons. I certainly hope so.

Personally, there are many writers that I am extremely fond of. In addition to King, there are writers such as Ted Dekker, Dean Koontz, Dick Francis, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, and many other novelists.  It fascinates me how they can ensnare the mind with vivid imagery that exists only in written words.  They have the ability to draw me in, to shut out the real world, if only for a moment in time.  I am also a big fan of Dave Barry, the columnist for the Miami Herald.  While he may not be as prolific as King or Koontz, his humor and sharp wit means he ranks as one of the most widespread columnists in the country, if not the world.

breaking-the-chains-300x225I have been reading Barry’s columns for more than 20 years now, and I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that he has been a big influence. It’s the twist he puts in his writing that intrigues me.  In many of his recent columns on the Summer Olympics, he explains how the most athletic event he was able to see was the cab driving to the venues. And forget about Michael Phelps, Barry was impressed with the stamina of the security guards posted outside of each venue! It may seem like a triviality, but that is what makes it work so well. You never saw it coming.

For myself, I don’t have the comedic timing of Mr. Barry or the legions of fans devoted to Mr. King, but I have to start somewhere, right?  So, I have started here on WordPress, and that is sort of a breakthrough on its own, is it not? Perhaps my little poem will go viral, probably not, but that’s okay.  I would rather deeply touch one life than be glanced at by a million. So if you, dear reader, are inspired to start writing for yourself, congratulations! We have both made our own breakthroughs!

Who knows what the future has yet to unfold?
Or where life may take us,
When we are wrinkled and old?
One thing I know is definitely sure,
The spark for this writing
Is unblemished and pure.
It wasn’t hatched by some general
Behind an oak desk.
It came from my mind,
And to me, that’s the best.

Graceful? Not exactly

The road to maturity is a rocky one for most.During childhood, most children are oblivious to social awkwardness or embarrassing faux pas. However, by the time our teenage years roll around, a new sort of awareness has dawned on pretty much everyone except for the Amish. They leave school after eighth grade because it doesn’t really take a higher education to run the family farm. They may sing Amazing Grace, but I don’t think mucking out a horse stall ranks highly on anyone’s bucket list.

For the rest of us, high school is the dawn of a new age. Girls have boobs and boys can think of practically nothing else. It can be extremely difficult to concentrate on geometry when the girl in the third row decided to wear that particular shirt.  You know the one… her favorite shirt from middle school  that has gotten a little too tight, and has been washed a few too many times, rendering the fabric quite thin, almost see through. The boys are usually too busy calculating their moves in the hallway to calculate the square root of an inverse polyhedron.

My own unique high school experience was peppered with awkward situations that still influence my thinking at times. I have a successful career in the military, a beautiful wife, and healthy, happy kids.  But there are still times when that same butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling sneaks up on me like a ninja.  For example, I tend to be socially awkward at parties, which is one reason why I can’t actually remember the last time I went to one outside of an officially organized event.

At one point, I was cool, but apparently my time has come and gone.  My kids certainly do not think I am cool. My music is too weird, my clothes are out of fashion, and my car is just a boring old Honda. You can’t really pull up to the curb to pick up your kids gracefully in a 10-year-old car. But you know what? I could care less.

The great thing about passing the 40-year-hurdle is that you really don’t give a crap about the things that used to bother you. It is a wonderfully liberating thing to know that my family might not think I am the coolest, but they accept me for who I am, and love me unconditionally. I may not have the elegance of Maya Angelou or the charisma of Cam Newton, gut you know what, I have everything I need right here at home, and I am grateful.

Graceful

Let’s get this party started, shall we?

quillThis is my very first post. I don’t have much time a the moment to really get into the whole reason I am starting this blog. However, I will say that today has been a roller coaster of emotions, mostly down hill. More than anything, I suppose this is an outlet to vent, to share my talents (as paltry as they may seem at times) and really to attempt to get more serious about writing for myself.

You see, I have been a journalist for the Air Force for the past 15 years, and as I near the twilight of my military career, I need to focus a bit more on how I can ply my craft in such a way that it benefits me more than it does Big Blue. I have written stories about firefighters, mechanics, wounded veterans, and even the elementary school on base.

However, no one really cares. Sure, the folks whom I have interviewed read the stories, and the wing commander reads it, but beyond that, nope.  I was fortunate enough to be involved in some pretty unique situations, in Baghdad, and with the Thunderbirds, but at nearly 42 years old, I don’t have any Pulitzer prize winning articles floating around out there.  My literary career has been mediocre at best, with the highlight coming more than a decade ago when I was the Air Force’s Photojournalist of the Year.

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A photo from my 2004 article on a forest fire in Florida. Courtesy of yours truly.

The award came in 2004 when I was the editor for the base newspaper at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. The package included several stories, but the article that sealed the deal was about a controlled burn on base.  It was coordinated by the on-base fire department, along with the safety office, and some local wildlife firefighters.  The images really were spectacular, if I do say so myself. The problem was that a few months after winning that award, I was pulled away from the newspaper to do other stuff.  It started out fine: I built the base website, and a few other interesting online projects.  But when I was pulled away from writing entirely was when things started to go south for my writing.

 

I must point out that I do not mean that things started to go down hill for my career. Although I was dragged kicking and screaming, figuratively of course, into the Community Relations section at work, it turned out to be a good thing for my Air Force career.  I didn’t really enjoy working with Ms. Greene, but after I was in that section for a while, an opening for the Community Relations NCO came available for the US Air Force Thunderbirds.  I can opine about that particular position in another post, but suffice it to say, it was an amazing opportunity that I am extremely grateful to have been selected for. The only problem with that job was that I almost never got a chance to write.

After that, I was moved to Virginia to be the NCO in Charge of the Command Information section at the 633d Air Base Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. I had the opportunity to write occasionally, but for teh most part, I was the editor for articles that appeared on the base website and the base newspaper. To be fair, this sharpened my critical reading skills quite a bit, well, at least when it comes to word use and punctuation. However, I think I wrote less than a dozen articles in the 3 years I was there.

080408-F-JZ511-306.JPGMy next career move was a short one, at least physically. I was transferred to Air Combat Command Headquarters, which is also at Langley AFB. I worked in the Media Operations section for the most part, where I was a media liaison. I took queries from local, national, and international news outlets who with any interest in anything that ACC was up to. Whether they had questions about combat operations overseas, policy questions, or the use of drones in American airspace, those questions came through my office. I didn’t necessarily have the answers they were looking for, but I had the resources to find out who did have the answers.  I would set up interviews and make sure CNN, Fox News, or the Washington Post got the answers they were looking for. Of course, the answers were not always what they wanted to hear… sometimes “No” is the answer.

I never got to say that because we had to be unbelievably PC, but I certainly wanted to… a lot. I got some of the most irritating reporters, who wanted the answers to their questions immediately. Most of the time, I personally wanted to just say, “I don’t know the answer to your asinine question. And don’t call back.” However, I would take their questions, and try to find someone who did know.  Sometimes, the answers were hard to come by, especially if there was any whiff of controversy involved. Those reporters were handled with kid gloves, which leads me into PAG.

Public Affairs Guidance, colloquially known as PAG, is a source document that provides the Air Force’s answer to any given topic, usually a controversial one.  Aircraft crash? There’s PAG. Gays in the military? PAG again. Zika virus going to wipe out the population of southern Florida?  You guessed it, there’s PAG for that too.  I wrote a lot of PAG while I was there.  Yet, no one outside of ACC will ever lay eyes on it.  It is what as known as FOUO, or For Official Use Only. It’s kind of frustrating actually, I was there for more than 3 years, and I don’t have anything published from that entire time.

My most recent assignment brought me to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. Currently I am the Superintendent for the 6th Air Mobility Wing’s Public Affairs office.  It is a nice, fancy sounding title, but I am really just a manager.  I have a staff of about 15 who work in various sections, Community Relations, Media Operations, and Command Information. As you can see, I have experience in all of these areas, and now I am the boss.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to be the guy in charge, as opposed to the guy catching the crap, bur like I said, I miss writing.

So, let’s see where this thing takes us shall we? I hope to write quite a bit, and there are a myriad of topics to cover.  This post ended up being more about the Air Force and my career than I intended, but I suppose that Big Blue is going to seep into a lot of what I write since I have been in for so long. I hope to write more about motorcycling and my faith. Those two topics are really important to me. I’ll get into why in later posts I suppose. For now though, it is Sunday evening, and I want to spend some time with my family.

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