It all started when I was ten years old and living in France. Throughout those years I loved to ride my bicycle downhill and feel the wind on my face as if life had suddenly made me ten feet taller. In reality only one, as that is when I very quickly learned how to ride standing up! A couple of blocks from us I could then only admire and lust over some machines with an engine displayed at a motorcycle shop. I imagined the sensation of going faster than on my blue Hercules, even if it had three speeds in the rear hub and of course a bunch of farkles. I can still hear the playing cards held by clothes pins hitting the rear spokes with every turn – giving me that feeling of going faster! Clack, clack, clack…
And then one day, paving the way to the addiction that would stay with me for the rest of this life, it all changed. A new machine, a black one called a Solex, made its way to the store and the owner was renting it by the hour. Truly, just a beefed up bicycle but it had an engine that would turn the front tire, if I remember well, with friction only. That’s what my weekly allowance was spent on! I can’t remember a helmet yet – that thing never went too fast, but those months the portals of the heavens opened up. One day the black Solex was replaced with a blue one, one with a more powerful engine. I had to ask, beg and plead with my parents for a greater weekly allowance as, according to the saying, “with the pedal to the metal,” I could now get out of the city and roam around like a wild crazy kid!… I did.
A few slow years went by, drooling for faster machines, until finally that day arrived when I got my license. There was no way my parents were going to buy me a motorcycle! They had bought me a car instead (and yes, I was spoiled from a Father being a surgeon). I did love that car! A 1500cc Austin Mini Cooper SS. Yes, the one with two fuel tanks in the rear, British Racing Green with a black and white checkered roof and of course a bunch of fog lights in the front. Friends and I quickly joined a Rally Club and I trashed that car every month in the company of Lancia Flavias HF, NSU TTS, and I can’t remember what else. Did my co-pilot and I win any of those rallies? I don’t think we did, but the thrill was too intense to care.
The same motorcycle shop in the same town (me a bit more grown up, but not any wiser) started renting Triumphs by the day. No one seems to remember, but it was the one with the shifter on the tank. Two speeds, I don’t recall the cc’s of the engine. The car being in the shop most of the time and, lucky me again as my Father had a charge account with them, the Triumphs took me beyond Heaven into Paradise. I did by then wear a helmet, which was mine and hid from my parents and I was hooked line and sinker. That was it. The true turning point.
My parents never bought me a motorcycle. That shop was my savior! I think I even got a discount and the promise from the owner and the mechanics that they would never spill the beans on me. No one would recognize me anyhow with a helmet and goggles! Thinking back now, I would say I was “fast and furious”!… [NOT!]. More years went by, including three at Culinary School in Switzerland during which time my parents divorced. I guess because I was an only child and my Father wanted his own playground undisturbed, shortly after my graduation he took me to the airport, gave me a one way ticket to Philadelphia and $50. I think he wished me good luck, but I am not too sure. I only only saw him twice after that.
America… as we called it in Europe! The land of skyscrapers, Freeways, Cadillac and Stevie Wonder. I didn’t know there were poor people in this country and I quickly realized that the image portrayed in Europe was quite different to the then present reality. I made a pact with myself that being a messenger for $50 a week (because I didn’t know the language) was not going to cut it. Those were the only few months of my life I watched television – to learn English with the help of night school. Philadelphia! I started noticing BMWs, Hondas and Kawasakis. Also Suzukis and that would be of course motorcycles! Wonder if anyone remembers the triple two cycles Kawasaki 500s and 700s? (750 maybe?) White and green. The two death machines!
I worked hard and saved hard. I soared and fell just as quickly when I discovered something new called “credit” while I was a able to buy a luncheonette from an old German man that was retiring. I mean seriously, you are in your twenties and receive a Visa card with a $30,000 limit? Who cared how I would repay my purchases that included a BMW motorcycle? I could once again satisfy my ‘habit’ and this time there was no limit as it was mine. Well, kind of… But my friends had Hondas and I wanted to fit in. So next was a Honda 450 Four. The 550 Four came out, and soon after the ruler at the time of all motorcycles, the 750 Four. Lust and more lust. Yet, the rumor was that Kawasaki’s next machine would be a 903cc four called the Z1. I waited… and waited. I bought one. Windjammer, Calafia bags, CB radio [yes!], this and that, worked harder, saved more money and sold the shop… I hit the road in the late Seventies for two years.
You have to realize that throughout those years not many, if any, lived on the road with a motorcycle (I never met one). I was of course not going off road and riding the black top I met so many people with a surprised, maybe even shocked, look on their face. “And where are you going?”… “I don’t know.” “How long for?”… “I don’t know.” The country opened up its arms to me. I don’t think I camped more than ten times throughout those two years as it was always, “come and stay with us, we have an extra bed and plenty of food. We want to listen to your stories.” I was then beyond the limits of this Universe. I was free, free, free…
It lasted two years only because one night while in Florida, Lakeland to be more precise, coming out to check on the bike I found it stripped to the bare bones. All my personal belongings stolen. Address book, photos, clothes, some cash, all of it. Pretty much broke, I was left with only what was on my back. Luckily I was wearing my leather jacket and a few layers, but my boots were old by then with holes in their soles. Oh well. The only city I knew was Philadelphia and I made a beeline to it, arriving in the snow with my “holy boots”! With no money for rent, I was smart enough to buy a newspaper and found a medical student offering room and board in exchange for painting the inside and out of his house. I took my time, trust me on that. I also did a nice job. Not exactly what he had in mind for the interior as, bored, I started painting graphics, but I got to earn my keep while looking for a job.
It was the year of a mild depression and there were no jobs – especially in the food industry. People had stopped going out to eat. I applied for a job as a costume jewellery worker, where I had to melt some lead and pour it into some spinning molds! I had to beg for the job as I was over qualified, but hungry. $70 a week! The upside? I was the only male amongst 60 women in that factory. I got the job and my co-workers I must say (proudly?) took good care of me. They thought it was cool to ride a motorcycle! That year ended up being a good one, needless to say.
Fast forward as I managed to move to the West Coast where all at the same time I opened up my own Bakery with a very original name “Ara’s Cakes” (right?), a small restaurant, added some catering and as if that was not enough, got married and had a child, Lance.
All of the above very quickly cost me my marriage! No one else to blame but myself while being driven by… money! If only I knew then what I know today! I sold it all and turned out in Naples, Florida, as a Personal Chef for 22 years while being wise enough to take five months vacation a year – mostly spending it with my son… and a mixture of BMWs and Ducatis. That would again be motorcycles. Nothing else mattered.
Twelve years ago the ceiling dropped. At the tender age of 26, Lance passed away from liver cancer. I then fought life for two years and I lost. I lost it all, including any silly savings – by then spent on his medical bills. I had rescued Spirit for company while adding a sidecar to a 1995 BMW R1100 GS and on a Friday night while limping through my emotions I decided we would pack up and go… Since my main addiction, my son, was no longer there, I would turn to the only other one I knew. Riding some more… and more.
It has been ten years, 340,000 miles counted only because of oil changes, and at 67 I am still an addict.