Thursday, November 10, 2016

Culture Lost

Hardian was beyond excited. Today was the first day of staying at grandpa's house for summer vacation.  11 years old, he was finally considered able to handle and learn the in's and outs of his favorite sport. Repairing, restoring and sometimes customizing legendary motorcycles. His grandfather had promised him that if he learned to build it properly from axle to axle, the family's 50 year old genuine Harley Davidson Sportster which had been passed from family member to family member for decades, would be his! By summers end, he would know by heart the history of Harley, Indian, Triumph and many such famous brands of bikes and he'd know how to fix most of them.
The work and study would be harder than anything at his traditional school had ever expected of him. For once in his life, he welcomed the challenge.

Rushing out to the garage helmet in hand he saw his fathers Indian chief was already packed ready to go. In his excitement and anticipation he didn't see his father at first, slowly standing up from kneeling to do a tire check on his bike. "Can we go, Dad?"

"Well, I don't know son. You think you're ready?" Dad replied with a twinkle in his eye.

"Come on DAD!" he exclaimed.

With an almost inaudible chuckle his Father replied, "Get on son, time to hit the road."

Climbing aboard and settling on the passenger pad he adjusted his helmet straps and tapped his fathers shoulder indicating his readiness. The Indian fired to life rattling the walls of the shop, His father kicked the kickstand up, stepped on the shiftier in one fluid motion and...nothing moved!

"It doesn't seem to want to go son!" his father yelled over his shoulder.

"DAD, Let the clutch out."

Barely containing his laughter his father did as asked, "Oh , so that's how it works'?"

Riding on the back of his Dad's bike was always one his favorite things to do, but not today.
All he wanted was to get to Grandpa's shop and start working on HIS bike.

Pulling up to Garage and parking, Hardian, in his impatient exuberance jumped of the bike before the kickstand was down. Stopped short by his father's hand grabbing his jacket, "First lesson son, a bike is an awesome thing to have. But remember, they will never forgive recklessness or impatience." Sheepishly realizing that his Dad was right he apologized. His father replied, "This is the only time I will forgive this behavior near a motorcycle. Never let it happen again."

"I won't I promise."

"OK, then. Where is that Old fart you call Grampy?"

"Getting ready to beat your scrawny little ass for calling me that" replied Gramps, yelling from the back of the shop.

Laughing loudly His father looked at Hardian and replied, "Oh, shit."

Hardian, smiling just looked at his father and said, "Well Dad, you had a good life and I'm sure gonna miss ya. At least I'll have a great story to tell all my friends someday."

Dismounting from his bike with a shit-eating grin, he started toward Hardian, "You little shit C'mere!"

Smiling back Hardian started quickly toward the back of the shop, "Nope, too slow, old man!"

"There's my little man!" called out his grandfather and with a wink. He continued while pointing at his father, "Maybe this time I can raise one right."

"No chance of that happening, Gassy" replied Hardian's father while reaching out to hug Gramps.

"If your ready to get started young buck, go up to the attic and grab the box labeled Annabelle from the rafters and bring it down while I talk to your Dad." Hustling up the stairs Hardian replied, "Yes sir."

Hardian had never been up to the attic of Grandpa's shop. He was always told, "it's not a playground son, someday when you're old enough." Frames, tanks, wheels and seats lined the rafters among numerous boxes. Old posters fading and tattered were stapled to the ceiling. Taking a brief look at them he saw the words 'MC Run for Tots' in the barely legible lettering. Never having heard of an MC before he quietly resolved to ask Grandpa about it someday.

Trying not to get too distracted by all the boxes and parts scattered about, he proceeded to look for the box labeled Annabelle which he knew was the given name of the sporty that would soon be his.
Pulling down box after box in his search he came across a box with hand painted lettering labeled
'Hellions MC Arizona'.  Curiosity got the better of him and the Annabelle box was momentarily forgotten.  He had to ask Grandpa about it now!

Carefully carrying the box down the steps he placed it in front of his Grandfather and Dad and asked,
"What is this?"

Turning from their conversation to see what Hardian was asking about, both men fell silent with a wistfully sad look. A few moments of silence passed before Grandpa spoke. "Well I think your old enough to hear this, boy," looking toward Hadrian's dad for agreement.

"Yes, I think so too," replied his father.

Grandpa added "In fact son, that's where your Mom and Dad met. Him on an Indian and your mom rode a Harley. Thus your name when you were born. Har-Dian."

"I always wondered where they got that name," said Hardian.

"Pull up a chair, son. Time for a history lesson."

Placing the box on the counter, Grampy reached for a key upon a hook that Hardian could see had been there so long there was a clear outline on the faded white paint. Placing the key in the clasp of the box he wiggled it around muttering, "Damn, this thing's a bit rusty." Unlatching the straps he gently pried it open. Hardian stood up from his chair to glimpse a look inside as his grandfather lifted a well worn and dirty old leather vest. Holding it up for Hardian to see, he started to speak, "This is my old MC vest from way back in the day.  MC means Motorcycle Club, Hellions was the name and Arizona was the state."

Hadrian could see the what looked like the devil wearing a old leather brimmed hat and in it's grinning teeth was what looked like a stick of  dynamite. Pointing to the devil grandpa said, "And this is Glycerine the name of the symbol for our club."

"Wow!" was all Hadrian could reply. He had heard of riding groups and social clubs, But never anything like this. And that vest! Nobody he ever saw wore a vest like this. A few minutes passed before he could ask, "Do they still exist?"

Grandpas eyes betrayed a sadness before he spoke, "No son, they don't exist anymore. No MC does'."

Hadrian had trouble believing the words and thought to himself how could something so cool be gone? "Why?" Was all he could respond.

"Unfortunately, they were their own undoing" said Grandpa.

"But how?" asked Hadrian.

Grandpa pulled up a stool, sat down and began to tell the story. "They started up clubs like this for people who loved motorcycles...truly loved riding and wrenching on bikes. You couldn't even be a member unless you knew at least basic maintenance and a willingness to learn more. As time went by the shared rides and travel started to build trust and very close brotherhood and family ties among all involved. A separate culture and lifestyle with it own rules and conduct emerged. They were called bikers and wore the title proudly. Overtime more clubs became formed and eventually minor disputes started between them. But overall life was good and great times were being had."

"As time went on some clubs decided they were entitled to their own neighborhoods and then states.
But still, most clubs accepted the rules and got along for the most part. Then things started to change. It started to be less about camaraderie or brotherhood and bikes than titles and status in some of the clubs.  Garages gave way to old houses then changed to warehouses that had to be rented or bought. So many clubs became too much about revenue and the art of fixing your own bike or riding started to become less and less. In addition in every culture there are 'Bad Apples'. Unfortunately the public and law started to see everybody as criminals instead of a very small few. Then some clubs allowed some in the ranks to bend rules and codes out-casting many viable members of the community based on some personal egos of a few within."

"Then came an incident in Waco TX and for the first time Law enforcement got away with arresting over a 150 innocent citizens and openly violating their rights, causing loss of money homes and property.  Bikers didn't band together across the country and demand justice. Prior to this bikers banded together to fight for our collective rights and were damn good at it. Or for raising awareness or money for charity. The general public never cared or noticed because it didn't affect them. We were not part of 'their' world. We were outsiders. Outlaws from society's conventions."

"Then came the Bikers biggest mistake. Prior to this they never entered the national stage in support of one political party. Instead of keeping to themselves and staying away from what we called 'mainstream' society. They came out in many numbers to support a presidential candidate."

Hadrian interrupted his Grandfather to ask, "Why was that bad? You always said it was an Americans duty to vote. They shouldn't have spoken up?"

"Yes it is," replied his grandfather and continued, "Bikers should have supported him if they wanted to privately. They brought undue attention to themselves. It was a very unusual election that year and some hoping for change missed a key part of the candidates words on law enforcement. Specifically about 'street gangs'. You see, no club member ever considered themselves gangsters or criminals because truthfully, the overwhelming majority were not. But the general public didn't see it that way and law enforcement agencies around the country saw it as a way to get headlines and favor from the 'law and order' president. And the new president never understood or cared about the 'biker culture'.
The opposing political party never forgave the bikers for supporting him."

"Soon, all the clubs were being harassed and arrested for erroneous charges. Even if you won in court, you lost thousands of dollars in legal fees and jobs, homes, and so on. And if you lost? Just being a part of an MC got you several years over and above whatever you were charged with. Over time the culture could not survive the risks and hardships. They slowly started to lose members, and eventually law enforcement won and clubs were outlawed completely.

Hadrian Looked at his Father and Grandpa after a few minutes reflection on what he had been told and said, "Sounded like a great life when it worked like it was meant to."

"It was, son," replied Grandpa and Dad at the same time. "It truly WAS."