Friday, January 05, 2007

TM: Potato-Potato-Potato, Part 2

What do we have that is so valued? Certainly there is the sense of identity. No one has to be told that we own Harleys; you can tell it just by looking at us. And even though that mode of dress may border on scary (a new rider once asked me what to wear on a club ride, was told, “Just dress like you’re getting ready to rob a convenience store…”), there are reasons behind it all: the boots, gloves and leather jackets protect us in a fall; the bandannas can be used to keep the sun off our necks or heads or to keep from inhaling too many bugs during a ride; and we prefer denim and black because they don’t show the grime that you pick up naturally during a long ride. As for the skulls, and the flames, and the tattoos, it’s because we have our own universe of patron saints, and they tend for the most part to be pirates.

But far more valuable to us than the brand image is the sense of community. A friend of mine owns a Honda Goldwing, a touring motorcycle that he contends is easier and more comfortable to ride, more economical to maintain, and just generally technologically superior to any Harley ever made (all of which are very probably true). Yet he also owns an FLHTCU Ultra Classic Electra Glide (the bike known among Harley enthusiasts simply as “an Ultra”) that he rides with us on the weekends. And when I asked him why he holds onto the Harley he said, “The social aspect—the people. I don’t know anybody who would consider it a good use of time to go hang out at the Honda shop. But I can go by the Harley dealership and always find someone to talk to.”

Harley owners embrace owners of other brands of motorcycles, even though we may privately pity them. We simply figure that they have not yet progressed up the path of enlightenment and that, given time, they will eventually find their way into the fold. So we wave to them when we see them on the road. And if they show up for one of our rides on a Brand-X bike, we welcome them with open arms.

I am a road-captain with our group—a ride-leader—which is a volunteer position and one for which I had to train at my expense. Yet, like virtually all of the positions for which the club accepts volunteers, the position is one for which we really have too many people; so many that I’ll find it difficult to organize and lead more than two rides in 2007. Still, we never turn a volunteer away. Instead, we accept them, make the workload light, and turn the entire enterprise into a party.

One reason we have so many volunteers is that our community of riders holds them in high esteem. We recognize them, honor them, and reward them (most Harley riders have leather vests that they wear specifically to have a place a put all the patches, pins and accolades that their clubs hand out to them). In this community, participation is not just an obligation. It’s cool.

There is also a great sense of fraternity among Harley riders. During my ride up to St. Augustine, I pulled over to check if a couple on a Road King at the side of the road was all right. They were—they were just stopping to take a picture—yet they weren’t surprised that I stopped, because part of the unwritten code of Harley ownership is that you never, ever leave a brother or sister stranded, not even if stopping to help makes you late or inconveniences you.

That fraternal sense extends into business dealings. When I patronize businesses owned by members of my club, I can generally expect a discount and I often receive things—from legal advice, to lunch, to the photograph that accompanies this blog entry—for free, and am greeted with an injured expression when I try to insist on paying.

Just yesterday, I tried to deposit a royalty check at a local bank branch and was told that the check would be on hold for 5-11 business days because it’s from an out-of-town bank. I took the check back and carried it this morning to another branch where the assistant manager rides a Softtail and has chatted with me about bikes before. When I asked, “Will it be any problem to make the funds available immediately on this?” … he just glanced at the Harley logo on the helmet that I’d set on his counter, smiled, and told me, “Not at all, bro.”

When one of our members was hurt recently, his mother and family coming in from out of town had places to stay and three hot meals a day, all provided by people who didn’t know them from Adam. He’s constantly being visited during his recuperation. If he has medical expenses that aren’t covered by his insurance, we’ll throw a party and raise money to cover them—and any money left over (I can practically guarantee you that there will be money left over) will go to a local children’s home that is largely supported by our donations and our activities. If we aren’t giving, we feel unfulfilled. Giving is part of what we are.

One more very important thing… My back-seat passenger? My daughter? She’s recently asked me if she can take rider’s lessons because she wants to ride her own Harley (she’ll probably eventually inherit my XL) and be part of the group. She wants that largely because they feel so much like family. And she wants it of her own volition. I didn’t even have to suggest it.

Christianity ought to work that way. Church ought to work that way. People ought to want what we have simply because of what we are. And the times when we get together with other Christians ought to be the very best parts of our week. Just like my scenes and my setting details, I try to remember that as I sit down to work on my craft. And the Harley is a powerful memory jog: one that I feel—quite literally—in my bones.


Tom Morrisey ( ) is the author of DEEP BLUE and DARK FATHOM


At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom: Killer last graf. Good all the way, but way to bring it home.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Tina Ann Forkner said...

So when my bank wanted to put my advance check on hold for a week, I should have been wearing a Harley cap.

Seriously, I agree with the analogy that in Chrisitanity, others ought to want what we have. I have some friends in the Harley community I hope meet folks like you.

At 9:57 AM, Blogger ~michelle pendergrass said...

I couldn't have been more at home with these posts!!

Did you know Santa rides? We got our pictures taken with his Red bike pulling his sleigh at the Valparaiso, IN HD. 2006 Christmas Picture

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Writers ought to be that way too. (And they are.)

Great post!

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Andrea said...

What a wonderful analogy. It made me sad though, because it highlighted how far we have to go as a Christian community. The most poignant part for me was your daughter. I have a 17 year old who accepts church attendance as part of her life, but certainly does not display the own-volition iniative that you described. Not for lack of trying on the part of our youth department. Mine is one of the few churches I've seen willing to invest equal time and effort into the children and teens of the congregation as the adults. However, that sense of family is missing I think and she just doesn't have the strong emotional connection you described. You've given me much food for thought....


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