How to Buy Your First Harley

This is another exercise from my Short Story class at UCLA. The assignment was to write a “how to” story in the second person POV. This is a work of fiction, and is not intended to be read as marital advice, and the persons depicted at the dealership are not real, except for that one guy:

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When you married a motorcyclist, you knew this day would come. He didn’t own a bike when you were dating since most his possessions were sold after his divorce. He didn’t even mention motorcycles during the first two years. Now you realize that all those trips to Chaparral Motorsports were not casual, especially when you remember that men don’t window-shop. Instead he lets you draw the conclusion, after he shows you hundreds of pictures on his phone, that he wants a Harley. It’s Christmas Eve, and he says, “Why don’t we go down to the Harley dealership and look around?”

You get there, and your husband has to find a spot to park between all the motorcycles. The huge brick building is swarming with bikes, inside and out, like a Harley anthill. All the workers wear bright orange long sleeve shirts, their arms and necks covered in tattoos. They’re scary but friendly, offering you coffee, and asking you what you’re looking for.

You say, “We’re just looking,” but somehow when you notice the gleam in your husband’s eye you know you’re not. He looks like a four-year old standing in the middle of Toys R Us. You feel a wave of panic, but it quickly passes. Your husband and you always talk first about major purchases. Up to this point.

Of course, there are no prices listed on the motorcycles so you have to find the guy with the long beard who nods to you with a predatory smile. At first, he’s excited that you’re looking at the newest models. Then when your husband gives him a price range, he sighs and quickly leads to their selection of used ones. Rows and row of shiny chrome, bright colors, and black leather. Some of these look even better than the new ones, with extra chrome and custom seats.

Your husband wants to sit on each one, to see how he feels on it. You play along with him, sitting behind him on the bike. Everyone at the dealership seems so excited about the bikes that you start to catch a little of it. Women walk by dressed in leather jackets and chaps, and you think you’d look pretty sexy in one of those outfits. Those women appear secure and confident, the way you’d like to feel. Curiously, your husband doesn’t even look at them. His eyes are only on the bikes. You feel like you made a good decision marrying him.

Then comes the test drive. There’s no way to avoid it because just revving the engine and sitting on the bike doesn’t tell you much about the way it moves. Your husband settles on two different bikes he likes best. One has a windshield and comfortable passenger seat with a backrest. One has ape-hanger handlebars and loud pipes and a seat that looks comfy enough for a trip to the grocery store. You tell your husband that, but he ignores you. You get mad for a moment, but then you remember that he didn’t look at the biker women.

This is the first time you ride on a motorcycle, so you don’t have the right shoes. You climb up on the back of the tall Road King, carefully placing your sandaled feet on the passenger floorboards. The backrest seems a mile behind you, so you cling to your husband with all your strength. You wish you had a jacket and gloves. The beard guy is riding a small loud Sportster, and his smile tells you he enjoys the opportunity to ride during work hours. Or maybe he’s already thinking about how he’s going to spend his commission on new grips and floorboards.

No one tells a passenger what to do, so when your husband goes through his gears to get the bike up to speed, you clunk your borrowed helmet, which doesn’t really fit you and smells like greasy sweat, into the back of your husband’s helmet. After several times, you realize you can brace your feet on the floorboards to prevent this.

As you and your husband follow the dealer guy down the road, you realize that there is nothing between you and the surrounding cars. Your unprotected leg is right next to their passenger door. You can look into cars and see drivers texting and talking on their phones, eating and drinking, and basically not paying attention to you at all. You’re holding your breath, and every muscle in your body stiffens. But no one rams your bike, and after a few blocks, you begin to relax.

The wind wiggles in through the bottom of your helmet, and you finally stop holding your breath. Orange blossoms, coffee shops, and restaurants create a bouquet of fragrance, interrupted occasionally by car exhaust and moldy leaves. As your husband leads you down a tree-lined street, you have an undiminished 360-degree view of everything around you. You remember the dealer guy called cars “cages” and now you understand why.

After you take the first bike back, you take out the second one. Climbing off the bike is awkward, and you almost fall on your bottom in front of all the bikers coming into the dealership. The next bike is customed out with ghost flames on the tank and skull embellished grips and floorboards. The guy who owned it didn’t like his wife, as the passenger only has skinny pegs for her feet. You feel a little jealous when your husband approaches it with the look he usually reserves for you. On the test ride, your husband finds that the ape-hanger handle bars hurt his neck like you suspected they would. It’s always best to let your husband find these things out for himself, preferably before you buy the bike.

You arrive back at the dealership too soon. You and your husband have to give back your helmets. There is an awkward silence as the dealer guy waits for you to cave in. Your husband looks at you, and you’re surprised when you say, “Let’s get the first one!”

The dealer guy nods like he’s known this all along, and you go to his office to sign the paperwork. That’s how you end up buying your first Harley.

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Another perspective on “Blue Horses”

I’m taking a short story course at UCLA Extension with author/instructor Michael Buckley. One of our assignments was to write in the style of Franklin’s “Blue Horses.” I decided to write from Evelyn’s point of view and add some plot twists:

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His coffee cup was still dripping water on its hook when Evelyn stumbled into the kitchen. She sighed and poured herself a cup, as black as a moonless night, and twice as bitter. Looking out the window, she knew that Earl’s truck would already be gone. Two fools on a fool’s errand.

Evelyn gently sat on the cracked vinyl chair and forced herself to down the entire lukewarm coffee in an effort to clear her fog. Something crackled in her pocket, and she pulled out a folded up, yellowed paper. A truck rumbled by, and she stuffed it back into its hiding place. Looking around at the overflowing piles of dishes in the sink and faded green metal cabinets, she wondered how she managed to stay married to that loser for fifteen years. How did she end up back at Earl’s place when she had sworn to never return? She replayed the previous night’s conversation in her mind.

“Why, Evelyn! Don’t you look purdy tonight? Sumthin special going on at the church?” Earl wobbled at the screen door when she arrived, already a few beers into the evening.

“Don’t have to be anythin special for me to stop by my old place,” she purred. She looked past her ex-husband, into the dark room lit only by the blue T.V. light. It had to be here. She knew him as well as she knew her face in the mirror, and a paper that important he would hide in the house.

“Well, come on in,” Earl said with a sweeping gesture that nearly toppled him over. “I got some of that elderberry wine you used to like. Member, you left it here, last time.”

“That sounds good, hunny,” she said as she swept past him into the house. He followed her like a faithful hound, picking up the newspapers and empty bottles to reveal a relatively clean spot on the couch. Evelyn sat down primly, and crossed her legs, showing her new stockings. Since she had left a year ago, she had found work at the new mill office, and had money for silk stockings. If she’d still been with him, it would have all gone for his beer.

After the clunking and slamming went on for some time back in the kitchen, Earl returned with a cut crystal glass filled with a blood-red liquid which he managed to deliver to her without spilling more than a few drops on the carpet. Evelyn took a sip, hoping it would give her the courage she needed to pull this off.

They chit chatted for a while about nothing, all the while he moved closer to her on the couch. Finally he planted one on her, which wasn’t so bad even after all that time, and they ended up in the bedroom like old times. She knew it would be short ride, and then she’d be able to search for that letter. Sure enough, he soon was fast asleep, and she pulled on his shredded bathrobe and escaped to the living room.

As she searched every drawer, and sifted every pile, she discovered scattered remnants of their life together. Movie tickets, photographs, Valentine cards, and stacks of past due bill statements. She didn’t give up, because she hadn’t come all this way and let him sweep her off her feet just to go home empty-handed. Maybe it was in the kitchen.

Opening the junk drawer by the phone, she found it. A folded paper tucked in the back of the drawer, behind the duct tape, batteries, rubber bands, and assorted screws. She opened it with shaking hands, the words on the page dancing in her head. “Deed and Title to property at Rural Route 2, Blue Mountain Lake.” It was in her name, a wedding present from Great Uncle Tommy. Its faded yellow pages promised freedom from the run-down carnival ride she’d been on all her life.

 

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My short story “Angry Man” is up on Altered Realty Magazine.

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The Call of the Winding Road

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If you’ve never ridden a motorcycle, all that follows here will seem foolishness. “It’s just a motorcycle, a death trap,” you say, and from a certain perspective, you are correct. I might have felt that way at one time. That was before my husband and I bought our first Harley, and my eyes opened to a different world.

But this is not the tale of how we started riding as a couple and joined the Harley Owners Group. Instead this story is about NOT riding.

Once you join the HOGS, you become accustomed to riding every weekend. Your calendar fills with day rides, events, and overnighters. Your riding buddies become your family. Nevertheless, every so often, the rest of your life intrudes, and you don’t get to ride.

At first, you don’t notice anything, because the activities that replace riding are usually important, like grandchildren’s birthday parties and writing retreats. However, after a few weekends pass and you “like” all the pictures your HOG group posted on Facebook, a restlessness settles into your soul.

When you drive to work, you notice every motorcycle that passes, automatically comparing it to your bike and finding it lacking. You start to see motorcycles everywhere, growling custom Harleys with smiling riders. You’ve been busy, you reassure yourself. And it’s been raining, and cold. It’s only March, and in most other states, they’ve not even started their riding season. You ignore the longing and get on with your busy schedule.

Late at night, you begin to hear that haunting voice as you try to sleep. Riders recognize it. It’s like in Lord of the Rings when Tolkien talks about the irresistible call of the sea. The sea gulls and salt air. With motorcycles, it’s the roaring engines and wind in your face. Once you’ve experienced it, you can’t get it out of your mind. The call of the winding road.

“Come follow my curves,” it offers in its siren voice. “I will take you into wild lands where cages (automobiles) fear to travel. At every turn, I will catch your breath as my majestic beauty is revealed. Your companions wait for you to join them. For a time, you can forget your responsibilities and dance with me.”

Finally, your restlessness and discontent turns into downright grouchiness. That’s when you know what you need to do. It’s time to take the cover off your Harley, put on your helmet and leathers, and ride.

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Fender Fluff Files- Part One

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You’ve all seen us on the highway in front of you, dressed in black leather, holding tight to our husband or boyfriend, pressed up against our backrests, long hair streaming out the back of our helmets. It might seem like we don’t have a care in the world, dubbed “fender fluff” as if we’re merely decoration. Passengers have the best view on the ride and much less responsibility than the motorcycle rider. However, there were still a few things I needed to learn when Frank and I started riding our Harley.

The first thing Frank told me when I jumped on our Road King was that communication was key to safety. Before he took off, he always checked to see if I was ready. When we stopped, I always checked with him before dismounting the bike. After clunking helmets together a few times, I realized that I needed to plant my feet on the floorboards and brace myself against his back when we stopped suddenly, or shifted gears. Therefore, I needed to be alert and aware of what was happening on the road so I could be prepared. Also I needed to be still, sit behind Frank’s profile, and not influence the balance of the bike.

Passengers realize these basics as they get more miles on their Harley.  As we rode, I started wondering about other riding situations. Jim, our HOG chapter manager, helped me with some questions I had about passengers. Riders take riding safety courses, but passengers don’t have the opportunity. The first question I had was about curves. Many riders use body English, or lean deeply into tight curves. Jim told me that riders should not use aggressive movements like that with a passenger. Instead, they should both ride neutral with the bike, meaning your body centerline is equal to the bike’s centerline. However, the passenger should look over the rider’s inside shoulder as they go through the curves.

When they get ready to park the bike, I wanted to know whether it was better for the passenger to get down before the rider backs the bike into a parking space. Jim told me it depended on the situation. It is safer and easier to park a bike without a passenger, but if it is safe and more expedient for the passenger to remain seated, the passenger should wait. If there is a long line of bikes waiting to park, the passenger should get off.

On long rides, I had always thought that passengers got colder than the rider because they weren’t actively doing anything. Jim didn’t have any confirmation on that, but encouraged both the rider and passenger to wear heated gear as it keeps them both more comfortable and alert.

Passengers play an important part in the safety of a motorcycle ride. We need to pay attention to what is happening, and be prepared to react with the rider. When the rider and the passenger work together, their synergy makes them more relaxed and confident when challenging the open road.

 

 

 

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Weekend Time Travel

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After nibbling on madeleine cookies with Edgar Allen Poe, I flagged down Jules Vernes to continue our debate on the dangers of time travel. It was nearly time for Queen Victoria’s parade, so I would have to forgo another trip to the tearoom. I thanked him for his time, and headed toward the courthouse steps, dodging ladies in tall hats covered with welding goggles, tightly cinched corsets and ruffled long skirts worn with cowboy boots.

Just another Saturday at the Riverside, California Dickens Festival. The California Writer’s Club had a booth next to the Author’s Corner, so we had a front row seat to a steady stream of Victorian era authors, played by actors, who engaged audiences in discussions about their work. Everyone who attended dressed in regular or steam punk Victorian costumes, making this the ComicCon of classical literature.

Being a more proper Victorian lady, I wore a puff sleeve black widow’s dress, which out of this context could pass for a witch or Mary Poppins costume. My character was a time traveler’s wife, so I also had a tall hat decorated with gears, netting, feathers, and brass gears. The bodice was form-fitted, especially since I had to alter it to fit my ungirdled shape. There are some things I will do for the sake of a costume, but a real corset is not one of them. I had also decided, with good common sense, against pointed toe boots and instead wore my round toe lace-up Harley riding boots.

Festivalgoers wandered by our booth, and looked at our selection of gently used books by Victorian authors. Their curiosity created opportunities to tell them about the California Writers Club and encourage them to come to a meeting at one of our branches across the state. I met some young writers, including a filmmaker who showed his work on YouTube and several sci-fi bloggers.

More cups of tea and hours later, it was time for me to return to the twenty-first century. Although I was grateful to take off the heavy layers of clothing, I was sad to leave behind my famous authors and the elegance of the Victoria era. Next year, perhaps I’ll get a chance to talk about monsters over tea with Mary Shelley.

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Back Roads to Pioneertown

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The ride captain promised roads we had never seen, and our chapter, the Inland Empire Harley Owners Group, was ready to accept that challenge. At the check-in, I was still yawning from the Daylight Savings Time clock change. My husband fiddled with settings on the stereo, twitching with nervous energy. He always awoke by 4:00 am on the days we rode. I shared hugs and greeting with the other women while my husband and the other men settled for a head nod. A few ran into the dealership for a last minute restroom stop, while others downed their last swig of coffee. Then the road captain gave the signal, and we all layered up our leather and lined up in the parking lot.

Two by two, in staggered formation, our Harley-Davidson motorcycles roared down the street, the sound echoing off the surrounding buildings. A few blocks later, we poured onto the freeway, fitting ourselves into the jigsaw puzzle of traffic. We rode in small clumps at first, eighteen bikes too many to stay together in one group. Eventually open space allowed us to line up in staggered formation as we endured the mindless repetition of merging traffic and slow trucks, road construction and oblivious drivers.

Cloud topped mountains drew closer, appearing to my bleary eyes as brownies covered with whipped crème. Frozen whipped crème. Shivering, I zipped up my heavy leather jacket and pulled the collar of my layering jacket over my chin. Promised sunshine now hid away, and the threat of icy rain loomed over us.

Hand signals rippled down the line of bikes as we approached our exit. Not for the first time, I marveled at these independent rebels, Harley riders, obediently following each other, submitted to the safety of the group. At the end of the ramp, we paused, free from the freeway’s chaotic energy. One by one the pack turned onto a narrow winding road that carved through the mountains toward the high desert valleys.

Our Ultra Limited touring bike danced to the rhythm of curves and dips as we traveled through land that scorned man’s ambitions. A sheer rock wall peered at us from the left with a lofty arrogance. These rocks stood witness to Native American tribes roaming over them on horseback, and they would still stand after our passing. The twisty roads forced us to ride slowly, slowing our pulses, slowing down time. Bike following bike, the road leading us on.

Suddenly the road spit us out into a wide flat valley and straightened itself out. The bikes stretched their legs and gained speed. Gradually I grew aware of an ominous grey wall of mountains on our left growing closer as we rode. As I looked behind and ahead of us, I could see no end to the ridge. Yet our road seemed determined to connect with it. I wondered how we would cross its summit. Would the road lift us to the top of that wall or would we discover a blasted tunnel, man’s victory over the mountain?

Miles sped by in our race to the wall, and soon I could see the end. The wall sloped down before it merged with another ridge, and into this opening the road stretched through. The bikes climbed over it without strain, and dropped down into another flat valley. The mountain peaks on our right were dusted with snow, and I knew that on the other side, snow boarders were riding rails and practicing jumps in the fresh powder. However this side held dry cracked rocks and Joshua trees reaching toward the bright blue sky. No snow or water here, except trapped behind a dam.

The bikes passed white fenced ranches that eventually led into small groups of houses and buildings, towns so small they seemed out of place in overpopulated southern California. A man in his electric wheelchair rumbled on the dirt shoulder. Where he was headed on a straight narrow road with no sidewalks I couldn’t guess, but surely he was kin to the determined men who settled this desert. The line of bikes pulled into a gas station, and we stretched our legs and gulped some water. Although it was not hot, the air was so dry it crackled.

The road called us on, and we descended into another valley, this one much hotter and dryer than the last. Pink mountain peaks lined the horizon on the left. A smudge in the distance slowly revealed to be our lunch stop. Wooden buildings, including a saloon front, saddle shop, and a jail, formed the skeleton of an old western movie set, now a tourist attraction and motorcycle destination. My husband pulled into the dirt parking lot and parked our bike at the end of the row, just like cowboys would have tied up their horses in front of the saloon.

I carefully dismounted our Harley, stiff muscles protesting. We peeled off our helmets and layers of jackets and leather chaps. Every face revealed a wide smile. Even though we had just ridden for hours over twisting roads and through dry dusty towns, I felt energized. My husband and I followed the line of riders to the restaurant. It was time for food and drink, tales and jokes, friendships forged in adventure.

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